Mid-Atlantic Regional Reports

Nemours Estate Brings Formal French Elegance to the Mid-Atlantic

This garden is a hidden gem that includes a parterre, a colonnade, and a temple of love

With formal lines and sweeping vistas, the gardens at Nemours Estate offer a taste of continental Europe without an international flight. Photo: Michele Christiano

Nemours Estate, once the country home of Alfred I. duPont, is located on 300 acres in Wilmington, Delaware. Both the mansion and the beautifully interpreted formal French gardens that surround it were designed in the early 20th century by the era’s prominent architecture firm, Carrere-Hastings. While other duPont gardens have some French influence, French design elements are carried throughout the entire garden at Nemours. From planting design to ornate stonework and everything in between, the French garden style is everywhere.

gravel path and stairs leading to estate
The parterre garden close to the house is defined by neatly clipped hedges. Photo: Michele Christiano

Nemours’ planting design is tidy and formal

Geometric shapes play an important part in French garden design. At Nemours Estate, the parterre garden exemplifies the use of clean edges, with boxwood hedges surrounding and defining each bed and curved scroll. In the gardens close to the house, low hedges are used to surround color blocks of annuals and flowering bulbs. The Four Borders garden is loosely planted, but each bed is contained by a short, neatly sheared hedge. Tuteurs punctuate the relaxed combination of annuals, perennials, and shrubs. Pea gravel paths squarely separate the four beds, with a manicured lawn in the center. A very old linden tree allee leads guests away from the formal gardens into a woodland garden.

large garden fountain
Fountains and statuary lend grandeur to the garden’s design. Photo: Michele Christiano

Stonework and statuary keep the classical French theme going

Ornate and often monumental stonework and statuary are quintessential elements of a French formal garden. Front the front of the house, the garden view includes the Vista or Long Walk, an enormous reflecting pool, a maze garden, and a massive colonnade. On the other side and below the colonnade, the Sunken Garden includes several elaborate fountains with a stretch of lawn and a small scroll garden in center. Finally, the Love Temple ends the long stretch of classical French architectural elements. The large lawn in front of the temple is flanked by large beds filled with colorful canna lilies.

estate with formal garden
Symmetrical sheared topiaries are right at home in European style planters. Photo: Michele Christiano

Container plantings also evoke Old World style

While Nemours does not have a topiary garden, it does have dozens of trees potted in cylindrical wood and iron containers in true French fashion. Bay laurels and lemon and orange trees sheared into round topiaries dot the gravel paths throughout the garden. Enormous cement urns sit atop the house balustrade, on towers bordering the Vista and resting above the Sunken Garden. In other areas, pots containing annuals are thoughtfully placed in groups.

mass planting of purple flowers
Although it is very orderly, the garden still contains splashes of brilliant color. Photo: Michele Christiano

Order and balance lead the design of Nemours Estate, demonstrating the symmetry for which French gardens are known. Guests will experience true French design while visiting this public garden.

—Michele Christiano has worked in public gardens for most of her career. She lives in southern Pennsylvania and currently works as an estate gardener maintaining a private garden designed by Piet Oudolf.

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