Louis Benech, the garden magician

parisdiaflowers and gardens13 Comments

Louis Benech and his Japanese soulmate, Kiichi Tanaka, planting Japanese camellias in l’Oise

I have been meeting gardener Louis Benech at the butcher recently, since we live at equidistance of the shop and he was so busy with new projects and a new book, that I thought it would be fun to catch up on his career. There is not a country in the western world where he has not had an interesting design. After completing a Masters in law in Paris, he started his gardening life in Great Britain at Hillier nursery and in Normandy near Lisieux, with Loel Guinness, his first job as a private gardener. The first major project was the remodeling, in 1990, of the Tuileries gardens with the late Pascal Cribier, when he slept in a hut on the premises so he could wander around at night and visualise his perspectives without any tourists.

For the Hermès interior garden at Pantin, a wild assortment of Cotinus coggygria, Gleditsia triacanthos ‘Rubylace’, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’ and Calamagrostis acutifolium,

What is most striking with Louis Benech is his profound historical culture, his respect for the preexisting grounds and his incredible generosity. These three qualities come, of course, with obvious in depth knowledge of every plant and most excellent nurseries. When he spots a rose in your garden, he knows its name, its origins and who sold it to you. A living encyclopedia. But his passion is the plant itself, choosing the best spot for it with the moonlight, the sun, the wind and the shape of the grounds.  And when he came to lunch, some years ago, with Japanese gardener Kiichi Tanaka and they both started planting the camellias that had just arrived from Tokyo, one could see two kids having fun with their toys… It was delightful.

In Collonge-Bellerive, the Rosa ‘Cecile Brunner’ climbing, photo Dawn Sarrasin

On May 11th, 2015,  Louis Benech was inaugurating with sculptor Jean Michel Othoniel, the Bosquet du Théâtre d’Eau in Versailles, a beautiful project with golden glass fountains. The plantations were tiny then and it was difficult to identify with the project. Now the wild grass has grown and compete in height and color with the  water fountains. It is worth going to Versailles just to see them.

The project of le Bosquet du Théâtre d’Eau in Versailles with Jean Michel Othoniel

Louis Benech has worked on many institutional projects at the Elysées palace or at the Quai d’Orsay, in many private houses and historical castles, he has designed gardens in Portugal, Panama, the United States and in Korea, and yet he has kept his unique enthusiasm and freshness. But his “protecting fairies” have definitely been Guy and Marie Hélène de Rothschild and François and Maryvonne Pinault. Through them and the excellent work he did in their multiples houses, he met his future clients. When you cross his path at the Journées des plantes de Chantilly (formerly Courson), you see how excited he gets at discovering a new plant and exchanging ideas with the numerous Belgian and British growers.

In Gstaad, Switzerland, a mountain garden with pink Phlox paniculata, Hemerocallis sp., Knautia macedonica, peonies, phlox ‘Kirchenfürst’, Aster souvenir ‘Alma Pötschke’ , Rose ‘American Pillar’, © Eric Sander

The large variety of his designs is typical of his multifaceted talent. He can draw a very formal French garden with boxwood in the centre of Paris and introduce a few fruit trees for the pleasure of the owners, or in reverse integrate wild-life in Villandry. He likes to discuss with his clients (who are very often friends or become such) and create sensuous gardens where children will be running and picking. He likes the idea of planting a palm tree in Paris. “There are as many approaches as there are gardens, I am a chameleon and I adapt” he said on French television. What is important in a historical park, is to keep the cultural approach. Like in the rose garden of Pavlovsk in St Petersburg, where he worked between 1992 and 1995. Or at Victor Hugo’s Guernesey house, Hauteville, which he completed last year: he read Victor Hugo all over again to achieve the plantations.

In Villandry, which is famous for its very formal vegetable garden, he created a wild garden with Verbena bonariensis,
Perovskia atripicifolia, Leucanthemum ‘Wirral Supreme’, © Eric Sander

He has now done over 300 projects in Chaumont sur Loire and in Egypt, in Saint Tropez and in Greece, in New Zealand and in Brazil. At this time, when flowers and trees mean so much for us in confinement, I thought that travelling around with Louis Benech would soothe your daily life. And you will soon be able to read his new book “Louis Benech, douze jardins ailleurs” or the English version  “Louis Benech, Twelve gardens around the world” with texts by Eric Jansen, Editions Gourcuff Gradenigo.

There, the mixture is again interesting with Diane von Fürstenberg’s roof garden in the Meat district in New York and the small St Anthony church garden in New Orleans restored after the hurricane.  Louis is a versatile and generous gardener.

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13 Comments on “Louis Benech, the garden magician”

  1. Thank you Laure for this beautiful portrait of an extraordinary man. I love Louis Benech’s work. His gardens make you feel so alive. When we lived in rue d’Alger I used to walk in the Tuileries everyday with my children and we had a little ditty that we sang over and over as we ran round the bassin or up and down the allées: Les Tuileries. Le plus beau jardin du monde. I can’t wait to visit Hauteville.

  2. Fabuleux article , Chère Laure sur Louis ! Je c’est fou ce qu’il a créé ! Je vais acheter le livre aux éditions Gourcuff .
    J’espère que tu vas bien ? Nous sommes confinés à Ré dans le jardin que nous adorons .
    Nous t’embrassons fort ,
    Continue à écrire !

  3. Merci Laure pour ce portrait très juste et complet . Je contemple mes pres tres sauvages avec plus de respect .. kisss Sandrine

  4. Merci pour ce bel article Laure.J’adore ce vent de «nature en liberté » qu’il a introduite à Villandry …
    Continue stp à nous balader si bien pendant le confinement !
    Amitiés
    Sophie, fan de ton blog

  5. Même confinée, tu trouves des idées pour nous enchanter. Quel bon portrait de notre si talentueux ami Louis Benech ! On se réjouit de découvrir son nouveau livre
    Merci chère Laure Toujours ravie de te lire !

  6. Merci Laure de ce beau portrait du si talentueux Louis ! La nature, le jardin sont une telle consolation en ce moment, on les regarde autrement…Bravo pour ton blog si réussi
    je t’embrasse

  7. Merci pour cette belle promenade! Je respire la bonte de ses oeuvres. Je l’ai recontré une fois. Il est venu déjeuner chez moi. Fascinant. xo

  8. Laure,

    I did not know Benech’s work until I read your post just now. I
    am impressed by the images and by the plants, some of which
    I see in the US

  9. I visited the gardens of Villandry yesterday, and the wild garden excited me the most. It was very difficult to find any information about it through my internet searches (in French and English), as it was more focused towards the formal parts, but then I chanced across your page which has now introduced me to this wonderful gardener. Thank you.

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