Thursday, June 20, 2013

agriculture in the 18th century : the kitchen garden from Prangins Castle

view on Geneva lake from Nyon

Yesterday, i went on a small tour around Nyon, to visit the garden of Prangins Castel, which is also a part of the National Museum.

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(zoom into the green arrow to see the castle in 3D)

My personal interest went to the gardens. "The kitchen garden is in its form a copy of an 18th century palatial garden. Here, old types and sorts of fruits and vegetables grow that were cultivated and eaten/consumed in the region some two and half centuries ago. These plants, to some extent all but forgotten today, serve as witnesses to the nutritional habits and customary use of the period. This living conservatorium thus serves as a hoard of a fragile and threatened heritage with historical, botanical and ethnological facets of a broad palette of indigenous vegetable and fruit plants." (text taken from here)
the kitchen garden from Prangins Castle
An audio guide, guides the visitor through this garden, explaining the origine and the use of a selected amount of plants. These explanations are often completed by referencing to the dairy of Baron who lived in the castle as well as the encyclopedy of Yverdon that is dating from the 18th century. 

Through this audio guide I learnt a lot about agriculture in the 18th century, which i did not know before : some lessons learnt and thoughts I wanted to share with you in this post.
Morus tree

One of the first thing that stroke me were the Morus trees, the black and the white sort. I know that the white one is the one needed for the silk worm and the dark one is the one I used to go collecting and eating the fruit in Serbia. I had seen these trees in many places around the world, but not at home. So I learnt that the silk in the Castle is "home made". Silk made in Switzerland? So why does it today always come from developing countries?

Asparagus is still today a well known plant and one of my favourite vegetable on my plate. The audio guide was explaining that in the 18th century, they managed to grow them in January. Wait a second, climate change is yet to come, so how did they manage to get asparagus without heater and glasshouses? They used a pretty interesting technique. Between the ranges of asparagus, they would dig ditches before the cold season. They would fill the ditches with manure and cover them with straw. The fermentation process of the manure produces warmth that is sufficient for asparagus to grow in the winter. Is that a technology we will reinvent when we face an energy crisis?

Topinambour or Jerusalem artichoke
Topinambour is a sort of potato that grows very fast and once it is in the ground, can hardly be taken out. I had some in my garden in the Netherlands and never managed to get them out of there. The audio guide was explaining that this crop helped a lot to fight the famine, because it grows so easily and the leaves could be fed to livestock. So it just dropped into my mind, would that not be a solution for Africa? Does anyone know about evidence that it would not work?

The garden tour at Prangins Castle give you much more information than these and is definitely worth a visit. I will go back end of September to see the saffron  flower flowering with my own eyes.

the saffron flower (taken from wikipedia)

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