The “Outstanding Garden” label was created in 2003 on the initiative of the National Parks and Gardens Committee, which is supervised by the Ministry of Culture and Communication. The label is national and is allocated to old or modern, private or public gardens, whether or not they are listed as historical sites or monuments. The gardens carry the label for 5 years and are remarkable for their design, plants and excellent maintenance.
All recently-designed gardens are called contemporary. Some are the work of enlightened amateurs, drawing their inspiration from the gardens of France, Italy, Holland or China, reinterpreting atmospheres of other lands and transposing them on to indigenous plants. There are many examples throughout Lorraine, often women’s gardens or gardens belonging to couples, ephemeral works, reflections of a passion and incessant hard work.
They are sometimes the work of a famous landscape gardener, come to breathe new life into the grounds of historic chateaux, or into the heart of Lorraine’s towns, which thus find a new vitality far removed from their industrial or military past. Since the 1970s, artists, amateurs and professionals have renewed the image of villages and towns, small gardens or huge parks, adapting to Lorraine’s cold winters and hot summers for our immense pleasure.
French gardens were designed to be admired from the chateau, the outlines providing a feeling of perfect unity and balance. There were two basic principles: axiality and symmetry. The component parts were structured plants (topiaries) and natural plants (copses then forest). Walkways were punctuated by statues and topiaries. The further one went from the chateau, the more nature took over with woodland and meadows.
A landscape is defined as picturesque when it is hilly, has varied aspects and textures and changing light conditions. Picturesque gardens began to spread in France from 1760 as a reaction against the classical gardens designed by Le Nôtre. Gardens celebrated a new relationship with nature, based on the idea of a possible harmony between nature and man. Designed to be closely integrated into the environment, a picturesque garden favoured curved lines, displayed the natural components of the landscape to their best advantage and emphasized the profusion of water and vegetation. This succession of “tableaux” was meant to provoke a wide range of feelings as you walked along: daydreams, surprise, apprehension, admiration and melancholy.
The picturesque garden clearly made its mark in private properties that were being built at the time. But it was not until the First Empire that this new sensitivity to nature began to be seen in Lorraine, the end of the 18th century being marked by the annexation of Lorraine into the kingdom of France (1766). The influence of Lorraine painter Hubert Robert (1733 – 1808), Louis XVI’s Gardener, was particularly strong in Lorraine.
The art of gardening was transformed with the emergence of Art Nouveau between 1890 an 1914. The enthusiasm for exotic species, the result of colonial and scientific expeditions towards the end of the 18th century, inspired not only lovers and designers of parks and gardens in Lorraine but also nurserymen, who developed new varieties of flowers by artificial pollination or hybridization.
Although the work of the horticulturists began several decades before the birth of Art Nouveau, close ties were formed between the gardening fraternity and the artists of the Nancy School. The latter found lasting inspiration in the plants that were promoted at the time. Soon, stained glass, decorated with floral motifs, became a natural extension of the garden.
An invention of the Renaissance, a time of great scientific curiosity, the very first botanical gardens in France were created in 1593 in Montpellier and in 1619 in Strasbourg, and were cultivated by the Universities.
In Lorraine, the Alexandre-Godron garden (formerly the Jardin des Plantes) dates back to 1756 and was the first botanical garden in Nancy. Duke Stanislas then founded the “Nursery”, designed to supply young plants for parks and roads. The botanical garden in Metz, a former summer residence built in 1719, is a marvel: both English and French style landscaping, and greenhouses built for the Universal Exhibition of 1861. These boast an array of 490,000 flowers in bloom every year among exotic aviaries and ponds for fish and turtles. An 80-strong rosary is the finishing touch to this collection.
Up until the early 19th century, large trees had a mainly utilitarian role. Grown as a hedgerow, curtain or canopy, they provided shade close to buildings. With the advent of a more picturesque conception, trees came to be considered as outstanding components in their own right, due to their bearing, colour, vastness and origin: through trees, Asia, Africa and America came to our parks from the end of the 18th century.
The way the trees were planted differed as far as possible from the classical garden: line and perspective were no longer important. The species, often planted in odd numbers to avoid excessive regularity, were arranged as in a “natural” scene.
The Vosges massif, reaching a height of 1424m, brings together all the unique features of a high-altitude garden: drastic differences in temperature, early and late frosts, snow in winter, poor soil, sloping ground and limited access.
Some excellent projects have shown that, despite a harsh terrain and environment, gardens here can be real wonders. For example, the Berchiranges garden, at an altitude of 700m, brings together thousands of plants from around the world, with collections of primroses, narcissi, hardy perennials and alpines living side by side.
The medieval garden designed today from historical documents is inspired by two sources: the manuscripts and illuminations of the Middle Ages. Originally an enclosed area situated close to or within the walls of a fortified castle, abbey or monastery, the medieval garden could include constructed elements (benches, well, fountain); the plants grown were all wild or cultivated species known from the 5th to the 15th century: absinth, hyssop, marjoram, lemon balm, peppermint, spearmint, oregano, burnet, sage, rosemary, thyme, verbena and citronella.
“Charlemagne’s list” described 90 species that had to be planted in the Empire’s cloisters and gardens!
Terraced gardens are one of the original aspects of the 18th century in Lorraine. Unlike the narrow terraced gardens, which originated in Italy and were found in France until the beginning of the 17th century, Lorraine gardens have vast terraces and frontal stairways, which have a very strong visual impact. Their success is explained by the presence of undulating sites and stunning views. Ten abbey and chateaux grounds still show evidence of these features.