Inspiration for your French vegetable garden
Alex Schofield visits Château de Montriou in western Loire for some inspiration for a French vegetable garden
Château de Montriou is set in the heart of Anjou, not far from Angers in the western Loire. Beautifully maintained by its owners, the neo-Gothic château is surrounded by landscaped grounds and the leafy canopies of many trees. Beyond the more formal gardens lie hectares of parkland.
There is plenty of history attached to Montriou, as seen in its buildings including a beautiful chapel with a collection of listed classical statues. As is usually the case with magnificent places like this, the huge space devoted to gardens has been divided into distinct styles, each with its own atmosphere. You can wander through the Italian Garden and admire the Bishop’s Aviary; rest your eyes on the forest plantations of young oak trees; be inspired by the collection of dahlias; and be impressed by the quintessentially French and perfectly clipped box hedging and topiary.
The 19th-century walled kitchen garden is a wonderful tapestry of vegetables and flowers. Flowers are very much a feature of most potagers; not only do they look ornamental and soften the symmetry of straight horizontal rows of leafy greens and vertical plant supports, but they can of course, be cut and taken into the house. Most important of all, though, flowers will attract pollinating insects and the result will be happier bees and hoverflies, and more peas, beans, currants and other vegetables and fruit to be harvested.
It isn’t just flowers that combine the ‘beautiful and useful’ attributes in the productive garden. The Princess’s Garden at Château de Montriou is devoted to climbing cucurbits – the family of plants which includes cucumbers, melons, marrows and gourds – which are trained over archways so you can walk beneath and admire the big heart-shaped, or sometimes hand-shaped, leaves, and array of smooth, warty or ribbed fruits in all shades from green, white and grey to orange, yellow and red. Now is the time to sow these types of seeds, to add a little Château de Montriou character to your potager.