Mmm, those French gardens look good enough to eat

Gardening meets gastonomy in Normandy, and there isn't a TV chef or a Dimmock in sight

The Gîte au Jardin scheme in Normandy could not be more convenient for British garden lovers. A short hop across the Channel, and you find a choice of country homes in which to stay, surrounded by interesting and important gardens to visit. There are no fewer than 59 open to the public in Haute-Normandie alone.

The Gîte au Jardin scheme in Normandy could not be more convenient for British garden lovers. A short hop across the Channel, and you find a choice of country homes in which to stay, surrounded by interesting and important gardens to visit. There are no fewer than 59 open to the public in Haute-Normandie alone.

The scheme is similar to our Bed and Breakfast for Garden Lovers ( www.bbgl.co.uk). The gîte owners are keen gardeners and happy to show visitors around. They will also advise on the best local gardens and nurseries to visit. You may even get some cuttings into the bargain.

There are three types of gîte accommodation: self-catering in either gîtes ruraux or the larger, more dormitory style gîtes d'étapes, and bed and breakfast in chambres d'hôtes, where table d'hôte dinner is often available if pre-booked. Our overriding impression was of the exceptional value this scheme offers. For two people the charge for bed and breakfast ranges from about €32 (£20) per night to €76. Table d'hôte dinner was around €18 per person.

We took the ferry to Dieppe. Hoverspeed now runs this route all year, which is useful, as most of the gîtes are available throughout the year and are perfect for short breaks. Our aim was to relax, so we chose the chambres d'hôtes option, booking evening meals each time.

Within half an hour of leaving Dieppe we found ourselves turning down a lane to the village of Chapelle sur Dun, where a sign directed us up a trackway to La Hossanière. (All gîtes are signposted but as they are deep in the countryside, it's easier to find them in daylight.)

The house was a low, impeccably restored, 16th-century longère (the traditional Norman longhouse, where cattle lived at one end and the family at the other).

The owner, Martine Latour, is a freelance interior decorator and her husband, Tan, artistic director of an advertising firm. Their combined talents are apparent in the skilful conversion. The longhouse has, in effect, been divided and the guests' half consists of two apartments, each with a sitting room and bedroom. To say we were impressed is an understatement.

The bathroom, with its elegant fittings, the muted creamy-beige colour schemes and the pure linen sheets, all added up to luxury hotel rather than b&b. And we hadn't even seen the garden.

A mixture of shrubs and flowers filled the beds alongside the house: roses, hydrangeas and pale blue ceanothus, all thickly underplanted. Beyond, a long lawn was interspersed with trees and beds planted for foliage and texture.

Martine was full of enthusiasm for her current project; the creation of a potager at the far end of the garden. We appreciated the results when we tucked into a truly superb four-course meal cooked by Tan. A fresh watercress salad crowned with strips of crispy bacon and a perfectly cooked soft boiled egg was followed by locally caught lemon sole. The cheese course was hot Camembert in filo pastry served on a bed of crispy lettuce and to finish, ice cream with a fruit coulis and a scattering of fresh berries.

Nearby gardens to visit include Bois des Moutiers with its Lutyens house and superb rhododendrons, the rose gardens at Parc Floral William Farcy and Miromesnil with its famous walled potager.

Our next gîte, at Bertrimont, was equally wonderful, although very different. Our accommodation was in a converted dovecote, an incredibly romantic little building consisting of a circular room on the ground floor with a bathroom and bedroom above. The garden this time was a vegetable garden and orchard, for Alain and Marie Louise Dual are restoring the property as a traditional Cauchois clos masure.

Alain explained how the timber-framed farmhouse would have stood together with the traditional outbuildings of cart shed, cider press, stables and dovecote in the middle of a large orchard. He has already replanted 130 local varieties of cider apple trees and now produces his own cider and pommeaux. He also grows quite the most magnificent vegetables I have ever seen.

Pumpkins and parsley were on the menu when we dined with our hosts that evening; a truly memorable pumpkin purée laced with cream and liberally garnished with parsley, accompanied by divine magrets de canard cooked on the big, open, inglenook fireplace.

After a selection of local cheeses, we enjoyed a compote of local apples which had been reduced with Calvados to glorious gooeyness. We made our way back to our little dovecote by moonlight, feeling we'd stepped straight into a Perrault fairytale.

Getting there

Patricia Cleveland-Peck travelled to Normandy by Hoverspeed (0870 240 8070, www.hoverspeed.co.uk). Return crossings from Newhaven to Dieppe cost from £199 return for a car and up to nine people.

Being there

Contact Gites de France Normandie for the Gites au Jardin brochure (00 33 2 32 62 00 80; www.gites-de-france.fr/eng). A week costs from €150 (£90) per week in total for up to four sharing.

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