International Garden Festival, Chaumont-sur-Loire

June 4, 2014By Heidi EllisonDaytrips From Paris

Seven Deadly Sins
In the Garden

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“Le Domaine de Narcisse,” Photo © E. Sender

A summer pilgrimage to the International Garden Festival at Château de Chaumont, a couple of hours from Paris, has become a ritual for many Parisians. Each year, 30 landscape architects or agencies are chosen to create a discrete garden on the grounds of the château inspired by that year’s theme.

Not surprisingly, sexy themes are visitor magnets, and this year’s – the seven deadly sins (wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony) – is a good one, attracting high numbers of visitors. As François Barré, director of the Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire, noted during a recent visit, “Nothing sells like sin.”

While all seven of the deadly sins have been dealt with by the mostly youthful landscape architects, those that have led to the ravaging of the earth – notably greed and gluttony – seemed to be the most popular. As always, many of the gardens are highly conceptual, and some are less successful than others.

Given the darkness of the theme, it is not surprising to see so much black this year, a less-than-expected color in a garden but which can be very beautiful when combined with green, as in “Paradis Inversé” by Arie van der Hout and Richard van den Berg of the

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“Paradis Inversé.” Photo:

Netherlands. They have represented the destruction of the earth by pollution in our oil-based society through the use of rubber tires – whose odor permeates the garden – along with jagged sheets of slate and a desert of burnt soil where nothing grows but cactus.

The French creators of “Pour l’Amour de Tongariro,” Rozenn Duley and Grégory Dubu of Agence A-mar, also used black in their garden, and had the more original idea of

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“Pour l’Amour de Tongariro.” Photo © E. Sender

seeing sin as potentially positive. Using a Maori legend about the volcanoes Taranaki and Ruapehu, who both fall madly in love with another volcano, Tongariro, and engage in a violent dispute, they show how anger can lead to regeneration. French artist and landscape architect Ana Morales also sees sins as “magnificent sources of vital strength and energy capable of breaking concrete.” In her

Paris Update Chaumont International Garden Festival-Resurrection

“L’Eloge de la Défaillance.” Photo:

garden, “Resurrection, ou l’Eloge de la Défaillance,” plants sprout through fissures in the blackened earth.

Russian landscape architect Ivan Zantchevski adds a touch of poetry with his “Jardin de la Grotte,” whose theme is lust. Teepee-like cardboard-lined plastic “grottoes” serve as a lovers’ hideout, with verses from “decadent” poet Charles Baudelaire scrawled on the wall to provide added titillation.

A blast of color – geranium (“gluttony”) red – in the garden “Bloom,” by NAS Architecture of France, provides an antidote to the preponderance of black in the other gardens. The red plants and flowers are surrounded by a circular bar that keeps visitors out but offers them a welcome place to sit on stools and contemplate their sins.

Speaking of gluttony, a lunch reservation at the festival’s restaurant in a tent, the Grand Velum, is a must. As always, chef François-Xavier Bogard’s dishes are as colorful as the flowerbeds outside and refreshingly creative.

The temporary gardens are only one of the many attractions on the estate, whose permanent gardens are worth a look each year to see how they have evolved. The interior of the château and its outbuildings – with new works by major contemporary artists each year – can also be visited. There are also artists’ installations on the grounds. This year, an entire field is taken up by British environmental artist Chris Drury’s “Carbon Pool,” a whirlpool of logs that turns

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“Carbon Pool,” by Chris Drury. Photo:

black in the center, a handsome and powerful comment on environmental destruction.

Plan on spending at least a day to see all this. You may find yourself making a yearly habit of it.

Heidi Ellison

Festival International des Jardins: Chaumont-sur-Loire. Tel.: 02 54 20 99 22. Open daily through November 2, 10am-8pm. Admission: €16.

Le Grand Velum: 02 54 20 99 79. Fixed-price menu: €42.

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