Hidden gardens of France that inspired Stellar Violets ~ Jardin Bourian

by | Sep 3, 2014

In the wilds of south-west France we find ourselves in the dappled shade of giant oak and ash trees, at the beautiful Jardin Bourian – a community and demonstration organic garden near Dégagnac.

We met one of the Jardin Bourian founders, Jocelyne Bécé, at Jacky Dupéty’s farm. Hearing of our interest to create a version of Terre Vivante in Australia, she invited us not only to visit Jardin Bourian, but also to stay at her beautiful house in the countryside.

As it turned out, Terre Vivante was also the inspiration for Jardin Bourian in the beginning.

Jocelyne told me this morning as we arrived that she and her late husband had had a dream to create “une petite Terre Vivante” – a well-known organic demonstrative garden near Mens, in Isère, France.

The name “Bourian” is inspired by the word “borie”. It means farm in “Occitan” – a completely different language to french, once spoken through the southern parts of France. 

Jocelyne said it was made illegal to speak local dialects when the government sought to nationalise the french language, so people only spoke it in villages and at home. And thus arose a time when it risked being lost altogether. Now, in some schools, it is being taught again, though many of the elders who spoke it fluently have already passed on. Some of the town signs in the region have two signs, for example, “Figeac” and underneath it, “Fijac”. The first word is Occitan. The lower word indicates how to pronounce it! Not an easy language to learn to write either, we’re told.

But back to the Jardin Bourian, now we know a bit about its name…

Behind me, about twelve people sit around the tables where we ate a delicious shared lunch after touring the stunning garden with our host, Jocelyne. They’re learning how to take cuttings. Several people have brought prunings from their own garden for the workshop. It’s a convivial, friendly group who’ve obviously lunched and worked together many times before.

The air is warm, fragrant, and the only traffic I’ve heard go by in several hours was a motorbike. Flowers spill from the garden beds, resplendent with lush green plants, dozens of beds featuring a mix of herbs and many edible plants. 

One bed shows a number of plants from which we derive textile dyes, including indigo from Nimes. “From Nimes” in french is written “de Nimes (pronounced Neem)”. And so evolved the name for a global fashion phenomenon, cotton ‘denim’.

The garden demonstrates different methods and approaches to organic gardening, including various kinds of mulch, composting, mounds, Ramial Chipped Wood and dry composting toilets. The goals are social outcomes and demonstrating huge diversity, rather than production. There is also a children’s club called “Les Petits Jardinieres” (The Little Gardeners). The maximum is currently set at six children, each with their own 1×1 metre garden bed, and a shared bed beside it.

In the beginning, Jocelyne tells me, a charity was seeking ways to occupy young people in the summertime, and thought they could create a garden. Having not idea how to do that, they approached Jocelyne’s husband, who agreed to participate on one important premise: it had to be organic. 

Three years on he had created a lovely garden. At this time, the charity decided to give up the project. So, what to do? The keen gardeners created a charitable organisation of their own, and now have over 100 members, who pay 10 euros a year to be part of the group.

A highlight is the Butterfly Garden managed by Teneke Aarts. It has a combination of nectar plants and feed plants for larvae. We’re here at the best time of year for it and it is absolutely beautiful. I’d love to create something similar at home with a nod to Jardin Bourian.

And yet another lovely feature is “le plessie”, woven garden bed edging, either dead or living. Dead ones last about three years and the living, obviously need water, food, and pruning to continue in good health. Willow is ideal for creating these and we look forward to experimenting at home.

Our heartfelt thanks to the gardeners at Jardin Bourian, for their kindness, warmth, and hospitality. A special mention is due to Jocelyne, for inviting two strangers to stay in her beautiful stone house, and giving us the opportunity to discover, and become deeply inspired a very special community garden.