Next up on my summer skies trip to see Dordogne gardens are the extensive topiary gardens of Eyrignac Manor (www.eyrignac.com).
Before you reach the main avenues of topiary shapes, there are wonderful views, clipped hedges and screens of flowering plants that entice you to enter this garden of green sculptures.
The property and its buildings have a long history dating to the 17th and 18th centuries, owned and restored by 22 generations of the same family. The gardens as they are today, however, are the creation of father and son, Gilles and Patrick Sermadiras. In this 10-hectare garden within a larger forested estate, there are hundreds of living green plant sculptures. The 300-plus green sculptures that flow from terrace to terrace are trained to form hedges, buttresses and statuary shapes made by clipping or trimming over 50,000 hornbeam, box, yew and ivy plants. In addition, there is the shapely drama of Italian cypresses, rising skywards, like green needles. All these green foliage shapes are set against luxuriant areas of closely mown lawns.
The topiary work, clipping and shaping these green sculptures, starts in May, and is all done by the team of gardeners and specialists, who work with plumb-lines and hand-shears – no electric tools – for several weeks at a time.
There are several long avenues of topiary, mainly hornbeam, interspersed with yew columns, trained into hedges and architectural shapes that enclose the terraces. These eventually lead into other garden areas, such as the French Garden, that are more open, albeit still displaying the signature topiary work, but in this area in the shape of low box scrolls and parterre hedges.
In contrast, at one end of the topiary walks, offering a bright red highlight in this green sculptural paradise, is a lacquered Chinese pagoda. It reflects the 18th-century trade between France and the Far East, when Chinese ornament also found its way into homes and gardens.
Just before you leave the gardens close to the restored residence, the Manoir d’Artaban, there is another Oriental feature, the Japanese Torii gate, with ivy trained into swags and ribbons nearby.
Once through the Torii gate you are into less enclosed garden spaces. Here there are several relatively new garden creations, the work of Patrick and his wife Capucine. Opened to the public in 2000, the White Garden, with spectacular views across the estate, is one of them.
It has a central pond complete with four substantial bronze frogs, reminiscent of those at Versailles. Repeat white-flowered modern roses including ‘Opalia’, ‘Iceberg’ and ‘Fée des Neiges’, combine with once-blooming roses such as ‘Alberic Barbier’, to provide a constant show through the summer. White Surfinias, Gaura lindheimeri and cleomes are planted in the many containers, adding to the white theme of this garden area. The red arbour at the end of the central path is the perfect spot to rest and enjoy the tranquillity of the White Garden.
Below this open and elevated garden is the wild flower meadow, planted with spring bulbs including tulips, narcissus and hyacinths. From here there are grass paths that lead via a ‘topiary nursery’ to a new ornamental, but much used kitchen garden and an exuberantly planted flower garden, both created by Capucine Sermadiras. A soft and almost comical line of shaggy weeping cedars separates the kitchen garden from the flower garden. The produce of flower and kitchen gardens is harvested daily for the family’s use.
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