Les Jardins d’Etretat: The garden of seven wonders
Connexion's Jane Hanks is in Normandy, where Monet and modern art vie for attention with stunning box tree
By Jane Hanks
Les Jardins d’Etretat was opened to the public just three years ago, and is both a contemporary garden and open air
art gallery. It is the personal creation of a well-known Russian landscape gardener, Alexandre Grivko, who has been
living in France for ten years.
He was looking for somewhere to create his own dream garden when he visited Etretat in Seine-Maritime, Normandy and
fell immediately in love with the site and its stunning view over the cliffs of the Côte d’Albâtre.
'A change of perspective at every turn'
He bought the property and adjoining land and after two years of hard labour, it was open to the public. His aim was
to reflect the landscape of Normandy in his planting. He knew he could not compete with the natural beauty of the
view over the cliffs and sea, so he wanted to have a garden that would complement it, and would be futuristic but
also rooted in its own history:
“I tried to design a sensory and very imaginative type of garden space, which immerses us into different worlds,”
he says, “with a change of perspective at every turn and with a great feel for its historical origins but also
cautiously leading to the future and my own vision.
“The topiaries remind us of Baroque and Renaissance gardens and are equally associated with the modern
gardens of one of my favourite landscape designers Jacques Wirtz.
“Walls made of azaleas, rhododendrons, and camellias form the background for a romantic garden. A secret garden enclosed
by bamboo summons up an Asian garden tradition. The Belle Epoque villa in the middle of the garden is literally
a doorway to the history of the garden.”
Its first owner was a famous late 19th century French actress, Madame Thébault who was inspired by the impressionist
painter Claude Monet’s love of gardening. The artist was a frequent visitor and it is from here that he worked on
his series of paintings, The Cliffs at Etretat. There is a sculpture of him with his easel in bamboo in the
contemporary garden, and amateur artists often come to stand by him to paint.
Madame Thébault’s villa, named Roxelane after the wife of Suleiman the Magnificent, one of her favourite heroines,
is in the garden. Her artistic influence continues with the inclusion of a series of contemporary sculptures which
are an integral part of the design of the garden.
'I agree and support the idea of blending art, technology, and nature'
Alexandre Grivko believes you cannot have a garden without art, or art without a garden.
The dream was not easy to realise. Daria Ermakova, his publicity manager, has followed the project from the start:
“Gardening on the top of a rocky cliff with strong, salt-laden sea winds comes with many challenges. We had to
bring in tonnes of topsoil. Everywhere there were hard pieces of flint making it difficult to dig. Lorries are not
really permitted in this fragile environment so apart from the soil we had to organise moving the big trees and
huge sculptures in by hand.”
To create his garden, Grivko followed the example of France’s most famous landscape gardener, André Le Nôtre, who
created the gardens at Versailles in the 17th century.