On our way back to Paris from our summer holiday in Brittany, we stopped for the night at this former farm, now a chambre d’hôte set in the beautiful rolling countryside of le Perche in southern Normandy.
The owners Laurent and Bernadette have created an ornamental kitchen garden in the form of a spiral. Bernadette follows the principles of permaculture gardening, working with, rather than against nature; reusing everything to the benefit of the garden. The central kitchen garden is planted in a spiral which she believes retains energy (but is also easier for Laurent to mow!).
Bernadette is a strong believer in companion planting and showed us some examples that had worked well. Here strawberry plants are interplanted with chives. She told me that strawberries thrive when planted next to members of the onion family.
The chickens don’t have names to avoid emotional attachment; eventually they are destined for the pot. The children opened the nesting door of the henhouse and were delighted to find three eggs, still warm to the touch.
Bernadette uses a mulch made from the grass clippings to suppress weeds and to retain moisture within the soil. She makes compost with the garden and kitchen waste, feeds the plants with the manure from her animals and uses natural methods of pest control. Here, as the bottles on canes rattle in the wind, the vibration is passed into the ground scaring away moles.
The fig tree is covered in ripe figs the size of tennis balls. The bottles of liquid trap the flies that otherwise decimate the fig crop. The top of the bottle is cut off and inverted to create a funnel into the bottom half. The flies are lured in by a wine/sugar mix, but cannot escape.
The historic hemp oven at the entrance of the farm has been turned into a small bedroom for guests.
La Grande Maison is in the village of Saint Fulgent-des-Ormes, north-east of Le Mans. If you would like to stay at the B&B, you can find details on the website or on Air BnB. There are 5 bedrooms and a separate gîte. Laurent and Bernadette are part of the Acceuil Paysan scheme which could be translated as ‘Rural Welcome’ as they undertake to share their knowledge about their garden and the surrounding rural area with their guests. Bernadette enjoys giving guests a guided tour of her garden.
Date of our visit : 16th August 2014.
Lynda Harris is a Landscape and Garden Designer based in Paris.