Impressions de stage ; What did you like best?

 Déjà fini ; Tia and Christine sont reparties dans leur contrée retrouver leur jardin. Une quinzaine de jours intense à nos cotés avec tant de travaux divers, c’était l’idée importante pour leur venue, offrir le maximum d’activités. Des travaux du bois bien sûr avec la restauration des plessis, des travaux au potager, des travaux de plantation, des travaux de taille…… laissons à Tia et Christine la parole pour entendre leur vision de ce « séjour jardinage » à Orsan. Merci à elles pour leur aide précieuse au jardin, leur bonne  humeur et volonté quotidienne à toute épreuve.

Trip to Prieure d’Orsan- March 2015.
« It has been a real privilege to spend time in this beautiful environment and insping garden and my hugest thanks go out to all involved, but particularly to Gilles for his wonderful teaching which is very focussed and also very empowering, and of course his endless translating.
I love the way that places are never as you imagine them from the pictures and Orsan has been no exception, the reality of this place is better than my expectation and Iam particularly struck by two things, firstly the incredible attention to detail which makes everything very pleasing to the eye, and second are the birds, this place is alive with them and their song is the loudest noise in the garden ( most of the time ) and I’m impressed at the importance they are given here. There are huge variety of bird boxes and bug houses and the vast amounts of hedges and structures must be such a haven for them- even the left over pieces of string are hung in the trees to be used as nest making material.
Two weeks have suddenly flown by so I’m glad I kept a diary of what we did each day. The most important things I have learnt here are that making structures is easier than I thought it might be and that training and pruning fruit trees is almost a science which I am just beginning to understand a little tiny bit.
This garden is all about structures and we have had a go at quite a variety of things. The main material used here is coppiced Sweet Chesnut, Castanea sativa poles which will last 3 or 4 years and I am curious to know if these are grown in the UK, we can use Hazel but it will not last as long, Willows are also used, as is Wild Clematis vines ( something we have plenty of ) and the grape vine prunings. Under Gilles guidance Christina and I made this chesnut climbing frame for the tomatoes.


We also made lots of new fencing the same as in this pictures throughout the maze. This is how it would have been made in medieval times and it does create a very strong barrier and as with everything here there is a particular technique that makes it look simple and natural and which has been really useful to learn.We also made rhubarb baskets with sliced chesnuts post and woven with bunches of willow- Salix caprea. Some of these had also been made with old vines or topped with wild Clematis and I very much like the use of these different materials which may otherwise just be waste. Another example of this was the fence around the summer flowers bed, built as simple and natural barrier to prevent the flowers falling out all over the path and made from beech hedge trimmings tied onto the chesnut post and rail poles- and yet robust enough to do the job ! ( With the help of the magic’ scoby doo’ plastic ties that is… ).


We spent some time attending to the mature fruit trees here learning techniques mostly new to me and I am particularly inspired by Gilles method of pruning these trees. We have painted the trunks of pear trees white to reflect the heat, wrapped others in hessian bandage and added grease proof paper rings to which the grease is applied to deter ants and other bugs crawling up the trees. We have used string pull down vertical branches that need bending to create a better shape and allow in more light- this string in then  tied of a thicker branch of neighbouring tree. To prune the mature orchard trees Gilles does none of the « snipping off ends  » I have seen so much of, but simply waits for a branch to fruit over 4or 5 years which naturally bends it over under the weight of fruiting. Inevitably a new shoot with start to grow vertically nearer the beginning of the branch and this is allowed to grow on and become the new leading branch  and the older part is cut off in the winter. In this way there is always new wood to replace old giving the best chance of new flowers and fruit over time- I love the apparent simplicity of this method and look forward to trying it out.

 Perphaps the real gold here for me has been the experience of looking at the vast and awe inspiring possibilities of espalier trained fruit trees and bushes- I have seen this in a new light and understand a little more about why this done- which to my understanding was originally all about maximum fruit production in relatively small places. The fruit trees almost become the fences around the garden allowing so much more ground area to be available for vegetables, herbs, flowers, strawberries or whatever one wishes to grow. I can also see however it is not for the fainthearted and keeping the vigour of these trees restricted is a time consuming process throughout the year. Gilles has been extremely good at helping me understand what is going amongst all the different new growth and therefore which to keep, how many to keep per branch and he graciously allowed us to practice on his precious trees which I thoroughly enjoyed- I can see how this could become slightly addictive! .

Having thought we were maybe beginning to get a feel for this Gilles tells us this is just the winter clean up and the really important pruning work takes throughout the summer months which is crucial for containing the amount of fruits per bud, keeping light coming through and containing over vigorous growth…etc- so clearly another visit is in order! .



 So we leave Orsan to morrow ( after a fantastic French lunch to day that included snails and frogs legs…! ) with lots of  notes, photos, ideas and information in our minds. It has been a very rewarding and enriching experience.