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Montpellier – Endless strolls in the gardens of the Château de Flaugergues

VSt is not a blue house, rather a house in the leaves, but, as in the song “San Francisco”, by Maxime Le Forestier, the Château de Flaugergues leans against the hill. He is part of “follies” Montpellier houses built in the 18th centuryand century in the heart of the vineyards. These large second homes of the aristocracy owe their name to the Latin folia, which means leaf. A house in the leaves, therefore, which contrasts with the town house, built in the middle of the stones.

Located not far from the city center of Montpellier, this estate acquired in 1696 by Étienne de Flaugergues, adviser to the Court of Auditors, is still the property of his descendants: Henri de Colbert took over the reins in 1972, after the death of his uncle. Since, “those who live there” (Henri de Colbert, his wife, Brigitte, their son Pierre and his wife Marie) did not “thrown away the key”, but they have opened their castle to all nature lovers. And, when spring comes, it is pleasant to dawdle in its gardens. “Because a garden is a place of love and because there is no unrequited love… And also because we want this castle to be a place of life”explains the owner.

Henri de Colbert (right) and his son, Pierre. Their passion is a family affair.

A trip to Tuscany. In this piece of countryside of 30 hectares, of which 26 are planted with vines, time and the noises of the city move away. Facing the elegant ochre-coloured building, which looks like a Florentine villa, visitors take an impromptu trip to the banks of the Arno. Fascinated by the tall cypresses which sway gently, obeying the whims of the wind, we willingly allow ourselves to be invaded by nature, its noises, its smells and its colors. It is no coincidence that the Château de Flaugergues was elected this year the second most beautiful garden in France by the readers of the Figarojust behind that of Versailles.

Admittedly, Brigitte and Henri de Colbert, members of the Association of Parks and Gardens of Languedoc-Roussillon, spared no effort to publicize their estate, listed on the list of Historic Monuments and labeled “Remarkable Garden”. But nothing would have been possible if these two passionate autodidacts had not worked tirelessly for fifty years to make their garden an exceptional place. “My wife is a harem: she equals sixty wives, explains the octogenarian with a mischievous look before starting the visit. She is the soul of this garden, which she has been watching with her eyes since we moved there. It is to her that we owe all the boxwood that structures the estate. She is a specialist in topiary art, which consists of trimming them. »

  • The path of boxwood and olive trees, 400 meters long, offers a royal-looking perspective.
  • The walk is made of contrasts, between imposing cypresses…
  • …and precious citrus flowers.
  • Stone benches invite contemplation.

Bird paradise. Throughout the stroll, which seems to be able to last infinitely, the decor changes, the park offering different pieces of greenery. “A garden is a living and evolving place. It is the result of a collective work, but it is made to create personal emotions, emphasizes Henri de Colbert. We try to follow the teaching of La Quintinie [le jardinier de Louis XIV, NDLR], whose treaty Instruction for fruit and vegetable gardens above all recommends that each plant be happy in its location and function. » In this place, biodiversity is not an empty word: nearly 60 species of birds cohabit with several hundred plants from all over the world.

The walk begins with the French garden – created in 1700 by Étienne de Flaugergues -, located below the terrace, all in symmetry thanks to the 10,000 box trees replanted by the Colbert couple. This space has succumbed to Persian charms with its bidodecahedron, an astronomical ball indicating solar time, the link between man and the cosmos. A Tuscan influence is also felt with the cypresses, so appreciated in Florence, and the monumental citrus vases. After climbing the flight of stairs to reach the terrace, take the time to observe the two statues commissioned in 1710 from the sculptor Jean-Louis Guyon. “Placed on either side of the porch, they represent abundance and peace, like a nod to our gardens”says Henri de Colbert.

From the terrace, you can contemplate the huge 400-meter driveway lined with boxwood and olive trees that runs along the folly, offering a royal-looking perspective. “It is longer than that of the castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte, laughs the owner, who rebuilt it after the olive trees froze in 1956. Before, it led to a belvedere from which you could see the sea. We certainly regret the lost view, but we nonetheless appreciate the delights of a break on one of the stone benches that line the path, where we soak up the power of the place while listening to the the whisper of the wind in the leaves and the cries of the birds.

Sheltered from the world. Now is the time to walk around the landscaped park, known as the English garden. Here, nature seems queen. However, the human hand is essential. Created in 1850, this botanical garden is the work of Charles de Boussairolles, who erected it like a collector, giving pride of place to flowers but also to exotic plants and large trees. Brigitte and Henri de Colbert have gradually put this space back on its feet, based in particular on a study carried out in 1997 by students from the Versailles school of architecture. “We wanted to make the whole coherent while continuing to develop it”explains Henri de Colbert.

  • Brigitte de Colbert in the English garden.
  • Around the orangery, some of the 300 palm trees scattered on the property.
  • Game of shadows and lights in the bamboo grove.

We discover the orangery, a charming little building where citrus fruits are kept during the winter months. Next to it, a parterre of palm trees testifies to the botanical diversity of the estate. “We have over 300 palm trees on the property,” emphasizes the owner. A short detour through the bamboo grove is a must; it has about twenty species. “As soon as it emerges from the ground, the bamboo has its definitive diameter. It grows very quickly, from 20 to 80 centimeters per day depending on the species, and reaches its adult size after eight weeks., explains Henri de Colbert. In this black, green and yellow stubble forest – bamboo stalks – sheltered from the world, we stop to appreciate the harmony created by their long silhouettes in a play of shadows and light. A small clearing has been set up with a bench to forget the city and dream of being elsewhere, in a distant land.

A little Eden. Further on, sheltered by gigantic trees, sometimes centuries old, you lose yourself in a natural cathedral conducive to meditation and contemplation. You can admire more or less exotic trees there: ginkgo biloba, sequoia, soap tree, Judas tree, but also cork oak. “We organized a writing workshop in the oaks: people had settled there to write stories under the guidance of an author”remembers Henri de Colbert, who takes care to organize regular events to bring his château to life.

Another space deserves a stop: the garden of the five senses, the favorite place of Brigitte de Colbert. Surrounded by a hedge of boxwood and laurels, this little Eden has been laid out to delight all the senses. We settle down there to watch the dragonflies and the dance of the butterflies or to admire the colors of the plants, which we do not hesitate to cuddle with our hands. You can also plunge your nose into it and set off to discover known and unknown scents…

Take a walk, sit with your eyes in the green, breathe, smell nature, listen to the birds, the sound of the wind and the cracking of the trees… Everyone has their own way of discovering this strange madness. But to come back to it one day, that’s for sure. The Château de Flaugergues will be the last to remain standing if Montpellier collapses… could also have sung Maxime Le Forestier§

Aurimages via AFP (x2) – Max BAUWENS/REA FOR “LE POINT” (x7)

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