A Garden of Vowels in the Loire Valley

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The Chaumont-sur-Loire International Garden Festival in the Loire Valley of France, often dubbed as the French version of the Chelsea Flower Show, will be transformed into a literary lover’s paradise this summer. It may be a festival of flowers but the theme for its 27th edition revolves around the written word.

The festival is being chaired by Jean Echenoz, a well-loved French novelist with seventeen novels and a dozen literary awards to his name.  Strolling through these incredible gardens, one can expect to be dazzled by a delightful selection of literary-inspired treats.

The gardens have all been designed to bring to life the worlds of famous writers. These include Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Octave Mirbeau, Marcel Proust and Jorge Luis Borges. There’s also inspiration drawn from American Indian legends and the Sufi tale of the Conference of the Birds, demonstrating the incredible literary variety that boasts an international scope.

Whilst the design has largely been inspired by the spaces of wonder associated with temples of Zen Buddhism, which serve as the perfect aid to meditate on the higher meaning of life, the festival has also been infused with a perplexing avant-garde touch.

The highlight is the mind-blowing Jardin des Voyelles (Garden of vowels) as designed by the remarkable team from OULIPO, a group that stands for Workshop of Potential Literature. A poem has been written but with all the vowels removed, these being replaced with plant pots, infusing the poem with ambiguous endless potential.

Previously, OULIPO has devised countless new methods of writing literature, often based on mathematical problems such as the knight’s tour of the chess-board and permutations. One of the original members, Raymond Queneau, once crafted a revolutionary book that would take 200 million years to read entitled Cent mille milliards de poèmes (One Hundred Million Million Poems).

Among the other literary treasures on show at the festival is a sculptural book of sand and a range of plant-inspired poetry, to name just a few. Whilst gardens might usually be seen as spaces to simply soak up the splendour of serenity, gardens can also, as this year’s theme suggests, represent a place of intellectual inspiration.

Photo courtesy of the festival.

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