Had the estate managers at Villandry known what a menace they were admitting through their gates to walk among their meticulous gardens, they would have sounded the alarm and barred me from stepping foot onto their grounds. Shoot, they wouldn’t have even allowed the piggy who ate roast beef admittance, much less the appendage in its entirety. At the very least, they would have shoved me into a hazmat suit and forced me to exhale into a contained environment. But they didn’t know about my X-Men capabilities to kill anything with photosynthesis in its veins or the swath of foliage carnage about the width of an F5 tornado damage path that I’ve left over the years on at least two continents. So I slipped through the gates and into the château de Villandry.
Villandry was my French destiny. For three months I’d been staring at the cover of my France guide book at the sweeping rows of hedges and flowering shrubs until I had been brainwashed into thinking that the trip could never truly be a success unless I inserted myself into that photo and walked among those very flowers. I had to tour the love gardens. I had to see the water garden. I had to stroll down the English gardens and marvel at the fact that the French would allow the British on their soil in any way. Until I had fertilizer on the soles of my shoes, I just wasn’t going to be happy.
Lauren and I began the tour in the grand house. Unlike many of the other chateaus we had visited, this one was privately owned and occupied even into the 20th century. That explained the crazy little rooms called bathrooms that most of the others lacked. We climbed each floor and took pictures through open windows, quickly learning that a Chinese tourist will almost knock you right off the third floor if she thinks it will allow her a better angle of the herb beds. Sure, I wanted a close-up of the gardens, but I didn’t want to be picking parsley out of my eyebrows either. As soon as I heard the slightest suggestion of Mandarin, I’d jump away from the shutters before any jostling could occur.
After absorbing the views and artwork of the house, we ambled through the gardens. As I walked down one perfectly manicured aisle after another, I marveled not at the brilliant arrangement of so many different shrubs nor at the breathtaking display of colors. Nor did I marvel at the grape arbors or at the wild profusion of blossoming trees. No, what gave me such pause and instilled such wonder into my heart was the fact that it was alive. All of it. Every last leaf and blossom seemed just thrilled to be there, and for the life of me, I couldn’t understand it. How did the gardeners manage such a feat? Sure, you could get small children to line up in rows like this by threatening a time out or by imposing restrictions on an iPad mini, but plants were kamikaze renegades at heart, and if they didn’t like the looks of things or respect your orders, they’d drop their petals and keel right over before you could even say Miracle Grow. So while others were strolling around taking notes of certain plant combinations and rattling off names with the arrogance of botanists, I just stood around basking in all that oxygen production and murmuring, “What a lovely lot of pansies.”
After a couple of hours, we left before the vegetation could recognize the true nemesis in its midst and retaliate with a blight that would make the Black Death look like a head cold. Since everything had already gone green, I departed before anything could Go Brown.
© 2013 – Traci Carver