I hope you had a joyful holiday season, and your 2016 is off to a wonderful beginning! This time of year, after the chaos of the holidays dies down, I am always a little sad to face the reality that it is winter, and we will have to wait several months to enjoy once again the full benefits of our gardens and outdoor living spaces. To keep my spirits up and my creative juices flowing, I flip through countless home and garden books and magazines, transporting myself to another season and place.
Along these same lines, I thought I would share with you some images of my summer visit to the Château Vaux-le-Vicomte in France. A 350-year-old model of grace and beauty, Vaux is a place I had wanted to visit for a long time but had never quite made it. The château and grounds were well worth the wait, however, and I was thrilled to soak in the storied history and sumptuous sights of this grand estate.
As we approached the château, my friend and I passed through an allée of enormous plane trees, or “les platanes” in French. This is my favorite large tree, and it is very similar to the Sycamore found in the U.S.
At the end of the allée, we were rewarded with our first glimpse of Vaux-le-Vicomte.
Entering the property we first encountered a charming, garden café that has been established in some of the former stable buildings.
Across the stable courtyard, blooming roses soften a centuries-old wall.
The château, itself, lies behind an ornate metal gate. Gates are one of my favorite garden elements and an easy way to add instant importance to any outdoor space.
The front façade of the château gives visitors their first glimpse of the grandeur that awaits. The brainchild and passion of Nicolas Fouquet, Royal Finance Minister to King Louis XIV, Vaux was one of the first houses of its day to be built entirely of stone, rather than also using brick.
Looking back at the stable outbuildings, it is easy to appreciate the difference between the two styles.
Vaux was also the first home of its kind designed, from its inception, to be an indoor/outdoor experience, uniting house and garden into one cohesive tableau. In its original state, the main entry hall was completely open to the gardens, both front and back, immediately connecting the interior and exterior realms.
Looking out over the Grand Parterre gives you a sense of the massive scale of the formal gardens, 100 acres of clipped hedges, blossoming perennials and playful fountains.
Nicolas Fouquet was a great patron of the arts, something that is evident in the many statues and ornaments that grace the gardens. Man-made objects, such as statues and urns, are a wonderful way to introduce personality into a garden, and I consider them essential to any space I design.
Looking back at the rear façade of the château, you can see how the gardens complement the house and how its elevated position, in return, affords the perfect vantage point for enjoying the work of André Le Nôtre, the celebrated landscape architect who designed the grounds at Vaux.
Unfortunately it was not active during my visit, but this, the Fountain of the Crown, was Le Nôtre and Fouquet’s homage to their king.
Just a stone’s throw away from the Fountain of the Crown, it was at these steps on the evening of August 17, 1661, that the famous playwright, Molière, entertained Nicolas Fouquet and his guest of honor, the King himself, Louis XIV.
The unprecedented festivities also included lavish fireworks which lit up the sky, as well as the reflective waters of the Grand Canal and Basin.
So impressive were the celebrations that evening that they pushed the King’s previously simmering jealousy of Fouquet and his popularity to the boiling point. Fouquet was subsequently imprisoned and many of his possessions seized by the Crown. King Louis XIV also gathered up the artists and craftsmen who had created Vaux-le-Vicomte, including landscape architect, André Le Nôtre, and put them to work on his own country house. It is a project you may have heard of already: the Palace of Versailles!
Wrapping up my visit by sharing one final view of the château with the statue of Hercules that presides over the far end of the garden, it was not so hard to imagine how one might become jealous over Vaux-le-Vicomte, “the seminal expression of the Jardin à la française, the French aesthetic of formal gardens, that swept Europe in the 17th century.” ¹
Happy New Year and see you next month!
¹ This quote was taken from the official website of Vaux-le-Vicomte, which I encourage you to visit here.
Exterior designer Daniel Keeley is an Arkansas native and founder/principal of DK Design. His work has won numerous awards and accolades and is featured regularly in various publications. For more information visit dkdesignoutdoor.com.