A very special French vegetable garden, a jardin potager, deep in the heart of the Loire at the fairy tale Chateau du Rivau yields its autumn bounty and beauty to French garden expert and writer Georges Lévêque…
Patricia Laigneau has a vegetable garden – no ordinary vegetable garden this, it is in the grounds of the beautiful and ancient Chateau du Rivau.
Patricia calls it “the garden of Gargantua” because of the historical roots that bind this magnificent castle to the works of the famous medieval French author Rabelais (circa 1494-1553).
October is a great month to visit and see the plentiful vegetables in a wealth of shapes and colours and I can guarantee that after a visit to Rivau, you will never look at pumpkins in the same way. Patricia explains her work in the garden:
“After entering the grand Renaissance door of Rivau, you enter a confined and wonderful world reflecting the tremendous exhilaration of Rabelais. A gargantuan feast is actually drawn in the courtyard, inspired by Master Francis, who in the Rabelais book Gargantua, offered the Chateau du Rivau to the valiant captain Tolmère as a reward”.
“The shape of the garden serves to remind the visitor of the agricultural history of this site and to recall the equestrian history of the Chateau. The stables at Rivau were created in 1510 and supplied royal stallions to the French Kings. The gardens are also an homage to Rabelais our “great bawdy, botanist and thinker”. The half-moon garden of Gargantua, referring to a horseshoe and the epicurean Rabelais, heralds the delights of the gardens of the castle! Flowers are intertwined with an array of squash, pumpkins and sprouts of all colours and sizes. Dahlias in simple red and white flowers and scarlet nasturtiums attract beneficial insects and provide the perfect colour foil.
Having the flowers co-exist with the cucurbits really aids pollination and provides much benefit; for instance nasturtiums protect against the dreaded cabbage fly. The plants are treated only with nettle manure… Mulching limits the onset of weeds, and at the end of the season, the fruits are raised off the ground to prevent their decay.
“Pumpkins are chosen for their gargantuan size, flaming pumpkins named Gargantua, Etampes and Gros de Paris, the bluish skins of the Hungarian Pumpkins are highlighted, the pretty little Melonnettes Vendée and curious Turbans Aladdin – we select all of our pumpkins for their texture and colour.
“Rows of cabbages intermingle with pumpkins: bluish dyed cabbage Cabs, black sprouts of Tuscany, purple red cabbage, curly cabbage from Milan. The Artichokes represent chandeliers of the open table and leeks and vibrant chard add rhythm and aromatize these living edible tapestries.
“This feast in the garden attracts peacocks from the other gardens and we have to protect the vegetables to stop them making a feast of it! The vegetables we grow here will be served in the restaurant of the Chateau and we offer a different variety of pumpkin soup every day during the holidays of Toussaints (All Saints)”.
The garden of Gargantua is one of fourteen gardens of Rivau which are designated a Jardin Remarquable. All are inspired by fairy tales and legends of the Middle Ages where you can follow in the footsteps of goblins, ogres, giants and fairies in an extravagant fantasy world of gardens and the beautiful chateau.
See the website for details of opening times and events: www.chateaudurivau
Paris author, journalist and gardener Georges Lévêque: georgeslevequejardins.com