Herculean, Pharaonic and other Garden Superlatives

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Herculean, Pharaonic and other Garden Superlatives

One of the Seven Wonders, for which the specific location has never been established, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon are said to have contained a large variety of trees, shrubs and vines planted in tiers on raised terraces in an extraordinary feat of engineering.

While visiting the Remarkable Gardens (see other garden studies with this label) of the Château du Champ de Bataille, I drew a parallel with these mythical gardens, beginning with the symbolic notion that they are said to embody: The Seven Degrees of Creation from the Mineral, Vegetal, and Animal to Humanity, Conscience, Light and Spirit, in that order.

Jacques Garcia, renowned decorator, acquired the château in 1992. Working with landscape architect Patrick Pottier, they carried out the herculean task of conceiving and planting more than 240 acres of formal gardens consisting of groves, French parterres, boxwood topiary, basins, terraces, steps and fountains complimented by temples, theaters and sculptures. Hidden at the end of the garden is the “pièce de résistance” (flourish); a genuine 18th century Indian palace, reconstructed stone by stone, complete with an artificial lake: the Palace of Dreams. From the Material to the Immaterial, visitors pass from the earthly realm to the heavens in a pharaonic fanfare of fountains and greenery.

Overview of the water garden, Palace of Dreams, Chateau du Champ de Bataille, Normandy, France.

Contributing to the myth, it is believed that another famous gaze alighted on these gardens many years before; that of André Le Nôtre, architect of the Tuileries and Versailles gardens. An unforgotten sketch attributed to Le Nôtre shows the positioning of the Great Terrace, boxwood embroidery and bordering groves, as well as the proportions of the Squares of Diana and Apollo. These rare period features, similar to those of Vaux-le-Vicomte, have been restored in the current gardens.

Bordering groves of the Chateau du Champ de Bataille, Normandy, France.
Bordering groves of the Chateau du Champ de Bataille, Normandy, France.

A modest, but visibly dedicated quantity of gardeners oversea this creation which, one might assume, had evolved progressively throughout the history of the château. In reality, the château changed hands many times and underwent periods of restoration and but also neglect, even serving as a post-war prison camp and women’s prison. What was left of the structure and gardens at the time of Garcia’s purchase in 1992 required a significant overhaul in order to make it a period piece, including the excavation of over 1 million cubic meters of earth in order to arrive at the original ground levels of the 17th century.

The Babylonian aura surrounding this place; tales of a deep-pocketed Nebuchadnezzar and his wife Queen Amytis, romantic ideals of The Seven Degrees of Creation and legend of André Le Nôtre, was driven home on Patrimony Day when I witnessed the spectacle of the usually private garden greenhouses. Incredulous, I surrendered to Garden Superlatives.

Tropical greenhouse entrance, Château du Champ de Bataille, Normandy, France.
Tropical greenhouse entrance, Château du Champ de Bataille, Normandy, France.

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