The site

This property is a typical left over from the industrialised agriculture. A single farm needs much larger areas today to be able to function financially so many of the original farm buildings end up obsolete. This is the case here. Most of the land that would have been in the care of this farm are today tendered by a local farmer. What is left is a house and a barn unused for 30 years in 3 hectares of land difficult to work with machines as it is either to steep or too wet. The happy consequence of the 30 years abandon is that nature has been left alone and by and large has not been affected by pesticides and fertilisers. The vegetation is incredibly diverse compared to any of the fields around dominated by monoculture.

There is a striking difference of height - 10 metres - between the highest point of the land - the edge of a plateau where the buildings are located - and the lowest point - a river that forms the longest and North boundary of our land.  The lowest point is at about 7.5m above sea level. Due to the location and a impervious rock substrate, various springs appear on the land which are surrounded by willow. 

This picturesque topography creates a variety of biotopes adapated to the different conditions of light and humidity. The alluvial areas near the river are rich and damp; they get flooded some years. The slopes are north facing but in most areas are gentle enough to receive plenty of sunshine. The plateaux is very dry in summer and has a thin layer of top soil.

This combination of un-modernisation and various conditions gives us an amazing canvas to work from and huge diversity of plants and animals. We see our role to develop and encourage this diversity through simple maintenance and occasional additions whilst making the property easier and more pleasant to enjoy through the creation of a network of paths.

The plateau
Naturally already of a meadow appearance due to the lack of water in the summer, our plan is to keep it as is. We will increase the diversity by impoverishing it a little more through hay cutting and thus avoid thatching which hinders the growth of the gentler species of flowers and grass, in particular we wish to encourage the sole orchid we have found on the land to reproduce.

The meadow
This area is in part the most challenging as well as the most exciting.
Big swathe of nettles have established themselves. The soil is here rich naturally due to the alluvions and it seems that areas that receive water run of (with alluvion and - probably - left over fertiliser) from the fields above are even richer. It is naturally damp throughout the year.
In areas not colonised by the nettles, it is an area of great beauty and surprise. Large perennials and biennials that completely disappear in the winter grow in a few months to heights of 1.5 to 2 metres. This makes this area go from looking like a lawn to the feeling of a jungle.
We aim to use the Gilles Clement's technique of the garden in movement for this area where you mow what you don't like and leave what you wish to encourage following the movements of the plants from year to year.
The drier parts will be dealt with in similar way to the plateau although the hay will be cut earlier in June and then mowed if needed to impoverish the soil.

The willow edge and swamp
This zone is almost like a marsh in winter with a rivulet in the middle which dries out for a very short time in the summer. It is home to a willow and poplar thick hedge almost an elongated woodland.

The orchard
Originally the vegetable garden, we have decided to use the rich soil which is the only area (apart from the steep slopes) that doesn't get waterlogged to plant fruit trees. They will use the rich soil and shade the plants underneath enough to keep strongest species at bay. We will here again cut in June or July and use the hay to much the trees.

The alder wood
This area is really part of the meadow but due to the presence of numerous alders and a few ashes has shadower conditions which keep nettles at bay and allow for a particularly interesting range of more gentle perennials.

The young wood (originally the third field)
This area used to be rented by the farmer who kept it as fallow (for tax reasons) and occasionally sprayed to keep plants down. Strangely, it hasn't seem to have done any harm to it. Or at least not for our purpose. We are letting it return to forest. this is proving incredibly successful.

The old wood
At the far end of the site, the triangular wood is already one of the most breathtaking part of the land. It has great mixture of species:

  • Oak
  • Ash
  • Red oak
  • Wild cherry
  • Wild pear
  • Field maple
  • Old poplars (which are dying and falling)
It makes an amazing show in spring with wood anemones, buttercup, violets, a few bluebells, an unusual green bulb flower that I am yet to name.

The clearings left by the fallen poplars become in the summer a jungle of bracken that we personally love. Walking through them, you feel as if you were in a tropical jungle (they are taller than me at times).

A number of ponds exist which dry in the summer but allow for swathe of irises.

The weather is mild and particularly sunny due to a local microclimate. It has the same number of sun hours as the Cote d'Azur but is less hot. It is a cold Mediterranean climate where a number of plants from the South of France and Italy have naturalised themselves 
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