The Moss Family Are All Getting Involved with Their Olive Mill

David and Nydia Moss have had a long-standing love affair – with their property in Provence. And Their Chelsea gold-medallist garden designer son, Chris, has landscaped the grounds over the years, ensuring that the love affair is kept firmly in the family.

David takes up the story…

Lying awake waiting for Saddam’s Scud missile attacks can certainly concentrate the mind. During the First Gulf War when my wife Nydia and I were living in Saudi Arabia, we used to try to forget about being in a war zone by dreaming about buying “a little place in Provence”.

Our dream became a reality one sunny spring day as we accompanied a French estate agent through the countryside to the lovely village of La Cadière d’Azur. Our “little place in Provence” was about to become a big old olive-oil mill (moulin à huile) with 400 square metres of floor area!

It was a real coup de coeur – surrounded by centuries-old olive trees and with stunning views over the blue Mediterranean, it was a perfect location, location, location. Needless to say the deal was done the same day!

The Moulin, which included the old family home, was in desperate need of some serious renovation – and that’s an understatement. It had become disused after a disastrous frost in 1956 which destroyed most of the olive trees in Provence.

Miraculously, our olive trees had survived the frost and were to become one of our great interests. After a lot of tender loving care we not only have olives again, but also our own olive oil. Although the original mill machinery is too old for us to press the olives ourselves, we have kept it and now have a small museum in part of the moulin.

After our return from Saudi Arabia to the UK, every holiday was spent in Provence working on the restoration of the moulin. In England I was a project director, in France I was the same – but labourer as well! In fact we hardly got to know the local area at all because it was a case of “on with the old clothes” as soon as we arrived in France, then working every hour possible until it was time to leave. In fact, our early days in Provence seemed just like those of Peter Mayle’s.

But by 1996, the lure of Provence as a place to live was just too strong. We sold up in the UK and arrived at the moulin to stay forever – in a flash I changed from Corporate Man to Countryside (or should that be Campagne?) Man and haven’t looked back since!

Our new life in Provence began in earnest. We created an apartment in the moulin, built a Provençal house among the olive trees for holiday letting, and prepared the moulin for bed & breakfast holidaymakers.

There were, however, two major problems with this grand plan. The first was how to incorporate the olive trees without harming them; the second was what to do about landscaping our steeply sloping land – we would definitely need some professional advice about the overall design of the land and what to plant where.

Image not found.Luckily for us, we had a professional in the family. Our son, Chris, was just embarking on a career as a garden designer in the UK, so it could be his first experience of garden design in a foreign climate – we were also delighted to be able to keep the business ‘in the family’.

Chris already had several years of experience working for a major landscaping company in the UK. He was then fortunate enough to work with a leading garden designer in Surrey who exhibited at the Chelsea Flower Show. In fact, for the Provençal Garden which won a gold medal a few years ago, Chris ‘borrowed’ such authentic materials as old shutters, roof tiles and ancient olive wood from our moulin!

Having won another gold medal at Chelsea last year with the Lladro Garden, Chris has now set up his own London-based landscape and garden design business and has a number of projects in the south of France – a climate in which he specialises.

And now it’s our turn to help Chris. A year ago, Nydia and I decided that we needed a website for the moulin. We contacted a web design agency called LetSites and with their help we had our website up and running within a matter of weeks. It has really helped in the running of our business, so when Chris decided he needed a website to show off his new business portfolio for next year’s Chelsea Show sponsorship, we suggested that he ask LetSites to design his website, too.

As a designer himself, he initially found it strange being the client, but the finished website is exactly what he wanted.

It’s been brilliant to think that the whole family team been involved in the restoration of the moulin over the years. I might be the practical one but Nydia has the design flair, helped along by our sculptress daughter in the Ukraine and, of course, Chris.

So as another holiday season draws to a close and our olive grove is as tranquil as ever, Nydia and I can look forward to sharing a quiet winter at the moulin with regular visits from the family. As we do, we remember those nights in Saudi when we could never have imagined that our family home would end up being in the beautiful French countryside – and we never for a moment imagined that it would become such a family love affair!

David Moss

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