Organized by EBTS France (the French Association for Topiary and Boxwood), the World Topiary Days, which will be held from May 12 to 15, 2022, will be an opportunity for garden visitors to learn more about this art. of the classical garden. Imported from Italy during the Renaissance, topiary art dates back to Antiquity, when cut plants replaced the marble of the obelisks or pyramids that adorned the gardens of Roman patricians. This art of symmetry, geometric lines, but also whimsical shapes applied to boxwood, yew, hornbeam, laurel or cypress reached its peak in England and France during the Grand Siècle, where it shone at Vaux- le-Vicomte and Versailles, in the gardens designed by André Le Nôtre. Gravel paths, statues, fountains and basins for minerals and hydraulics, and rows of pruned trees, palisades of greenery, arbors and boxwood embroidery for plants constituted the model of these so-called “French-style” gardens (or “regular”).
The 18th century would see this same model challenged, with the “natural” in the garden finding lawyers as eloquent as the Genevan Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Gardens previously designed in England – known as “English”, or “Picturesque” – will feature water features bordered by weeping willows, vast rolling meadows planted with large isolated trees or copses, false mountains revealing a cave, pyramid or ruined temple. Exit, therefore, the topiaries and their layout… “boring”. Until the proclamation of the German Empire at Versailles, a consequence of the defeat of 1870, aroused a nostalgic revival and the rehabilitation among the aristocracy and the upper middle class of “French art”. The war and the crisis of 1929 will mistreat many great fortunes, and the prestigious historic gardens will lose their splendor for a long time. Until the interest in the heritage of gardens and the search for a new aesthetic favor, nowadays, spectacular creations or rehabilitations.
And it is this topiary art nourished by tradition or reinvented by imaginative creators that one can admire at the Château de Chantilly or at La Ballue, in Brittany, at the Château de Versailles or at Marqueyssac, in the Dordogne, at the manor of Eyrignac, also in the Dordogne, or in the Carrousel gardens, in Paris. Strengthened by its network of members, owners or managers of (very) beautiful gardens, EBTS France joined the initiative taken last year in the United Kingdom by the gardens of Levens Hall (some topiary of which have more than 300 years) to create a World Topiary Day. In addition to the usual visit conditions, special activities may be offered during the four days of this event, including pruning demonstrations or workshops on the biological fight against the box tree moth, a voracious caterpillar that feeds exclusively on it. , but whose proliferation can be limited. (The list of events is on france.ebts.org)
The exceptional beauty of many of these gardens cannot make us forget their fragility, increased by the consequences of climate change, which causes successive episodes of drought and bad weather. New varieties resistant to predators, the use of replacement varieties (like the Domaine de Chaalis, in the Oise, which has just replaced its boxwood with Japanese dwarf spindle, or the Domaine de Vaux-le Vicomte, which has replaced its embroidery beds with a contemporary creation), new farming practices that save more watering, natural fertilization using compost or mulching the soil using fragmented wood, which limits evaporation, are all additional avenues for the future. In the meantime, many topiary gardens continue to be the pride of their owners and to seduce their visitors, starting with those of Marqueyssac and Eyrignac, in Dordogne, or those of La Ballue, in Brittany.
The stunning gardens of Marqueyssac, in the Dordogne
Located a few kilometers from Sarlat, the capital of the Périgord Noir, the gardens of Marqueyssac owe their rebirth to their current owner, Kléber Rossillon, who undertook the restoration of this unique site in 1996. The origin of the gardens, laid out on a spur rock which overlooks the Dordogne valley, dates back to the 17th century. Today, they are made up of a succession of Italian-style terraces and planted promenades surrounding a castle with an impressive slate roof recently restored. The innumerable boxwoods with their elegant rounded shapes of the “bastion” dialogue with the “chaos” of the “blocks” carved to look like the giant bricks of the terrace. The great achievement of Marqueyssac – and the virtuosity of its gardeners is no stranger to it – is that the visitor thinks that these stunning gardens, partly recreated from scratch, dominate the surrounding landscape… forever.
In Brittany, the poetic topiaries of the Château de La Ballue
The Château de La Ballue, in the Louis XIII style, occupies a fortified position, between Fougères and Mont-Saint-Michel. Its topiary gardens were recreated in a modern spirit in the 1970s for the editor Claude Arthaud, friend of many artists, who stayed there and immersed themselves in the genius of the place. It is maintained today with determination by its current owner, Marie-Françoise Mathon, who has made it a place of poetry and wonder. The surprising “scenes” follow one another, mixing compositions of yew and boxwood, a labyrinth, rooms and an open-air theatre. A green wall in the shape of a wave constitutes, along the terrace, a counterpoint full of elegance.
(La Ballue has just received a mention during the selection of the prestigious Garden Art Prize of the Signature Foundation – Institut de France, awarded jointly with the Ministry of Culture.)
In the Dordogne, the exceptional gardens of the Eyrignac manor
A family property for many generations, the Eyrignac manor, located in the Dordogne between Sarlat and Brive, is surrounded by classic gardens redesigned in the 1960s by the father of the current owner, Patrick Sermadiras. Its emblematic alley of elegantly carved hornbeams and its relaxing green rooms, its topiaries of yew and boxwood or its ball-shaped apple trees provide surprises, such as a 17th century Chinese pavilion in painted wood or a stone rest pavilion adjoining a old-fashioned swimming pool. The plant walls in different shades of green and with original dimensions, the wide variety of cut shapes, the harmonious use of grass and stone paving: no detail is left to chance, and all of this contributes to making these gardens an exceptional place.