The French gardens of the Château de Chambord

French Garden

Built by François I as a challenge to Nature, the Château de Chambord was known to the public as this masterpiece of Renaissance architecture preceded by a vast grassy esplanade. Since 2017, the facade of Chambord has been adorned with a new plant setting. In place of the carpets of grass which extended over the terrace bordered by the Cosson, the gardens laid out in the 18th century have been restored identically. This reconstruction is the result of 16 years of research and several months of work. An extraordinary project in the spirit of those of the Grand Siècle.

In the footsteps of the gardens of the Château de Chambord in the archives

All scientific restitution work begins with documentary research in the archives made up of plans, accounts, contracts, reports, epistolary exchanges and engravings which make it possible to retrace the history of the places. The origin of Chambord is of course linked to François I, its royal sponsor. François I is more concerned with the building than with the development of its surroundings, and he does not seek to provide the Château de Chambord with a garden to suit it, at best, certain views of Chambord allow us to envisage the existence of a utility garden. You then have to travel to Louis XIV to find traces of a garden project for Chambord. A plan dated 1682 produced by the agency of Jules Hardouin-Mansart has been identified. However, the documents show that the work, although it started well, was quickly interrupted. However, it turns out that Jacques Rigaud, an 18th century engraver, represented the Château de Chambord and its gardens, suggesting that a project subsequent to that of Louis XIV was brought to fruition. And indeed, other documents have revealed that the landscaping of the Chambord terrace was undertaken under Louis XV in 1734 on the basis of a new drawing during the stay of Stanislas Lesczinsky. Thus, the facade of Chambord has not always been devoid of plant ornament. This state dates from the 1970s, a period when the garden suffering from a lack of maintenance became a green carpet for the sake of convenience at a time when the art of gardens itself had fallen into disuse.

In the footsteps of the gardens of the Château de Chambord on the grounds

The geophysical and archaeological prospecting phases as well as the landscape and architectural studies are an essential extension of the documentary research work. Thanks to the comparison with the field, modulations or confirmations could be made such as the now attested location of a modest medieval type garden at the foot of the chapel wing. The imprint of the work undertaken under Louis XIV could also be identified. This mainly concerns the work campaign prior to the creation of the gardens directed by La Hitte, controller of the Buildings of King Louis of the Cosson by the creation of dikes, the cleaning and widening of the watercourse to form a canal, the elevation of the walls of the artificial terrace followed by a contribution of earth in order to raise the land to the height of the walls of the castle. It is then the 6.5 ha of the terrace which are developed. The excavations also made it possible to accurately locate the various elements of the garden: paths, flowerbeds, plantations, etc.

An overview of the Chambord gardens

The question of the state to be restored was of course raised and the answer given was that the only garden which had been completed must be returned to Chambord. It is therefore in this garden, a faithful reconstruction of the 18th century garden, that the public can now stroll. But it is by going up to the floors of the castle that we can best read the new composition of the esplanade.
The space bordered by the Cosson is divided into 4 squares. The one occupied by the castle constitutes the reference module, the other 3 constitute the garden; each space is arranged differently. To the north, are 2 rectangular beds of lawn cut with delicate embroidery; outside, on either side, a double avenue of lime trees borders the flowerbeds. While emphasizing the straightness of the design, when the trees have reached the desired height, they will also be a pleasant, shaded place for walking. Between the two flowerbeds, a central path guides the eye towards the distance; it is decorated with flowers and topiaries in the shape of cones and balls. The vegetation is enriched in the summer with boxed citrus fruits.
Adjoining the north parterre, the northeast parterre is arranged in a square staggered arrangement planted with flowering cherry trees. Hornbeams frame the whole on 3 sides.
To the right of the castle, the eastern parterre is inspired by the layout of the northern parterre, in more restricted proportions and without embroidery motifs. Rose bushes, simple, conical and ball-shaped topiaries complete the decor.
Although based on an 18th century design, the gardens harmonize perfectly with the Renaissance facade of the castle. They allow us to reconnect with the principle theorized in particular by Leon Battista Alberti in the 15th century according to ancient architects, which is that the garden is a plant transition promoting dialogue between stone architecture and the surrounding landscape.

The key figures of the restitution

The extraordinary construction site which was carried out at Chambord is certainly a restitution project but it is also an immersion into the art of building in the Grand Siècle. And although the technologies are different, the methods, knowledge and know-how, skills, needs for materials and plants are comparable.

  • 16 years of work;
  • a multidisciplinary team of 100 people;
  • 6.5 hectares of surface area
  • 618 trees
  • 840 shrubs
  • 438 units of topiaries
  • 15,640 plants demarcating the borders
  • 10,928 flowering perennial plants
  • 176 rose bushes
  • 18 lemon trees in boxes
  • 9,200 thyme plants
  • 18,874 m2 of lawn

The restitution of the Chambord gardens is an immersion in the past and a contemporary challenge

For several years now, historic gardens have been committed to the practice of eco-management and this is also the choice made by the Chambord team, namely: reasoned management of flower beds, choice of perennial plant species and requiring little maintenance, exemption from phytosanitary treatment. Thus, if the restitution of the Chambord gardens is a wonderful immersion in the past, it now requires taking up the contemporary challenge of maintenance that takes into account the preservation of the environment.

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