‘Magnolia Flower’, ’Helen Martin’, ‘Shimazukurenaï’, ‘Lan He’, ‘Battle of the Marne’, ‘Niigala Ten’hyonomaï’ (Dance of heavenly, in japanese)… Benedicta of Foucaud knows all its protected by their name, if hard to pronounce it. Unbeatable, she can quote from memory their relationship, their creation date, the name of their breeder, their region of origin: China or Japan more often, but also America, Russia, Ukraine, Germany and, of course, France.

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moreover, It is with the very French ‘Madame de Verneville’, a delicious Paeonia lactiflora to the froufroutante corolla white punctuated by small spots of red blood, purchased in Amsterdam in 2003 with two other girls of the same style, that the adventure began. And what an adventure!

The beautiful are first place in the vegetable garden of the château de Sourches, elegant Eighteenth century building situated at 27 km from le Mans, on the commune of Saint-Symphorien, of whom her husband recently purchased. “I knew nothing but I was totally seduced by the beauty of these flowers of which I had not suspected yet the infinite variety of colors, shapes and textures,” says the antique dealer in paris specialising in snuff boxes old.

>> SHEET PLANT – learn All about the culture of peonies shrub

Bénédicte de Foucaud in the middle of his collection, at the time of flowering of the first peonies shrub. Marc Mennessier/Le Figaro

The beginnings are approximate: the deer devour carefully to the plantations, so that Bénédicte de Foucaud is reduced to grow ‘Madame de Verneville’, or what remains of it, as well as the peonies that she subsequently buys to suit her fancy, in pots. But “it was like putting animals in a cage…”, she says. This is while in 2009 the idea came to him to install in the medieval moat of the castle, built by Louis II du Bouchet de Sourches (1711-1788), grand provost of France, the 120 new varieties that it comes to obtain.

In this large area grassy of 14 000 m2, of protected game birds and weather grids and thick walls, she can finally give free rein to his new passion, devours the catalogues, takes advice from breeders, French River, Knitting and Pardo, travels the world in search of rare copies: “the More I was discovering new features, the more I wanted to get other. After a while, I wanted to bring together all this great and beautiful family in a conservatory, a kind of Noah’s ark peonies that captures this amazing and fragile treasure botany”, she says.

Ocean floral ‘Moonrise’ is a hydride of Paeonia lactiflor and P. lobata , obtained by the american breeder Saunders in 1949. Marc Mennessier/Le Figaro

today, the moat welcome not less than 2 326 varieties, shrubland, herbaceous (foliage disappears in winter), and “intersectionnelles”, derived from a cross between the first two. And this is not finished! This year, 90 new residents came to enrich this ephemeral ocean floral that the public can admire until the 9th of June, every day except Wednesday from 12 hours to 18 hours, with the possibility of guided tours on reservation. All at the modest sum of € 6 per person for the first visit, € 3 for the second, the third being free.

in The past year, 4 700 visitors to the region, but also of the whole of France and abroad, that Bénédicte is a powerful greet you personally, have crossed the gate. Is four times more than in 2015, year of the first opening. Some “pivoinophiles” sometimes come from very far away: in Japan, of course, but also Australia and Argentina, as this group came specially to France to visit Versailles, Bagatelle and… Sourches.

“The only thing that can transform the world, it is the beautiful,” underlines Bénédicte, recalling that, during the Second world War, a part of paintings of the Louvre, including Delacroix and Hubert Robert, took refuge in the cellars of the castle. “The Twenty-first century, the great history of Sourches, this will be the conservatory of the peony, which will transmit to future generations this rich heritage today a little bit dormant.”

painters, watercolour artists at work Variety ‘La France’ aquarellisée by Françoise Piquet-Vadon. Conservatory of the peony

After you have made the object of intense plant breeding in the Nineteenth century and the Twentieth century under the impetus of hybridizers of engineering as Gratwick, Saunders, Daphnis (in which Benedict spent a small booklet for sale at the shop of the castle) or the French Lemoine, Cornu and River, the peony is no longer as much recipe. In an era where everything must go fast, slow is a handicap. Fifteen to twenty years are necessary to create a range: 12 to 18 months for the germination of the seeds resulting from the cross; 5 to 8 years to see the first flowers and 8 to 10 years to “fix” the new variety and obtain a certificate of plant variety. In addition, the flowering period is very short. But the Japanese have remedied by creating peonies remontant. Very specifically, Paeonia suffricosa Kan bloom again a second time in November, provided you properly protect them from the cold under a small greenhouse. Bénédicte, who has four feet at Sourches, is planning a special opening from this year to admire the phenomenon.

Never short of an idea, it has recently begun to paint five watercolour artists of talent, the most beautiful peonies in the conservatory. Prints are numbered of the first boards are already on sale in the shop of the castle: “I would like to do for the peony that Dreaded made for roses in the Eighteenth century. Like that, if the conservatory will disappear, it will remain at least the image of these wonderful flowers.”

Restore the counterscarp

After 600 years of good and loyal services, the wall of the counterscarp of the castle of Sourches shows signs of weakness, in particular a crack that could, ultimately, threaten the safety of visitors in the conservatory of the peony. In total 350 meters linear of masonry, over 6 m of height, are to be repaired for a total budget estimated at € 700,000. To carry out these works, which will be spread over several years, Jean and Bénédicte de Foucaud just launched, in the name of the cultural Association of Sourches, a campaign of crowdfunding on the site https://dartagnans.fr. The objective is to gather 8 400 € to complete the first tranche of rehabilitation undertaken on the most heavily damaged portion of the building.

• the Conservatory of the peony, chateau de Sourches, Saint-Symphorien (Sarthe). Visits until the 9th of June, every day except Wednesday from 12 h to 18h. Tel: +33 (0)6 07 44 52 71.

see ALSO:

“SHEETS PLANTS – learn All about the culture of peonies

” REPORT – Daikonshima: the japanese island where the peonies are the queens

” HORTIQUID – How to make flourish my peonies?

” How and when to multiply the peonies shrub?

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