History of the Rose Garden Princesse Grace de Monaco
English translation by Peter Thompson
In an area where, less than 50 years ago, the fish were swimming and the gorgonians were opening their coloured fans to the planktonic currents, there are today around 400 varieties of roses.
With more than 14.000 plants on 3,300 square metres reclaimed from the sea, the Roseraie Princesse Grace de Monaco stands on the embankment of Fontvieille, created between 1965 and the end of 1975, with the highest seawall in the world.
At 35 metres deep, and at a width of 180 metres, divers spent several years placing truckloads of rocks on top of one another, all of which were salvaged from the widening of the road from La Turbie to Nice. Eventually it built up into an immense reef, 20 metres high and more than 900 metres long.
On top of this enormous, submerged ‘snake’, its back levelled by many tons of rocks, 200 multi-cellular, prefabricated box beams were sunk in reinforced concrete. Five metres by five at the base, and at fifteen metres in height, these are as tall as a three-storey house. Weighing 3,000 tonnes each, they were brought to Monaco from Genoa by sea.
In order to fill in the area, special barges with opening bottoms went to and from Imperia, but primarily between Fontvieille and Fos-sur-mer, whose oil port was under expansion. Each trip covered around 250 kilometres, carrying tons of gravel and sand from the delta of the river Rhône; a total of 8.000.000 cubic metres was brought from here.
Of the 22 hectares of reclaimed area, two had been earmarked for the stadium, the swimming pools and other sporting facilities, and four for the gardens.
Initially, a genuine rose garden was not envisaged; the idea was merely to place some roses between the little swan lake and the children’s outdoor play area. By the end of 1982, however, upon the tragic demise of Princess Grace, Prince Rainier III had decided to dedicate a rose garden in her name.
Bernard Fautrier, at that time Director of Urbanism and Construction, explained to me that the Prince summoned him to the Palace in November to inform him of the decision, and requested that he become personally involved in the project.
The first two plans, presented in January 1983, were rejected for being too symmetrical. The Sovereign wanted the paths, when viewed from above, to form the shape and petals of a rose.
A project of February 1983, which involved erecting a statue of the Princess by the sculptor Kees Verkade in the upper part of the garden, was accepted. The work began on May 9th, and the Rose Garden was inaugurated on June 18th of the following year, in the presence of all of the members of the Prince’s Family.
Jean Giovannini, at that time Director of the Parks and Gardens Service, explained to me that before the planting had begun, the entire surface was covered by a 25 centimetre thick layer of pebbles, then topped by “Geotextile”, an indestructible synthetic tissue which allows water to get through, but not to the soil.
This came from Saint Vallier de Thiey, a small village in the hinterland about 60 kilometres from Monaco. Fortunately, a contractor was building a stadium there, and they were able to provide a sandy soil with an ideal granular composition.
This was mixed with manure and leaf mould, and then a layer of around 80 centimetres placed over the “Geotextile”, a thickness more than sufficient for plants like roses, whose roots go down for no more than 50 centimetres.
In order to protect the most delicate varieties from the wind and the salty sea mist, some maritime pines were placed along the coast as windbreak; around the rose garden itself, a three metre tall hedge, Cupressocyparis x leylandii, a hybrid of Cupressus and Chamaecyparis which is well-suited to pruning, was added.
Next, the roses had to be chosen. As soon as this news had broken, the Palace was flooded with hundreds of offers from all over the world: France, England, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Holland, USA and even New Zealand.
Rose breeders, collectors and friends of the late Princess were sending, with their compliments, the very best of their varieties. His Highness selected them personally, and only two climbing species, which the Princess had seen in the “white gardens” of England and which she had particularly loved, were purchased.
Some varieties created for cold climates grew better here than in Northern Europe; but there have been some problems with the grafts, because in our region, with a calcareous soil which cracks under the sun, only the Rosa canina gives good results.
These days, watering is done automatically by sprinkler, unlike in the first few years when it had to be done by hand, one plant at a time. Though sprinkling is good for the grass, it was feared that it might cause damage to the olive trees and encourage the powdery mildew to develop on the roses; thanks to good ventilation and excellent drainage, however, due to the pebbles and the “Geotextile”, all has gone well.
Tap water is not used due to the expense involved; rather, it comes from the wells, and is the same used to clean the streets of the town each morning. In summer, it tends to contain some salt, but the roses do not suffer as a result. The manure used is strictly organic.
Every year in January, after the pruning, 10-12 centimetres of special manure is incorporated into the ground; this is a mixture of cow, horse and sheep manure, two years old, in order to prevent weeds from growing. It decomposes slowly, and the remaining straw is incorporated into the surface stratum of the soil, protecting it from the intense summer evaporation.
Some time ago, during the vegetative season, we applied mixed treatments of fungicide and pesticide every ten days. Now the former is done only once a month, as a preventative measure, with the latter being entrusted to the biological struggle.
M. Georges Restellini, currently in charge of the Rose Garden, explained to me in detail the strategy, something which is taught, around the months of May and June, to classes of schoolchildren who learn, perched on the ground, about the natural enemies of the aphids, the cochineals and the red spider mites, which parasitize the rosebushes.
They learn that the Coccinella septempunctata can devour anything up to 100 aphids per day. It softens them with its saliva and then sucks them, or tears them to shreds with its mandibles.
Larvae are even more voracious. The Adalia bipunctata are periodically released; a species which lends itself better to industrial breeding. The small grey animals, carried in popcorn-like balls, grow at the blink of an eye, from one to nine millimetres in 20 days before transforming themselves into pupae.
The adults, smaller yet, lay between 20 and 50 eggs per day, and spend winter in the cracks of stones and trees.
Another four-millimetre ladybird, the reddish-brown Cryptoleamus montrouzieri, with elytra wings almost black in colour, is on the other hand freed as an adult to hunt the starchy cochineals.
It lays its eggs on infested branches, in the middle of colonies, and devours them without pity. The larvae, covered by waxy filaments, at first sight resemble their prey but rather than the sucking organ, they choose at the right time to show sharp mandibles.
The red spider mite is fought by the Phytoseiulus persimilis, another very active, microscopic red spider, which devours its larvae and the adults, whilst a dipterous of barely 2.5 mm, the Aphidoletes aphidimyza, gives the coup de grace to the aphids that remain.
The females of this species, in effect, feed themselves with the molasses secreted by the aphid, and thanks to the trace of odour in the air, quickly find the source of the infestation. They tend to lay more than 200 eggs, and their larvae paralyse and then suck the poor aphids, transforming them into withered, empty skin.
And so, besides being a magical world of colours and smells, the Roseraie Princesse Grace de Monaco is also an open-air school of ecology and biodiversity.
It is not uncommon to come across, under the rosebushes, some water turtles that come from the nearby swan lake to lay and bury their eggs. Mallards, seagulls, robins, blackbirds and turtle doves call the area home, not to mention bats at dusk, which enjoy specially-constructed shelters.
What is the best time to pay a visit? Naturally, the month of May; the first blossom takes place from the end of April to mid-June. The second one occurs in July, and the third one, which lasts almost until Christmas, begins by the end of September. Unfortunately by mid-August, when we have the largest number of summer tourists, the rose garden is almost without flowers.
© Giuseppe Mazza
The reproduction, even partial, of the text and the photos without the Author’s written permission is forbidden.