Gardening Advice

Eco-friendly garden

Villandry Castle, symbol of French style gardens, today shows that carefully maintaining an outstanding garden can be compatible with eco-friendly methods. At the end of 2008, we decided to stop using chemical pesticides to fight against pests which attack fruit trees, roses and vegetables produced in the kitchen garden. We felt the need to preserve the environment, to protect the health of the gardeners and also to offer our many visitors a healthy place where they can munch on an apple or eat a bunch of grapes without also swallowing any residual pesticides.

Our aim is to preserve a remarkable garden, maintained with meticulous care, while incorporating maintenance work into a balanced ecosystem. We therefore need to control populations of harmful organisms to limit damage to plants and encourage the diversity of species naturally present in the garden. After analysing the first experimental year, we made the decision to use no more chemicals throughout the grounds. The company Biobest advised us on the technical aspect, i.e. keeping pests under control, and we asked CETU Innophyt (a university organisation) for help in bringing biodiversity back into the gardens.

Actions set in place:

  • No more chemical pesticides: replaced by introducing auxiliaries.
    For example: ladybird larvae against aphids, anthocoris nemoralis to control pear psylla, etc.
  • Chemical fungicides have been replaced by products made with minerals, organic matter or trace elements to control fungal diseases (leaf fungus).
    For example: Bordeaux mixture against mildew, stinging nettle slurry to strengthen the rose tree’s natural defence mechanisms, zinc and silica to protect the leaf surface.
  • Use of fertiliser containing 100% organic matter suitable for organic agriculture, while reducing the amounts to prevent leaching.
  • Chemical herbicides have been replaced by manual work using old-fashioned tools (hoe, tined spade, etc.), using a gas-powered weeding machine, change of soil type to limit the spread of “weeds” and make it easier to maintain the paths.

In addition to these four aspects, visitors to the grounds receive information so that they understand our methods, and they are quite willing to see the Villandry gardens with a few leaves rolled up by aphids or a few weeds that the gardeners have not yet hoed out. Educational activities are provided for school children who are introduced to the idea of organic methods of pest control; among other things, they learn to recognise the insects and other animals that help the gardeners in their work.

After three years of organic methods, the results are very encouraging. The numbers of insects recorded shows a wide variety of species, the return of certain butterflies, grasshoppers and praying mantises, as well as smaller insects that prey on aphids. The League for the Protection of Birds (LPO) in Touraine has spent the year listing the birds that pass through and nesters on the site; the results show over 80 species observed.

Visitors to the garden enjoy walking in a carefully preserved area and leave with a few organic vegetables on harvest days. Our work shows that it an outstanding garden and tourist attraction is compatible with abundant biodiversity. By following these few examples, we are no longer attempting to tame nature but to incorporate gardening into the functioning of an ecosystem.

Laurent Portuguez
head gardener

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