Meeting with Jean Lemoussu, chief gardener of the Gardens of Marqueyssac, Belvedere of the Dordogne

Meeting with Jean Lemoussu, chief gardener of the Gardens of Marqueyssac, Belvedere of the Dordogne

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Nestled at the top of a rocky outcrop, the park of the Château de Marqueyssac is the most visited garden in Périgord each year. Spread over 22 hectares, this listed site offers its visitors an exceptional view of the Dordogne valley, across more than 6 kilometers of winding alleys of century-old hand-hewn boxwood. Aesthetic and technical feat, these gardens tell us about the region, its heritage and are today preserved thanks to a team of gardeners led by Jean Lemoussu.

Tell us about your background…

I arrived at Marqueyssac a bit by chance. Before the gardens opened in 1997, I spent a few seasons on the neighboring Castelnaud site. I then joined the Marqueyssac team to develop the whole entertainment side of the area. A position that corresponded to my university training in natural sciences, because rather intended for teaching at the start. From there, I finalized the implementation of an educational circuit, focusing on the flora and fauna of the gardens, organized guided tours and created various products dedicated to a school audience. A year and a half later, a little by surprise, but also because of economic restructuring, I was also entrusted with the maintenance of the estate. I supervise today a dozen people, in the animation and in the garden. This double cap, although it was trying at first, has proven to be very effective. The collaboration between the two teams takes place naturally and allows for better organization. The two activities complement each other and I have a better look to manage the field.

But how does one go from the animation to the garden?

Of course, I had to greatly expand my skills and knowledge of plants. I worked on the landscaping part by visiting other gardens, interacting with other gardeners. And then I learned a lot of techniques that I did not master. Being from the region, with farmer grandparents, I had some notions, but I was not fully aware of this universe. Fortunately, I had a good base for working, I was not redesigning the site, I was only continuing to develop a park that has already existed for over 150 years.

And what do you find in these gardens?

The park has two major assets. Already, it benefits from an exceptional geographical situation, and thus offers an incredible panorama on the Dordogne and the Périgord noir. Then, another great characteristic of Marqueyssac, is its ten thousand boxwood trees planted on this rocky promontory. Their flexible, rounded shape echoes the surrounding landscape and reminds of the softness of the hills. It is a very beautiful transition for the look. The sheepish aspect of boxwood is the result of a real reflection of the time. We then simply try to get it back in shape twice a year, keeping the spirit of the romantic gardens of the 19th century.

The Marqueyssac gardens are also called hanging gardens, why?

The whole park was created on the cliff side. Admittedly, it dominates the valley but its geographical location makes it a place rather hostile to the development of a garden. The walls are rocky, limestone and hot in summer. This is what has conditioned all of its layout. We needed adapted, resistant vegetation. We then find this famous boxwood, this Mediterranean plant known to withstand the dryness of the soil but also capable of growing in the undergrowth, from one end to the other of the garden. This exuberance, also called "madness", of boxwood is at the start a strategic choice but becomes totally aesthetic to make it one of the most incredible areas of the region.

And how do you maintain such an area on a daily basis?

My primary objective is really to preserve the history of the garden as well as possible. When I have facilities to create for visitors, I always try to put myself in the place of the public to improve both the aesthetics and the comfort of visit. And the integration of new interfaces must absolutely adapt to the terrain to respect the site. Because yes the field evolves on a daily basis but we make sure that nothing shocks or visually attacks the garden lover. Because more than 200,000 visitors a year come to enjoy the landscape. The complexity of the places, the multitude of small alleys, the few flat spaces on this rocky promontory are still other constraints to manage but this is what also makes all the charm of Marqueyssac.
All information on the website: www.marqueyssac.com