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Meeting with Justine Marin, head gardener at Royaumont Abbey

Meeting with Justine Marin, head gardener at Royaumont Abbey

Built almost 800 years ago, the Royaumont Abbey, located in a protected environment, still stands today in the middle of ponds and forests. Its cloister and refectory are among the most remarkable and its magnificent gardens are ideal for strolling and exploring. Justine Marin, chief gardener of the Abbey tells us a little more about the three gardens established in the 4 hectare park.

Tell us about your background

I have a somewhat special journey because I did not go straight to the garden. I first did a Masters in industrial design. Throughout my studies and this was confirmed thereafter, I had the feeling that I wanted my job to respect my convictions regarding respect for the planet, its limited resources and its biodiversity. I then met an organic market gardener in the Ardennes who wanted to pass on his knowledge to young people. So I tried my luck and it was obvious. I then resumed training in parallel with my work on the farm in order to obtain a BPREA in organic market gardening (diploma intended for future farmers). I worked 4 years on this farm before my arrival in Royaumont.
Photo credit: Agathe Poupeney

What can you see in the gardens of Royaumont Abbey?

Among its 4 hectare park, you can enjoy 3 gardens retracing different periods of the abbey. The 9 square garden: a medieval-inspired garden created in 2004 by landscapers Olivier Dammé and Edith Vallet welcomes a new collection of plants every 3 years, the current collection concerning the symbolism of plants. The cloister garden: renovated in 2010, this garden is located in the heart of the abbey and has been redone identically from the original drawings by Achille Duchêne, who had composed this garden between 1910 and 1912 at the request of Jules and Marie-Thérèse Goüin, then owners of the Royaumont estate. Finally, the Vegetable Garden: this contemporary vegetable garden inaugurated in June 2014 was imagined by landscapers Astrid Verspieren and Philippe Simonnet.
Photo credit: JC Roy

Are the gardens a reflection of what they were in the Middle Ages?

We are not aware of any document informing us about the medieval abbey and its gardens. The oldest representation of the abbey dates from the end of the 17th century and gives only a very general idea of ​​the gardens which surrounded the abbey buildings. We do know, however, that the abbey was a royal and Cistercian foundation. She therefore owned a large amount of cultivated land and was therefore probably supplied by the farms working on her land. However, the Garden of 9 squares was placed next to the old kitchens because it is often where the garden of simple and aromatic plants was found in the abbeys. But rather than restoring a simple garden of which we knew nothing, we chose to work along two axes: heritage and creation, which have always underpinned Royaumont's project. Thus, in a structure that incorporates all the characteristics of medieval gardens (plessis of chestnut, raised crops, etc.) we offer every three years collections of plants that are thought as much as possible in connection with themes present at the same time in the cultural project.
Photo credit: Camille Ridoux

In June, we were able to discover a new garden, can you tell us more?

This new garden, unrolled on a plot of 9000 m² is a particular vegetable garden. We confront a classic management of furrow cultivation with a mix-border arrangement where the vegetables have been placed according to their color, texture, height in order to pay homage to their aesthetics as much as to their nourishing value. These vegetables will go through their entire life cycle, from seed to seed. These will reseed and we will let the mix-borders evolve over the seasons and over the years. The landscapers also decided to place the gardener's technical room at the center of this space. It is a way of emphasizing the importance of his gesture in the management of this garden where he is called upon to use his common sense rather than using synthetic products and automatic systems.
Photo credit: Yann Monel

Are contemporary vegetable gardens and medieval vegetable gardens so different?

They are already different in the vegetables we grow there. In medieval times, some vegetables that we eat regularly today were considered toxic. I think its management is not the same either. The cultivation methods came from popular knowledge based on observations which sometimes proved to be scientifically correct but not always. Today we have more knowledge about the functioning of plants, the life of a soil, the impact of the gardener's actions on them. Where we find similarities is that we use interactions between plants or insects that we have put aside a little this last century.
Photo credit: Yann Monel

What advice can you give to those who wish to create a medieval vegetable garden at home?

The main characteristic of a medieval vegetable garden is the cultivation on a raised square in order to protect the crops from the animals and facilitate work at breast height. In Royaumont, the squares are composed of plessis of chestnut but there are many forms of them in trade. We can then favor the aromatic plants, assemble vegetables helping each other (the smell of the onion would keep the fly from the carrot) but also plant flowers (nasturtiums against aphids).
Photo credit: Michel Chassat