His young apple and pear trees appear to be painted white, but they are coated in a spray made of porcelain clay mixed with a slurry of cow manure. The former creates a barrier to insects and birds, and the latter makes it persist in the wet Irish weather.
In a lower garden, he has put in a new planting of pears, but the saplings are set at 45 degrees rather than upright. This seems wrong to those of us who have spent hours in our lifetimes making sure new trees are planted vertically, but Tanguy says that is how you form a hedge of pears in France. This, no doubt, would take skilled seasonal clipping to maintain and would be undone either by neglect or poor pruning.
Adrian Higgins has been writing about the intersection of gardening and life for more than 25 years, and joined the Post in 1994. He is the author of several books, including the Washington Post Garden Book and Chanticleer, a Pleasure Garden.
(Adrian Higgins/The Washington Post) - Tanguy de Toulgoet employs French practices for edible gardening on his property in Ireland and offers day courses to visitors.
I am also struck by the sheer number of old French roses that have been planted about the place, both bushes and climbers. Rose season starts later here and lasts longer, and one imagines a summer full of color and fragrance. The rose fruits, the hips, no doubt will be harvested and put to use in autumn.
He takes me to his beehive, which is called a Warre hive. In function if not form, it mimics a log in the way the bees make comb without frames. The hive is smaller, simpler and cheaper than the conventional hive I know. The peril for bees in the winter hive is not so much the cold as the condensation, which is why the beekeeper leaves the lid propped open a little. In Tanguy’s hive, the top cover contains a blanket of wood chips. This allows you to keep the hive closed while the chips absorb the moisture, keeping the bees dry and more snug. When the chips get damp, you simply replace them.
Some of his principles look to old Irish practices, such as the way potatoes were planted in the spring amid the already tall barley. If a late frost came, the barley provided a protective blanket for the sprouting spuds. Instead of barley, Tanguy uses a pretty little cover crop called phacelia.
Tanguy and Isabelle are endearingly entrepreneurial about his little haven that they have created, giving day courses to small groups of visitors — in gardening, in cooking and in French. One course encompasses all three at their Dunmore Country School.
I doubt I will adopt all of his approaches, but I left the garden with a keener regard for a balanced approach to cultivation and a healthier disregard of the boundaries between edible and decorative plants. For the de Toulgoets, the garden has an aesthetic beauty that comes from within. It is not forced or superficial but the product of traditional practices and good old-fashioned toil.
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Read past columns by Higgins.