|Le Bois des Moutiers is less than 15 minutes drive from Dieppe - a short hop across the English Channel|
There's little doubt that the gardens in France - Normandy especially - pose a serious threat to our English gardens in terms of the "wow" factor. I've just spent four days there looking at some of their wonderful gardens and they certainly provide a gourmet delight for anybody who loves looking at gardens and landscapes. The main problem with the French properties is there's remarkably little on the internet about them and the stretch of water (often stormy) that divides us from them, seems to deter us from visiting.
|The White Garden at the rear of the property has parterre style boxed hedges and is planted with roses|
France is not just "foreign", but the French drive on the wrong side of the road for us Brits (although not for our American friends) and then, of course, there's the language barrier. Their road signs are erratic, and just like here in Britain, those much-needed direction signs always run out at the point we rely on them most, although I noticed on this recent trip that the gardens are remarkably well sign-posted. But all of that aside, I urge readers to take a trip across the Channel to enter a whole new world of magical gardens, starting with Le Bois des Moutiers just four miles outside Dieppe - the unusual Arts and Crafts style house designed by Edwin Lutyens, surrounded by countless acres of formal gardens and parkland, overlooking the sea.
|A series of formal garden rooms surround the house at the rear - the front has views over the park and the sea|
Le Bois des Moutiers is at Varengeville-sur-Mer, close to Dieppe (there's a reasonably priced ferry from Newhaven on the south coast twice a day and for those who don't want to drive, you can go as a foot passenger and take a taxi to the garden), this must surely be the greatest garden that Lutyens created anywhere in the world. He designed both house and garden, and Gertrude Jekyll, his formidable planting partner provided the lists of plants and plans, although she never actually visited the property.
|The Jekyllesque borders at the front of the Lutyens house make a huge impact on visitors|
Lutyens was only 29 years old when he designed this house for Guillaume Mallet. Described by present owner, Antoine Bouchayer-Mallet as "an early example of the new art of gardening born in Surrey at the end of the 19th century, it was conceived as a living picture in the style of a tapestry or embroidery". An apt description for the series of Arts and Crafts garden rooms adjacent to the house, with long Jekyllesque borders (above), a pergola similar to the one at Hestercombe in Somerset (below), white garden, walled garden and rose garden, created from the original potager.
When you arrive at Le Bois des Moutiers you think at first there are just formal gardens here adjacent to the house, but walk to the rear of the property and you will see glimpses of the sea across a sloping, verdant landscape, filled with remarkable plants and trees all planted by the Mallot family more than a hundred years ago. But everywhere you look, the Lutyens influence is present, with brick built seating areas, paths of brick and stone and remarkable clipped yew hedges.
Summer sees the rose garden in full bloom. Sited on what was once the potager, this area has been replanted by successive generations of Mallots and is now a place to enjoy the heady scents of summer. Claude Monet, who created the garden at Giverny, loved this place and often came here to stay and to paint, because the light reflected off the sea gives the grounds at Le Bois de Moutiers a special hue, particularly in the early morning and evening sunlight. And for once the French lunchtime closure, (from 12.00-14.00) does visitors a favour, because the harsh, midday light detracts from the beauty of this garden.
And then there's the woodland garden leading down to the sea, planted by the Mallet family, and now a major part of the attraction of this property, particularly in early summer when all the camellias, azaleas and rhododendrons flower. The hydrangeas are astounding later in the year, but sadly I was between the two seasons, although the formal gardens make wonderful viewing in summer time, and a walk through the woodland areas will give any gardener an idea of just how stunning this property is, throughout the seasons.
The gardens at Le Bois des Moutiers are open daily for visitors from 15 March to 15 November, from 10.00-12.00 and from 14.00-18.00. Tours of the house are available for larger groups by prior arrangement - for a full history of the house and further contact details, look at the website. Entrance is 10 Euros per person (money well spent), with discounts for groups. And if you can't get to France this year, you could visit the Lutyens garden at The Salutation in Kent, but hurry, because the house is up for sale.
|The pergola at Le Bois de Moutiers entices the visitor into a series of formal garden rooms near the house|
|The rose garden - created from the former potager|
|The rose garden seen from the opposite end (see above)|
|The woodland garden leading down to the sea - particularly glorious in springtime|
|Lutyens has left his mark everywhere at Le Bois de Moutiers ... in the paths, archways and pergola|
For more gardens to visit in France and England, click here