The Gardens of Versailles go green

The keeper of these historic gardens is ditching pesticides and promoting local plants. Mon Dieu!

In a July 9 story, Molly Moore of the Washington Post interviewed Alain Baraton, keeper of the Gardens of Versailles — the huge, elaborate, formal gardens of the palace of Versailles, seat of government of French kings from 1682-1789.

Baraton preaches using local plants rather than importing exotic flora (as those French kings used to do). Such native plants need less maintenance because they are adapted to local conditions. He also changed the practice of planting row after row of the same tree. Now Versailles varies the trees — beech, hawthorn, poplar, chestnut — to minimize losses from disease. This is important when your garden has 200,000 trees.

Bugs now infest many of his 18,500 chestnut trees, because climate change has allowed the pests to survive the winter. Baraton, however, has stopped spraying the trees with pesticides, instead leaving the bugs to get fat. These plump insects have attracted more birds, which feast on them, acting as natural pest removers.

Baraton pushes his ideas, termed “bio-gardening” by Moore, in books, a radio show and on TV. The “green gardening” movement should get a boost because such a prominent gardener, from what may be the world’s most famous gardens, is touting a more natural approach to gardening. I can’t help but wonder if some of his “natural” approach is how the gardeners in Louis XIV’s time did it; they didn’t have pesticides and herbicides, after all.

At my home we have a small garden that includes some native plants. We make our own compost and use a potassium soap spray for our plants, to fight off harmful bugs and mildew.

What do you think of the Versailles story? Do you garden, and if so, do you use chemicals synthetic pesticides and herbicides or a more natural approach?

July 15, 2008

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