Yesterday, I talked about the beautiful parterres at the Château de Villandry. Today I wanted to talk about the Château itself. In 1521, Francois I made Jean le Breton a Minister of Finance and gave him significant responsibility over the construction of his enormous Château de Chambord. In order to have a place from which to supervise the work, le Breton bought the estate of Villandry, razed most of the ancient castle, and constructed a Renaissance château on the foundations. The large square tower is the only remnant of the first château. Until the Revolution, Villandry remained in the le Breton family, but afterwards it bounced around from one owner to another, even briefly belonging to Napoleon at one point.
In 1906, Dr. Joachim Carvallo bought the highly run-down château and restored both the house and gardens. The formal parterres had been replaced by the 19th Century passion for naturalistic gardens à l’anglaise. There are several different formal gardens at Villandry: the box garden with hedges clipped in symbols of love, the potager filled with artistically planted vegetables, a vine-covered pergola, a labyrinth, and roses clambering over arbors. The château is still in the hands of the Carvallo family.
A potager (poh-ta-zjay) is a kitchen garden. It’s related to the word potage, or a thick soup. A potager is meant to be a working garden, but at Villandry, it’s elevated to an art form, with brilliantly colored vegetables planted so that their shapes and hues complement one another. The garden makes this my favorite château to visit in the Loire Valley.