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

Living France - - À La Maison -

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. open­gar­

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