What are the Gardens of Imagination in France – Les Jardins de L’Imaginaire?

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Classed as one of the Notable Gardens of France, Les Jardins de l’Imaginaire (The Gardens of Imagination) in Terrasson, in the Périgord, are a contemporary creation, designed in 1996 by Franco-American landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson and architect Ian Ritchie.

What are the gardens of imagination in France?

This is a 6-hectare park of 13 different terraced gardens in the heart of the ancient town of Terrasson in the Vézère valley, and that alone is a rarity worth seeking out.

The gardens tell a story through sensation and emotion, a constant invasion of your senses that is surprisingly refreshing. They seem to counterbalance the older gardens of the Dordogne, and reflect modern artistic trends in landscape gardening.

This is, quite simply, a place of joy, peace and natural beauty, constructed in a way that pays homage to Périgord and its people.

Using the eponymous ‘imagination’, you can listen here to the heartbeat of the world around you, and arouse sensations of anticipation and curiosity: combine the sensory, the dream-like and the extraordinary across a canvas of creative artistry.

This is a one-of-a-kind site, in a beautiful location between Sarlat and Lascaux. The gardens include:

2,000 rosebushes
20,000 perennials
2,500 box hedges
120 sprays of water
150 plant species
8,000 trees and bushes including rare species
Other features include terraces; a theatre-in-the-green; a hedge tunnel; woodlands; a viewpoint; water gardens; and many other features all overlooking the Vézère river.

The river flowing through the Vézère valley next to the gardens

You can also go for a 40-minute boat trip along the river which winds through the Vézère valley.

Is the Gardens of Imagination a garden or not?

This seems a strange question to ask but, if you’re a gardener from the US or the UK, be warned. This isn’t a garden in the conventional sense. Remember the Les Jardins de L’Imaginaire was designed by a landscape architect.

If you’re used to wandering around Chelsea Flower Show inspired displays or the more formal French gardens the Gardens of Imagination in France will come as a bit of a shock.

It’s not so much floral display as natural landscaped architecture. There is a lot of woodland. Even where there are lots of plants like the rose garden the display has been interwoven with modern elements of garden architecture.

And I suppose that is the key. Les Jardins de L’Imaginaire is very much a modern garden. It makes massive use of woodland and water – the water features are amazing.

If you only enjoy flower displays or concepts such as The Hanging Gardens of Marqueyssac this isn’t for you. But put aside your conceptions of a garden and you will enjoy the experience.

One thing which many people don’t like is that (at least when I was there) you couldn’t just wander around the garden. You had to join a tour party and be guided around the site.

That will put many people off but overall Les Jardins de L’Imaginaire is a fascinating place to visit. And at less than 10 Euros for entry what have you got to lose?

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