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Maison Célières : Kitchen garden
Some gardens are designed purely for pleasure while others are designed to be productive. The extensive area given over to the front garden and the decorative plants adorning it reflect the desire of the Maison Célières owners to create an imposing ornamental garden. However, the garden at the rear of the house, hidden from passersby, was a key source of food. Kitchen gardens played a vital role in the local economy.
Such gardens once contained a vegetable patch, an orchard, a chicken coop and a rabbit hutch. People grew their own fruit and vegetables, collected the new-laid eggs and killed and cooked the chickens and rabbits.
Part of the garden was used to grow medicinal plants and herbs. The virtues of various plants were well known to both the native Kanak people and the European settlers. Home remedies were vital when there was no doctor within easy reach.
As a rule, everything grown in the kitchen garden had a specific use. Two surviving trees planted over a century ago bear witness to the need for trees serving a practical purpose.
For example, the large tree growing opposite the privy outbuilding is a black sapote, rare in New Caledonia but common in Reunion Island. Thomy Célières, the mansion’s first owner, came from Reunion and knew all about the nutritional properties of the tree’s vitamin-rich fruit, so it’s not surprising to find a sapote in his garden.
An ambarella or June plum, known locally as “pied de pomme citerne”, also grows near the privy. It bears small white flowers forming oval fruit packed with vitamins. The bark was also used in infusions to combat coughs and flu.
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Texts and illustrations: Association Témoignage d’un Passé © 2016