The Loire Valley in Central France is home to some of the most beautiful chateaux and gardens in the world. But Domaine de Chaumont-Sur-Loire “is not your typical chateau garden,” says director of communications and marketing, Leighton Gough. Since 1992, the historic chateau has hosted the International Garden Festival, a showcase of 29 display gardens full of creativity, charm, beauty, humor and most of all, surprise. Each year, the gardens nestled within the sweeping, flower-filled landscape surrounding the hilltop castle are chosen for their inspired interpretations of the show’s theme, which changes every year. “You can’t be bored!” says head gardener Gérard Dosba, who lends a hand when needed to the designers who arrive to build their gardens each spring.

On the grounds of the historic Chateau de Chaumont-Sur-Loire, you'll find swathes of blue-flowered borders and magnificent ancient trees. Photo by: Lorraine Flanigan.

Landscape designers have interpreted the “Collectors’ Gardens” theme of 2015 in various ways, from the adventurous travels of the great plant hunters and collectors of the world to the realms of myth, art and culture. From the tanneries of Marrakech, the “Dyer’s Garden” features skeins of colorful yarn suspended over the plants that lend them their hues. In the “Garden of Orpheus” a thorny collection of cacti and succulents flanks a footbridge that slopes upwards to offer idyllic views of the Loire River. Drawing from legends of the four-leaf clover, “Lucky Charm” pays tribute to the many species of clover, purported in various times to have been taken by Eve from the Garden of Eden and used as a snake bite remedy in Roman times.

In the Dyer's Garden, skeins of indigo blue, madder red and broom yellow yarn hang above the plants that lend them their vibrantly natural colors. Photo by: Lorraine Flanigan.

In many of the display gardens, vegetables and edible crops abound, from the wild abundance of mustard, chicory and cardoons that grow in the “Can a Rarity Be Eaten” installation to “À Table” where heirloom varieties are laid out under curious lanterns holding other-worldly carnivorous plants. South African designer Leon Kluge’s “African Kitchen” pays homage to Kruger Park where he grew up, and includes handwoven baobab trees made of willow, dried protea seed heads and calabash fruit-plants that are essential foods to the local tribes.

Hand-woven willow baobab trees bow in greeting in Leon Kluge's "African Kitchen" garden. Photo by: Lorraine Flanigan.

Along with these are gardens brimming with collections of softly scented geraniums, billowing bougainvillea and a glasshouse that shelters a rare Victoria amazonica waterlily.

Carre et Rond, created by Yu Kongjian, is a ribbon of red that flows through the Chinese garden, part of the permanent installations in the chateau's Parc du Goualoup. Photo by: Lorraine Flanigan.

Open-air plant galleries are featured in two of the 2015 gardens: the picture-perfect “Nuances” frames wave upon wave of blue-hued plants while “Reflections of a Collector” plays with mirrors to create an Alice-in-Wonderland world of plant paintings.

The chateau's stables, kitchens and chapel serve as galleries for nature-inspired art, such as this installation that uses plants gathered from the grounds of the chateau. Photo by: Lorraine Flanigan.

No matter what year you travel to the International Garden Festival, surprise, delight and thought-provoking exhibits challenge you to stretch your imagination and find inspiration in all the right places.

Good to Know

Location: Chaumont-Sur-Loire, between Blois and Tours, France
Open: April through October

  • 29 Festival Gardens
  • 5 Permanent Gardens and 10 Satellite installations that remain on site for 3 to 5 years
  • Gardens of Light evening light festivals through July and August
  • Domaine de Chaumont-Sur-Loire historic castle with roots in the first century and architecture dating from the mid-15th century
  • Contemporary Art installations throughout the chateau, stables and historic grounds
  • 6 Restaurants
  • 2 Boutiques

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