Tree lined roads, rivers and canals are one of the images of a typical ‘French’ landscape, more so to visitors than residents. The planting of avenues resulted from several very different phases in French history and were the result of policy related to aesthetics, environmental, agricultural and even military purposes. It is impossible to collectively investigate all tree avenues in France, despite the fact that their presence transcends regional borders.
I am in the majority who love tree avenues, but it is important to remember many don’t. Tree avenues are a health and safety nightmare, although incidence of damage to persons or property is statistically negligible, the potential of damage is high. In urban or well used rural roads the budget needed to ensure their longevity and safety is immense. People complain of avenues leading to claustrophobic sensations or simply fear of the possible damage inflicted. Damage to a vehicle which crashes into a tree is often severe and as such measures to satisfy insurance companies are costly. It is therefore gladdening to see that despite this, new planting of tree avenues are still frequent and certainly in the Paris banlieue often reflect the ‘upgrading’ of an area.
One of my first jobs was to plant an avenue of lime trees alongside a farm track in Scotland. It was a job that gave huge satisfaction and the finished result had instant impact. Tree avenues in areas of the UK and elsewhere, which historically do not have a rich heritage of hedgerows can provide almost equal benefits as hedgerows do and further allow for regional distinction in the same way as hedgerows. In France the mature avenues over time start to display local attributes also; the form of the trees providing visible clues to the geography, climate, underlying geology as well as the regional prevalent agricultural practice (as can be seen on the photos below).
As such the tree avenue becomes a landscape and biodiversity entity in itself, similar to a copse or woodland. Its value is collective and should any tree be removed the total value is diminished substantially.
This particular avenue of Oaks, as can be identified by tree ring counting from a felled specimen, are just over 400 years old on average. They have been subject to pollarding in history and together with a similar but less intact avenue, are one of the two main routes to the entrance of Château Moiseau, one of the many small and varying in style châteaux lining the Clain on average every 5 Kilometres en route to the Vienne.
This gives a further definitive date and the Oak avenue is thus surely the result of the influence of Maximilien de Béthune, duc de Sully (1560-1641). Further information about this 17th Century French tree hero can be found here –
The precise location of the avenue is at the bottom of this page and my poor photography does not convey the sheer beauty and size of the trees. Close to the village of Château – Garnier, with its famed restuarant, ‘Le Castel’ and its position on the St Jacques De Compostelle pilgrimage route, the avenue (unlike many in France), is often visited. Venerable trees are becoming increasingly important in the French psyche as the efforts of individuals in using the web to raise awareness of such trees has paid off in a society who have embraced online networking and blogs – http://krapooarboricole.wordpress.com/
Many are looking towards tree avenues as one of the principle highways for rural / urban biodiversity intergration. However tree avenues have also been identified as highways for the rapid spread of diseases and as such greater use of them in the landscape should be done with caution, but certainly not ignored.