Review: Inspired by Nature

It cannot be denied that many beautiful and noteworthy books pass over my desk during the course of the year. However, ‘Inspired by Nature – Château, Gardens and Art of Chaumont-sur-Loire’ has to be one of the most stunning.

This giant of a book, written by Chantal Colleu-Dumond, director of the Domain de Chaumont-sur-Loire with superb photography by Eric Sander, provides a unique insight into the presentation of the art of the garden and brings this 15th century UNESCO World Heritage Site to life through exquisite words and pictures.

The site has for centuries been prided for its beautiful gardens, once a preferred retreat for kings and members of the nobility and in more recent years the setting for the prestigious International Garden Festival which features a series of six creative exhibitions devoted to landscape art. Here is brought together the best in art, science and botany.

Throughout the year, the château displays temporary and permanent exhibitions, which have featured works by Andy Goldsworthy, Jannis Kounellis and Sheila Hicks among many. Key elements that define each of the great gardening traditions are explained and trends that draw upon the five senses provide inspiration for every home gardener.

Situated majestically above the Loire river and surrounded by parkland where Catherine de Medici once strolled, the chateau was acquired by the Prince Amedee de Broglie family in the late 19th century. During their tenure the chateau played host to the artistic and literary elite as well as visitors such as the Maharaja Jagatjit Singh who offered a baby elephant to the owners as a gift! Just before the Second World War the estate was sold to the Loire region.

Every spring, since 1992, the château has provided the backdrop to the International Garden Festival during which the entire Domain becomes the showcase for the most important trends in landscape gardening from across the world, providing new ways of thinking about and experiencing gardens.

Here, a host of micro-gardens, micro-landscapes and ephemeral gardens provide for the imagination and talent of gardeners from all over the world. Since 2012 the Domain has also possessed more permanent contemporary gardens, reflecting great gardening civilisations, for it was important that all the different periods of the garden should be represented.

The Domain of Chaumont-sur-Loire is comprised of the Château itself, an English-style park – laid out in the late 19th century and since 2012 a new park, the Prés du Goualoup, a more natural and wilder area.

The first part of the book looks at A Château Revitalised, carefully detailing each room and outbuildings; this is followed by A Kaleidoscope of Gardens taking the reader on an informed tour of the parks, gardens and the International Garden Festival itself. The third part of the book covers Contemporary Art in Architecture and Landscape. Each section is prefaced by an Introduction with each page of text having its own theme – Gardens of Colour, Body and Soul Gardens, Flower Power, New Techniques, New Cultures – highlighting gardens that have featured at the Festival.

Coline Serreau, Filmmaker and member of the Académie des Beaux-arts, points out in the Preface that, “The Garden Festival is well and truly the annual event for lovers of miniature paradises. They come here looking for idea, emotions, surprises, fragrances and entire worlds.” The book, too, will inspire all who read it, bringing as it does this important UNESCO location to life and giving the reader a unique insight into contemporary art in architecture and landscape.

This is a colossal book with 320 pages and 300 colour illustrations and is a perfect coffee table edition.

Chantal Colleu-Dumond has served as director of the Domain de Chaumont-sur-Loire for the past decade. Eric Sander’s photography has been published in numerous books and magazines including Smithsonian, Time and Life. His inspiring photography has illustrated A Day at Château de Fontainebleau and French Château Living, among others.

‘Inspired by Nature’ by Chantal Collieu-Dumond and photography by Eric Sander is published by Flammarion, in hardback at £85.

Picture credits: All photography ©Flammarion, credit Eric Sander. Banner: (pictured banner: The chateau was built in the fifteenth century facing the Loire river, in order to bednefit from what was until the nineteenth century, one of the longest navigable arteries in France.) (Middle right: Irises and ornamental Garlic, Prés du Goualoup park, credit Eric Sander.) (Middle: Exterior view of the manege built by Paul-Earnest Sanson during work in 1877.)

The publishers kindly provided a review copy of this book.