In the heart of Berry, central France, Orsan Priory hides a one-of-a-kind vegetable garden where beauty meets practicality. Inspired by medieval monastic designs, the Orsan garden and potager (“vegetable patch”) is a unique and enchanting visit at any time of year.
Take a tour with us and discover one of France’s most unique gardens.
A former monastery, Orsan Priory was established in 1107 by preacher Robert d’Arbrissel. However, the gardens themselves have a much more recent history.
In 1991, architects Sonia Lesot and Patrice Taravella were in the mood for an ambitious renovation project and fell in love with the priory’s neglected but charming stone walls.
A simple need for shade in summer marked the garden’s beginnings. One tree became two, two became three, and they soon set about creating a garden equal to the building’s historical stature. The couple took inspiration from medieval monastic designs which are founded on the principle that the space should be both useful and beautiful.
As neither Sonia nor Patrice had constructed a garden before, help was called in from Gilles Guillot. A passionate history lover and gardener who had been shortlisted for France’s Gardener of the Year award, he was the perfect fit for Orsan’s ancient roots.
Orsan Priory Garden is comprised of many small gardens, separated by hedge-lined paths, topiaries, sculpted trees, and walls. Patrice and Sonia’s first wish was to create a utilitarian space and also an area for calm reflexion.
Throughout Orsan Priory Gardens, twisty tunnels and little vegetal caverns exude a veritable secret garden feeling. Nowhere is this seen more than in the Jardin de Marie, the rose garden made up of white and pink roses, violets and Madonna lilies – the latter attributed to the Virgin Mary. Roses climb around the arches while benches are thoughtfully placed in secluded nooks for moments of contemplation.
In front of this, the Kitchen Garden also referred to as the potager aromatique, because of the herbs that line the 24-inch-deep raised beds. Sitting adjacent is the Medicinal Herb Garden: for centuries monks used to heal the sick with the beneficial properties of herbs. Over 50 different varieties are grown, no longer used medicinally but instead in tasty kitchen dishes!
There’s a decided playfulness about Orsan, seen through peepholes and trompe-à-l’oeil features. But the resounding precision and the care with which the garden has been grown shows total dedication to fulfilling a dream.
However, in reality, Orsan Priory Gardens no less than spectacular, in achieving both supreme beauty and good food – the true definition of a potager.
For more information visit www.prieuredorsan.com
Prieuré d’Orsan, 18170 Maisonnais
Open daily (closed on Tuesdays), Monday to Friday 11 am to 6 pm. Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 7 pm.
Gardens open around the beginning of April each year. Groups can enjoy guided visits all year round by appointment.
Entry 10 €.
Restaurant open at the weekend.
The full version of this article originally appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of My French Country Home.
Text by Alice White Walker – Photography by Franck Schmitt