Gardener develops cacti suitable for the temperatures of… Normandy

A gardener in Normandy has started to sell cacti from the deserts of the United States, which he has adapted to grow in the cold clay soils of the region

Jessy Charetiers has perfected growing hardy cacti in an unlikely biome
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It took 10 years for Jessy Charetiers, 37, to produce cactus varieties able to withstand the climate of northern Europe.

“Most of the cacti I started off with were greenhouse plants, but I put them in an unheated tunnel and then selected the ones which survived to work with,” he said.

“It is quite simple, they either grew or rotted, and from the ones which grew we were able to develop hardy strains of plants by taking cuttings and checking that they too were hardy.”

The next stage was proving that they could live outside the tunnel, including in Normandy winters where, most years, temperatures drop below freezing and the soil is mainly cold clay.

Some plants destined for even colder climates were “tortured” by spells in a deep freeze, and survived to produce strains which can survive even when the temperature reaches -25C.

Passionate about plants

“I have been passionate about plants from when I was little, and so becoming a gardener was a natural step,” Mr Charetiers told The Connexion.

“But my training was mainly in garden maintenance, not plant breeding, so I have had to learn most of what I know outside any training establishment.

“Plant growers are very generous and taught me a lot, I read a lot and I did lots of trial and error.”

The passion for cacti came from an interest in dry gardens and rockeries where they are a natural choice.

As his success developing cold and humidity-resistant cacti grew, the idea of selling them began to germinate.

Cactus de Normandy launched this year and saw a flood of interest, even before the website went live.

Read more: Gardening hardiness zones in France and how plants adapt to the cold

Dry gardening

“They are plants which appeal to people seeking something a bit exotic and interesting, but also for people interested in dry gardening, where plants do not have to be watered much,” he said.

“With climate change seeming to give us lots of heatwaves and droughts in summer, it is something people are thinking about a lot.”

Mr Charetiers is also converting several hectares of his land in the village of Courbépine (Eure) into a demonstration, low-maintenance dry garden, with cacti beds, rockeries and sheep to keep the grass down.

“The idea is to show to local authorities that it is possible to move from traditional park gardens, which, while very beautiful, are expensive and use a lot of water and fertiliser.”

Most of the plants on the website will be sold for between €25 to €35, and can be delivered