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Open Gardens set for new season

The Connexion revisits the charitable Anglo-French garden visiting association aiming to grow bigger than ever in 2019

April sees the start of the 2019 Open Gardens/Jardins Ouverts season, the scheme which encourages gardeners of all nationalities to open up their gardens, big and small to the public, to raise funds for charity.

Visitors buy a €10 annual membership card which gives them access to any of the gardens for one year or pay €5 for a Day Pass which allows access to any of the gardens on the day of purchase.

There is also the Partner Gardens card, which costs €35 and gives access to privately owned gardens as well as a growing list of prestigious French gardens, which usually charge an entrance fee but are offering Open Garden members free entry with the card.

This is the association’s seventh year. It began when four British gardeners in the Creuse decided to open their gardens to see if they could raise money for charity.  In 2018 they were able to donate €25,000 to fifteen charities. There are 151 gardens signed up and the scheme is present in 35 departments. The aim this year is to have 200 gardens. 50% are now French owned, and the association is proud it has become a truly Franco-British concept.

This year sees a new President, not yet chosen when we went to print. He or she will take over from Mick Moat, who is now living in Scotland. He has left behind a strong team, determined to carry on and develop Open Gardens.

The first garden to open this year belongs to Janet Greenwood at Le Busseau, Deux-Sèvres. She says spring is her favourite period and from January to May, her garden has a magnificent display of daffodils and hellebores. When she moved to France in 2010, she brought with her a collection of 700 hellebores: “I have about half an acre here which has given me room to expand and experiment, and I have found that hellebores grow very well here and will even grow in direct sun, though common practise is to grow them in deciduous shade.”

Her passion now is daffodils and she has around a hundred varieties. She says she loves them because they come up early, last a long time and herald the spring.

There are thousands of varieties. “I just cannot resist them and I have very many favourites. I love the pink ones and have seven or eight varieties. Another favourite is Sinopel which is white and opens with a green trumpet which changes to a yellowy green. Fragrant Rose has white petals and a peachy pink trumpet and Thalia is pure white and has several flower heads on one stem. New additions to my collection are the orchid or butterfly daffodil which has a short flat trumpet with a frilly edge and Tête Bouclé, which is very small with a double flower and a variant of the well-loved Tête à Tête. I have made a list of them and label them for visitors.”

You can also discover botanical tulips, which are close to the original flower which came from Iraq. They are smaller with more open petals and work well in France because they do not mind being baked as they lie dormant during the summer. “These are becoming more popular and will come back year after year, unlike classic tulips.”

She does have occasional problems. “Sometimes bulbs will disappear and I think it might be varieties that just do not suit my garden. They come up blind, and I think that is when there has been a previous dry spring and the bulb has not been able to take in enough food to produce flowers. I usually feed them with bone meal after they have flowered.”

She says you do have to leave the leaves until they go yellow, and that can last well into June. “My trick is to plant shrubs and herbaceous perennials near to them; fuchsias, gaillardia, phlomis, lavender, coreopsis, eryngium, echinops and grasses all work well to cover tatty leaves.”

You can also see her ducks, chickens and two geese which enjoy free range of the garden, but happily don’t eat the flowers.

Lieu Dit Les Frenes, Le Busseau. Open April 7. 14-18.00


The second garden (main picture above) for April is open at the end of the month and belongs to a French couple south of Nantes who, since retirement, have worked hard to create a magnificent jardin à l’anglaise. It has more than 2,000 different varieties from all over the world growing in one hectare and including several collections of different plants and some rare species. It is cultivated without use of pesticides and all garden waste is either composted or used as mulch.

Mary Fruneau says they have been especially inspired by visits to English style gardens in the UK: “We wanted to create a garden which was simple, close to nature and in harmony with the local countryside and our old farmhouse.”

The couple planted their first trees in 1992, and have been able to work on the garden full time since 2004.

They have developed collections of oaks with 17 varieties, 90 types of Camellias, 100 roses, 80 hydrangeas, 40 clematis, 40 hardy fuchsias and several rare trees and shrubs including a Sichuan pepper, redwoods planted 27 years ago, Rhodocoma capensis, a reed-like perennial from South Africa and several Zanthoxylum, from the citrus family.

“They all grow well,” she says. “We are lucky to be in an oceanic climate where frost and snow are rare and our acid soil is rich.”

The garden is divided into different zones, giving plenty of interest. On the banks of a pond there are reeds, roses and a Handkerchief Tree. Impressive trees mark the entrance to a large lawn with flowerbeds. Behind the house there is the Petit Jardin, the first part they worked on and which has developed into an intimate garden with rare species and winding paths. There is also an orchard, a dry garden, a secret garden, poet’s alley, and vegetable garden.

In April, depending on weather conditions there should be tulips, peonies, and quite a few shrubs including azaleas, viburnum, exochorda, Cornus controversa or wedding cake tree, and Styrax japonica or Japanese snowbell in flower.

Mary and Joël Fruneau often open their garden to the public, including for Rendez-vous aux Jardins in June but this will be their first time for Open Gardens. “I met Mick Moat and thought it was a good idea to open for charity. I hope to find other gardens in the area to join in.”

Le Jardin de Mary and Joël, Bougueanais, Loire-Atlantique.Open: April 27 and 28 10.00-18.00

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