Rose gardens at the Château de Bourneau

Rose gardens at the Château de Bourneau

A thorny problem leads Erin Choa to have nightmares about Chateau de Bourneau’s rose garden…

As May segues into another golden June, the blossoming roses always make me fall in love with Château de Bourneau all over again.

We were very lucky to inherit an old rose garden in front of the château which overlooks the medieval moat. When we arrived, one side of the moat was a tangle of wild briars amid resplendent dames de coeur that to me were the translation of sunshine made tangible, the air heady with perfume and the soporific drone of glutted bees.

There were days when it felt like these giant blooms were unreal, as if they had tumbled out of a fairy-tale in a heap of mad vibrancy and Alice in Wonderland would pop in for tea. But if one side of the moat was enchanted, the other side was painful reality. For some reason, nothing grew here and as a Londoner unused to the maintenance and care of roses, I had no idea what was wrong.

I pored over books, asked for advice from our green-fingered neighbours and gardener friends and did everything suggested from fertilising, hard pruning to treating them for all kinds of potential rose sicknesses but to no avail. After exhausting all ideas, their fate came to a head one cold winter’s evening while planning new planting for the year ahead: it was, sadly, time to dig them up.

We decided that we would replant new healthy roses in their stead in order to maintain the garden symmetry and move the old roses elsewhere in the garden. After all, perhaps a change of soil and scene would enliven them?

We spent two cold days exhuming the old roses, pink-cheeked and numbed-fingered, heaping them up in great gnarled piles overlooking the Red Salon, under the watchful glare of the portraits of the château ancestors. For some reason I felt uneasy digging them up and something about it clearly played on my mind and repeated again in a vivid dream that night.

In my dream, I was summoned to the Red Salon in front of the first châtelaine, Madame Claire Moller de Fontaines, petite in voluminous black crêpe de chine of the late 19th century and much older than her large 1860s portrait that still hangs there. She sternly gestured to the piles of roses outside the window and demanded an explanation, telling me in no uncertain circumstances that there are always roses at Bourneau and some were planted in memory of her grandson who never returned from the First World War. I desperately explained that it was all a misunderstanding and we were just renewing the roses and hoping that the old roses would grow better elsewhere.

I was dismissed from my dream summons with her blessing but awoke in a cold sweat and felt compelled to reiterate the misunderstanding to her portrait that morning, as if I were in front of the headmistress for a silly misdemeanour. Clearly the fresh air was going to my head!

Now, it is with great joy that I can say that there are even more roses at Bourneau and the other side of the moat is finally just as splendid again. Furthermore, I’m happy to say Madame has not felt the need to tell me off since!

Keep up to date with what’s happening at Château de Bourneau…

London-born hospital doctor Erin Choa is the 6th châtelaine of Château de Bourneau, where she lives with her French fiancé Jean-Baptiste and bossy cat HRH Oscar. Read her regular column in French Property News magazine and follow her as she blogs about their château-life on Instagram @theintrepidchatelaine

Lead photo credit : Roses are an important part of the château’s heritage

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