July 25, 2021

“I understood that vegetables are much more than food! “

“As a child, I was rather awkward, shy and reserved. Fifth of seven siblings, I was not very good at school and always felt that I would not live up to my parents’ expectations. Nothing predestined me to work in the park of Versailles, except the geographical proximity (I was born in La Celle-Saint-Cloud) and the example of my maternal grandfather, Emile.

He was my role model, a man of incredible kindness and, in my eyes, the best being the earth has ever borne. He lived near us, he came to lunch every Wednesday and dinner every Sunday. He was a brass instrument maker and had an extraordinary garden.

“As a young teenager, I made a little pocket money by maintaining the gardens in the neighborhood. “

I remember an entrance portal topped with Medici vases overflowing with flowers, a pergola of pink and white clematis, trees and shrubs in abundance, and above all a magnificent vegetable garden: tomatoes, leeks, cabbages, currants, fruit trees… Quantity of fruits and vegetables that my grandfather grew with love for his seven grandchildren.

At the time, I had trouble understanding my grandmother’s determination to make us finish our plates of vegetables. But, when I started gardening myself, I realized how hard it was, how patient, how passionate it was. I understood that vegetables are more than food!

As a young teenager, I made some pocket money by tending the neighborhood gardens. So much so that, at the end of middle school, my parents decided to place me in a horticultural high school, a little by default. Only my grandfather was content and proud, delighted that I could appreciate his work in the garden even more.

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I spent three nightmarish years in boarding school (hated being locked up), learning things that didn’t interest me so much, although I’m happy today to know all the botanical names of plants.

A passion for trees

In fact, I dreamed of being a photographer. To pay for a camera, when I left the CAP and then the BEP, in 1976, I took a job as a cashier for the holidays at the entrance to the park of Versailles. I met the head gardener, who absolutely wanted to recruit me. I was 19, I wanted to leave my parents’ home and he offered me accommodation, in the park, to be his gardener’s helper.

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This is how I started in Versailles, without much conviction. But a few months later, while I was weeding the North parterre, a very beautiful woman took a picture of me. For her, I was the “gardener of the castle”, I was part of the place, that filled me with pride. Six years later, I was married and promoted to head of gardens. I never left Versailles. I developed a passion for trees and for edible plants.

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With my second wife, Corinne, I discovered starred cuisine. She is a great gourmet and an excellent cook, who knows how to make simple and tasty things, such as this plate combining land and sea, prawns and fresh vegetables from the garden. Spring is here, in the dish as in the garden, and it is a constantly renewed delight. “

Tree lovers dictionary, by Alain Baraton, Plon, 448 p., € 25.