3 Jul 2011

Little House on the Prairie (Part 2)

My new work assignment allows me to feel blessed by the beauty of the surrounding countryside, the rambling valley encased in lush hillsides, age-old hamlets suspended in time, a nearby brook...

The preservation society's gardens deserve a mention too. Although still looking neglected in places, they are set to enjoy a revival thanks to our new chairman. I too am pushing in that direction: on my visit last year I hadn't been impressed by their state of semi-neglect ('semi' used as a polite word).

The gardens are organic and multi-purpose. Part of the site is dedicated to the preservation of ancient cultivated fruit and vegetables (old varieties of onion, leek, tomato, peach and apple trees), by the means of a seed bank (conservatoire de graines). Besides an on-site greenhouse offers garden members the possibility to purchase tomato, aubergine, courgette, onion, aromatic herbs and capsicum plants. Visitors - especially those unacquainted with country life - discover a working kitchen garden and the orchard. Fruit is collected and used into the popular compôtes, jams and preserves, syrups, sauces, chutneys and the likes that will eventually find their way to the boutique shelves.

Finally the semi-wild garden is also a representation of what the maquis stands for up close and personal, in its full spectrum and informality, from the low grasses to the medium-height cytisus, heather, genista, myrtle, up to the taller grades of the scrub: green oak, cork oak, pine, wild olive trees, etc. The gardens are a taster to botany without the stuffy science bits.

Promenade en Corse parmi ses Fleurs et ses Forêts, by Marcelle Conrad
By its nature, the garden is not supposed to be compared to those formal, regimented, weed-free, stately gardens like Chambord or Versailles, or even to the falsely wild yet incredibly romantic Monet's gardens at Giverny. Here in 'our' garden, wild flowers take pride of place and are encouraged. The difficulty lies in the fact that all too often our gardeners tip-toe on that very fine line that separates wild from neglect. 

While most of our visitors seem genuinely charmed by the rusticity of the gardens, some will understandably express their concern about a certain lack of care, while a small minority will virulently oppose anything that doesn't resemble geranium, begonia, dahlia or petunia... Although it is clear that those individuals got the wrong address in the first place, I am quick to add in their defence that part of the garden preservation society's mission is to endeavour to change perceptions and preconceptions towards plants, weeds, the cultivated vs. the spontaneous, and the concepts of balance, beauty and acceptance.

Organic produce is available to purchase from the boutique
Therefore garden guardians have a long task ahead, yet this is a challenge that I am relishing in. So who's next please?

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