Le Manoir aux Quat Saison Gardens
I’d heard great things about the gardens of the legendary Le Manoir aux Quat Saison; the two star Michelin restaurant of Raymond Blanc and a visit there last Saturday did not disappoint! With the glorious CLA Game Fair on the north side of Oxford on the Friday and Le Manoir to the south, is seemed logical to stay and do both. Sadly, my budget did not stretch to a stay at Le Manoir, only a visit to the extensive and superb gardens there! Now many restaurants make much of their [often scant and scruffy] kitchen gardens that purport to supply their kitchens with fresh ingredients but here is one that really does!
The gardens have evolved since Raymond Blanc opened his restaurant in the small village of Great Milton way back in 1983 and now feature a huge kitchen garden, an extensive herb garden, heritage garden, new orchard, Japanese garden and of course beautiful ornamental gardens that wrap around the lovely house! In charge of the gardens and its’ small team of dedicated gardeners is Anne Marie Owen who has been at the helm for some 29 years.Le Manoir gardens are gardened organically and have been that way for the last 18 years and so I was especially keen to pick up a few tips on just how that can be done with the demands of one of the countries’ finest restaurants as its’ customer. I had expected much more complimentary planting and less bare earth between the rows of crops but Anne Marie says that they plant the best plants, such as pot marigolds, to bring in natural predators to the garden in blocks rather than in between each row.
She says that they also rely heavily on intercepting pests or preventing them reaching the crops by wide use of barriers such as carrot fly curtains and floating mulches. Admitting that weeds actually cause a greater challenge than pest and disease control, I was impressed by how few there were but much time if spent in hand weeding to get them out before they set seed. Plants are fed using a combination of seaweed based feeds, garden and kitchen compost and green manure crops in winter. No farmyard manure is used at present with a fear of the unlikely but potentially possible contamination of harvests with e coli being the reason. The 1.5 acre vegetable garden is dug by hand each winter turning in the green manure crops and of course well-made garden compost. Many plants are raised as modules in polytunnels and this must minimise the threats that so often occur before seedlings become big enough to withstand a little bit of nibbling. Those tunnels also supply the kitchen with a wide range of tray grown micro-veg, heritage tomatoes, Asian foods and are ripening the skins of harvested onions now too.
The shrub and herbaceous borders have a strong colour theme of white, blue and purple which are apparently Raymonds’ favourites. Dominating almost every view at the time of my visit were countless flowering specimens of the Indian Bean Tree [Catalpa bignonioides] and the delicate scent of these filled the air and mixed happily with the stronger scent from fresh herbs of every kind imaginable. If you get the chance to visit these gardens- grab it. If you get the chance to stay and eat in the restaurant do spend time in these lovely gardens and soak up this delightful blend of Gallic and English organic horticulture.