The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 3: European Gardens (500AD-1850)

Timber Trees and Hedges in France

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4. French Gardening, in respect to the Planting of Timber Trees and Hedges 273. Planting for profit has never been extensively practised in France, owing to the abundance of natural forests in every part of the kingdom. These forests were much neglected till within the last thirty years; but they are now (being mostly national property) under a more regular course of management; their limits are defined by fences, and the blanks are filled up from the national nurseries. The roads of France being also kept up by government, much attention is paid to lining them with rows of trees. In some places, the walnut, cherry, apple, pear, and other fruit trees are used; in northern districts the elm, oak, and poplar are employed; and in the south we frequently find the mulberry, and sometimes the olive. Pines and firs were seldom planted in France till about 1789, when M. Bremontier, who was administrator of the forests in that year, conceived the idea of using these trees to cover the immense tracts of barren sand which exist in many parts of France. The most remarkable of these downs are those between Dunkirk and Nieuport, between Calais and Boulogne, and those between the rivers Adour and Gironde. The latter are by far the most important, and Bremon-tier commenced his operations in the Gulf of Gascony in 1789. 'The downs there are composed of drifting sands, covering 300 square miles. Bremontier compares the surface of this immense tract to a sea, which, when agitated to fury by a tempest, had been suddenly fixed, and changed to sand. It offered nothing to the eye but a monotonous repetition of white wavy mountains, perfectly destitute of vegetation. In times of violent storms of wind, the surface of these downs was entirely changed; what were hills of sand often becoming valleys, and the contrary. The sand, on these occasions, was often carried up into the interior of the country, covering cultivated fields, villages, and even entire forests. This takes place so gradually (by the sand sweeping along the surface, and thus raising it, or falling from the air in a shower of particles so fine as to be scarcely perceptible), that nothing is destroyed. The sand gradually rises among crops, as if they were inundated with water; and the herbage and the tops of trees appear quite green and healthy even to the moment of their being overwhelmed with sand, which is so very fine as to resemble that used in England in hour-glasses. ' (See Dictionnaire des Eaux et des Forets, tome i. p. 816.) The first thing that M. Bre-montier did was to fix this sea of sand; and the process he pursued was as remarkable for its simplicity as for its complete success. It consisted in sowing on the surface seeds of the common broom mixed with those of Pinus Pinaster, commencing on the side next the sea, or on that from which the wind generally blows, and sowing in a narrow zone in a direction at right angles to that of the wind. The first sown zone is protected by a line of hurdles, and this zone serves as a protection to the second, beyond which another line of hurdles is placed, so that the second may protect the third, and so on, till the whole breadth of the downs is covered. From four to five pounds of broom seed, and from one to two pounds of Pinaster seed, are sown per acre; and as soon as the sowing of each acre is completed, the ground is covered with branches of pines and other trees, with the leaves on, brought from the neighbouring woods. These branches are laid down in a regular manner in the direction of the wind, overlapping each other, and being fastened on each side to the hurdles; while in some places, where the ground is a good deal exposed, rods are laid down and fastened to the hurdles, so as to keep the branches in their proper place. In this manner the ground is thatched wherever the seeds are sown, and where branches of trees cannot be procured, straw, rushes, reeds, or sea-weeds are used. When, however, these comparatively light materials are employed it is found advisable to make the fences between the zones of boards or strongly wattled hurdles, as hurdles not wattled are not found sufficient to prevent the wind from tearing up a thatching of such light materials as straw or sea-weed. In six weeks or two months after sowing, the broom seeds will be found to have produced plants six inches high, and in the course of a year they will be two feet high, though the Pinaster plants will probably not be more than three inches high, and it is seven or eight years before they overtop the broom, which on these downs often attains a height of ten or twelve feet. When the pines are about twelve years old, they have generally suffocated the broom plants, and it is found necessary to thin them out, when the young pines cut down are used for the purpose of thatching downs not yet recovered, while the thicker parts of the stems and roots are burnt for making tar and charcoal, the self-sown seeds having furnished the downs with a progeny to succeed them. In 1811 a commission, appointed by the French government to examine these downs, found on them twelve thousand five hundred acres of thriving plantations. These plantations, and others in the Landes of Bordeaux, and between that city and Bayonne, are there called pignadas, and constitute the chief riches of the inhabitants, who are almost entirely supported by the preparation of turpentine, resin, tar, pitch, and charcoal, from the Pinaster forests. (Arb. Brit., vol. iv. p. 2221.) The pine forest of Hagenau is supposed to consist of a superior variety of Pinus sylvestris, and the seeds are collected for the principal seedsmen of France, Holland, and Germany. (Gard. Mag., vol. v. p. 67.) The Pinus Laricio, a native of the island of Corsica, and of which there are in that island immense forests, is said to grow faster than the Scotch pine, even in England. (Gard. Mag., vol. i. p. 79.)