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.


  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 MaryIt 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 JudithI'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 FritzYes, 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….

I'd love to know what you think - do leave a comment