The Ornamental Kitchen Garden is the high point of the gardens of Villandry. In a purely Renaissance style, it consists of nine patches all of the same size, but each with a different geometric motif of vegetables and flowers. The patches are planted with vegetables in alternating colours – blue leek, red cabbage and beetroot, jade green carrot tops, etc. – giving the impression of a multicoloured chessboard.
Joachim Carvallo paid particular attention to the design of the Kitchen Garden, as shown by the scientific approach he took to providing the freshly restored chateau with fitting gardens. By crossing the results of archeological digs, old plans and literary sources such as Les Plus Excellents Bâtiments de France by Jacques I Androuet du Cerceau and the Monasticum Gallicanum, Carvallo gained an insight into how the gardens might have been in the 16th century.
The vegetable garden has its origins in the Middle Ages. Monks liked to lay out their vegetable patches in geometric shapes. The many crosses in the Kitchen Garden at Villandry evoke these monastic origins. In addition, to liven up their patches, the monks would add rose plants, whose blooms also served to decorate the statues of the Virgin Marie. According to an old tradition, the roses, planted symmetrically, symbolise the monk digging his vegetable patch.
The second influence comes from Italy. In the Renaissance, Italian gardens were enriched with decorative elements, fountains, arbours and flower beds, skillfully laid out to divert the stroller, thus transforming the “jardin utilitaire“, or ‘utilitarian garden’, into a “jardin d’agrément“, or ‘ornamental garden’.
French gardeners in the 16th century thus combined these two sources of inspiration – French monastic and Italian – to create the garden they needed for roses and the new vegetables from the Americas, which they called a “potager décoratif”, or ‘decorative kitchen garden’.
Here are some technical details about the Kitchen Garden:
- Two plantings are made each year: one in spring, which remains in place from March to June; the other in summer, from June to November.
- Forty species of vegetable belonging to eight plant families are used each year.
- The layout of the vegetables changes with each planting, both for the purpose of achieving harmony of colours and forms, and due to horticultural constraints requiring triennial crop rotation to avoid exhausting the soil.
- Watering is carried out by an automatic irrigation system buried in the ground.