garden tales from a Brit at home and abroad
Last weekend we visited the hortillonnages in Amiens, over 300 hectares of marshland which has for centuries been managed as small garden plots surrounded by canals. There are no roads or paths: the plots are accessible only by flat-bottomed boats called bateaux à cornet.
It is amazing to visit. Within a few hundred metres of the centre of Amiens, with its splendid Gothic cathedral, the hortillonnages are like another world. The only noise is the gentle splash of the electric boat through the water and the occasional sounds of the many species of wildfowl that live there.
Many of the plots these days are planted as flower gardens but there are also a good number of vegetable plots, the produce apparently much prized as a result of the rich peaty soil in which it grows. Owners have to work hard on their plots, maintaining the muddy banks, frequently watering their plants, and occasionally fending off the rats which find the location much to their liking. One plot has a sign merci de ne pas prendre le chat [please don’t take the cat], presumably as it is needed to catch rodents!
A Friends group, l’Association de Sauvegarde des Hortillonnages, was set up in 1975 to fight the proposed construction of a by-pass through the site. It now helps preserve and promote the hortillonnages, and runs 45-minute boat tours from April to October, which both reveal and support this unique place.