Le Neubourg—I recently visited Heaven in a garden, which was balanced by its counterpart, Hell. The two are just part of the ideal vision of their owner, designer Jacques Garcia—he is redoing 75 acres in the heart of Normandy at the Château du Champ de Bataille, a mini-palace dating back to the 1650s. As a boy in Le Neubourg, Garcia, now one of France’s most famous interior decorators, caught glimpses of the château over the park wall. In 1992 he moved in. After making over the interiors in his distinctive post-Versailles style, he appointed head gardener Patrick Pottier to tackle the landscape.
It’s extraordinary. Looking down the newly planted first terrace, I see big blocks of yew clipped into the shape of busty sphinxes, with a double avenue of 30-foot palm trees—mature specimens, brought in from Spain—between them.
“Palm trees in Normandy?” I ask Pottier.
“Of course,” he replies. “Each has its own electric plug.”
In winter, the gardeners wrap cables up the trunks to protect them from frost.
The broad walk leads to the Garden of Leda, complete with ancient Roman marble pillars and brick piers, real sarcophagi, and a perfectly rebuilt temple of Leda. Two gardeners erected the pillars and the piers—200 in all—in just two months.
Farther along, at the bottom of a waterfall, there are dozens of stone dolphins, each with gilded body parts. Beyond stretches the Grand Canal, apparently best enjoyed from the first floor of the house.
But I do not want to go inside. I am content exploring outside, where a Mogul Indian garden is under construction, jeweled like a peacock. The next project here is to be an English garden. I am intrigued, left wondering on which side of Heaven and Hell it might fall.
An hour’s drive from Paris, the Château du Champ de Bataille (duchampdebataille.com) is open to the public year-round. Another notable French garden, 125 miles east of Bordeaux, is Les Jardins du Manoir d’Eyrignac (eyrignac.com), which has almost ten acres of painstakingly trimmed yews, box trees, hornbeams, and cypresses—in short, the world’s most sublime topiary. On the Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat peninsula, Les Cèdres, owned by the Marnier-Lapostolle family, features one of the largest collections of tropical plants in Europe. To arrange a tour, write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Set-departure garden tours throughout France are available through jeffsainsburytours.com.