In the early 20th century, the actress known as Madame Thébault built a villa on an idyllic plot of rolling landscape in Étretat, France, atop the rocky cliffs of Normandy’s Alabaster Coast. The grounds, which she made into a garden for her orchids, became a favorite painting spot for her friend Claude Monet, who produced many artworks depicting the Porte d’Aval, a natural stone arch in the distance. In 2016, Russian landscape designer Alexandre Grivko transformed Thébault’s former estate into Les Jardins d’Étretat—a public garden that hosts both permanent and temporary displays of sculpture by international artists.
With its meandering pathways, pristine array of topiary, and unusual artworks, Grivko’s garden recalls a scene from a storybook; the designer cites the grounds at Versailles and the imaginary landscape of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as inspirations for his fantastical display of over 150,000 plants. Referencing Étretat’s natural splendor, the voluminous formations of flora evoke cliffs, waves, and whirlpools. “Just as the wind, rain, and ocean have carved out a landscape of staggering beauty, I thought of how human hands could mimic nature to create something similarly exquisite,” Grivko says. Using plants to occasion a kaleidoscopic panorama of hues and textures, he has designed a sensory-rich experience for visitors—and a dynamic backdrop for sculpture—that evolves throughout the seasons. Says Grivko, “The garden is a perpetual artistic experiment.”