Visiting Christian Dior's Gardens

Visiting Christian Dior's Gardens

December 21, 2010

Les Rhumbs, Christian Dior's childhood home in Granville, Normandy, France.

This summer, on my honeymoon, I had a chance to visit Les Rhumbs, the childhood home of fashion designer Christian Dior, in seaside town of Granville, in Normandy, France. The home now serves as a museum for a rotating series of Dior dress exhibits, but the images that stay in my mind from my visit are not the fabulous dresses, but the beautiful gardens.

Les Rhumbs, named for a nautical term meaning the points of a mariner's compass, (which is represented in a floor mosiac inside the house) is perched dramatically above the sea. Parts of the garden overlook the cliffs, the trees growing out of the jagged rocks, and the sea itself. But most of the garden, which was planted by Dior's mother, reflects Madeline Dior's desire for a pretty English garden of flowering roses, jasmine, lily of the valley, and camellias, plants not normally associated with seaside gardens. Dior helped his mother with the garden and the house and its grounds remained a touchstone for him for the rest of his life. In his autobiography, he wrote: "I have the most tender and amazing memories...of my childhood home. I would even say my life and my style owe almost everything to its site and architecture."

Garden Design - Les Rhumbs 1

Encircling the lawn in front of the house is a ring of these Latanas, grown as a standard, with a border of brightly colored flowers, including pink and purple petunias, below.

A rose garden, filled with old-fashioned varieties of roses in pinks and peaches is a delicate floral contrast to the windswept seascape below, framed by the stone grotto at the edge of the rose garden. Nearby is a pool, surrounded by a walled garden and covered in an arbor of climbing roses in which the museum has placed small stands that emit the scents of Dior's most famous perfumes. But the smell of the garden—a mix of the salty sea and the perfume of the many flowers—is an even more intoxicating perfume.

Garden Design - Les Rhumbs 5

The rose garden has more than 20 different varieties of roses, including New Dawn (above), and Shropshire Lad, Gertrude Jekyll, Anne Boleyn, Alberic Barbier, Penelope, Pink Cloud, Iceberg, Mme Paule Massad, Mme Alfred Carriere, and Pierre de Ronsard.

Christian Dior loved flowers and gardens, particularly those of his earliest memories. "My life and style owed almost everything to Les Rhumbs: it stood on a cliff and found itself exposed to atmospheric turmoil, just like how my life—which has not been calm—would turn out to be." The New Look collection—instantly famous for its voluminous skirts—was actually named Corolle, or corolla, meaning the whorl of petals in a flower, and Dior meant the outfits to create a look of "flower women."

Garden Design - Les Rhumbs 2

The view of the sea from the rose garden.

The curator of the property, Vincent Leret, spoke to the Telegraph in 2009, and his description of a young Dior would be understandable to any gardener, especially now, in the depths of winter: "As a child [Dior] was absorbed by seed catalogues from Vilmourin and Andrieu. He rushed to meet the postman every day in case another had arrived. He loved the pictures and learnt the plant names by heart; he was choosing plants for the garden as a child, and by the time he was 15 he had designed the pergolas and pool."

Garden Design - Les Rhumbs 4

Pink and gray was a favorite combination of Dior's and the garden at Les Rhumbs has flowers in different tints of pink throughout the garden.

Have you visited any outstanding gardens? If you're a member of Flickr, you can add your photos to our "Great Gardens" group, where I put my photos of Les Rhumbs. We would love to see and hear more about your garden visits around the world!