|Pavilion of Tranquility at the Manoir d'Eyrignac near Perigord in France|
If you're travelling to the Dordogne in France this summer, there are two very special gardens you shouldn't miss, within a stone's throw of each other - the beautifully manicured garden at the Manoir d'Eyrignac, which has been there for 500 years, and the recently restored gardens at Chateau Marqueyssac, which have been there for more than three centuries, but were nearly lost at the end of the 20th century. With views over some of the most impressive scenery of the Perigord Noir, work is still ongoing there, but when you realise what's already been achieved, you'll be amazed.
|Le Manoir d'Eryignac and view over the French Garden and lawn|
Eyrignac has been in the same family for 22 generations. The present manor house was rebuilt in the 17th century after its destruction in the Princes' Revolt and although it has always been surrounded by formal gardens, what you see there today is the work of the current owner's father, Gilles Sermadiras, who completely redesigned them in the 1960s. He had no experience in garden design when he embarked on the project, but has created an extraordinary topiary palette using just ten basic species of plants including hornbeam, yew, Mediterranean cypress and apple trees. Today his son, Patrick carries on the tradition at his home, with the help of six gardeners and Eyrignac is recognised as one of the great French gardens.
|The hornbeam walk at Eyrignac - each of the buttresses is made of 12 plants|
Topiary dates from Roman times and is well documented in history, although it did not become popular in Europe until the 16th century when it was re-introduced for the parterres and terraces of the elite. There is a European Boxwood and Topiary Society and for those of you who are interested in the subject, their website has plenty of information. Meanwhile, I shall return to Eyrignac, where I spent a lovely morning last week. The 10 acres of gardens are immaculately maintained and the focus here is on the discipline of the design. But unlike most great French topiary gardens, there are wide turfed avenues between the carefully crafted shapes, instead of gravel. This gives a real feeling of opulence to the property.
Le Manoir d'Eyrignac prides itself on being open every single day of the year, although winter opening hours are considerably shorter than summer ones. From May to the end of September, the garden is open daily from 09.30-19.00. You need to go early in the day or later in the afternoon to avoid the intense summer heat (the day I visited it was 38C!), although there is a breeze when you reach the edge of the garden and enjoy the views of the valley below. Entrance fee is 12 Euros for an adult, but it's well worth it and there's an excellent restaurant on site.
|Eyrignac's ornamental pond and reflecting pool is constantly refreshed by a spring in the garden|
|The extraordinary topiary shapes at Chateau Marqueyssac|
|Restoration work is well under way at the stunning hillside location of Chateau Marqueyssac|
|Stroll in the 55 acres of grounds at Marqueyssac and you'll enjoy wonderful views over the Valley of Chateaux|