During the conference I gave a few months ago at the Musée d’Aquitaine, I touched upon the story of Toussaint-Yves Catros, the “cultivateur de pépinières” (tree nursery agriculturist) whose legacy is still very much present today. Catros has already been given a full feature on the blog but, in short, he played a pivotal role in planting the pine trees that secure the Atlantic coast sand dunes, initiated the culture of artichokes in Macau and founded the seed production and distribution company Catros-Gérand which still today operates out of a facility in Carbon-Blanc.
In the audience that day was the most excellent Yves Baillot d’Estivaux (local authority on all things automobile-related), who put me in touch with Mesdames Elisabeth Desplats and Edith Moreau, two sisters who also happen to be descendants of Catros (their family tree can be traced back to Anne-Jeanne, the sister of Toussaint-Yves, the latter remained a life-long bachelor). They welcomed me to their homes in Carbon-Blanc and allowed me to peruse files and files of archive documents, with a view to reconstructing the history of the arboretum created by Catros in Le Haillan, on land which is now split between the aerospace giants Thales Avionics and Herakles.
Let’s travel back to 1797. In the slipstream of the French Revolution, this former director of the royal tree nurseries has to explore new career opportunities! He founds his own establishment near Place Saint-Martial in Bordeaux and purchases 262 acres (106 hectares) of marshland in Le Haillan, known as Domaine de Nouville, in order to create his own arboretum. He dreams up a whole network of ditches for irrigation purposes and sets to work on cultivating 40 to 50 acres of the land. Drawing on ties with numerous learned societies, he obtains various rare species which he successfully acclimatizes.
He refers to “the Pistacia lentiscus and Clematis flammula whose perfume combines with those of so many other exotic species, while the flowers and buds of magnificent species such as magnolia blossom overhead; it’s like being in an enchanted forest or, at the very least, feels like being in another hemisphere, if the enjoyable concert performed by our indigenous birds didn’t shatter that illusion whilst simultaneously embellishing it”. And the sense of exoticism doesn’t stop there: “Crossing a small Chinese bridge, we entered part of the land given over to beekeeping. It was impossible to tire of admiring so much beauty, so many different landscapes and so many species in a single place, and such beautiful culture on land which was once so ungrateful.”
|The arboretum today (colour scheme: Autumn), including a magnificent Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas fir, Oregon pine or Douglas spruce).|
|Bamboo, which was first introduced into Europe in the early years of the 19th century, continues to develop in the section were it grew some 200 years ago!|
By 1910 things have come full circle, as described by H. Bacon de Lavergne and R. Hicket in a piece published by the Bulletin de la Société de Dendrologie, detailing the species they’d viewed on site and highlighting the renewed botanical value of the place. It isn’t to last. The land repeatedly changes hands and the Second World War proves to be another watershed moment for the arboretum: trees are culled and the area is bombed by the Allies in June 1944 (their target being the Germans who occupied the neigbouring airport). This time recovery will prove especially difficult.
|Part of the Herakles perimeter fence.|
|Elisabeth Desplats and Edith Moreau.|
And that remains the situation today. The variety of species on site is nothing like as spectacular as might be hoped, given the setbacks over the years: only the most robust and vigorous species have survived, and even then only when they have been able to reseed and regrow without human intervention. However, inventories in recent years have identified 40-or-so notable species on Herakles territory and around 30 Thales-side (where the arboretum now forms the backdrop for a sports course used by employees).
|In the heart of the Thales-side arboretum: |
above, a stop on the fitness course and, below, a disused, overgrown football pitch.
- Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map:
- Toussaint-Yves Catros's Le Haillan arboretum, rue Toussaint-Catros, Le Haillan.
- Big thanks to Elisabeth Desplats and Edith Moreau for letting me dig through their family archives, and to Yves Baillot d’Estivaux for putting us in touch!
- Cet article est également disponible en français !