Updated: Dec 10, 2018
Formal French knot gardens and sweeping parkland, arboretums and rare tropical collections: Lower Normandy has dozens of gardens in all colours and forms. The Gulf Stream warms Normandy's shores; the sun shines and the rain falls on its rich, fertile soils; winters are rarely too cold nor summers too dry. It’s no surprise that this green agricultural region – famous for its dairy produce – is ideally suited to the cultivation of beautiful gardens. Add to that the hundreds of fine manor houses and chateaux that seem to pop up everywhere like mushrooms in an autumn meadow, and you have the perfect landscape for green-fingered enthusiasts. In fact, every self-respecting Norman tends his or her garden, whether it’s a landscaped park or a backyard potager. Here you’ll find a selection of the best gardens from Caen to Cherbourg, all of which are open to visitors from springtime to autumn.
The Gardens of Château de Canon
15 hectares (37 acres) of beautiful 18th-century park in both French and English styles. Château de Canon’s gardens express their originality in the period statues and follies that adorn the lawns, trails, ponds and waterfalls. Among the garden’s attractions you will discover the neoclassical Temple de la Pleureuse, the Mirror of Glass pond, a Chinese Pagoda and the magnificent 'Chartreuse' in which a dozen separate walled sections or ‘chambres’ once harboured Canon’s espaliered fruit trees. Today the Chartreuse contains a profusion of perennial flowering plants. As well as the formal gardens and park, Canon has a working organic farm.
April, May, June and September : Every day except Tuesday from 2pm to 6pm
July and August : Every day from 10:30am to 1pm and from 2pm to 6pm
Château de Canon, 14270 MEZIDON-CANON
The Gardens of Château de Vendeuvre
Much distinguishes the gardens of this 18th-century château on the edge of the Pays d’Auge countryside. Gardens plural, because the Vendeuvre family are the proud custodians of four of them: a perfect jardin à la française, the Utility Garden with its pyramidal ice-house, the water gardens (prepare to be splashed), and the recently created Exotic Garden. Rare trees, topiary galore, a host of ornamental constructions, fountains and ponds, tropical and aquatic plants... there’s almost too much to see in one visit. Don’t miss the maze or the shell grotto covered in 200,000 seashells. The Exotic Garden contains palms, citrus bushes, banana trees, Australian tree ferns, cacti and all manner of tropical climbers. Come in April for the tulip festival and again in May for an exhibition of rare Irises.
April : Every day from 2pm to 6pm
May to September : Every day from 11am to 6pm
October : Sunday, school breaks and public holidays : from 2pm to 6pm
Château de Vendeuvre, 14170 VENDEUVRE
The Gardens of Château de Brécy
Brécy’s park is its crowning glory: one of the best conserved 17th-century parcs à la française in France. Designed by the architect François Mansart in the late 1600s, the house, terraces, gateways and ornamental statuary form a harmonious ensemble. You’ll discover topiary, two-headed stone dogs and artichoke-shaped fountains. The novelist, Jacques de Lacretelle, restored the boxwood knot garden in 1958. Another French author, Jean de la Varende, was struck by the garden’s ‘inexplicable magnificence’. If France’s famous literary sons struggled to put Brécy’s splendour into words then perhaps we shouldn’t try – simply to enjoy the experience should suffice!
From Easter to All Saints : Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday and public holidays from 2:30pm to 6:30pm (plus Saturday in June)
Château de Brécy, 14480 SAINT-GABRIEL-BRECY
Les Sources d'Elle Gardens
A series of ponds beloved by anglers from the region are surrounded by the gardens of Les Sources d’Elle. The name comes from the River Elle which begins its meandering journey here among 37 hectares (90 acres) of woods and flower-filled meadows. This vast arboretum is well worth a visit, especially in the May and June for the flowering rhododendrons, and from June to October for the wildflower meadows.
March to October : Every day from 7:30am to 7pm
Parc des Sources d'Elle, Rouxeville 50810 SAINT-GERMAIN-D'ELLE
The Gardens of Château de Canisy
Created in the English style in the 19th-century, the park of Château de Canisy covers 35 hectares (90 acres). A long avenue of chestnut trees brings the visitor to the vast but secluded landscape, past the animal park, botanical garden and finally the chateau itself: a late-16th-century historic monument. Behind the main house is a lake bisected by a causeway. Via a rushing waterfall, the lake feeds a lower pond, created in the 1990s. Wild duck, geese and swans are permanent residents. A network of trails can be followed through the park and into hundreds of acres of surrounding farmland.
Open every day throughout the year
Château de Canisy, 50750 CANISY
Photo: Chateau de Canisy
The Botanical Gardens of Château de Vauville
A stone’s throw from the west coast of the Cherbourg peninsula, an exotic botanical garden surrounds a chateau with 12th-century origins. Four hectares (10 acres) of gardens, created in 1947 by the Pellerin family, are home to over 1,200 species of southern-hemisphere plants. Many tropical species thrive here due to the Gulf Stream’s warming effect, and you will encounter eucalyptus, gunneras, echiums, bamboos, azaleas, amaryllis, rhododendrons, and France’s most northerly palm trees. A tea room, boutique and plant sale area conclude the tour. Nearby the Vauville Nature Reserve is well worth a visit; its 62 hectares (150 acres) of natural heathland is a haven for wild birds including woodcock, mallard duck and warblers.
April to June and September to October : Every day from 2pm to 6pm
July and August : Every day from 2pm to 7pm
Château de Vauville, 50440 VAUVILLE
The Park of Château des Ravalet
Alexis de Tocqueville’s nephew – Vicomte René de Toqueville – restored the park in 1872, creating 14 hectares (35 acres) of French- and English-style landscapes. The well-conserved Renaissance chateau now belongs to the town of Cherbourg, and visitors flock to appreciate the water features, exotic species, meadows and beach woods that surround it. A superb 19th-century rotunda glasshouse is one of many treasures. The Mandala Garden and the Island Meadow are recent additions by French botanist, Gilles Clément. The park, glasshouse and chateau obtained Historic Monument status in 1996, and the grounds bare the EcoGarden label.
January, November and December : Weekends and public holidays
February : 8:30am to 6pm
March and October : 8am to 6:30pm
April and September : 8am to 7pm
May, June, July and August : 8am to 8pm
Château des Ravalet, 50110 CHERBOURG-EN-COTENTIN
The Park of Château de Nacqueville
A romantic park in the English style, Château de Nacqueville was once described by Alexis de Tocqueville as “one of the prettiest places on Earth”. The landscaping was completed in 1830 by de Tocqueville’s brother Hippolyte. It’s easy see what captivated the author of Democracy in America: the 16th-century manor house with its charming gothic gatehouse is surrounded by a manicured landscape of lawns and beech woods complete with a meandering stream that falls to a shimmering lake. Rhododendrons, azaleas and hydrangeas grow in abundance in a microclimate warmed by the Gulf Stream. Come in May and June to catch the best of the blossom.
From May to September : Thursdays, Fridays, Sundays and public holidays from 12pm to 6pm
Château de Nacqueville, 50460 URVILLE-NACQUEVILLE
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