Arboretum des Grandes Bruyères

The Oaks of l’Arboretum des Grandes Bruyères

Oaks are the main genus in the Orléans forest. The inventory of French national forests shows that 62% of the trees in140,000 acres of forest are oaks. The Orléans Forest is located 50 miles south of Paris, a short distance north of the Loire River.
Many local names refer to oaks: White Oak, Two-Legs Oak, Wolf Oak, Five Oaks, Bottle Oak, etc… Oaks are an important part of the daily life of our people. Two species dominate oak populations in France: Quercus petrea (Matt.) Liebl. and Q. robur L.. There is no doubt that our home was the right place to start an oak collection!
In 1968 we built our house on a tract of family land in the forest. We decided to create a landscaped arboretum and botanical conservatory. We were members of the French Association of Botanical Parks, of the International Dendrological Society, of the Royal Horticultural Society, of the French National Horticultural Society and, of course, the International Oak Society!
In the 1980’s, Allen Coombes, a young English botanist working for Hillier’s Gardens, suggested that we start an oak collection in this area, which he thought would be favorable to most of the oak species of the world. A young French botanist, Thierry Lamant, helped us get specimens from original locations in China, Mexico, and other places.
Thus we began to invest in this fascinating and beautiful genus. Our forest land is sandy and acid, with an average rain fall of 600 mm (23.6”) per year. The summers can be hot and dry, the winters cold and wet. It took us time to figure out the right planting procedures and the needs of plants that cameto us from around the world. It was a difficult task, but we learned a lot! The oaks do remarkably well in our poor soil. Some evergreen Chinese oaks need a more robust food supply, of course, but with our compost and a lot of leaf mulch, they grow sufficiently well. Today our collection has 370 specimens from128 taxa.
We installed a powerful watering system covering 18 acres, with 30 different sectors. The first inventory of the arboretum was made by John David Tobe in the summer 1992, and since then I have continued that task myself. To date we have labeled 6,500 woody plants, with continuous monitoring.
The Mexican oaks are of astonishingly rapid growth. Q. canbyi seedlings planted out in 1998 is now more than 10 feet tall, as is the California oak Q. agrifolia! One of my favorite American oaks is Q. incana, with its beautiful foliage from spring to autumn.
The most difficult oak to acquire was certainly Q. baronii. After several tries at grafting it, without success, I finally got one from seed! It is slow growing, however. As a matter of fact, Chinese evergreen oaks are very slow growing in this area.
My favorite from East Asia - Japan and China - is Q. serrata, with beautiful color in both spring and autumn.
On one of his visits in the 1990’s, Allen Coombes suggested that we put our sponsors to the test. At Hillier Arboretum people can plant a tree, usually an oak, by making a designated donation to the arboretum. We decided to give that idea a try, and it was an unexpected success! Over 200 donors sent us €150 each for a tree. So our collection was launched, and today, only a few years later, the oaks of l’Arboretum des Grandes Bruyères are thriving.
 
Brigitte de La Rochefoucauld
 

 

My impressions of a visit to l’Aboretum des Grandes Bruyères, and timely advice from Brigitte

 

L’Arboretum des Grandes Bruyères is without doubt one of the most extraordinary private botanic gardens in France. Exceptional in the combination they have achieved of ‘beautiful garden’ and ‘botanically interesting’, it is a model for many of us, and will be, I am sure, for generations to come.
I remember the first time I had the honour of being taken around to visit it by Brigitte : near the end of the visit, after having said something very silly like, “Oh dear ! My arboretum looks like a zoo for trees, it will never look like this!”, Brigitte looked at me very severely and said, “No, no, no – you don’t visit somebody else’s garden to then copy it, nor should you even want to! We are not the same people, we don’t have the same land. You’ll be fine...you’ll see!”
Hopefully, a visit to Les Grandes Bruyères will be on our agenda for the 2012 Triennial Conference – and if you should come to France for any other reason, it is a must.
 
Béatrice Chassé