A provençal garden three years in the making

_mg_9327Fruit trees planted in January 2014, vines in the autumn, Gilbert’s garden in Gémenos near Marseille looks quite mature already. “Stunning results”, the amateur gardener told me this summer.

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I first saw Gilbert’s lush garden from his neighbour’s house on a late afternoon at the beginning of August. Olive trees, fruit trees… I wanted to know more. Pictures August 2016, Gémenos, Provence, France.

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So I interviewed him. In January 2014, he planted twelve fruit trees in the shape of year’s shoots: three apricot, four peach, two cherry, two plum and one fig.

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Two years and seven months later, some, like this peach tree, approach 30 cm in circumference. The biggest one is a cherry tree. This amateur gardener, who spends two to three hours a day in his garden because “it makes me feel good” says he is amazed by the results.

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However, there are objective reasons for this success. Firstly, Gilbert purchased his trees from a supplier of professional fruit growers he had access to, who chose the trees for him.

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Then, he nourished the trees: five to ten kilogrammes of ground horn in each of the holes before planting, a hundred kilogrammes of manure per tree per year (pictured: the pile of manure). He carefully watered the trees: thirty to forty liters every fortnight during the first year and one hundred and fifty in 2015. This summer, he only needed to water them once, between the two showers they had in Gémenos.

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Gilbert harvested his first peaches in 2015 and twenty apricots this year, which were “full of flavour”. The vines on the arbour in front of the house are beautiful: they already provide shade and produce large quantities of grapes (here “Muscat de Hambourg”, almost ripe, tasted by Gilbert on 14 August) just two years after planting.

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The garden also produces a few figs…

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… Olives (Gilbert also planted six olive trees, which were already formed and got bigger)…

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… And of course vegetables. Tomatoes of all sorts…

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… Peppers, aubergines, flowers… One of Gilbert’s great pleasures is to go to the garden around 11:00 11:30am to pick vegetables for lunch. He gave us a basket of tomatoes, courgettes and aubergines of various colours… They were delightfully tasty and firm.

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Gilbert had installed an elaborate drip watering system for his vegetables. After spending a lot on water last year for his 1,000 square meter garden, he stopped watering his lawn and is looking for alternative solutions. There is water underground, so digging a well is a possibility, and one of his two neighbours is interested in sharing the cost.

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He may also opt for 20 cm of “BRF” (ramial chopped wood, a kind of mulch) to nourish the trees and retain humidity, or straw. He is also experimenting with ploughing the soil up to a maximum of 20cm in parts of his garden.

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He is also interested in permaculture …

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… And the principle of a diversity of plants supporting each other in the garden. Here raspberries grow in front of a thick hedge formed of various plant species.

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Gilbert learns through “trial and error”. Gardening, which he describes as a “rich experience of a relationship to the earth” fills him “with great humility” because, for instance, he doesn’t understand why the same tomatoes get bigger in one part of the garden and stay smaller in another. He also has to learn to deal with diseases such as peach leaf curl.

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To me, he lives his passion to the full and with great respect for his environment. Nothing is lost, everything finds a place somewhere and is recycled in the growing process.

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His garden is already paying him back greatly. Dining under the arbour must start to feel like feasting with gods on Earth… His neighbour, with whom I have just been in contact, told me that he had plenty of “super bons” (delicious) muscat grapes these days. I asked her whether he gave her some. She replied “of course!”. Be it with his family and children or with friends, neighbours and visitors, be it produce or knowledge, Gilbert shares. This is probably one of the secrets to his success with this amazing garden.

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