Tree-planting at the Chateau de Bourneau

Tree-planting at the Chateau de Bourneau

Erin Choa adopts a tree-planting tradition at the château, adding new saplings to towering conifers…

I find that château life has a defined seasonality for certain tasks, and winter is far from being devoid of activity. We still host festive events and run our holiday cottages for guests escaping for cosy countryside winter stays beside the log fires. We also keep busy (and warm!) by continuing our laborious estate maintenance from heaving logs and chopping firewood to unblocking drainage systems and making progress on the château restoration.

Winter is also the time of year when we plant new trees, replacing those that have either been lost to storms, old age or heatwaves but also the exciting part – expanding what was once a 19th-century arboretum.

There’s always a need for logs, Photo: Erin Choa

Some 160 years ago, our château ancestors, like many gentry who owned grand homes of the time, followed la mode for planting collections of exotic trees. The château’s park was already renowned for ancient and grand oaks but planting trees not native to France was a status symbol of the elite and a demonstration of wealth, rather like the 19th- century equivalent of owning a luxury sports car. We are fortunate to have two grand cedar of Lebanons that grace our skyline, as well as other unusual conifers within our park, although sadly, few of the great oaks remain.

Since we arrived at Château de Bourneau, we have always wanted to continue this tree- planting tradition to add to the collection. Today, adding to the arboretum is less about status and more about the joy and beauty of replanting trees that we’ve lost while also making additions to the collection that befits the history and storytelling of the estate.

We have selected trees from all over the world to join the arboretum: Liquidambars from central America, Gingko bilobas from China, a Canadian maple, a Tasmanian Eucalyptus and a Californian Redwood, digging hole after hole of frozen earth and hoping that the returning warmth of a French spring will please them, and that these exotic foreigners will thrive here in rich Vendéen soil.

While their winter holiday guests relax by festive fi resides, Photo: Erin Choa

We also gift each other trees for special occasions from birthdays to anniversaries and hope that each year we can continue to add to the collection: a new tree with a new story to tell that takes you on an unexpected voyage.

While they are only young saplings, it is still a joy to watch them grow and flourish as they add to the charm and landscape of the park. And although we will not see the Redwood’s impressive grandeur in our lifetime, I have always loved the old proverb that society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they shall never sit. As guardians of Château de Bourneau for this generation, it feels only fitting that we will hopefully leave a legacy of trees for the next.


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London-born hospital doctor Erin Choa is the 6th châtelaine of Château de Bourneau, where she lives with her French fiancé Jean-Baptiste and bossy cat HRH Oscar. Read her regular column in French Property News magazine and follow her as she blogs about their château-life on Instagram @theintrepidchatelaine @chateaudebourneau

Lead photo credit : Château de Bourneau, Photo: Château de Bourneau Official Website

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