Everyone who visits the Chateau de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley comes away with a memory of the exquisite gardens, the impossibly romantic white stone castle over a river with its pointy towers and arched bridge – and especially of the flower displays in every room…
Jean-François Bouchet is the florist extraordinaire who creates and directs the floral displays at the castle and for some, he is the main reason to visit the chateau. When I visited and had a lesson on flower displays with him (I know, I know – how lucky am I?) we went around the chateau afterwards to see how it looks when it’s done by a master. Groups of ladies gathered round him cooing and praising and I’m not surprised, he’s thoroughly charming and anyone who can make flowers look like he does, deserves such devotion.
Francis I, the renaissance King of France, took ownership of the Chateau of Chenonceau in the 16th century. Later it was run by Diane de Poitiers who received it as a gift from her lover Henry II, the son of Francis I. She commissioned the famous bridge over the river Cher so that she could cross to the other side to hunt.
It’s said that she would sneak through the basement kitchens each morning to bathe in the icy waters of the river to keep her complexion bright. When her lover died, Diane lost the chateau to his wife Catherine de Medici, and was sent to live in neighbouring chateau Chaumont-sur-Loire. Catherine built the enclosed gallery on the bridge that makes it look so unique and she also developed the gardens.
Both ladies adored the chateau and were famed for their lavish parties in the castle’s beautiful grounds. In fact, the feminine touch that’s seen the chateau owned and developed by a succession of lady owners, is how it got its nickname ‘Chateau des Dames’ or ‘The Ladies’ Castle’.
Chenonceau later passed into private ownership and is today owned by the famous French chocolate making family Menier. Madame Menier adores flower displays and often has a hand in choosing the colours and blooms used at the Chateau de Chenonceau. The rooms are filled with fragrance and beautiful colours. Tiny orchids, peonies, roses, grasses and poppies – all sorts of flowers are used to create the floral masterpieces and the many of them are grown in the castle’s own stunning gardens.
The Flower master of the Chateau de Chenonceau
Jean-François Boucher is a Master Craftsman of France, European Junior Champion of Floristry, French Vice Champion of floristry and a truly amazing floral designer whose creations fill every room in the chateau and who has a legion of fans worldwide (you can find him here on Instagram where he posts daily photos of his creations).
Headhunted to do this job, the young florist gave up his thriving flower store in nearby Tours to become the flower master of Chenonceau.
He is passionate about flowers and the history of the chateau, and together with his team of two, creates around 200 bouquets per week, every week of the year. Some are small, some are enormous.
The displays may be only flowers or a mix of flowers and vegetables, sometimes with a nod to the past “did you know Catherine de Medici introduced the artichoke to France?” he asks. “Because it was believed to be an aphrodisiac and she thought it might help her win her husband back from her rival, his mistress Diane”.
Some days you think your fairy godmother has listened to you and when I was asked if I’d like to see inside Jean-François Boucher’s atelier where he creates his masterpieces I was over the moon. When I was offered the chance to create my very own bouquet under his watchful eye, I was over the moon – and the sun.
It’s a surprisingly tiny room. And, as you’d expect it is filled to the rafters with cut flowers. Jean-François gave me a small pot filled with gardeners’ foam and instructed me to do whatever felt right. I put roses in and peonies, pinks and whites, a bit of green. “Not bad” he said kindly then told me you should never be able to see the foam so “carry on, put more in”. I spent one of the most creative half hours of my life there and afterwards took my display home with me. On the train to Paris I carried it carefully and I am pretty sure everyone was admiring it, and then on to my home where I left it on display until the blooms were well and truly over. But, I still have the pot – my very own bit of Chenonceau.
Website for the Chateau de Chenonceau: www.chenonceau.com
Botanical tour with Nicholas Tomlan and floral workshop with Jean-François Boucher is exclusively for small groups, by reservation only via the events contact on the website.
Where to stay near the Chateau de Chenonceau
Nearby Amboise makes for a perfect base to visit the Chateau de Chenonceau, it’s about 20 minutes by car. I stayed at the lovely Hotel Bellevue which has a great little restaurant and fabulous bar and is a stone’s throw from the incredible Chateau d’Amboise in the centre of this historic town.
How to get to the chateau de Chenonceau
Trains from Paris run to Amboise, nearby Tours and to Chenonceaux station which is right by the chateau (making for a great day trip): UK-Voyages-SNCF.
More things to do near Chenonceau
The Chateau du Clos Lucé , the former home of Leonardo da Vinci is truly special.
The incredible Chateau de Chambord: a palace built for fairy kings and queens…
The Abbey de Fontevraud, the biggest Abbey in Europe, a historic monument, fabulous art centre and one of the most unique sites for a hotel, bar and restaurant
The Chateau de Brissac, the tallest castle in France – and quite possibly the poshest B&B ever!