Documents: Special Interest: Water Gardening:

One Man's Love Affair With Water
by Kathy Wood
by Kathy Wood



Kathy Wood has been the feature garden columnist for The Muskoka Sun for the past 8 years as well doing freelance-writing on gardening, lifestyle, travel and business.

She is a Region VII Director (Canada and International) for the Garden Writers Association and a member of the Bracebridge Horticultural Society.

Kathy enjoys sharing her knowledge and photographs with others as a frequent speaker at horticultural societies, garden clubs and women’s groups throughout Muskoka and central Ontario, providing gardening workshops through the Town of Bracebridge Culture and Recreation Department and as a provincial judge for Communities in Bloom.


December 14, 2008

Some gardeners revel in landscapes that are ablaze with stunning plants in all colours of the rainbow. Others seek sanctuary from today’s harried world in gardens that are monochromatic providing calm and peacefulness. The Gage Canadian Dictionary defines peace as quiet, calm, stillness and order. Tucked away in the lush and beautiful Belgium countryside, about an hour and a half drive from Brussels, in the picturesque village of Annevoie are the stunning Les Jardins d’Annevoie. Declared as a Major Heritage Site in Wallonia, these green gardens and abundant water features provide beauty, calm and restfulness in an idyllic setting located between the villages of Namur and Dianant on the left bank of the Meuse River. For those who are followers of garden design this is a classical landscape based on Versailles in France. It is termed a European-style garden for it combines the magnificent long perspectives, rectilinear shapes and symmetry of French gardens where art corrects nature, avoiding winding curves and meandering pathways; the intimate charm of fountains and follies of Italian design in which art adapts to nature and was the style preferred by Montpellier, the gardens creator; and the imaginative style of art imitating nature in English gardens.

Charles-Alexis de Montpellier, an Elder of the Court of Iron-merchants, designed and created these gardens between 1758 and 1776 for the sole pleasure of his family, an incredible achievement of just one man’s vision without the assistance of a garden designer. It was as famous forge-masters that Montpellier derived his wealth to lay out the gardens and over time, enlarge his chateau. His son Nicholas Charles further enhanced his father’s work towards the end of the 18th century. The estate including gardens and castle, which covered about twenty hectares, continued to be owned by ten generations of the family until spring 2000 when it came into the possession of Stephen Jourdain and his family who have increased the size of the estate to 55 hectares.

Here at Annevoie the colourful plantings have been kept to a minimum for water is the main feature of these gardens. Les Jardins d’Annevoie are all about the miracle of water, for it sprays, tumbles, shoots, and stands reflectively in pools, ponds and water features. But it is not only the sight of water that is featured, it is the sound one hears as the water murmurs, bubbles, rushes, laughs and giggles throughout the gardens. In these gardens water has been flowing for over 250 years in a variety of 50 outstanding fountains, waterworks and waterfalls. A marvel of engineering, these fountains all work without the assistance of mechanical machinery and electricity. All the water gardens are fed by a Grand Canal that is 365 metres long (one metre for every day of the year) and 7 metres wide (one metre for each day of the week) along which was planted 52 trees, 26 trees on each side of the canal (one tree for week of the year). Some of the trees had to be removed due to old age but will soon be replanted. The Grand Canal located on a high plane is fed by four springs diverted from the local village by dikes into the canal. As well the stream Rouillon which feeds into the river Meuse and runs across the property, provides water for many of the ponds.

One immediately feels serenity when entering these beautiful European-style grounds. Straight alleys, symmetrical plantings, clipped hedges and topiary combine with water, stone and birdsong to create an atmosphere that is at once soothing and very restful. Here green is the colour of peace. The site is recognized for its many unusual trees, some of which are over 200 years old. An unusual ancient one is a red copper beech tree. One of the interesting and fun water features is the fountain of love. Accessed through a tunnel of leafy trees one comes upon a shaded glade in which sits a basin with a single spout of water jetting upwards. Legend has it that you must put your hand over the water spout and push the water back into the bottom of the basin, make a wish and then release the water without getting wet. If you do get wet, your wish will not come true.

One of the enchanting stories of the garden’s history is that the Charles Montpellier wrote lots of poems, one for each place in the garden. In his later years he became blind but he listened to the water and his poetry became a reflection of what the water told him.

The gardens opened to the public in the 1930’s but some people complained about the lack of colourful blooms so the Flower Garden was added in 1952 but the plantings were limited to the pastel shades of the 18th century so as not to disturb the feeling of calm. Today life in the garden bursts into full bloom in spring with masses of colourful tulips contrasting with the restful monochromatic green of the shrubs. An autumn visit is highlighted with the golden glow as the hornbeams turn colour and mist enshrouds the garden like a gauzy veil providing an ethereal and magical quality to an already stunning landscape. This is not a garden to be rushed through, you are transported back in time when strolling, meandering and sitting to simply enjoy the beauty is to be encouraged.

Two recent additions to the garden are the play area providing fun for toddlers in a playground completely sculpted in wood and a new Raspberry Orchard which is accessible to everyone during the picking season of early July and early September. Returning the gardens to their complete former glory is still an ongoing process with the castle buildings currently being restored and more repair of the hydraulic system which feeds the ponds and water features. As well Annevoie is working with Roseraie du Val-de-Marne rose nursery in the reintroduction of growing old rose varieties in the gardens.

If you have the chance to visit Belgium, these are truly amazing gardens that should not be missed. It’s worth the drive for even the surrounding villages and towns offer delightful old-world scenes and flora views. Les Jardins d’Annevoie are open every day from April to October from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (in July and August every day fro 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.). A tour of the entire garden site will take you approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes. For more information on Les Jardins d’Annevoie or to take a virtual visit, check out their website at www.jardins.dannevoie.be .

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