Open gardens: Creuse
Mick Moat, president of the French equivalent of Open Gardens, a scheme that encourages owners to open their gardens to the public, says the best part is raising money for charity and sharing his garden in Creuse with others
I’ve lived in France for nearly 12 years; two years in Charente and just under 10 in Creuse. We prefer the hillier surroundings and cooler temperatures of Creuse and, as a gardener, the few extra rainier days are an advantage.
My involvement with Open Gardens started in 2013 when I was amazed to find that a gardening charity scheme, such as the National Gardens Scheme in the UK, didn’t exit in France. So in the same year, I decided to start a small trial in Creuse with four gardens which were open for one day, raising €300. This was donated to a charity called À Chacun Son Everest, which organises week-long activity-based courses for children recovering from cancer.
At two hectares, our own garden is quite large, and I made a decision quite early on that the garden should be easily manageable – if two hectares ever can be! To accomplish this, the garden mainly comprises shrubs and lawn, although there is also a small woodland, a medium sized pond, a polytunnel and vegetable plot. Fruit trees have not been successful but, generally speaking, soft fruit seems to work well. The worst decision I made was to create a huge vegetable plot. Of all the various areas, this is the most work-intensive and I have gradually reduced the size of it. There are only two of us – we really don’t need six courgette plants!
The wildlife has been a delight. We feed the birds throughout the year which also
Things of beauty are not meant to be hidden away – the joy is in the sharing
attracts the red squirrels, a sight we never tire of. We have had hare, including a young hare which stuck around the garden for weeks and became quite used to human activity.
Deer are less welcome visitors, not because they are not lovely creatures, but because they eat the bark of young plants and shrubs, although this is usually only in the springtime. You get used to different birds coming to feed during different seasons. One of nature’s great sights is to witness the annual migration of the cranes and we are really fortunate to be directly under the flight path. Sometimes, during November, we can see literally thousands heading south, all neat in their V formation and honking in anticipation. It is a truly wonderful experience, even though their flight of escape heralds the arrival of winter. If there is a difficult season, it is the occasional drawnout dry summer day when you fear for the plants. But nature is hardier than we imagine and we rarely lose anything. Most of our equipment, seeds and plants are sourced locally or via catalogues from French companies, but on the odd occasion we go back to the UK, we treat ourselves to a special plant.
The big difference in the garden itself is the size. Land is cheap in Creuse and across France generally. Gardening on such a large plot means I can plant copper beech, oak, and other huge trees in the knowledge that I won’t be getting out the chainsaw in a few years’ time when they have outgrown their position.
Since that small trial in 2013, the organisation has grown to over 120 gardens in 26 departments, and in 2016 we raised €12,000 for À Chacun son Everest, and we also gave a further €4,000 split between seven other charitable groups.
The most enjoyable part of my garden is opening it to appreciative visitors in the knowledge that we are also raising money for good causes. Things of beauty are not meant to be hidden away; the joy of a beautiful painting or any wonderful work of art comes in the sharing of it with other people. The best analogy I can come up with is a really good bottle of wine. If you drink it all yourself, you appreciate it on your own. Share it with others and the joy is many times better. opengardens.eu