Garden tours while doing good? Tell me more!
I was outside in my potager this week, pulling off another revolting-looking tomato (thanks blight) and cursing the stupid worms eating the non-blighty tomatoes, when I got to thinking about how much I have to learn about gardening. For most of my life I lived in apartments or moved so frequently that it was never really practical to have a garden, although I always had a few things growing in containers in whatever outside space I did have. After I moved from America to England I saw some stunning and carefully manicured gardens, sometimes in the tiniest little spaces, and I finally understood why the English are famous for their gardens.
Living in France now I have plenty of space but need inspiration and info about what blooms/matures when and how to organise things. I love looking at what other people in the area are doing with their outdoor spaces. The creativity shown by other gardeners just blows me away and plants the seeds for things I could do. Someone I know mentioned Open Gardens (Jardins Ouverts) to me and I’m happy they did. Many gardeners are botanical voyeurs like me and Open Gardens satisfies that side of things while at the same time, it raises money for charity. They do what it says on the tin really: kind gardeners throughout France open their gardens to the public. Visitors buy a VERY reasonably priced membership card and that’s how the charity raises money. I was either travelling or ill when there were open gardens in my area, so I never did get to take advantage of the scheme this year, but I fully intend to now.
I wanted to feature the founder of Open Gardens, Michael Moat, in this edition of Giving in France, because he’s working tenaciously to grow Open Gardens.
What’s the mission of your club/association?
Based on the National Garden Scheme (NGS) which has been so successful in the UK since 1927, our association encourages owners to open their garden to the public on at least 1 day per year. Visitors pay €10 for annual membership which entitles them to visit any garden in the scheme throughout the current year. Proceeds are donated to French charities, notably “A Chacun son Everest”, an association which organises residential outdoor activities for children and young people in remission from cancer. In 2016, €16,000 will be donated to charitable causes in France.
Is there a big event of the year for the association?
One of the highlights is our stand at the Journées des Plantes à Chantilly which is one of France’s premier horticultural events and which attracts over 30,000 visitors to both spring and autumn shows. In view of its importance in the French calendar, it is both a privilege and honour to be invited back each time. At the autumn event in 2016, our association was doubly honoured to be allowed to use the event to make the public donation of the current year’s donation to A Chacun son Everest, which was represented by a young girl, 6 years of age, who was diagnosed with cancer and who is now in remission.
Would you say there are mostly English-speaking people involved or mostly French or a mix?
Initially, it was almost entirely English-speaking but it is encouraging to witness the increasing influx of French participants and currently 30% of our gardens are French owned, with a smattering of Dutch and Belgian as well. Our target is to have over 50% of the gardens owned by French within ¾ years.
Were you involved in something like this in your home country or the last place where you lived?
I had no involvement with the NGS or any other garden visiting scheme in the UK.
Why did you start it or get involved?
I never intended to initiate such a scheme in France until I became aware that there was nothing similar to the NGS existing here. Consequently, we started in 2013 with 4 gardens in the Creuse and in October 2016, this had increased to 120 gardens in 26 départements. The pleasure of opening one’s garden for charity, meeting like-minded people and participating in such a successful scheme has been an immense privilege.
When you think of your non-profit, what makes you the most proud?
I am mostly proud of the work that is undertaken by gardeners, coordinators and other volunteers around France. It is incredibly encouraging to witness their enthusiastic and consistent dedication, without which we simply couldn’t develop the scheme. It is our stated intention to be a national concern within 5 years and our current progress suggests that this is both realistic and achievable.
What do you most enjoy about being involved?
The pleasure of sharing something which one has created with appreciative visitors is almost incomparable, the only thing that is more pleasurable is the knowledge that by so doing, we are helping those less fortunate than ourselves. I have been lucky enough to have met many generous and supportive people in the short 4 years of my involvement in this association and this gives me the encouragement and enthusiasm to continue to expand and develop.
If you’d like to be an area coordinator or if you’d like to open your garden at least one day a year for Open Gardens, then please contact Mick Moat
Tel: 05 55 63 43 12