Chaumont 2014: review by Valerie Lapthorne

September 3, 2014

in Events, Shows

A belated (my fault) review of the 2014 Chaumont Garden Festival – but not too late, it runs until November. I wonder, contemplating these gardens: is it all rather old-fashioned?

Anne Wareham, editor

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

International Garden Festival, Chaumont-sur-Loire 2014 by Valerie Lapthorne

Seeing Chelsea Flower Show and The International Garden Festival in the same week, it is difficult not to compare the two. They are, after all, both annual garden shows but they are totally different in approach. Chelsea Flower Show luminaries, having read the proposals and aims of the designer, judge the gardens when they are complete, and, amongst other criteria, on how well the result satisfies the brief.

At Chaumont, the gardens are chosen by the appeal of their proposals and aims, and its up to the designers and landscapers to get on with it, the only judges being the public who come to enjoy the experience. However, this year for the first time by public request, three prizes will be awarded, one for innovative ideas, one for the range of plants and one for the most transposable,-  that the public would like to create for themselves.

Is “range of plants’ a good thing? “Suitability” would perhaps be better. Presumably they will have to be seen two or three times over the six month life of the gardens.

This year’s theme is “The Seven Deadly Sins”. Some of the links between the gardens and sins are tenuous, but all have the boundary hedge and the need to enter, go through and come out of the garden, which lends itself to journeys towards redemption and absolution, having confronted, and hopefully resisted, temptations to sin.

The Gardens:

I am unable to reconcile the designers’ intentions with what I see before me. On the right hand side of a path are vibrant, hot coloured tubs planted with small cordylines fronted by a pixelated wall of colour, perhaps the colours of a landscape. This is described as being “libres et undulant”. To me this is the virtual world, confined to monoculture and restricted growth. On the other side is a plant filled border, which I agree could be “une belle nature sauvage” The large multi coloured wings of the fallen angel, which seem to have crossed from the virtual to the natural side could indicate the move between purgatory and paradise, but I am in no way sure at all.

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

Péchés Virtuels

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

Garden 4: Péchés Virtuels

The idea, and the garden are straightforward. The centre piece is a large gilt framed mirror, (pond )which could reflect the chateau, but the garden is too low down, and only the tower tip can be seen reflected. It is also not possible to get close enough because of the planting to see, like Narcissus, one’s own reflection, and be proud, but you can see the greenery and the sky from a different angle and this makes the mirror into a landscape painting. Even better if the sun had been shining.

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

Le Domaine de Narcisse

A simple idea using the word play of pécher and péché, peach tree and sin. A pool is surrounded by seven peach trees of different varieties, representing the seven deadly sins and are reflected in the water allowing one to reflect on the sins. Much bigger trees required. Perhaps they were only small sins.

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

Les sept péchers capitaux

Here the sinners are those plants, which are the most voracious feeders, spilling from woven horns of plenty. And by extrapolation, perhaps we, too, are greedy for wanting to feed, encourage and eat them.

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

Food tins, with the food consumed, lined up as in a supermarket, but also transformed into plant pots exuding life. The planting is herbaceous. I think the plants would have been imbued with more appropriate meaning by bearing a closer relationship to the original contents of the tins; strawberries, say, or beans.

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

Le jardin mis en Boite.

The proud oak is felled and is in pieces with the destructive wind working to finish the job.

Think Ozymandias: “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair”.

Plants could do with being more mature. To plant the likes of gunnera and rodgersia from out of three litre pots does not do these impressive plants justice. Although, to buy larger would put the cost up. I daren’t think how much the Telegraph Chelsea garden’s magnificent pleached limes would have cost.

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

Le Jardin Déchené

 

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

Walk around the table and hop up onto a chair and be frustrated in your gluttony by the sumptuous display of red plants representing an unreachable feast. You are urged to compensate yourself by looking at the view. Lovely view, but really not enough to replace an anticipated lunch.

 

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

Bloom

Stroll through this garden and repent your sins. Having received absolution, sit in a teacup. What else? The idea is to relax and be convivial and guilt free. (lemon drizzle, Anne?) (thanks…ed.)

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014

Le Purgatoire des tentations

Enter through a padded door and pass through the seven areas of sinful plants and hear their confessions. Mirrors confuse, not unpleasantly. Difficult to allocate sins to these plants. Maybe by their colours- scarlet, black and gold or by their names – Diamond Frost, Golden Plate, Heavenly Blue.

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

Le jardin de pécheresses: a general view as there were too many visitors reflected in the mirrors.

Take the path being tempted by sins en route and reach Eden, which is where you started from, hopefully having been enlightened on the way.

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

Dissection du Jardin d’Eden

I didn’t interact with this garden as I was expected to, as I read the blurb after viewing it. The colour co-ordinated planted frames placed on a dais, represent gowns on a cat walk to slip into and show off, illustrating the sin of pride. The black masks indicate the different viewpoints from which they can be admired or perhaps, envied. One can choose, by adding oneself to the display, to be the watcher or the watched. Shame I missed that. Give anything a go, me.

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

Haute culture.

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

Haute culture.

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

Haute culture.

Influenced by the tale of Midas, a circular path with a golden dead tree representing something lifeless yet resplendent, is surrounded by golden plants,. The viewer is to marvel at the opulence or reject it as worthless. The effect however is miserly. The tree is far too small and the plants although yellow do not make an impressive enough blaze of gold.

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

Le Toucher d’Or

Here is a collection of narcotic and poisonous plants caged and confined, illustrating their being restricted or forbidden by rules and regulations. They are justifiably angry: ironically, they are plants that are used to calm the anger of humans. But as one walks the pathway through the cages, it becomes unclear whether it is the plants or the viewers who are caged. That works. Although the cannabis actually looks just sorry for itself, rather than angry.

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

Les Fleurs Maudites.

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

Les Fleurs Maudites.

The designers here are landscape architects so it is a surprise that this is a garden that is so reliant on the structure and hard landscaping and pays scant regard to plants. The equisetum “Japonicum” sits well in this structure. Glad it is confined to a box.

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

Parcours initiatique, allegorie aquatique des

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

péchés capitaux

Wander through this garden and feel the tug of temptations as you go, finishing in the purgatorium where you can be gently tormented for the small sins rather than the mortal sins and come out in a state of grace. That’s a lot to ask of a garden.

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

Garden 18 Purgatorium.

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

Purgatorium.

A grotto. A hidden place, for assignations perhaps. Plants chosen of a narcotic nature, brugmansia, nicotiana, poppy. The thrill of the forbidden. The excitement of the unknown. Lust. A bit of a let down to find just a plastic tent at the end of the path.

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

Le jardin de la Grotte

The descriptions use the quaint expression, “the lady who designed the garden” in all gardens designed by a woman, but “ designer” for the men. French makes the distinction, constructrice or constructeur. English speakers are happy to use merely designer for both. More egalitarian too.

This designer wants to illustrate the power of sin as a life force. Although dark and oppressive, this was a very peaceful garden. It was helped by having a boundary of woodland, rather than the standard hedge, and by having minimal structures. The star is the cracking tarmac being colonized by plants. I find it salutary how plants can take over and absorb: covering, rotting, distorting, spreading. Think bombsites, abandoned buildings, the ivy that comes inside through the double glazing.

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

A Maori myth about the love of two volcanoes for a third, running the gamut of anger, lust and covetousness. A shame the steam wasn’t working. That would have been fun. In the foreword, the  director asks that the humour of Chaumont not be forgotten despite the gravity of this year’s theme.

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

Pour l’amourde Tongariro.

The observer is asked to contemplate those sins of excess and consumerism, which pollute the earth. One is supposed to be assailed by the smell of minced rubber, but it had been raining, so the smell was missing. Slate shards protruded from the path, symbolising waste intruding, and leading to a dessert of burnt soil, with some rather healthy cactus and agaves growing in it. My experience is that it is dandelions that first colonise volcanic ash. However, cactus would last the whole of the garden’s six month life better than dandelions.

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

Paradis Inverse.

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

Paradis Inverse.

Lawns are consumers of time, water and chemicals. Use artificial turf! The sponsor of this was not, as I thought, an artificial lawn manufacturer. I wonder how “green” the manufacture of artificial turf actually is? If the garden looks like a play park, that’s what it is. Abandon your mower, and play with your children.

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

Green without Greed

Another pun on peach and sin. French for peach tree is pêcher, sin is péché. Same pronunciation. Peach substituted for apple and the walk over peach stones to the artificial tree invites contemplation of original sin and sensuality. A gentle garden this, the planting reflecting the pastel shades in the peach.

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

Les couleurs du péché.

Coffee and a cake break. Disappointed to find the illustrated show guides had been delayed by three weeks at the printers. A second wind now to visit the newest section of the estate, Prés du Goualoup.

Garden festival, Chaumont 2014, for thinkingardens, Copyright Valerie Lapthorne

Cedars

I must put “Plant Cedars” on my bucket list.

The original aim was to add more of the Festival’s six month gardens, but this does not seemed to have happened, and I am pleased about this, because this area needs to stay as parkland, with stands of trees, vistas, and swathes of mono plantings, which will take years to mature. Add sculptures and art works that people will take to their hearts, as the people of Formby love the Gormley figures. It’s a big space. Think landscape not garden.

The heavens opened when we were at the furthest point away from shelter. Soaked to the skin. Nothing more unpleasant than a cold sodden mac, so called it a day outside and spent a stimulating afternoon indoors with the exhibitions.

Chelsea has the polished, refined feel of professional people at the peak of their expertise; Chaumont of a collection of art degree students’ final exhibitions. All most enjoyable. Perhaps Chelsea could have areas that are more fun and Chaumont could improve the quality of the finish of its hard landscaping and the size of their plants.

Valerie Lapthorne

Valerie Lapthorne 63902_630001440358904_163891544_n

Valerie’s photography here

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Gabinetes Banheiros June 4, 2016 at 2:22 am

An outstanding share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a
friend who has been conducting a little homework on this.
And he actually ordered me breakfast simply because I discovered it for him…
lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thanks for the meal!!

But yeah, thanx for spending the time to talk
about this matter here on your blog.

Charles Hawes September 9, 2014 at 6:02 pm

I hate to say this, but in answer to Anne’s header question, I think the answer is “yes”.

I went to Chaumont annually from 1999 for about 10 years. And I enjoyed every visit, staying mostly in the rather quaint and very french “Hostellerie du Chateau” in the village; It got so that I felt that there was my room there.

By visiting so often I got to know and love the site with its beech hedges containing the gardens and its well raked gritty sandy paths. The sound of the sprinklers, throwing streams of water onto the gardens in the early morning before the hoi polloi were let in . I got to know the materials that the gardens were made from, too. There is a lot of re-cycling at Chaumont. Very sound, no doubt, but lending itself to the feeling that you have seen something before. Because you have.

When I look through this post that sense of Deja-vu is overwhelming. That bright painted woodwork, tunnels made of rusting steel poles and covered with fabric, the ponds faced with decking or planks. And of course the gardens that incorporate mist.There is always mist. I love the mist.I wanted mist in our garden. (We tried and failed, the bloody squirrels eating through the plastic piping).

I do believe that the preposterous and pretentious nonsense that purports to explain the gardens to the visitors is sincerely meant but never failed to me to feel like some kind of joke. A massive tongue in a humongous cheek. All that deadly symbolism.

For me it was all about the visual. And for me, though there are things that I like from this viewing, I like them because I have always liked them. I like them in the way that you like the familiar. But I don’t love it any more. And I don’t want to go back.

What I think Chaumont needs now is a JCB. It needs to wipe the slate clean and start again It needs to ban anyone from having a garden there that has ever had one there before. Mist should be prohibited. It needs to clear out that back yard full of last years left overs. Perhaps it should just stop, celebrate all the fun that was had and close the gates.

annewareham September 9, 2014 at 6:09 pm

Might we say the same about Chelsea?

Valerie September 24, 2014 at 4:08 pm

Charles, would you deny that initial enthusiasm that you felt to a new generation of gardeners? Similarly Chelsea. Is there a garden (other than the Veddw) that excited you when you started gardening that still thrills you?

annewareham September 24, 2014 at 5:13 pm

If I can answer that (and Charles may of course if he wants..) – : no, I don’t think there is, for me. Partly because I’ve changed and learnt a great deal. I loved everything once. And a new generation will do their own learning.

And partly because the garden world moves on. Is anyone excited now by the potager at Barnsley House? It was inescapable at one time.

I think after something has stopped being fashionable and new it will go through a kind of trough of neglect and yawn. And then only the very best of a particular time will emerge to excite and delight. I think the Chaumont look (and I think there is one) has been overtaken by a ‘naturalistic’ style. (which isn’t naturalistic at all, of course – see the piece on this site!)

Skr September 5, 2014 at 3:04 am

‘Les Fleurs Maudites’ looks like a poor imitation of Roche’s ‘Spidernethewoods’

Sarah Coles September 3, 2014 at 5:57 pm

Well thank you for that. I think you have saved me a trip to Chaumont this year.

Valerie Lapthorne September 4, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Oh dear me no, that was not the effect I wanted to give. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Its stimulating. It invites comment. It changes with the seasons, from spring through to autumn. There are photography exhibitions in and around the chateau, and sculpture and installations in the park. The restaurants are worth the visit and the staff and gardeners are enthusiastic and happy to chat. Check out the website at http://www.domaine-chaumont.fr and see all the other interesting events taking place throughout the year. Do go!

Sarah Coles September 4, 2014 at 2:23 pm

It’s a great place, and I’ll go next year! I like once in a blue moon to be swept away, and you obviously were not overcome by any of the seven deadly sins.

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