Saturday, February 11, 2017

secret gardens or unknown?

When I was a child one of my favourite books was 'The Secret Garden', but while I was told about walled kitchen gardens enclosed to keep foraging animals out I never knew walled gardens had been commonplace up until the relative recent past. From the sixteenth to the twentieth century, European urban farmers grew Mediterranean fruits and vegetables as far north as England and the Netherlands, using only renewable energy.

These crops were grown surrounded by massive 'fruit walls', which stored the heat from the sun and released it at night, creating a microclimate that could increase the temperature significantly. The 2.5 to 3 metre (9 to 10 feet) high walls were more than half a metre (20 inches) thick and coated in limestone plaster. Mats could be pulled down to insulate the fruits on very cold nights. In the central part of the gardens, crops were grown that tolerated lower temperatures, such as apples, pears, raspberries, vegetables and flowers.

The fruit wall appeared around the start of what's known as the Little Ice Age, a period of exceptional cold in Europe that lasted from about 1550 to 1850. Initially, fruit walls appeared in the gardens of the rich and powerful, such as in the palace of Versailles. However, some French regions later developed an urban farming industry based on fruit walls.

The most spectacular example was Montreuil, a suburb of Paris, where peaches were grown on a massive scale. The French quickly started to refine the technology by pruning the branches of fruit trees in such ways that they could be attached to a wooden frame on the wall.

Established during the seventeenth century, Montreuil had more than 600 km (375 miles) of fruit walls by the 1870s, when the industry reached its peak. The 300 hectare (750 acres) maze of jumbled up walls was so confusing for outsiders that the Prussian army went around Montreuil during the siege of Paris in 1870. Now there's a secret garden for you.

Peaches are native to France's Mediterranean regions, but Montreuil produced up to 17 million fruits per year, renowned for their quality. Building many fruit walls close to each other further boosted the effectiveness of the technology, because more heat was trapped and wind was kept out almost completely. Within the walled orchards, temperatures were typically 8 to 12°C (14-22°F) higher than outside.

As the 20th century grew closer, the production of Parisian peaches went into decline. The extension of the railways and the arrival of cheaper produce on the market saw the orchards deteriorate and disappear into the urban fabric. Here we are 150 years later completely dependent upon container shipped fruit and vegetables from all over the world.

While fruit wall gardening was certainly labour intensive I can't help but remember Mary Lennox, the sickly, foul-tempered, unsightly little orphan girl who loved no one and whom no one loved. Her discovery and care of the secret garden on her uncle's estate led not only to her transformation but to the healing of a sad family's tragedy. If all the factory work is to be done by robots, perhaps the gardens will still have need of us and treasures to share.

Near the end of the book a character says: "There must be lots of Magic in the world. But people don't know what it is like or how to make it. Perhaps the beginning is just to say nice things are going to happen, until you make them happen."

ps: * The design is achieved by wrapping the fruit in a paper bag while it's growing.  Once it's full size a stencil is attached to the ripening peach using egg white. The Japanese do the same with apples. :)

The illustrations of The Secret Garden were painted by Inga Moore.


Sean Jeating said...

Fourty years ago, in the street we are living in, each family on almost each of their approximately 1,500 squaremetres grew potatoes, beans, peas, carrots, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes etc. etc. etc.
Nowadays, wherever you look: lawn lawn lawn.
With but one exception: Seanhenge.
I wonder, if the neighbour is aware where "his" bees are collecting the honey he sells. And Seanhenge is no secret garden. :)

marja-leena said...

I did not know the French had such extensive walled gardens and produced so much fruit! A shame that they stopped. I believe we should try to grow as much as possible of our own food instead of having it shipped from all over the world. What will we do when we run out of oil, especially at the current pace and greed.

Thank you, Susan, I always learn so much from your posts! Are there any early signs of spring out your way?

Should Fish More said...

Little Robin Redbreast
Sat upon a tree,
Up went the Pussy-Cat,
And down went he;
Down came Pussy-Cat,
Away Robin ran,
Says little Robin Redbreast—
Catch me if you can.

I had once read about the walled gardens of Europe, but it was England as I remember.
I'm fleeing Seattle Thursday, uncaring of what my former medical colleagues say. I need at least a month break back home in Montana.


Tom said...

The concept of walled gardens is something that has been around in my life since as far back as I can remember. [Anything was better than the actual reality of my childhood.] I recall reading about them much more recently in books by that wonderful, but now deceased, gardener Geoff Hamilton. I retain deep within me a sense of Old England that may reflect a phantasy, rather than a reality, view of bygone days. But right in the centre of that sense is secret gardens, certain English 'classical'music, and memories of what?.....I wonder.

There must be lots of magic in the world.......

susan said...

From what I've read and what I've seen for myself your village appears to be typical of the way most people lived up until the geniuses came up with time saving 'improvements'. There are suburbs in the US where lawns are mandated. It's crazy.
May the day come soon when Seanhenge provides a working example for the neighbours. We don't need those kind of secrets. :)

susan said...

I knew about the walled gardens in England but not about just how extensive they'd once been - nor just how fertile. It's always so nice to get revelations about good things, isn't it? As for the other thing, I have to agree with Crow when he says he likes people but humanity is crazy.

I'm glad you find these bits interesting, Marja-Leena, as I really enjoy finding obscure yet very fascinating items. The internet is good for some things.

Meanwhile, we await a mini blizzard. sigh..

susan said...

Hi Mike,
That one reminds me of all the hopeful dogs in the park who are sure that this time the squirrel is theirs.

Yes, there are a number of walled gardens in England too, but these near Paris were too interesting not to focus on.

I'm happy to know you're on your way home. Just yesterday I read Dashiel Hammett's 'Red Harvest', a story that takes place in a thinly veiled version of Butte, MT. Have you ever read it?

susan said...

Hello, Tom. My own early memories of English country gardens were planted in my imagination by my mother who missed England very much. My grandfather, a stone mason and a gardener in Co Durham, grew all the family's vegetables along with a large variety of flowers. He specialized in growing roses. I got to know him over the course of a summer visit to England in the late 50s and can attest to his expertise and love for that gentle land.

My mother got to have a large garden, but Southern Ontario had neither the climate nor the soil of an English garden.

As for the magic, I think it's about the fact we don't come into the world from somewhere else but are born from the world itself. How could we not stay connected?

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan,
An interesting post inclusive of some great pics about a subject that leads one to evocative storytelling and mystery stories as you have aptly described.
As you may know the fabled “Hanging Gardens of Babylon” are now thought to be found 300 miles north of Babylon in Nineveh and to have been constructed a century earlier.

We can to day make good use of the principles evident in large cities such as in Melbourne.

Best wishes

susan said...

Hi Lindsay,
I'm happy to know you enjoyed reading my fairly brief post about the walled gardens of Europe, in this case, Paris, chosen because of their enormous extent.
Yes, I had read that article about the remains of The Hanging Gardens of Babylon having likely been built in Northern Iraq. Unfortunately, one pile of rubble in the sand looks too much like another to pique my imagination, but the images of what they may have looked like are wonderful.

Thanks too for the great article about Melbourne encouraging urban gardens. For eight years I had a beautiful balcony garden when we lived in Portland, one that was planted to attract hummingbirds. Since we've lived here our west facing balcony has allowed me to grow some tomatoes and a few flowers, but the fact it's mostly surrounded by a low cement wall makes gardening difficult. Plus, we have high windows and a solid door to the outside that means anything growing out there is impossible to see without being out there.
I truly would love to have a real garden of my own.

All the very best

Andrew R. Scott said...

Quite a few walled gardens in Scottish grand houses. They always entranced me as a youngster as somewhat mysterious and secret places.

Sean Jeating said...

What about moving to Seanhenge? There's a lot to do. :)
This week we are going to get back from a neighbour's horses all the dry bread, carrots, apples that went through their digestive tract to become manure; and perhaps even a bit more.
Just think of the tomatoes, Susan ... :)

Ol'Buzzard said...

I never read the Secret Garden; but watched it with my wife recently on TV. Your paintings are beautiful and soulful.
the Ol'Buzzard

susan said...

A sweet idea, Sean. :)

and there's no better medium for feeding a garden (or heating one from beneath)

susan said...

There's no place like Scotland for concentrated mystery.

susan said...

I'm glad you got to know the story one way or the other, OB. It's a good one.

What can I say? I like to paint and I'm pleased you like them.

Jono said...

Thermal mass is an amazing thing.

susan said...

Maybe one day we'll be reintroduced to its benefits.