Didier Wirth

One man’s garden is his kingdom — Didier Wirth and the Comité des Parcs et Jardins de France

Last summer, as Elizabeth Moskalenko, from Cornell University pursued her internship in horticulture at the Château de Brécy, Karen Archer interviewed her host, Didier Wirth, President of Le Comité des Parcs et Jardins de France, one of FHS's partners in historic preservation.

Didier Wirth began by expressing his appreciation of French Heritage Society and its support for French parks and gardens and in particular, the horticulture program. “It is much appreciated that we have these links with the students from the gardening schools in the USA. It is a wonderful occasion to exchange experience and to have a young person work in our gardens for a few weeks.” He expressed hope that the program could be expanded as there is a great need for assistance in the many historic parks and gardens throughout France.

He further explained the roles of the preservation associations affiliated with FHS which, “is helping private monuments in France, via La Demeure Historique and Les VMF for the buildings and Le Comité des Parcs et Jardins (CPJF) which is a federation of private gardens and parks in France, both those belonging to private owners and also to institutions or cities (not the state). We now have about 9000 members and appreciate visits by Americans, who are more numerous each year, and we of course do appreciate the important assistance given by FHS grants.”

Under his decisive leadership, the CPJF has become a dynamic organization with many projects to promote French gardens. “We are not only seeking grants from the outside, but we have also started to act inside France with the creation of The Parks and Gardens Foundation for the restoration of gardens of great value and to promote interest for the art of gardens to the public. We are trying to create conferences throughout France, to create a book, to encourage articles in newspapers and to have a presence on television with courses and films on the art of gardens.”

Comparing French gardens to those of England, he remarks, “France was very equal to England in the 18th century. Then came wars, the French Revolution and the division of estates. So now in England there are many more large private parks or gardens than in France. Through the foundation we are trying to bring back the level of interest of the French public and foreign visitors.”

The movement to promote parks and gardens has helped spark a renewed interest in nature and gardens in a new generation of visitors as well. “We also have started a European association with the gardens of England, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, and Holland. We are now building up a constant exchange of information and visitors with help from the European Union. Gardens need to be protected by law for them to remain intact. If a garden is to remain beautiful its surroundings have to be protected as well.”

Didier Wirth, always a visionary, sees an even grander scale for this movement. “We also participated in an event in Saint Petersburg, Russia where a garden festival was created three years ago, and in 2010 it was done in conjunction with France. Marie-Sol de La Tour d'Auvergne and François d'Ormesson went to St Petersburg to represent French Gardens there where we created the replica of three lovely French gardens. It developed cooperation and cultural exchanges on gardening and the influence of the French gardens in the 18th century on gardens in Saint Petersburg.”

The future of gardens and their relevance to today's world, the environment and sustainable development are also topics for which the foundation lobbies as it strives to both preserve and perpetuate these natural wonders.