Veggie-loving homeowners transform a sprawling French-inspired jardin de curé into a manageable and relaxing oasis.
opposite: A large golden weeping willow (Salix alba ‘Tristis’) provides a pretty backdrop for four beds of rotating crops, which feature potatoes, beans, tomatoes, carrots and lettuce. The garden produces ample food for the couple who lives here. right: In front of JeanFrançois Giroux and Eveline Landa’s French Normanstyle farmhouse in Saintantoinesurrichelieu, Quebec, helianthus, smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), eastern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) and oldfashioned hostas (growing against the house) have flourished for around 20 years.
At the turn of the 19th century in France, thousands of unique gardens brimming with medicinal herbs, vegetables, fruit and flowers were known as jardins de curé, named for the parish priests who kept them. These carefree gardens were often laid out in geometric grids, providing not only food for the priests but also flowers for the altars and tranquil areas for meditation. In 1992, Jean-françois Giroux, a biology professor, and Eveline Landa, a scientist for the federal government, fell in love with and bought a modernday jardin de curé in Saint-antoinesur-richelieu, a mostly agricultural area in southern Quebec. “These types of gardens have lots of little nooks and crannies and pack in many different wild and cultivated plants,” says Eveline. The 1,400-square-metre property also boasts an adjacent 4,200-square-metre leased plot with a large organic vegetable garden and hay field. “We loved that there was tremendous potential to adapt the landscape to suit our tastes,” she says.
Eveline was especially excited about tending the existing produce garden. The second summer after moving in, she used a small tractor to prepare the soil, as the previous owners had always done. But maintaining such a large vegetable plot proved difficult for Eveline to do on her own. “The clay soil was very hard to work with,” she says. “In terms of nutrients, clay is great – it retains water well when sandy soils would need watering. But if it dries out in summer, it’s like cement.” Inspired by a recent trip to Europe, where she saw gardens divided into
“There was tremendous potential to landscape the property to suit our tastes.”
clockwise from top left: Squash, pumpkins, cucumbers and corn grow alongside pink Queen Series cleome (Cleome hassleriana) in this vegetable plot; a panicle hydrangea adorns a patio; green hydrangea blooms and alpine sea holly (Eryngium alpinum) dress up a rustic bistro table in a sunny corner; pink Chinese astilbe stands tall in a raised bed by the garden shed.
smaller beds for easy crop rotation, Eveline decided to cut her vegetable garden in half and separate it into four sections. To delineate the plots, Eveline first tried wooden edging, which rotted, then plastic, which she didn’t like, before using affordable and solid one-metre-long cement borders. “Over time, they became moss-covered and developed a grey patina, which I really like,” she explains. Eveline had good luck from the start in her produce garden, where asparagus, blueberries, rhubarb and chives thrived. Over the next few years, Eveline further simplified her tasks by filling in a swampy, mosquito-ridden pond at the back of the property, converting it into a field. She then turned her attention to the area beside the house, where Jean-françois helped her create raised flowerbeds all around the perimeter. “I went with lots of straight lines – squares and rectangles,” she says. “And I wanted plants that were strong, resilient and not too invasive, especially in front of the house. The raised beds make
weeding easier and also save my back. And planting large amounts of the same variety keeps things simple yet striking. Hostas, hydrangeas and forsythias are great – nothing will grow underneath them once they’re big. When they’re each in bloom, they create huge impact.” Between 2000 and 2005, Eveline and Jean-françois slowly added paths and a patio, mixing different coloured paving stones they’d collected from pallet ends at a local supplier. Next, Eveline plans to landscape the area under the huge golden weeping willow at the far end of the property. “That part of the garden is my baby now,” she says. “It’ll be a beautiful spot to relax in, and even though that land is leased, I’m happy to take care of it and enjoy it. I love keeping myself busy, and there’s never an end with gardening.”
above, far left: Eveline plants English lavender cultivars (Lavandula angustifolia), such as ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Munstead’, which look lovely laid out in a basket with sea lavender (Limonium latifolium cvs.). above, left: A former chicken coop and animal stable was converted into a garden shed. The groups of plants encircled by pavers include nasturtiums, hostas, rhododendrons, ‘Jackmanii’ clematis, bearded iris and petunias. above, right: Under a canopy of apple, maple and poplar trees, this small alfresco dining area is a great spot for the couple to serve up their seasonal bounty.
A trumpet-shaped cement planter holds ‘Black Knight’ butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii) and herbs. “I always grow basil in this wide pot, slightly hidden from direct sun by the buddleja,” explains Eveline. “All the other plants are perennials, which I transplant in the fall in my back garden.”
left: Some years, the vegetable garden produces enough bounty for Eveline and Jeanfrançois to freeze and enjoy throughout the year, beginning with asparagus in the spring and ending with autumn-harvested cabbages and leeks. Brussels sprouts, Eveline adds, taste even better after the first hard frost. right: A pair of wooden Muskoka chairs provides a great spot facing the huge golden weeping willow, surrounded by various nasturtiums and old-fashioned orange daylilies. “They’re an excellent flower: prolific, drought tolerant and they fill gaps rapidly,” says Eveline. right, bottom: A black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata) adds a pop of bright colour to the sitting area.