The Landscape Guide

Chantilly Garden

Le Nôtre had not, however, during his active career given his mind wholly to the works that he actually wrested from Nature, and which were the visible mirror of the grand siècle, for it is clear that the king did not want the gardens already in existence at his old castles to be left quite uncared-for. And the more the reputation of Le Nôtre increased, the more was his advice sought, and also his plans, by the great families of France. One of the earliest cases is the garden of Chantilly, which Le Nôtre always thought one of his finest works. The great Condé made use of the undesired leisure forced-upon him by Louis’ disfavour between 1660 and i668, to remake the Renaissance garden at his castle, which, although broken up into many divisions, was really quite a small place. Le Nôtre, whose plans Condé was using, found here what was always wanting at Versailles—water in abundance, though divided into many small canals. He collected all these into the broad band of canal which he made to cut off the main garden crosswise as at Vaux-le-Vicomte (Fig. 424).
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Since the mediaeval plan of the castle prevented him from throwing all the gardens and buildings together to make one whole, as at Vaux and Versailles, he made a great stairway plan as architectural conclusion for the parterre, at the castle terrace leading southward. In the centre the canal cross-cuts into the parterre, and on the other side spreads into a semicircular bay, with avenues and meadows adjoining (Fig. 425).
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In the parterre of this chief garden water reigns supreme; the open flat spaces are all laid out with groups of five round ponds surrounded by grass, box, and strips of flower- bed—an effect that Le Nôtre tried to get afterwards at the castle terrace at Versailles on a different scale. This water-garden, corresponding to the water-castle in its style, was bordered on one side by a great colonnade, which in its main lines is still standing. On the other side, to the east of the castle lake, there was a second parterre with wonderful flower arrangements (Fig. 426).
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 Behind it many groves were made, of which the finest was the Great Cascade (Fig. 427). 

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The engravings by Perelle, Rigaud, and others have preserved for us pictures of these fine garden scenes, of which nothing now remains, thanks to the Revolution and the change to the picturesque style. If one searches among all the little details to find some remains of the old time, as for example the ruins of the fountains below the tennis-court, one is almost startled at the traces left of the great age of art. On the far side of the castle terrace a piece of the formal park remains with its beautiful high hedges, though the winding paths tell of a somewhat later period. A charming little garden-house, the Maison de la Silvie, dating from 1684, with its quiet parterre still preserved, has given its name to this part.