Tuesday, 1 November 2011

A Harvest and a Château Garden

About ten days ago I helped with a harvest - of chasteberries, which grow on Vitex Agnus-Castus bushes.  We have one in the garden at the back of the cottage.  It has pretty blue flowers that in autumn give way to small, peppercorn sized berries used in herbal medicines.

The technique for harvesting is to have a large box or basket hung at waist height and to rub the flower heads between one's hands so that the berries fall off into the receptacle.  A group of us worked our way steadily bush by bush across the fields high above the Garonne valley, chatting in French and English in the mild October sunlight.

The berries are so small and light it takes many bushes to make up a single barrow load.  And the bushes (grown organically) are not uniformly productive.  Some are satisfyingly laden and the berries drop in a rattling cascade into the boxes. Others, frustratingly have no more than a few fruit that have to be laboriously picked off.

Among our number was a local gardener, who, to my delight, turned out to be the creator of a medieval garden that enchants us attached to a château in the centre of Gontaud.

Over months, walking Vita round the village, we had peered over the high garden walls and peeked through ajar gates to marvel at the transformation, with trees uprooted, arbours planted, parterres dug. Passionate about his creation, he took us down into the village and in the late afternoon sunlight after we had finished harvesting, we wandered along formal pathways, among the roses, vines, herbs and vegetables while he recounted what he had done.

A beautiful end to a satisfying day.


  1. Gorgeous photos of a good day, Sue. I'd never heard of chasteberries until today....

  2. Hello Perpetua. Like you I'd never heard of chasteberries, but I had heard of Agnus-castus as being good for easing menopause symptoms. The herb is also supposed to reduce the libido - hence its popular name. :)

  3. Those photographs were so evocative...

  4. Hello Fly, thank you for dropping by and liking the photos. :)