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The fabulous topiary of the Marqueyssac Gardens, Dordogne

Marqueyssac gardens

The Marqueyssac Gardens and Chateau: High up on a cliff overlooking a valley in the Perigord Noir department of France is a beautiful Chateau with a fascinating history and a magnificent topiary display that has made it one of the most famous gardens in all of France.

The Château de Marqueyssac was acquired at the end of the 17th Century by Bertrand Vernet de Marqueyssac, Counsellor to Louis XIV, the Sun King. The gardens which cover 22 hectares and six kilometres of paths are instantly recognisable thanks to the boxwood sculptures that dominate the views.

marqueyssac gardensMore than 150,000 boxwoods grow here, shaped, pruned and teased into fabulous shapes with a background of cypress trees and umbrella pines.  The stone roof buildings of the chateau, the views over the valley and the sinuous paths combine to create a glorious vista, one that fires the imagination. At once dynamic and full of movement but with a degree of formality and sharp styling skills.

The boxwood shapes roll and merge, like an enormous and very tranquil flock of green sheep, spread out in beautiful, harmonious formations.  The layout of the terraces of these splendid gardens is attributed to France’s most famous gardener Andre le Notre.  He was not personally involved in the construction and oversight but provided the plans for the garden’s original design. The request had come from the then owner the Bishop of Sarlat (the capital of the Perigord Noir) via his nephew – a personal tutor to young dauphin at Versailles – and Le Notre was only too pleased to comply (and send one of his best assistants to help). He of course remained at the beck and call of his King.

It wasn’t until the mid 1800’s that the boxwoods were planted (almost all of them date back to the second half of the 19th Century). The then owner, Julien de Cerval, a Sarlat magistrate was a fanatical gardener with a passion for Italy where he had served as a soldier. He imported trees and plants from Italy and created a design that was reminiscent of his memories of his favourite country including the building of rustic features.

The gardens and chateau fell into disrepair in the 20th Century, several of the Marqueyssac boxwoods grew to a height of more than 10 metres. However in 1996 the new owner embarked on a restoration programme  though only 3000 new boxwoods have been planted since then. Today the pruning and shaping is conducted by just a few dedicated gardeners who cut with old fashioned cutting tools, and the fabulous gardens can be enjoyed in all their ever green glory. In the peak summer months, the gardens can be visited lit by a thousand candles in the evening, whilst during the day there are workshops showing visitors how to grow, train and prune boxwoods.

More on the Chateau and gardens of Marqueyssac

Photo by Bev Doliber (The Good Life France Photo Competition)

Video coverage of the gardens of Marqueyssac by the BBC Gardeners World Team, complete with hot air balloons floating magically past…

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