Searching for the Simple Life

Philippe Levesque – Dundee, New Brunswick

Summary: Since his childhood, when he spent time growing vegetables in his backyard, Philippe Levesque has had a passion and respect for nature that quickly turned into successful business ventures and world-traveling. Accumulating more experience before the age of 30 than most gardeners do in a lifetime, at age 17 Philippe quit university and moved to London, England to work for a garden shop where his talent and charm attracted many of the city’s rich and famous to hire him as their private gardener. By the time he was 20, he returned to Canada to pursue his dream of opening his own nursery and founded Macrophylla, an environmentally sustainable nursery in Dundee, New Brunswick that uses only biodegradable materials to produce ornamental plants. The nursery was a huge success and transformed the community with a new environmental consciousness, but left Philippe with a sense of longing to simplify his life. In October of 2005, his search for the simple life has taken him back to England with a renewed sense of purpose and only time will tell where his next adventure will take him…
Garden Contact Information: Email: philippe@macrophylla.com
The Garden: From 1999 to 2005, Philippe Levesque owned and operated Macrophylla, an environmentally sustainable nursery in Dundee, New Brunswick, that produced a variety of ornamental plants, with organic vegetables added after a couple years. Philippe ensured that his business used no plastic or non-biodegradable products, choosing biodegradable pots, zinc-plated tags, and craft paper and raffia to replace plastic bags. Chemical fertilizers were strictly forbidden; Philippe opted to make his own dry and liquid fertilizers using various combinations of seaweed, horsetail and comfrey teas. The soil was prepared by hand using mushroom compost from a local factory and shredded leaves from a neighbouring city. Newspaper and cedar-based mulch took care of the weeds.

In a federal guide to entrepreneur’s best practices toward a sustainable future, Philippe is quoted: “My motto for entrepreneurs who want to make their business more environmentally sustainable is… Do it for your own satisfaction first, people will follow.” And that is what he did. His commitment to environmental issues demanded that all his vegetables be strictly organic. In the time that Macrophylla was in operation, it became something of an institution in his community. Many of his customers who wouldn’t have thought of purchasing organic or eating seasonally found their minds completely changed by the passion of this charming young man. His mother speaks for more than herself when she says “Philippe has influenced us a lot on being careful with the planet.” As Philippe says, “There is so much to do in this world; it is so vast, so many people suffering. There’s so much land that needs to be ‘re-greened’. I think it’s a never-ending quest, but it is a beautiful one.” Not everyone was in accord with his principles, though. One of his larger clients stopped buying his perennials because he wouldn’t use plastic labels.

An acre and a half of the Macrophylla gardens was dedicated to perennials, the same for vegetables, and one acre was dedicated to grains. The land also housed an eighty five year old barn that stored the antiques that Philippe was refurbishing. The acre and a half organic garden produced seventy five heirloom varieties of squash, carrots, broccoli, jalapeno peppers, parsnips, tomatoes, a nice collection of Jerusalem and Chinese artichokes, and an English potato first produced in 1880 – the Pink Fir Apple (Tubers are long, thin and very knobby with pink skin, cream flesh and firm waxy texture. Excellent new potato taste, and makes a good salad potato). He also produced the Italian red Tropea onion, well-known for over two thousand years. Because of the unusual taste, the delicate aroma, and particularly because of the digestibility, this kind of onion is highly estimated from gourmets all over the world.

Philippe closed the gardens down originally to accept an offer to set up an organic garden and nursery on five acres of terraced land in Calabria, Italy. He altered his plans, however, when visiting his friends and partner in England on the way to Italy. He realized how much he loved the green lushness of the countryside and how much he would miss the friends that he still had there. He stayed and began working as a gardener, but he was soon missing his life as a nurseryman. He went back to his (now abandoned) NB nursery to salvage plants and seeds of plants, which will become the core of his new nursery. They are now being propagated at his home in Bedfordshire, and Philippe is hoping he can start selling them in a couple of seasons. “I would like to recreate the American prairie and the Appalachian woodland here to show the British people the beauty of our native flora.”

Philippe is also still working on writing a cookbook that addresses traditional vegetarian methods, and educates the reader on organic nutrition and seasonal eating. We look forward to hearing more from Mr. Levesque.

Philippe recommends the following websites to learn more about gardening:
* www.rareseeds.com
* www.seedsavers.com
* www.lasocietedesplantes.com
* www.fourseasonfarm.com
www.albios.it
www.arcoiris.it
www.archelogiaarborea.org/english
www.kokopelli-seeds.com
www.garenorganic.org.uk
www.seedsofchange.com

*denotes a special appreciation by Mr.Levesque

The Gardeners' Story: “Gardening is my palette. I plant the seeds, and I work with the rough material – the soil, and then just let nature paint on my canvas.”

Born in 1979, young Philippe developed his passion for gardening at the age of eight. In his youth, his relationship with his father was on tenuous grounds, they were two very different people with very different interests. Philippe did not want to learn or understand anything about his father’s career as a mechanic, and his father did not understand this lack of interest. “I was a quiet child, always dreaming, and I didn’t care for the noisy, oily engines of my father’s world. My mother would hand me a garden tool and say ‘let’s go weed the vegetable patch’. I much preferred that! I loved watching the vegetables grow. It was just so useful and I’ve always liked my life to be useful.” He asked for a corner of the family garden, and grew some vegetables, squash, and giant sunflowers. It still impresses him how a huge eight foot tall plant with a brilliant flower comes up from planting one tiny seed in the soil.

By the age of 14, he was developing an interest in ornamental gardening, and got a job at a local garden centre. A voracious reader, he learnt the Latin names for most the plants he came into contact with. He never understood why his school friends would spend rather spend their weekends hanging out and getting drunk. As he recalls, “It seemed like a waste of time, and I wanted to do something useful!”

At 17, Philippe went to Guelph University to study botany, but the whole university scene wasn’t what he wanted at that time. He withdrew from his courses, and informed his family that he was leaving for Europe, drawn by the bucolic images of lush gardens and the English countryside.

Philippe arrived in the west end of London and got a job in a gardening centre. His wealth of knowledge and friendly nature impressed the wealthy clientele, and he soon accepted the many offers he received to become a private gardener. With his extra income, Philippe began to hatch a plan to open his own nursery. While he loved the time he spent in England, the intensity of life in a metropolitan city wore him down. “I just wanted a peaceful life, so I came back here.”

When he returned to Canada after two years working and learning in the UK, he put his plan in place and opened Macrophylla, his version of an English specialist nursery. Ornamental plants took all the space as he “had just forgot about vegetables”. Within a couple years of operation, Philippe yearned to return to his first plant love. Economically, it made more sense to diversify – he could eat his vegetable produce, but the ornamentals were not so multi-faceted.

Philippe’s return to vegetables reflects his growing desire to simplify his life in a complex society. He seems perplexed at the increasingly consumerist, materialistic world that surrounds him. “I think sometimes that I should have been born in an earlier time”, he says. “I’m not your typical 21st century boy”. He sees his chemist sister, salesman brother, nurse mother and mechanic father and wonders where this difference comes from. “I prefer to sit down at my piano rather than watch television. I just want to live simply, I don’t mind sacrificing comforts or possessions to be able to enjoy the sun and the sea.”

In October of 2005, his search for the simple life has taken him back to England with a renewed sense of purpose. “I loved having my nursery in NB, but I had to exile myself every winter, and it was too difficult and heartbreaking every autumn. Here I will be able to do gardening all year round, allowing me a more stable and less hectic lifestyle… hopefully!”

It is perhaps Philippe’s intense productivity that cultivated a common ground with his father. Now, he is one of his biggest fans; he contributed a great deal to Macrophylla’s daily operations, and supports all his son’s endeavors. The mutual love and respect is heartbreakingly obvious as Philippe prepares to leave Canada once again. “I’m happy that he’s leaving for him, just too bad for here, though. Just too bad for here. Maybe he’ll come back. You never know.”


“Just to help the world be a better place to live – that is my mission.” – Philippe Levesque

Link:
Behind the Scenes: Executive Producer: Merit Jensen Carr & David Fox
Producer: Merit Jensen Carr
Director: Erna Buffie
Writer: Erna Buffie
Narrator: Bonnie Dickie
Directors of Photography: Andrei Khabad, CSC
Still Photography: Courtesy of Philippe Levesque
Editor: Brad Caslor & David McGunigal
Composer: Michael Plowman

Date: 2006
Length: 30 minutes

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