Gouarec is a small town at
the junction of two rivers, the Doré and the Blavet. Here, during
the Middle Ages, the powerful de Rohan family owned a strategic defensive
castle. The town of Gouarec grew around it and by the 16th century Gouarec
had become a legal and administrative centre based at La Maison du Sénéchal
(1634). Regular markets and trade fairs were held here but over the centuries
the castle fell into ruins.
However, in the early 19th
century, ambitious planning resulted in the construction of the Nantes
to Brest canal, also a new church in the site of the castle’s chapel and
a Presbytery, which is now the Mairie.
The house was built between
the wars. Owing to the very real possibility of flooding, the living
quarters begin on the Ist floor. During the 1990s, garden designer, Michel
Gesret, took this into consideration, creating a garden which would be
enjoyed from this level. Spacious windows give a panoramic view of the
garden whatever the season or weather conditions. If you climb the steps
to the front and back entrances you can appreciate his concept.
With no pretentions to be
a botanic garden, it is attractive throughout the year. The numerous plants
are there to paint a picture and the design incites curiosity, as visitors
discover its many secrets. The garden (8000m2) is cleverly planned using
hedges, walls, terraces and subterfuge to create symmetry where there is
Many of the plants can be
found in cottage gardens. Some are chosen for their scent, others for their
colour. Parts of the garden are dedicated to spring-flowering shrubs and
bulbs. There are roses in profusion in June. Some of the mixed borders
are at their peak in late summer while others are at their colourful best
in autumn. In winter, the basic structure of the walls, slate paths, yew
hedges and topiary come into their own.
Entering the garden through
the gates into the
MAIN COURTYARD, the principle entrance to the
house is reached by wide steps guarded by stone lions. From this higher
level, the typical slate roofs of the town can be seen. Borders containing
old varieties of roses, shrubs and perennials, including penstemon, heuchera
and geraniums, have been created using retaining walls of local schist.
To the left of the main façade,
the path leads to a small formal French garden enclosed by yew hedges.
Ilex crenata, planted in the shape of ermines, allude to the Breton coat
of arms. In spring the border beneath the pleached limes is a mass of white
tulips, followed by peonies in summer and asters in autumn. A large sculpture
by Christian Leroc, leads the eye into the gardens beyond.
Now the garden opens up.
The view from the balcony gives a better appreciation of the layout of
this part of the garden. A series of TERRACED GARDENS leads down
to the river. The first terrace is a large lawn. The second is a lawn surrounded
by wide mixed borders with clematis and roses on chains. On each side is
a schist path leading to archways through a stone wall which conceals the
GARDEN. Here the planting is of a more bucolic nature, with cornus,
viburnum, epimedium, Japanese anemones, acers and rhododendrons. Looking
from the white curved iron seat towards the house, the more astute visitor
will notice the asymmetric design of the garden which has, until now, been
The river Doré forms
the natural boundary of this part of the garden and along the winding path
works in granite, by local sculptor Fanch Venner, can be discovered. Planting
is spectacular in Spring and includes daffodils and azaleas in yellow,
orange and white. Further along, schist steps descend to the river (the
site of an ancient lavoir) with an intriguing water feature comprising
alternate buckets and watering cans. A desire to grow moisture loving plants
– Gunnera manicata, Darmera peltata, Rodgersia sambucifolia, Lysichiton
americanus and Osmunda regalis led to the creation of two sunken beds which
are regularly submerged when the river is in spate.
Leaving the WATER GARDEN,
the path leads onto two long borders, defined by neat hedges of Lonicera
nitida. Herbaceous perennials, hemerocallis, brunnera,delphinium and phlox
range in colours from pale lemon to orange, and pale blue to violet. These
borders are bisected at right angles by a narrow canal feeding a rectangular
reflecting pool set in a large expanse of lawn. From the Lutyens seat gazing
at the shimmering water curtain evokes a feeling of calm … a touch of Zen,
The western boundary is marked
by a sinuous bed of flowering shrubs and small trees – camelias, rhododendrons,
Japanese maples – a special feature is a pair of ornamental flowering malus
“Evereste”, spectacular with springtime blossom and colourful in autumn.
A gap in the yew hedge at
the end of the path reveals a hidden corner with greenhouse, kennels and
a small gravelled courtyard with standard ‘Iceberg’ roses around a large
circular granite trough. A red torii, supporting a pure white wisteria,
marks the entrance to a modest JAPANESE GARDEN
dedicated to meditation.
From here towards the house,
the gravel path continues to a SMALL COURTYARD with granite troughs
(auges) surrounded by mature yew hedges beneath a magnificent lime tree.
Amongst several adjacent buildings is a former blacksmith’s forge, with
the appearance of an orangerie which now houses the gardeners’ tools. On
a lower level, there is a small cottage with climbing roses and its own
The path to the right of
the house, passing the first lawn again, has borders of shade-tolerant
plants, with hostas, magnolias, hydrangea, vinca, clematis jouiniana and
a collection of hellebores beneath walnut trees and centenarian oaks.
Through the arch at the end
of the path, turning left, stone steps lead back to the middle lawn with
its mixed borders of miscanthus, saponaria, geranium, penstemon, bergenia
and sedum. From here, it is possible to return to the MAIN COURTYARD
wander at will.