Planting trees in Brittany - A token gesture...

In olden times (not so old), Northern Brittany was covered with trees, down to the beaches. Oaks, ash trees, alders... broadleaved woodlands all over the place.

During Worl War II, the German army was expecting Allied landings on the Northern Brittany coast, which made sense but cost Brittany its woodlands. All the trees were cut and used as posts/obstacles on the beaches. This was Rommel’s idea of strengthening the Atlantic Wall.

After the war, cleared woodland was used as fields and whoever decided to reforest planted coniferous trees. They grow quite fast and look good in a few years!

When we bought Les Tertres, the house was surrounded by fields and coniferous trees. Some of our fields had been lying fallow for quite a few years though. Too hard to farm them.

Right after we moved to Brittany, I happened to read a travel story about our area at the end of the 19th century. The writer had been taking long walks on our beaches and he was filled with wonder at the broadleaved woodlands right above him on the cliffs.

I kept talking and dreaming about those woodlands and by 1992, Popeye was ready to start working on our big project... the experience of a lifetime. We had decided to reforest our land... well, this was a very tiny part of Brittany... a tiny part of our fields, the ones lying fallow. Those fields were right above the beach and they were the only ones we could use since in France, it is impossible to claim back fields under cultivation.

Now I have to admit that we were absolutely incapable of reforesting by ourselves. We needed someone with the skills and the vision to fulfill our dreams. We had already met this “someone”. There was no doubt. Yves would be the one!

He came to our place and we explained to him what we wanted to do and what we expected from him. At the time, he was quite young and he was working as a landscape gardener.

This project was not really about landscape gardening though. It was more about recreating the past for the future. We knew that we would not see most trees get fully grown but the future generations would. And this was so important. 

Yves was immediately enthusiastic over the project. He read the chapters of the book dealing with the woodlands above the beaches. We had long talks and then we decided to give him carte blanche.

I haven’t told you that Yves is from our area. His parents and family were farmers. He loves the land but he is quite different from the farming community. He’s an environmentalist. Yes, he started as a gardener then turned to landscaping but he’s an unyielding ecologist. I’ll have to write a post about our dream garden he created from the ruins left by the 1999 hurricane. A very environmentally friendly garden.

So there he was. We were handing three fields to him. They had been lying fallow for the last ten years and they were so rocky that the moor didn’t even want to expand there.

He asked for time. We did understand that Nature itself needs time and so we gave him as much time as needed.

We had those talks in 1992. From time to time, he’d drop over and we’d have some more talks. Actually it was all about contour lines and winds and pluviometry. And trees, of course.

Then he came up with plans. He was ready to plant 700 trees in those fields. Most of them would be oaks, ash trees, alders, beech trees... All those trees that had disappeared from Brittany but were there on the cliffs in the 19th century.

Since the fields were so rocky and surrounded by the moor, he had to start with working the land. He needed help and so he hired a few people to work on the project.

That really set tongues wagging in the village. “Parisians” reforesting fields that no farmer could farm. With the help of the “green” kid... Some people were laughing heartily.

One day, Yves called us to let us know that he would start planting the trees at the very beginning of Spring... This was in 1994. Those were times when seasons still were seasons. In Brittany, springtime was mild and wet.

We were told that he would plant very small trees to give them a better chance to survive. We’d have to be patient and trust nature.

700 trees... He did plant 700 trees, more or less. We were the laughing stock of the farming community. But not too openly though! Yves was a native of these parts, remember... 

We were fascinated by those tiny stumps... all 700 of them. It took a lot of imagination and hope and trust to visualize them a few years later. 
We were not surprised though when they started to grow... And they did grow and grow and grow. 

Years went by. And the trees kept growing. Five years later when Lothar struck, they were right in the path of the hurricane but they stood there gallantly. None of them were uprooted even though some of them were already as tall as we were.

In the village, nobody joked about our trees any longer. 

People would nod: “Who would have thought those fields could be so fertile?”
“Without fertilizer?” 

“Without watering them, even at the beginning?” 
“Without pesticides?”

Nowadays, Yves is a very successful landscaping gardener. His business has grown a lot. He employs a lot of young people to whom he teaches his values. Quite easy to implement though because it is all about loving what’s not really ours but something to be passed on to the next generations while keeping it as organic as possible.

Just like our trees that weren’t to be...

*Good Luck, and Good Night*

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