Diane’s Garden at Chenonceau

While staying near Amboise we drove to the castle at Chenonceau, about 10 miles. We got there late in the afternoon, as we were warned the place would be very crowded earlier in the day.

Chateau de Chenonceau
Chateau de Chenonceau

In the 16th Century King Henry II gave Chenonceau to his long-time mistress, Diane de Poitiers. Reversing the usual pattern, she was 20 years older than the king. Dr. Freud has never analyzed the relationship.

Garden of Diane de Poitiers
Garden of Diane de Poitiers

Anyhow, Diane built a garden within walls the shape of a square. It was the kind of formal garden I generally don’t like, but I found myself appreciating it anyway.


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It was built with a fountain at the center, surrounded by a circular path. Straight walkways at regular intervals led from the fountain to paths parallel to the walls, creating grassy triangles.

An odd aspect of this garden was that it lay completely open, with nothing hidden. There were no trees, no shade, no little private nooks of any kind. Perhaps Diane sought to discourage intrigues against her.

Green meatballs

Also, the garden’s large size diminished any sense of enclosure that might be gained from the walls. Then there were the meatballs made of yew and boxwood that tend to set my teeth on edge.



View of the chateau and the Loire from Diane’s garden.

So what did I like about this garden? Well, I liked the surrounding walls, which provide an elevated promenade as well as views of the chateau.

chenonceau geranium

I liked the giant planters full of tender geraniums. I also surprised myself by liking the curly cue miniature gray hedges of Santolina.

Hibiscus standards at Chenonceau
Hibiscus standards at Chenoceau


Hibiscus standard with a thick, gnarled trunk.

And I liked the selection of flowering plants. I was especially taken with the venerable Hibiscus plants, grown as standards with thick trunks that made me think of olive trees.

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Also beds full of Gaura, English Daisies, Begonias, Artemesia, etc.

Well, back to Diane and Henry. Henry eventually was killed in a tournament. His long-suffering wife, Catherine de Medici, took the opportunity to kick Diane out of Chenonceau and move into it herself. She then built her own garden up river from the castle, which I’ll write about in another post.

Do you enjoy formal gardens with everything laid out in one open space? It’s not something I would want for myself, but somehow I liked Diane’s garden at Chenonceau.

30 Comments on “Diane’s Garden at Chenonceau”

  1. Nice to see some photos of that garden – I went years ago, but only got shots of the chateau. I am also not fond of formal gardens and this one seems so exposed, as you say. I like to turn a corner in a garden and be able to gasp with surprise at a new view! Look forward to the next post about Catherine’s garden.

  2. Formal gardens were meant to reassure us that man could dominate nature. Now that we feel man dominates nature too much, we want gardens that are more in tune with nature. Each period has its garden styles. I like the feeling of peace and orderliness formal gardens provide. They look very “settled” and timeless whereas our gardens are warm and friendly. There is room for both kinds.

  3. Starting with a big stone wall like that it’s hard to not like this garden. Love the planter of geraniums above the bench. I do appreciate formal gardens, just don’t have the patience for growing one. I love to plop in a plant any old place…

  4. I generally hate even my own hardy hibiscus trees, but seeing them with gnarled old trunks really brings them up a notch! and I’m a little ashamed to admit I like the meatballs and have been trying to grow a couple of my own 🙂 but no, overall I’m not crazy about this garden. I would of course love to visit, but it’s not something I’d need to have in front of my chateau…. maybe I’d put it somewhere in the side yard.

  5. I think it’s about the correct design in the right place. That is especially true of historic gardens which I love seeing planted in the style they would have been by the origional owners. what I really enjoy is a combination of formal clipped plants and free flowing unpruned ones creating a really strong design.

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