Explore a Breathtaking Alpine Garden in Gstaad, Switzerland

by Ronald Johnson

A visit to the charming Swiss village of Gstaad conjures up images of Heidi and cowbells, along with glamorous visitors who include European royalty. At 3,445 feet above sea level, surrounded by picture-perfect alpine views, it attracts skiers in the winter and hikers all summer. AD takes an exclusive look at a stunning garden created there by French landscape designer Louis Benech, featured in his soon to be released book, Twelve Gardens Around the World , with text by Éric Jansen ( Editions Gourcuff Gradenigo ).

With a career spanning 35 years and some 400 projects, Benech needs little introduction. Known for creating gardens in perfect harmony with their natural sites, architecture and local landscape, no two are alike. Benech often refers to his projects as playgrounds, and his original love of plants led to his true passion: crafting verdant dreamscapes. Indeed, the master gardener lives and works with the seasons and lets nature reveal itself in all its splendor. “A project is always about the place and the people,” Benech notes. “I try to understand who they are and how they live, but the real director is the site. Context is extremely important to my eye.”

The steep path leading to the main house was retained by using the TerraMur reinforced-earth system. With a few exceptions, the majority of the plants are golden in leaf or flower. Some were grown from cuttings on site.

Located on one of the largest private plots in Gstaad, a charming traditional wooden chalet—straight out of central casting—can be found nestled on a hillside with spectacular views. The property is composed of a newly constructed main house; an original 18th-century structure, now the guest house, which was moved intact from another location; and a smaller original house near the entrance to the property. Benech was invited to join the project right at the beginning, which he says is ideal, adding that “about 20% of my clients ask me where I think they should place their house in the landscape.”

Describing the process, Benech speaks enthusiastically. “I planted this garden over a two-year period, as we can’t plant in winter. We brought in a few big trees right in the beginning, which I never do, and also some old wisteria,” he says. “To respect privacy, I also used a few bigger plants, but I doubt you can tell.” There were some beautiful large existing trees already there, including a purple beech, which he kept, although he did have to remove one big tree, which was blocking a great view of a cascade.

Describing the garden in detail, Benech rattles off all the plant names in Latin and English. “I always like to include hints of where the client is from,” he says. “This family is Greek, so I planted some things which remind them of home.” Combined with local mountain flowers and what look like wild native roses, this refined garden appears completely natural, an idyllic paradise. This, after all, is the magic of Louis Benech—as if he never touched a thing.

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