Peaches: The history of a fruit, its flavors and a place

The former agricultural site of Les Murs à Pêches enabled the development of peach arboriculture. Although the etymology of the word for peach trees might lead one to believe that they originated in Persia, they actually arrived from China by the Silk Road, then from Persia to Greece in the 4th century BC. The Romans began to cultivate them in the 1st century BC and called them malum persicum, the Persian apple. Archaeology has uncovered peach pits in Gallo-Roman remains in Saintes in France’s Charente region. Peach trees have been cultivated in France since the Middle Ages, but it was the development of the espalier technique that permitted the expansion of their production by protecting the trees and, particularly, the flowers which are sensitive to the cold. 

Peach trees were planted along peasant-made walls of flint, earth and plaster to absorb and store the heat of the sun. The use of a plaster primer made it possible to hold the branches against the walls, tying them with strips of old rags and used fabric to homemade nails forged on-site. Peach trees grew in the Île-de-France in this greenhouse-like microclimate, protected by little roof-like chaperons at the tops of the walls where a fabric canvas or straw mat could be attached. 

The Jansenist priest, Jean-Roger Schabol, a fervent champion of Montreuil horticulture, documented this technique in his 1770 illustrated article, “La taille de Montreuil au XVIIIème siècle” in La Pratique du Jardinage (The Practice of Gardening). According to him, in 1750, 600 of the 800 families living in Montreuil were involved in peach tree cultivation. He maintains that the “invention” of trellis walls was linked to an ancient local tradition. The first peaches were cultivated in the Île-de-France in the town of Corbeil. Similarly, these types of walls can be found in Thomery, but they were used in the production of table grapes. 

In Montreuil, the gypsum present in the subsoil, extracted in open-air quarries (Parc de Beaumonts, Parc de Guilards), and cooked  into plaster in the ovens of the city’s numerous plaster works, allowed for the development of the branch-tied palissage technique of growing peach trees. We should remember that during this period, in 1667, following the 1666 Great Fire of London, Louis XIV put forth an edict making the use of plaster in construction obligatory, due to its fireproof properties.

Montreuil’s socio-economic situation also contributed to the development of peach cultivation. Indeed, as early as 1260, springs in Montreuil supplied water to the Château de Vincennes. In exchange, the inhabitants of Montreuil were exempt from certain taxes, levies and compulsory labor. Over the centuries, the village gained importance and in the 17th century, became a favorite spot for the high clergy and powerful lords.

This development was centered around the construction of the Saint-Pierre-Saint-Paul Church, which became the king’s and his court’s place of worship when in residence in Vincennes. The name Montreuil comes from the old French ‘Monstruel’, from the Latin monasteriolum, meaning “little monastery” or church. Even if this horticultural technique had also developed in the nearby villages of Bagnolet, Romainville and Rosny…, what is unique to Montreuil is the intensity of the practice and its rapid expansion across the territory. In 19th century Montreuil, of the village’s 900 hectares, 500 of them were built with horticultural walls. 

A key role in this expansion can be attributed to the montreuillois, Nicolas Pépin, a prominent member of a long dynasty of farmers. The espalier technique with fruit trees, also called palissage, was coupled with grafting techniques, which largely favored the acclimation of fruit tree varieties exogenous to France (pear, apple and plum trees from Asia Minor) and the development of very high quality varieties. 

Grafting is a plant reproduction method consisting in implanting a branch called a “graft” by incision into the tissues of another plant called a “rootstock,” so that the former continues to grow while becoming one with the latter. The rootstock adapts to the soil and climate and nourishes the graft, which develops the fruits of selected varieties.

In addition to the question of heat, one of the goals of the palissage technique is to facilitate cultivation and harvesting. Ungrafted pear trees obtained by planting seeds can reach up to 20 meters tall, far too tall to be harvested, and the fruit rots when it falls. That is why cultivated pear trees are palissés, and also grafted onto quince rootstock to create smaller trees. This technique contributed to an evolution in nutrition and taste. 

Louis XIV was a great lover of peaches and pears. To satisfy his desires, the King’s Kitchen Garden at Versailles was built between 1678 and 1683 under the direction of Jean-Baptiste La Quintinie. Thanks to the presence of numerous murs à palisser, made of a local stone called gritstone, pear, peach, and plum trees were able to grow in the heat, sheltered from prevailing winds.  On La Quintinie’s 1690 map, we can notice “11 little gardens all enclosed by walls » and notably “slanted gardens.” The Montreuil palissage technique had spread all the way to Versailles. Nicolas Pépin worked for a time with La Quintinie before they had a falling out.

Montreuil’s arboricultural history allows us to speak about the history of plant migration that contributed to forging the history of tastes, food customs and habits and royal or subsistence food economies. 

The peaches of Montreuil became famous and filled the tables of European sovereigns until the beginning of the 20th century, as well as reflecting the agricultural history of more modest horticulturalist families.

The photographic archives of the Musée de l’Histoire Vivante de Montreuil (the Savard family’s photographic archives and postcards) reproduced here with support from the Region of the Île-de-France and the City of Montreuil allow us to return to this story.

The accounts presented originate from the work Les Savard, Histoires de Vies by Jacques Brunet, published by the Musée de l’Histoire Vivante in 2005. 

Article sur l’horticulture


Voici un lien avec un article (en anglais) très intéressant et documenté sur l’horticulture et la protection des arbres fruitiers le long des murs.  Exemples à la clé à divers endroits.


Merci à nos lecteurs de nous avoir relayé cette information et bonne lecture !

Murs à Pêches – Etats-Unis

Les murs à pêches intéressent le monde, nous avons eu des étudiants, chercheurs, professionnels du Japon, de Turquie, du Maroc, d’Angleterre, de plusieurs pays de l’Amérique Centrale et du sud. C’est maintenant François Poupeau, étasunien qui nous faire parvenir une petite vidéo très bien faîte.

Sinon, son travail en Anglais de l’année dernière.

FPoupeau_Murs à Pêches

Un superbe article sur les murs à pêches en anglais

The Last Peach Orchards of Paris

Peaches grown right here in Paris? Believe it or not, centuries ago, Paris became home to a thriving peach farming industry that produced up to 17 million fruits a year– and even today, a little-known community of cultivators are still growing them in the very same orchards.

La suite ici