Rhythms of the Baroque

Country Life UKJune 24, 2020

Rhythms of the Baroque
Le Jardin du Bâtiment, La Vendée, France John Hoyland visits a garden conjured from the imagination of the celebrated conductor and keen gardener William Christie
John Hoyland

THE moment I saw this place I fell in love with it. This was somewhere that I had lived within my imagination,’ says William Christie. ‘Finally, I had found the place where I would make a home and a garden.’

Looking with him at a photograph that had been taken at that time of Le Bâtiment, in an isolated rural area of the Vendée region of France, it is hard to understand his enthusiasm. The black-and-white image shows a neglected, unremarkable 17th-century farmhouse, scarred with corrugated iron and with no garden save an ailing boxwood tree. It is a testament to Mr Christie’s imagination and energy that this dream discovery is now, three decades later, an elegant home and a garden so significant that the French government has declared it a Monument Historique.

Mr Christie grew up in America, in Buffalo, New York state, where the seeds of both of his passions—music and gardens—were sown by his parents. His mother was a local choir mistress and his father gave the young William his own piece of garden. ‘It was a very small plot, only a few feet wide, but there I witnessed the magical transformation of bulbs into tulips or a few scattered seeds into beautiful flowers. Gardening has marked my life and brought me great joy ever since.’

Mr Christie is best known throughout the world’s concert halls and opera houses as a leading conductor of Baroque music and, with his ensemble, Les Arts Florissants, for rekindling an appreciation of neglected French composers of the 17th and 18th centuries. His passion for, and understanding of, the rhythms, vitality and aesthetics of the period are woven through every part of his garden. ‘I didn’t want a garden that had been made by someone else, however beautiful that might be. I wanted a blank canvas with which I could make a garden that would be in harmony with the building, a place of beautiful simplicity that is noble, yet rustic,’ he says. ‘This is my garden and it has been in my mind’s eye since I was very young.’


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June 24, 2020