Gardening Advice

The orange trees

Villandry respects the tradition of the great châteaux by placing 10 clementine trees at the foot of its tower in Versailles planters. The fashion for citrus dates back to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when aristocratic families acclimatised exotic plants for the luxury of sampling new flavours. Gardeners achieved feats of technical prowess to harvest these new fruits and the great architects built orangeries to maintain the plants over the winter. The Villandry orangery is cut from the rock (the only troglodytic orangery), facing south, covers 380 m² and has a ceiling five metres high and three large glazed doors, preserving an ideal temperature throughout the winter months.

The ten clementine trees currently presented at the Château de Villandry were received on 14 June 1996 from Pépinières Fourny, based on the airport road in Borgo, Corsica. On arrival, the clementine trees had the following characteristics:

  • Age: 30/40
  • Trunk strength: 50-70 cm in circumference

The planters have been gradually replaced since 2007 at a rate of one or two a year due to the cost of the investment. Two companies have produced orange-tree planters for us, Les Jardins du Roi Soleil (the official supplier to the Château of Versailles) and Mobilier Georges Mahot, who have supplied our most recent planters. We use our local carpenter and a painter to maintain these recent boxes by renewing the removable oak panels.

To keep the trees in the planters, we have to plane the roots. This operation is carried out when the trees are removed from the orangery. It reduces the size of the root ball by 10 to 15 cm and encourages the emergence of new roots and rootlets – hence the usefulness of the removable panels. This avoids the phenomenon of roots growing in circles. Each tree’s roots are planed every five years, but to avoid weakening the plant the operation is carried out over two years, two sides of the planter per year, which means we need to keep a journal in order to record the work. Having replaced the wooden panel, we refill the planter with DCM compost (Proveen Bio) consisting of 50% black peat, 30% light peat and 20% coconut fibre together with 40 kg/m³ of clay and 4 kg/m³ of Eco Mix 4 organic fertiliser.

Fertilisation all year round is very important in order to provide the nutrition required for a healthy orange tree. A fertiliser supplement programme has been developed, using only fertilisers that are compatible with organic agriculture, which enables us to harvest several kilos of Corsican clementines in winter:

  • March 7-3-12 Eco Mix 2 300 grams
  • April 9-3-3 Eco Mix 1
  • June 7-3-12 Eco Mix 1 clementine tree
  • July 7-3-12 Eco Mix 2
  • October 7-3-12 Eco Mix 2
  • November 2-0-20 Vivikali

The trees must be watered regularly, but only after checking how cool the root ball is. In winter, a certain level of humidity needs to be maintained. Examining the leaves can be a way of understanding the tree’s needs.

Replanting a tree in a new planter requires several supplies. In addition to the compost, described above, the bottom must be lined with a drainage layer consisting of 10-15 cm of pozzolan (light volcanic rock). A permeable geotextile membrane must be laid between the soil and the drainage layer to hold in the nutrition. At Versailles, the gardeners use dried plane leaves.

To keep our clementine trees in good health, we need to monitor them for pests such as aphids and scale bugs. In winter, we treat the trees with rapeseed oil or white oil to “suffocate” the hibernating forms of these parasites. Then in summer we place ladybirds in each tree, and these take care of regulating the aphid population. For the scale bugs, we introduce a small beetle called Cryptolaemus, which we buy from Biobest, a specialist in organic pest control. To avoid leaf diseases, we regularly use products based on copper combined with leaf treatments of natural origin.

Finally, with all the conditions for your citrus trees to thrive in planters, there remains the shape of the tree as determined by elegant pruning of the branches, giving them either the form of a ball or of a goblet, the shape used for production in orange plantations. In general, it is advisable to clear the centre of the tree to allow the branches to breathe.

Laurent Portuguez
head gardener 

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