Louis Benech, Designer of the Tuileries Gardens, to give Berkshire Botanical Garden's winter lecture in Great Barrington


STOCKBRIDGE -- For world-renowned landscape architect Louis Benech, designing a garden is more a science than an art.

"Gardening is said to be an art, but I think there is no way I am an artist," Benech said in a recent telephone interview from his Paris office. "Artists are more free." Designing a garden "is too technical to be an art."

Finding that balance between freedom and responsibility in garden design will be the topic of Benech's lecture at Monument Mountain High School on Saturday, Feb. 8. Benech will speak at the Berkshire Botanical Garden's winter lecture, which is expected to draw more than 400 guests.

A reception will follow, where Benech will sign copies of "Twelve French Gardens" a book by author Eric Jansen and photographer Eric Sander, which shows some of his work.

Benech is known for his work on more than 300 public and private gardens across the globe, including the historic Tuileries Gardens and the Elysee Palace Gardens, both in Paris, Pavlovsk's rose pavilion in St. Petersburg and the Gardens of the Archilleion in Corfu.

"I am very happy when the garden is gentle enough that somebody is not thinking that someone is working there," Benech said . "I am not into the vision of exotic-looking gardens."

Benech is currently working at the Palace of Versailles on a contemporary garden for the Water Grove Theatre.

In his speech, Benech will share the methods and attitudes to adopt when approaching a garden, whether it is located in France or abroad, historical or untouched by history, with a view to restoration or to pure creation.

"We are very, very lucky to have him and we are honored he has chosen to come and speak," said BBG Communications Manager Brian Cruey. "Louis brings a great mix of new and old. He is considered very fashion-forward in the world of gardening, but still traditional," he said.

Benech's work includes elements of geometry, making bold statements in the landscape, Cruey said. At the same time, his gardens fit in and look natural, he added.

While Benech denies having a signature style, he said that the basis of most of his gardens are plants that are native to the area where he is working and that he likes maintenance of his gardens to be "unfussy."

Creating a garden, he said, involves understanding the feeling of a place and what people are looking for in that space. "I love to act differently according to the place where I am," he said.

Despite all the planning involved in designing a garden, Benech said, "I am very confident that a garden will never be exactly the same as I plan. That's the wonderful thing about nature," he said, explaining that he can plant two identical trees just a few feet apart, and minor differences in the light and the soil, even the hole that was dug, can cause them to grow differently.

"What I love is that things are not totally written," Benech said. "There is something stronger than me that will act on a garden."

Benech has made a successful career out of a childhood fascination with plants.

"When I was a child, I loved plants because they took me places," he said, explaining that none of the trees that lined the streets of Paris were native; They all told a story of where they were from.

His fascination with plants continued through law school, which was his second choice to studying forestry, and where he completed a major project on plant protection before graduating with a degree in international law.

Although he took a job at a law firm straight out of school, Benech said, "I just wanted to put my hands in the soil."

He added, with humor, that he would have studied forestry in the first place, but he did not have the grades needed in math and science to complete that course of study, which was really a type of engineering degree.

So, after a short-lived career in international law, Benech moved to England to become an agricultural worker at Hillier nurseries, and he has had his hands in the soil ever since. From there, he went to work as a gardener for a private property in Normandy before breaking into the field of garden design in 1985.

Five years later he was commissioned, with Pascal Cribier and François Roubaud, to redesign the historic part of the Tuileries gardens.

Asked about projects he is most proud of, Benech said he could "name drop" on some of the bigger projects he has accomplished, but he added truthfully, "I have a bit of pride in every one. There are some tiny places I am very proud of."

If you go ...

What: Berkshire Botanical Garden hosts ‘Freedom and Responsibility' by landscape architect Louis Benech

When: Saturday, Feb. 8, 2 to 3:30 p.m.

Where: Monument Mountain High School, 600 Stockbridge Road, Great Barrington

Admission: $35 for BBG members or $45 for non-members. The Winter Lecturebenefits BBG's educational programs.

Information: (413) 298-3926, www.berkshirebotanical.org


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