If you think your garden takes a lot of work, imaging trimming 150,000 dense boxwood shrubs by hand every year. That’s the job of the five full time gardeners at the stunning Marqueyssac topiary gardens, also called the hanging gardens of Marqueyssac for the way its trees and plants cling to the chalky cliffs of the rocky promontory set 130 metres high above the Dordogne river.
With spectacular views across the valley below, with its ancient towns and castles, the stunning Marqueyssac gardens are the most visited in the Dordogne. Located near the beautiful, historic towns of Sarlat, Perigueux, Bergerac and Domme, the gardens are listed as a French National Historic Monument.
The mind-boggling, centuries-old evergreen shrubs are trimmed by hand in undulating abstracts shapes. The original landscape design has been attributed to a pupil of André Le Nôtre. But it was Julien de Cerval who inherited the garden in 1861 who planted the many thousands of boxwoods that are today the best-known feature of this garden landscape. One night a week in July and August the romantic gardens are lit by 2000 candles.
The Chateau at the heart
More like an elegant country manor then a Castle, the late 17th century chateau and gardens were created by Bertrand Vernet de Marqueyssac, who was a councillor to Louis XIV.
The Chateau is especially known for its wonderful local limestone tiled roof that reportedly weighs 500 tonnes. It took six years to restore and was completed in 2017. The same family has owned the chateau and its grounds since 1692. Three rooms in the building are open to the public.
Beyond the boxwoods
The landscape topiary gardens extend to 22 hectares, but visitors can take one of the 6km of walking paths which make exploring the grounds a real joy. There are four walking trails which meander their way through woodlands which are punctuated by cascade waterfalls, rotunda, rustic structures, parterres and rock gardens. There are small stone buildings where you can enjoy some quiet reflection and even a family chapel.
The paths are laid out in wooded circuits that lead to the wonderful Belvedere balcony, 800 meters from the chateau with exceptional panoramic views of the Dordogne valley.
Ornamental trees planted in the 1800s including lime, elms, cyprus and pine. Given the chalky cliffs, calcium soil and lack of water, the vegetation has had to adapt itself to near Mediterranean conditions. The park has two sides – the drier southern slopes and the more humid northern side where the planting is more Atlantic.
After extensive renovation work, the gardens were opened to the public in 1997.
Beautiful garden rooms
Within a half hour car journey, is another notable Périgord garden to visit. Open to the public for more than 30 years, Les Jardins d’Eyrignac are just a few kilometres from Sarlat with its famous bi-weekly market.
The Italian-inspired gardens are more formal than Marqueyssac and extend to 10 hectares of sculpted plants around a beautiful 17th century manor house.
50,000 square meters of hedging separates seven beautiful garden rooms, including the White Rose garden, the Flower Meadow, the Box Labyrinth and the Plant Sculptures with its magnificent Hornbeam alley.
Distinct areas are laid to perfect lawns, irrigated by natural springs and there are a staggering 300 plant sculptures. The upkeep is managed by just six full time gardeners.
As experts in garden antiques and architectural features, we took great pleasure in (and were very envious of) the range of antique garden urns and statues that punctuate the gardens, along with elegant balustrade, finials and antique stone fountains. It is a real wishing-book.
Historic manor house
The 17th century Manor house is a beautiful golden limestone building with a slate roof.
Symmetrically, either side of the courtyard are two smaller building built from the same local stone which were historically the Chapel and a dovecote respectively. The Manor and gardens have now been in the same family for over 500 years.