Open Gardens France: Vibrant borders and crisp hedges in Mayenne

After two years clearing rubbish and brambles, Edward Moss and David Marsh delight in sharing their ‘garden rooms’

Mayenne garden in summer
Formal hornbeam hedges create a statue garden; smashed roof tiles used as mulch to keep weeds under control
Published Last updated

Somewhere ‘in the middle of nowhere and on the edge of everything’ lies a five acre garden which its creators, Edward Moss and his partner, garden historian, David Marsh, love to share with visitors. 

Two years clearing rubbish and brambles

It is not their first garden in France. They previously renovated a house and garden in Deux-Sèvres which they had had for over a decade before purchasing this disused farm and its land in Mayenne some sixteen years ago. 

“We just fell for it,” Edward says. “You know that saying, ‘Fools rush in’?” They spent two and a half years simply clearing: rubbish, brambles, debris. 

“You could not see all the land. We didn’t know exactly what we had.” 

Neighbours cut the grass during lockdowns

What they have now are many garden ‘rooms’, separated by formal, well-trimmed hornbeam hedges. Edward keeps them in check because he likes them crisp. 

Stone plinth in summer garden
Stone plinth in summer garden

“I cut them once a month in the season and it takes me a week. They grow fast – which was good in the beginning but not so good now,” he adds ruefully. 

As they are only there for seven or eight months of the year, maintenance can be an issue. 

During the lockdowns things became very hard – kind neighbours came and cut grass but when they were finally able to get back to the garden the hedges were almost touching in places. 

Read more: Homeowners asked to pause cutting garden hedges in France

It took until October to tame the chaos. Edward has now brought them down to a height where he can trim them, using a telescopic handle, without any ladders. 

“I keep saying we have to simplify things but it can be quite complicated,” he smiles. 

Hedges take a week to trim every month

Mulching is key to managing weeds

They use a lot of mulch to try to keep weeds under control. 

“It doesn’t completely stop them but they’re easier to remove,” Edward says. 

They barrow on wood chippings from a tree surgeon they have got to know very well.

Every three years, the beds get a top dressing of mulch some 15cm thick. 

In other areas of the garden, broken slates and crushed tiles are also used as mulch. 

The latter in the ‘Jardin des Tuileries’ – the name hints at the humour and playful nature of much of the garden. 

The ‘Jardin Epineux’, full of spiky plants such as yuccas, kniphofia and the red-thorned rose, R. sericea, is a pun on the name of their village, Epineux-le-Seguin. 

There is a dry garden in the centre of what was once a huge barn. The roof had been destroyed in a storm in the 90s. They removed all the tiles and crushed them for mulch. 

The roof trusses went to make pergolas and other structures. Then they capped the walls and made a garden within. 

There are wild flower meadow squares with purple flowering paulownia trees. 

Behind the barn garden is a gravel garden, surrounded by dark yew, with grasses creating a maze, a sort of Serpentine walk, leading to a very private area with sun loungers.

Gravel creates a path around the barn

A mix of formal and surprising

Edward and David have created a mound from where you can survey their neighbours’ lake and there is an old cattle lane, to their own lake, where all the trees are underplanted with bulbs. 

By the lake are fritillaries and starry camassias in blue and also giant silvery white. 

Edward remembers planting them, “Such hard work. The ground was frozen, the bulbs are as big as tennis balls and they had to be planted to twice their depth,” he recalls. 

Everywhere there is a play between formal and surprising: hedging and statuary versus the so-called vulgar bed, rammed with dahlias and cannas, in the most vivid, brightest colours. 

These are not lifted for the winter but rather are given a duvet of mulch to protect them. Edward is philosophical about any losses – most survive. 

Read more: Gardening in France: Dahlias stir poetry and emotion

Famous for their rhubarb 

There is an old orchard with mainly local cider apples, a large potager and a polytunnel, and the pair grow a lot of their own produce, especially soft fruit, including raspberries, tayberries, blackberries and gooseberries but not strawberries. 

“They’ve never done well for me,” says Edward, “but I’ve a lovely neighbour who gives me punnets.” 

However, the favour is returned as they are renowned amongst their French neighbours for their prolific rhubarb crowns. 

“We spend the summers harvesting and freezing, we spend winters feasting on summer fruit.” 

There are three enormous herbaceous borders and there are rose gardens. 

“I really adore roses. I’ve given David Austin rather a lot of money,” says Edward wryly. 

He is now propagating like mad – forty hydrangea cuttings taken in August turned into forty healthy plants before they left in November. 

Colouful purple and red flower bed

Opening their garden has led to friendships

Once, when the garden was open, from a window, Edward noticed a woman surreptitiously snipping a seedhead. 

He strode out towards her. “Would you like an envelope?” he asked. She was mortified but recovered enough to ask for two! They’ve since become firm friends and go and visit other gardens together. 

Forming friendships and links with their local and regional communities have been immensely important for Edward and David. 

Opening the garden first in 2016 with Open Gardens/Jardins Ouverts was very successful from the start. 

The village mayor is a neighbour and he was so excited and thrilled by the project that he had flyers printed and distributed locally. Some seventy people came on the first day. 

In 2018, Radio France Bleu Mayenne broadcast live from the garden one morning, starting at 6am. Edward says he worried about his language skills being up to the task but then relaxed and enjoyed it. 

“Opening the garden has introduced us to such wonderful people. One day a couple appeared, curious because they’d heard about the garden. They turned out to be an artist and a ceramicist who lived in the next village”. 

Read more: ‘French gardeners love the Britishness of the Open Garden scheme’

Fascinating talks on garden history

His generosity does not stop at opening. Edward shares many things from the garden – honesty seed heads for someone’s wedding, flowers for another, advice for someone else. He and the mayor’s wife now compete to produce the best honey from their respective hives. 

If you would like to visit the gardens in May, when those fabulous roses and the peonies from the national collection at nearby Château de Sourches are blowsily blooming, you can find the details at

David has a website which details his fascinating lectures. He is available to talk to associations and groups, in person or via Zoom, on subjects as varied as gnomes, Tudor gardens (and their beasts), The Great Geranium Robbery, The Elephant in the Garden and, of course, The Joys (and Problems!) of Making a Garden in France.