The water gardens of Annevoie

It definitely felt like time to get out of Brussels last weekend. A static and at times dreary winter has taken its toll, and while it’s still not possible to leave the country to travel abroad or back to the motherland, we can move around within Belgium. A firm believer in the saying “a change is as good as a rest”, and with a promising spring-like weather forecast of 17 degrees C and sunshine for Saturday, I knew that the moment had come to pack my picnic.

Annevoie is the country chateau of the Montpellier family, and lies nestled in the hills of the Ardennes, a stone’s throw from the Meuse, one of the great rivers the winds its way through the wooded valleys and rocky escarpments of this part of the country. There is water everywhere even before you reach the gardens, from babbling brooks tumbling down the hillside along the road, to the languorous stretch of river snaking its way along the valley floor. So no surprise then that in 1758 Charles-Alexis de Montpellier decided to make the most of this plentiful resource and channel it, quite literally, into a beautiful water garden.

La Cascade francaise, the first creation of Charles-Alexis Montpellier
Looking back from the top of the cascade.

The garden has a French classical style, with plenty of symmetry and clean lines, but it also incorporates elements of English Romantic landscaping, where the water flows in more naturalistic streams, such as this rocky cascade through a wooded part of the garden.

This section was also beautifully planted up with hundreds of crocuses, a rare carpet of colour that was much enjoyed by the bees. Some snowdrops also hugged the banks of the stream, but for me the crocuses really stole the show.

The photos here can only convey part of the experience, as the sound of water is a major element, from roaring cascades, bubbling brooks, vigorous fountain jets, or quietly meandering streams, and sometimes totally still pools like mirrors, helping to give a different sound and therefore a unique feel and mood to each part of the garden. This was a large part of the magic of the place for me.

The chateau itself appears to levitate above its quiet pool. Do you notice something strange about the façade? It’s actually not quite straight, as it follows a slight curve along the valley. The building is currently undergoing renovation, but thankfully the scaffolding is around the sides and not along the handsome frontage.

Another highlight of the garden for me was the magnificent vegetable garden (for I can not call this a patch), laid out with perfect symmetry and enviable organisation. I like the curved lines of planting, with neat borders of straw, within each quadrant.

Space is not an issue here!

Now a little knowledge quiz for the keen gardeners reading this. Can you guess what this is? I will give you a clue: it is a seed pod of a certain garden plant that has featured heavily in recent garden blogger editions of Six on Saturday (the weekly garden round-up which many of my fellow gardening bloggers participate in).

What am I?

Are you ready? The answer is: a Helleborus niger seed pod. It’s a sculpture by the British artist Anne Curry. It was nice to see a bit of my country after all in this very French-style garden! Below are some more images of the vegetable gardens; just imagine how handy it would be to water the veg from the taps conveniently placed in each quadrant, to examine one’s plants from the tidy slate paths, or to stock the elegant lean-to curved glass house with a collection of exotics. We can but dream! Even the insects have it good here, with a deluxe insect hotel.

Near the vegetable garden is a quieter, more intimate area, where beech has been trained to cover a quiet walkway. A statue of the Roman goddess Minerva is tucked away in a little alcove at the back. Through it all, the Montpellier family rest in their crypt, perhaps continuing to enjoy their garden and its ever-flowing water.

And here is the main reservoir of water that powers all the water features in this garden, the grand canal, 400 metres long. Amazingly, there is no machinery to make things work, everything relies on the differences in level of this hillside location. Water has apparently been flowing naturally here for more than 250 years.

A section of the grand canal, looking like an infinity pool disappearing off the hillside.

So we’ve come to the end of my tour. If you’re passing though Belgium one day, you might like to stop off here to soak up a bit of the watery magic of the Ardennes.

20 thoughts on “The water gardens of Annevoie

  1. Oh my goodness, it was everything I hoped it would be and a whole lot more. The crocus banks, the moss, the architecture, the vegetable garden, all amazing. And I could feel the calm atmosphere, you must have had a wonderful day. Thanks for sharing! x

    1. So glad you liked it! It was lovely to see something new, and a bonus that there were not many people about. Sometimes winter is better for these garden jaunts than summer!

    1. Thanks Steve, now that the weather is better am looking forward to many more outings and exploring Belgium a bit more: it’s a country rich in châteaux, monasteries and woodland 🙂

  2. Yes sound of water to our delicate ears is very meditative I loved the photos as if I was there. I try to go to the sea just to hear waves and then cycle by the military canals in hythe .🤗🙏♥️

  3. How nice to see these gardens again. It has been years since I was there. It is a very beautiful place and your photos fully confirm this. Indeed a bit of Versailles but much smaller 😉 Nice that you also added some extra information about the gardens and the castle.

    1. Thanks so much Paddy, that’s high praise indeed coming from you as I always admire your photos. I’ve got a new camera, haven’t used it yet as I need to go out and get a memory card for it. Quite exciting! Hope you get a chance to go out soon, it’s nice for a change.

  4. I enjoyed this post Sel, with all that blue sky as a backdrop to your photos and all those gorgeous crocuses! The vegetable garden must be the envy of us all. I can imagine how fascinating it is to enter different parts of the garden and hear the water in a different way in each. Thanks for sharing. Yes, if I ever drive through Belgium I will definitely stop off here!

    1. Thanks Cathy, am so glad you enjoyed it. It’s always really nice to share these places with others (but ideally not too many others in situ!!). I’ve heard to can get pretty busy, so if you do happen to pass by, make sure you go early in the day to really appreciate some of that water magic 😉

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