How to be a master gardener

The Château de Versailles and Marqueyssac, the most visited garden in Périgord, are among 2,300 public and private gardens all over France to open on June 2, 3 and 4 for the annual Rendez-vous aux Jardins. Jane Hanks spoke to their head gardeners

Alain Baraton has been Gardener-in-Chief at Versailles since 1982 and he has worked there since 1976. It is possibly the most famous garden in the world and is vast, covering 2,100 acres of land with 350,000 trees, almost 50kms of walkways and thousands and thousands of plants.

There are not only the formal gardens and the Trianon estate where Marie Antoinette had her “farm” but also the surrounding wood and park land.
Mr Baraton has around 80 gardeners and other employees working for him and says his job is not unlike running a small company, where there are always decisions to make about new projects and tasks to delegate.

He feels his duty is to ensure that the park remains presentable and he also wishes to make it a garden where people can enjoy their time and come for some fresh air, jogging or just for a walk as much as for the history.

Mr Baraton has one of the most prestigious posts in horticulture imaginable and lives in grand surroundings in a house on the estate that used to belong to Molière. But he is a man who is very approachable and who is keen to share his love of gardening with a wide audience. He has a weekly radio show, La Main Verte on France Inter and has published several books, one of which has been translated into English. In it, he explains that he came to work at Versailles by chance without any real ambition to become a gardener.

He was the fifth child in a family of seven and felt he wasn’t good at anything in particular and ...

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