Green-fingered generosity in 2018

Jane Hanks speaks to the founder of Open Gardens about another successful year and meets a remarkable beneficiary

Published Last updated

The year 2018 has been another success for Open Gardens/Jardins Ouverts, which has donated €25,000 to charity, €1,500 more than last year. It means that since it was created in 2013, the association has been able to hand out €75,550 in total.

It began when four British gardeners in the Creuse decided to open their gardens to see if they could raise money for charity and the idea quickly caught on. There are now 151 gardens signed up and the scheme is present in 35 departments and it encourages gardeners of all nationalities to open up their gardens, big and small to the public.

Visitors buy a €10 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 €35 Partner Gardens card, which gives access to privately owned gardens as well as a growing list of prestigious French gardens, which are offering Open Garden members free entry.

40% of gardens are French owned and it has been welcomed with open arms by one of France’s most prestigious gardening shows, the bi-annual Journées des Plantes de Chantilly, held in the grounds of the château de Chantilly, north-west of Paris. During the show in October, there was a ceremony to hand over the money raised to two of this years fifteen charities, A Chacun son Everest and Quelque Chose en Plus.

The main beneficiary from the start has been, A Chacun son Everest which runs courses in the Alps to help children and women who are in remission from cancer but need help restoring their confidence after treatment. It received €15,000.

Among the other fourteen charities is Dauphin Corse, which received €1,000.

It gives financial help towards the treatment of individuals who have an illness or a handicap and in particular to fund unforeseen costs, such as an expensive cure only available in a foreign country.

It is run by an extraordinary man, who has overcome his own handicap and now wishes to help others do the same.

Thierry Corbalan, from Ajaccio, Corsica, used to work for the police, but lost both his arms and a toe after a fishing expedition, when his carbon rod touched an electricity line as he crossed a bridge over a railway line.

He had always loved sport and was three times vice-judo champion for France Police. So just months after his accident he started running, and then turned to swimming with a mono-flipper and set himself astonishing challenges.

In 2017 he swam 80km non-stop between Montecristo in Italy and Bastia in Corsica, which took him 26 hours. This year he was one of a team of four who swam around Corsica.

He used to raise money through his challenges for other charities, but in 2012 he decided to set up his own.

“I will help anyone who has a story which touches me and where I think I can help. Recently it was for a man in his sixties who has gallbladder cancer and the only treatment available was in Germany where he had to fund the operation himself. A lady from Guadeloupe who has a rare tumour needed to come to Marseille and we paid to enable her husband to accompany her. For some years we have supported a young girl, Chloé Verbauwe, who is unable to walk and her family cannot pay for all the costly materials she needs.”

In 2019 he will be sixty and plans to swim 60km in Lac Léman. He trains by swimming every day of the year in the sea as the majority of the money given out by the association is raised by Thierry Corbalan himself.

However he also has partners like Open Gardens and he says he is very grateful for the support he has had since Mick Moat first contacted him.

The other charities that Open Gardens supports are Quelque chose en Plus, €1,500, a centre for young people with disabilities; Réseau Bulle, €1,000, a network of assistance and mutual support for families and individuals affected by autism; Costello Syndrome, €1,000, gives help for those with a rare disease which manifests itself in the first months of life and results in growth and mental retardation; Bouée d’Espoir, €1,000, eases the difficulties and despair of those at increasing risk of marginalisation by helping to set them back on a positive path in life.

A Bras Ouverts, €1,000, organises holidays for young people and children with disabilities; Chiens Guides €500, trains and allocates guide dogs for blind and partially sighted people; Marfan Syndrome, €500, helps those with a genetic disorder which affects heart, lungs, skin, blood vessels, bones, joints and eyes and can be life-threatening; Rigolopito, €500, clowns put a smile on the faces of children in hospital; and the following are new this year; Dessine moi un mouton, €500, for families and children with serious illnesses; Rayon de Soleil, €500, to help with financial costs for families with children with serious illnesses such as cancer; MS, Sclérose en Plaques, €500, multiple sclerosis; Les P’tits Doudous d’Aliénor, €500, support for children at Le Mans hospital and APTED, €500, support group for people with neuroendocrine tumours.

Next year will see a change as founding member and President, Mick Moat is leaving France, as his wife wishes to live nearer family in the UK. A new President will be chosen at the AGM in February and Mr Moat says he is very sad to leave, but supremely confident that the people taking over will do a good job.

He says it has been a wonderful experience: “Doing something like this renews your faith in humanity. I have found out that there are many, many people who are willing to give up their time for nothing and help those less fortunate than themselves.”

He says he is proud that nearly 50% of their gardens are now French owned: “It is a tribute to the British that they have introduced something new to the French culture, and a tribute to the French that they have received this new idea with open arms.”

He says he hopes more gardeners will join the scheme: “Our target for next year is 200 gardens. We are always looking for more gardeners so welcome anyone who wants to join. More open gardens means more money for charity.”