Below is a collection of articles about Dunmore Country School, which have appeared in various media publications.
Article by Jane Powers, featured in The Irish Times - Sat, Aug 29, 2009
A FELLOW GARDENER and I are at Tanguy and Isabelle de Toulgoët’s home outside Durrow, Co Laois – a neat acre or so that they share with their two little girls, Corentine and Jeanne, Samantha the Jack Russell terrier, two lovely ponies (one solemn, one not), and assorted geese and hens.
We are looking enviously at a small crop of perfect melons hanging from vines in the polytunnel. They are Vert Grimpant, an old French heirloom variety. “In the north of France, when you can grow melon, you are a good gardener,” says Tanguy.
And (I might add here) when you’re in Co Laois, you’re a genius if you can get a melon plant to produce a single fruit, let alone several plump green spheres per vine. But Tanguy is a man of great method and expertise – which together amount to genius in gardening. He has a system for everything. Those melons, for instance, are planted with just the right amount of additional compost (less than you might think), are limited to three or four fruits per plant, and are bolstered with various natural potions and lotions to ease their passage to perfect melonhood.
Tanguy is acutely aware of the tiny relationships in nature that make a huge difference to the ultimate health of a garden. Take bacteria, for example (the good kind): “I am talking a lot about bacteria to people, because bacteria are so much a part of the garden.” Which is why he doesn’t use tap water on his plants. “I couldn’t water my tunnel with chlorine or bleach, the smell was like a swimming pool,” he says. And, it was harming the beneficial micro-organisms. So, he installed a rainwater harvest system that collects the run-off from the roofs. The storage tank holds 8,000 litres and is sufficient for the garden and the polytunnel. “It cost a fortune but it means I can do my own thing.”
At a time when there is much talk of rewilding our gardens as a natural means of counteracting climate change, it’s cheering to know there are people like the Laois-based gardener Tanguy de Toulgoët. This softly spoken Frenchman combines a private, deep-rooted reverence for nature with a scientific mind and an ever-inquiring intelligence.
The result is a gardener content to ignore fashionable or conventional horticultural wisdom and instead walk his own path in search of fruitful, respectful ways to restore our relationship with the natural world.
Situated just outside Durrow, in Co Laois, de Toulgoët’s potager-style family garden at Dunmore Country School, where he lives with his wife, Isabelle, and their two daughters is the physical expression of that personal quest. At first it might seem a little untended and gently ragged around the edges. But then comes the realisation that this supremely nature-friendly space is de Toulgoët’s very intentional rejection of the sort of horticultural tradition that aspires to neat, weed-free lines of flowers, fruit and vegetables, à la Beatrix Potter’s Mr McGregor.
There are very few neat lines at Dunmore Country School, no immaculately weeded flower and vegetable beds showing lots of bare soil, no pristinely edged paths or sharply shaved lawns. Instead this is a flower-filled, hugely productive family garden designed to nurture nature in all its wonderful and intricately varied forms, from the beneficial soil fungi that turn organic matter into precious humus to the honeybees de Toulgoët’s tends in their traditional Warré hives to Dunmore’s undulating boundary hedge of native hawthorn and field maple.
I doubt there’s one centimetre of this plot that he hasn’t studied intimately or one life cycle of its gloriously diverse mix of inhabitants – plants, birds, wild animals, insects, soil microorganisms – that he hasn’t carefully considered in his thoughtful, respectful interactions with the land.
An example is de Toulgoët’s increasing use of mulches of hay, straw, grass clippings, fallen leaves and other woody prunings to foster soil health and fertility as part of a French-Canadian technique known as BRF (for bois raméal fragmenté) or, in English, RCW (for rameal chopped wood). Originally developed by Edgar Guay in the 1970s to help Quebec foresters, it’s based on the idea that by imitating or replicating the conditions found in natural woodlands – in particular by spreading fragments of lignin-rich young/green woody branches and twigs of deciduous trees and shrubs on the ground – gardeners can dramatically boost populations of beneficial soil fungi and microfauna crucial to the process of turning organic matter into precious humus.