When chef Raymond Blanc bought the manor house and grounds in the English countryside which he transformed into Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons two Michelin starred restaurant and luxury hotel, the first thing he did was create a vegetable garden. Having grown up helping his mother grow produce at their family home in France he wanted to recreate the “living larder” of his childhood.
Thirty years on the grounds have flourished and encompass vegetable, salad and herb gardens, apple orchards and a mushroom “valley”. This year  Blanc has responded to requests from guests and opened a gardening school – the first to be set in a hotel.
The link between the kitchen and garden at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is palpable. On the front of the dining menu, namechecked alongside the chefs is Anne Marie Owens, Head Gardener. “The admiration I have for gardeners is beyond measure,” says Blanc. “The gardens are an essential part of Belmond Le Manoir – you will spend as much time in the garden as you will at the table.”
Looking at the menu itself, whether it’s fresh apple juice at breakfast, herbs and salads in a side dish or vegetables as the star such as the signature Beetroot Terrine; as much produce as possible is garnered from the grounds. Head Chef Gary Jones has a walk about every Tuesday and comes up with a “picking list” of produce and at 8am every day the chefs take it in turns to attend the cropping with the gardeners.
Chefs are also encouraged to take some time out in the gardens before service and many can be found in the Japanese Tea Garden. Blanc was inspired to create the garden following a visit to Japan. Working with landscaper and gardener Robert Ketchell, who studied in Japan, he learned that gardens are both an art form and healing space that can help with the stress.
Set in a handsome glasshouse in Le Manoir’s grounds, The Raymond Blanc Gardening School offers half day and full day hands on courses including growing your own vegetables, mushrooms, micro herbs and edible flowers as well as classes for children. Instruction is given by Le Manoir’s own gardeners as well as visiting experts and the courses are tailored to the season, in keeping with the hotel’s ethos.
This summer sees the introduction of the Japanese Garden course. Guests will also get the chance to take a walk around the Japanese Tea Garden with Ketchell to find out about the traditions and practices involved with creating a Japanese garden.
For the ultimate horticultural experience, book one of the hotel’s Garden Suites for your stay – the theme of each room is reflected in the plants and flowers enveloping your private terrace. Paradise.
[UPDATE: The Japanese Garden course at Belmond Le Manoir takes place on 21 August 2018 and costs £235 per person. The day includes tea and coffee on arrival, materials and guidance to create a ‘trayscape’ garden and lunch with accompanying wines, coffee and petit fours.]
A version of this piece was originally published by the Robb Report Singapore