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Magnum Opus - visit William Christie's stunning garden

Magnum Opus - visit William Christie's stunning garden

We travel to the fertile plains of southern Vendée, to discover an extraordinary garden whose owner has devoted over thirty years to creating a world apart and who, for a few short weeks each summer, opens its doors to astonished visitors. 



Le Jardin du Bâtiment looks and feels like a private retreat created by someone who clearly treasures his time here. Indeed he does, but William Christie is more accustomed to being in the public eye, having risen to become an internationally acclaimed conductor of Baroque music. After leaving his native USA and coming to France in 1971, he embraced both contemporary and French Baroque music, and in 1979 founded Les Arts Florissants, a vocal and instrumental ensemble destined to revive interest in a largely forgotten 17th/18th century musical form.

A few years later he chanced upon the early 17th century Logis du Bâtiment in a state of abandoned desolation, and set about patiently restoring both its original character and dignity, and giving the house the garden which in all probability it had never known. Thirty years of inspired commitment have created not just one but a steadily increasing collection – ‘ensemble’ sounds appropriate – of garden areas, adding to them whenever adjoining parcels of land become available for purchase. Currently they cover around 15ha, with the potential for landscaping on a scale seldom seen today, particularly by private owners.

Visitors are free to explore, beginning with the Cour d’Honneur, a bravura clipped-box homage to Italianate Renaissance and Baroque gardens, with slender cones rising from swirling parterres. The almost whimsical effect is a perfect complement to the composure of the logis. To the right a tall, extravagantly sculpted Baroque-meets-Chinese screen of yew hedging conceals the semi-circular Théatre de Verdure. Beyond it lie the Verger – a large fruit orchard, laid out in Renaissance style as four giant parterre beds plus a smaller Potager – and a Jardin Americain, featuring billowing echinacea and other perennials.

Below the logis’ eastern gable end lies an intimate cloister garden bounded by low galleries of stone, brick and chestnut trellis work, roofed with old Roman tiles. This small haven is set around complex box parterres planted with tulips and white petunias, the mood softened by potted geraniums and scented climbing roses. The cloister is also gateway to the vast rear gardens, whose dazzling vistas fall away from a terrace extending the full width of the logis and which are enclosed by alleys of pleached limes and clipped hornbeam. Geometrical yew topiary adds individual forms plus compartmental division, revealing, in the middle distance, a fountain rising from a 70m long canal, centrepiece of a vast water garden sheltered by avenues of plane trees. Beyond lies almost as much land again, which William Christie is gradually transforming to extend the earthly Paradise (listed since 2004 as a “Jardin Remarquable” and since 2006 as a “Monument Historique”) which he has already created. 



Le Jardin du Bâtiment - William Christie

32 rue du Bâtiment, 85210 Thiré.
Open 1pm-7pm daily, daily throughout September.
4€ adults, under-12s free (children should be supervised when visiting the garden). Smoking not permitted and dogs are not allowed in the garden.

Published in Living Magazine August 2013 © All Rights Reserved