The Gardens at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons

Just because I’m ter­rible at garden­ing doesn’t mean I don’t appre­ci­ate the tal­ents of other people. This week I spent the day at Ray­mond Blanc’s magical Oxford­shire hotel Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, learn­ing how to make pista­chio souffle with a cocoa sorbet interior, basil and lemon gran­ita, macar­ons with liquorice ganache and a perkily cute frais­ier cake filled with kirsch-flavoured patis­serie cream. While wait­ing for my cake to cook and the gran­ita to freeze, we explored the veget­able and herb gardens.

There are nine full-time garden­ers at Le Manoir. Speak­ing as someone who struggles to stay in con­trol of a single herb­aceous bor­der, they appear to do the work of twice their num­ber. Just like the kit­chens, the gar­dens are bliss­fully quiet. Appar­ently it’s a rule that there must be no yelling, tan­trums, or high-octane drama. There are more squabbles in my kit­chen over who has which break­fast cer­eal than there appear to be at Le Manoir.

I grow fresh herbs in a few ter­ra­cotta pots by my back door. At Le Manoir there are acres of herbs, some mini­ature ones crammed into boxes the size of fil­ing trays and arranged like lux­uri­ously soft, patch­work blankets.

The micro-leaved cori­ander, sor­rel, basil and a host of other vari­et­ies are har­ves­ted with scis­sors while still min­is­cule, to dec­or­ate plates and perk up tired pal­ates. These tiny flavour-filled leaves make their fully-grown rel­at­ives taste tired and flabby.

Per­fect, exquisitely-perfumed wild strawberries

An expanse of floppy bor­age plants, with their vivid blue, cucumber-flavoured flowers

Once I’d seen the cour­gettes I under­stood why the word ‘vig­or­ous’ is some­times applied to plants

The bronze scare­crow is mod­elled on Ray­mond Blanc himself

Le Manoir’s golden beet­root is much sweeter and less earthy tast­ing than the tra­di­tional red vari­ety — I ate it for lunch

Everything about Le Manoir is part of an elab­or­ate, glor­i­ous fantasy. The food is exquis­ite, the gar­dens per­fect, the staff unfail­ingly charm­ing. Just for one day I inhab­ited their escap­ist heaven. I learned how to make the kind of cakes and tarts that until now seemed to belong behind glass in the finest patis­serie shop; I dis­covered that sweet pastry made with icing sugar is cris­pier, that bak­ing a hot souffle with sorbet inside really is pos­sible and that chefs’ jack­ets are designed to fit people with bod­ies the shape of cer­eal pack­ets. And just in case you’re won­der­ing how much salt to add to my sugar, this wasn’t press-trip para­dise — I paid my own way.

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22 thoughts on “The Gardens at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons

  1. Hi Kavey
    Thanks for leav­ing a com­ment — I always love hear­ing people’s views. And I’m very glad you like the post.
    Charlie

  2. You’re a mind-reader! I was won­der­ing all the way down the page if it was a won­der­ful press trip.
    What a fant­astic day. I’d love to do a patis­serie course. I’ve always had a secret long­ing to learn how to make spun sugar … you know, those crackly bas­kets to dec­or­ate little cakes. I’ve never had the con­fid­ence to try and have a bad track record burn­ing sugar! Was every­body on the course quite experienced?

  3. Hi Mary
    It wasn’t intim­id­at­ing at all and as you can tell I had a won­der­ful time. I think you need to use sticky, liquid gluc­ose to make those dainty little cages by the way — not that I’ve tried yet.
    Charlie

  4. Nice to see per­fec­tion in action and learn how to achieve/attempt it one­self. Le Manoir’s herb garden amaz­ing and there are some lovely pic­tures. Super blog.

  5. Thanks Charlie, I didn’t real­ise they were made from gluc­ose. Some­body I knew years ago once offered to teach me, but it never happened — I remem­ber her say­ing that she used to spin the threads around a clean broom­handle and that it worked bet­ter on a day that wasn’t too hot. She said it was easier than it looked but I reserve judge­ment on that!

  6. Hi Mary
    Appar­ently mois­ture is the abso­lutely killer when it comes to those sugar cages. That’s why you shouldn’t make them and then store them in the fridge — they go all flabby. I have reser­va­tions about easy it is, just like you…

  7. I’m sav­ing my ‘house­keep­ing’ and plan to treat myself to a course, your post has con­firmed my belief that it will be worth every penny! And the gar­dens are divine:-) Judith

  8. Hi Judith
    I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. Let me know if you go on a course — I’d love to know if you enjoy it as much as I did.
    Charlie

  9. Maybe she meant humid­ity rather heat, Charlie. Trouble is, it’s the sort of thing you couldn’t be bothered doing for your­self — but it’s too ter­ri­fy­ing to do for an audi­ence. But what a way to impress if we brought it off successfully!

  10. Won­der­ful pic­tures. I’m sav­ing up for a Bertinet patis­serie course, but can’t get a day off at the right time. I might also add Le Manoir to the list of things to do some day.
    Can we see the souffle with the cold stuff inside please?

  11. Hello oxslip — it’s always great to hear your com­ments. The souffle with sorbet interior was pretty spectacular.

  12. Looks like you had a good time! Delight­ful & delighted. I pro­pose that RB & Head Gardener Anne Marie should ‘read’ your pictures.

  13. Hi Mitzi Fritz
    Yes, I really did have a good time. Your com­ment about ‘read­ing’ the pic­tures made me smile.
    Charlie

  14. Oh what a lovely lovely post… I had a birth­day luch at Le Manoir once and I felt exactly what you described — like I had briefly entered a bliss­ful fantasy world of tran­quil­ity and good taste. Yes it was pretty eye-wateringly pricey but oh so worth it. I am in love with the gar­dens and now desire a patch­work of micro­greens of my own!!

  15. Hi Jeanne and thank you so much for your lovely com­ments. I quite fancy a patch­work myself, but, for the micro­greens’ sakes, should never be allowed to own one!

  16. Fab­ulous pho­to­graphs Charlie– so glad you had such a super day there. I do hope Le Manoir has read your blog and appreic­ated such pro­fes­sional photographs.

  17. That’s lovely of you Anonym­ous. So sorry to call you that — it seems a little ungra­cious when you’ve been so gen­er­ous!
    Charlie

  18. Gor­geous gor­geous gar­dens! Wow! And although I have the ulti­mate black thumb, I can cer­tainly appre­ci­ate the beauty of a garden — and an herb garden espe­cially. Won­der­ful post… and what a fab­ulous day. And oooh I would have loved watch­ing every­one make those desserts!

  19. Hi Jamie — proud own­ers of the black thumb unite! But I agree with you that it’s still pos­sible to appre­ci­ate other people’s garden­ing tal­ents. It was a great day and I learned a huge amount.…

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