The frightfully grand gardens of the past canaerial Eyrignac sometimes also surprise us with their human, livable scale.

At the Manoir d’Eyrignac, garden ‘rooms’ are created with living walls of clipped yew and decorated with topiary; abstract statues in Taxus (yew) and Buxus (box). And all decorated in green.

Like the classic French Renaissance gardens of Versailles, and Fontainebleau, this garden deep in the rolling hills of Perigord boasts the design skill and understanding of geometry and perspective used in classical Roman landscaping and taken up enthusiastically first by the Italians then across Europe.

Eyrignac towerArrow-straight avenues focus the eye on a distant urn, processions of green obelisks, squares, spheres march to the horizon or stand as sentinels to views. All around, perspective is heightened and sometimes tricked; the head gardener actually hand-clips the yews smaller and smaller as they recede just to increase depth of field.

There is a refined elegance to the older part of the garden, those nearest the house. A series of grids of pathways of cobble and lawn extend away from the house; leading in and out of deep, welcoming shadows and flat summer sun, and out eventually to views of the wide farmland horizons. This part of the garden’s colour palette is kept restrained to only white and blue; Gaura, Impatiens, Ceonothus… and the froth of 700 white roses.

Despite its formality, my favourite image from Manoir d’Eyrignac is of the relaxed comfy-seating area just off the gravel forecourt. Shabby-chic chairs surrounded by those clipped yews sums up the interesting balance of grandeur and human-scale ‘livability’ of this garden. The same family has owned this manoir for 500 years, passing it down through 22 generations; it’s a real home.

Stop and stare moments around the gardens include the long formal pool fed by a thundering water-spout, winding yew tunnels and an unexpectedly blowsy cutting garden hidden round the side of the manoir, tended by a cheerful lady with secateurs and deeply French-accented English. I think I’d be cheerful too, working here…

Further from the house, new garden layouts have been planted by the family but for me are less successful. Water-spouting frogs and frilly bedding plants, while very French, seem too busy and eager to please compared to the restrained confidence of the original ‘green rooms’.

It reminded me that, with true elegance and a great bone structure, less is definitely more.

Eyrignac apple lavendar orchard

Eyrignac easy chairs

Eyrignac lawn view

Eyrignac manor topiaryEyrignac topiary
Eyrignac dahlia cottage
Eyrignac formal water

Eyrignac metal chairsThe take-away:

  • 1930’s easy chairs
  • Playing with perspective using differing plant sizes and planted avenues
  • Pairs of objects as frames
  • Tunnels and shadows to provide jolts to the senses

French garden lingo:

  • parterres – ‘partitions’ – or beds edged in clipped hedging
  • espalier – plants trained to walls
  • berceaux – ‘cradles’ – arbours of branches intertwined
  • bosquets – walks cut through forest

Link to the official site for Manoir d’Eyrignac