The Landscape Guide

Gardens at Bury, Dampierre and Valleri

An attractive little castle that first attempts to carry out the ideas of unity between house and garden is Bury (Fig. 321).
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 It is only a few miles from Blois, and is now a ruin. It was built by Florimont Robertet, the accomplished diplomatist attached to Francis I. He vied with the king in his love of building, and built the place with the money that Francis had given him as a reward for the successful negotiations which he had carried out with the Venetian Republic. Robertet brought his feeling for art back with him from Italy, and perhaps his architect also.

The whole place makes an almost perfect square ; but there was a wide moat round it, and the mediaeval aspect was maintained by its having seven corner towers and portal turrets on each side of the drawbridge. The gate led into the cour d’honneur, which seems to have been grassed over ; in the middle stood a bronze David by Michaelangelo, since destroyed, which the owner had received as a present from the Republic of Florence.

A second court for kitchens lies behind this, and these two courts correspond to a pair of gardens connected by a walk shut in with trellis-work, From the castle façade rounded steps lead to the parterre, which shows eight beds designed by Du Cerceau in particularly fine geometrical patterns. In the middle stands a two-shelled fountain in an octagonal basin, and at the end opposite the steps is a little chapel built out over the walls as at Amboise. It is worked into the plan of the garden in the same way as the one hard by at Blois. The corner towers seem to have been also used as garden houses. The second garden, answering to the kitchen court, is more of an orchard and vegetable-garden, with a cheerful pergola running round it, crowning the terrace walls.

The unity and small size of the whole place at Bury leaves on one side certain more complicated problems of garden development. A series of small castles, all built in the sixteenth century and not completely finished at the date of Du Cerceau’s engravings, now lead up to the perfection of what we may best call the type of canal garden that belongs to the French Renaissance.  The earliest of these, Dampierre (Fig. 322) near Boissy on the Seine, belonged to Cardinal Lorraine, who bought it from a banker.

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The garden at Dampierre  lies in a woody valley, and has no view, which Du Cerceau considers a defect. The parterre is in front of the master’s house, which is built round a court, forms an obtuse-angled triangle, and is enclosed with galleries that have turrets at the corners. Both castle and parterre have a wide canal round them, and walls. On the other side, taking the whole breadth of house and parterre, there lies a second large square garden, separately enclosed in a narrow canal and divided into formal beds with regular patterns. There are four bridges over it, answering to the chief walks, while, strange to say, the main canal has no bridge at all. A third and a fourth canal, bordered by avenues, separate this whole garden scheme from the park crossed by its formal rows of trees. On the other side of the castle ( arranged as in Leonardo’s plan) a very large pond is found, no doubt meant not only for fish but also as a place for a naumachia. A similar preference for a great water place, that gives breadth and a certain importance to the garden, is found in the castle of Valleri (Fig. 323).

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 The building itself kept its old mediaeval fortified appearance on the top of a high hill. The garden lies to the south at the foot of the hill, and is so lost to view that it can only be seen from its own buildings. Round three sides of it runs a pillared hall, flanked on one of the smaller sides by two pavilions t the corners, which might serve as places to live in, as they have every kind of convenience (Fig. 324). 

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The beds are partitioned in the way we know so well, bordered in sets of four. There is a raised terrace all round which gives a pretty view over the garden. A wide canal, rounded at the end, occupies the whole of the middle part in the axis of length, following along the four sides of the garden in an underground conduit. This finally debouches into the immense pond, which far exceeds the whole area of garden ground. If we stand on the terrace, we overlook the pond on the one hand, and the whole flower-garden on the other, while above the roof of the gallery the tops of the trees appear from the orchard behind, which is traversed longwise by three wide canals, The plan of Du Cerceau shows a third bit of garden, with narrow canals round it. Each of these gardens is quite separated from the others by walls, and they have no immediate connection with each other, although they are set in the same line, and have a certain sort of relationship due to their raised walks.

In the last part of the reign of Francis I., there was a striking development of fancy among architects, corresponding with the love of building among the great and powerful, and they shrank from no effort of skill. Francis built as a hunting-box his strong turreted Chambord, and put there trenches and bastions. He went so far as to propose to make a mighty water-castle, with the idea that he might divert one arm of the Loire. According to Du Cerceau the gardens themselves never matched the buildings in magnificence, but the park, which the king enclosed with a wall, was of unexampled size at that time. The estate, which was marked out in 1523, measured 5500 hectares.