Tucked away in the back streets of Cahor’s medieval quarter, there are a cluster of little known but delightfully tranquil spaces, collectively known as the Secret Gardens of Cahors.
Some of the gardens, such as the Cloister Garden, have existed for over 500 years, while others were part of an initiative introduced in 2002 to reclaim unused or abandoned spaces within the city and regenerate them as gardens.
In keeping with Cahors medieval heritage, the approach to design and planting in the gardens has been to enable the public to see the types of plants grown in the Middle Ages, while at the same time, create usable contemporary spaces.
In all there are 25 gardens, mostly stretching along the eastern edge of Cahors in the old quarter, and also next to the 12th century Pont Valentré, itself a world heritage site.
The Spice Garden, located in the tiny square Place Saint-Jacques, is little more than a metre across. It consists of a single raised bed constructed of woven hurdles, planted with spices known to have been in use in the Middle Ages.
Next to the garden is a charming octagonal water fountain. Dog heads of different breeds adorn each side.
By contrast, the Monk’s Kitchen Garden, situated in the courtyard of the Archdeacon’s House, is on a much larger scale. As you wander through the archway into the courtyard, the garden gradually reveals itself. Surrounded by the ancient stone walls of the rear of the cathedral and the Archdeacon’s House, the noise of the city is left far behind and silence and tranquility descend as you progress further into the garden. This potager garden is composed of raised beds enclosed by woven chestnut withes and are planted with vegetables that formed part of the medieval diet: including nettles, rocket, fennel, palm-leaved cabbage, marigolds.
A non-edible plant, Stachys, protects the garden from evil spells.
A few minutes walk away lies the Moorish Garden, easy to miss, it is approached along the ancient rue du Petit-Mot, little more than a narrow alleyway. Open the gate decorated with blue fret work and step into an Arabian inspired world.
This enclosed garden is luxuriously planted with lush and exotic plants such banana trees, palms and cannas. To one side is a tiny formal pool, edged with deep ultramarine tiles and enhanced with beautifully glazed pots of the same hue.
Spend a quiet afternoon exploring more of the diverse gardens, all of which are within walking distance of the centre.
The Secret Gardens enhance a very rich and varied heritage and history of the city of Cahors, and have been recognised with the award of “Remarkable Garden” status by the French Ministry of Culture.