For more than ten years, the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild’s gardens have been tended using an eco-responsible approach and organic methods. André Castellan, the head gardener, explains this approach:
‘The maintenance of the nine theme-based gardens by a team of eight gardeners requires effective, year-round organisation. The work is carried out according to the priorities and seasons.
Work on the garden starts at the beginning of the year. The rose bushes are pruned as early as January, which ensures that the roses bloom until Christmas. Then, the winter treatments involve the application of canola and copper oil which disinfect the plants. Subsequently, the garden’s olive trees are pruned to bring light to the rose bushes.
The waste produced by the pruning is ground to obtain Rameal Chipped Wood (called RCW). This organic vegetal matter restructures the soil and increases the proliferation of microorganisms, as well as better assimilation of nutritive elements, which then help propagate microbial life. RCW also slows down the growth of adventitious plants, also known as ‘weeds’.
In March, we apply organic treatments based on orange essential oils to the rose bushes to protect their leaves from cryptogamic diseases. And this year we have tested a new product based on crab shell, which should help to thicken the leaf cuticles.
Alongside the rose treatments and pruning, we also work on the rest of the gardens. Various liquid manures are sprayed onto the plants depending on their needs: bio-stimulants for the roots to manage the hydric and mineral resources, and mycorrhizae-based biological fungicides to revitalise the soil.
To protect the palm trees from red weevils, we use products developed by VEGETECH, a company that specialises in the biological control of palm trees. Between March and June, a biological nematode (small worms) treatment is applied, while during the warmer period—July and August—we apply Beauveria.
This fungus is placed right inside the palm tree to suffocate the red weevil larvae, which can sometimes be as large as a shoot. To ensure the treatment is effective, we prune the palm trees in the shape of a pineapple in September.
Pheromone traps have been placed in the boxwood hedges to keep the box tree moth populations under control.
Introduced to Europe from Asia via Germany, the box tree moth is a caterpillar that eats the leaves of boxwood hedges. The traps attract the moths and limit the number of caterpillars. These beautiful blue moths are photographed and the images are published in FREDON’s newsletters, an organisation that protects plants. In the event of an attack, treatments that use the bacillus thuringiensis are applied, which destroys the larvae; it is crucial to control the numbers of these moths.
The same applies to the treatment of the lawns. The application of lithothamnion on the grass improves the physical, chemical, and biological properties of the earth and increases microbial life in the soil.
We are pleased to see that our decision to adopt an eco-responsible approach to tending the gardens is bearing fruit, and that nature has flourished. After nine years of using organic methods, without chemical products, biodiversity has returned to the gardens of the Villa Ephrussi. Now, in the early morning, before the gardens are opened to general public, we often come across small hedgehogs, martens, mallard ducks, herons, and frogs, and the soil is full of earthworms; visitors sometimes catch sight of splendid birds such as wagtails, chickadees, robin redbreasts, blackbirds, and cockatoos perched in our treetops.’