Der Stiftsgarten. Foto/Photo: TES

The Huguenots, Agriculture and Viticulture

The board of the French Church in Bern (l’église française de Berne) and the VIA foundation (Stiftung VIA – Auf den Spuren der Hugenotten und Waldenser) hosted a ‘Banquet Huguenot’ at Bern’s town hall (Rathaus) on 3 September.

Impression of the ‘Banquet Huguenot’ with an introduction by Olivier Schopfer, protestant pastor of the French Church

From the Reformation at the beginning of the 16th century, France was the scene of religious and civil wars. The Bartholeum Night in 1572 is perhaps the most (in) famous outburst of violence, but there were many. Thousands of Huguenots fled to other countries.

The 1598 Edict of Nantes gave them religious freedom. However, in 1685 (Edict of Fontainebleau), persecution began again, and hundreds of thousands fled to northern and Protestant countries, mainly to German principalities and kingdoms, Switzerland, England, The Republic of the Seven United Provinces, America and Ireland.

Many went first to Geneva, close to France and the French language, the Calvinist capital and the first Protestant republic on their way to the north. Many Huguenots were skilled artisans, merchants and scientists from the Mediterranean and Southwest France.

The origin of the word Huguenot is not clear. In the first half of the 16th century, it became a designation for Protestant French citizens. It may have originated in Calvinist Geneva, to which many Huguenots fled. Geneva designated this group as ‘Eidgnots, referring to the Eidgenossen of the Confederacy, comrades by oath, in this case, comrades by faith.

The Wall of Reformers in Geneva


Geneva became the cultural synthesis of Protestant Northern Europe and Huguenot Mediterranean Europe. Lake Geneva’s milder climate and location also made assimilation easier for the Huguenots.

The immigration was a revival or start of the watch and textile industry, financial services and silk trade in Switzerland. This economic enrichment is well known.

Horticulture, agriculture and wine-growing

The Huguenots’ share of horticulture, agriculture and wine growing is much less known. The Huguenots contributed significantly to the development of this sector in Switzerland. Consequently, at lunch on 3 September, Huguenot imported vegetabless were on the menu: Kardy (a type of artichoke, Longeole (a sausage), potatoes and beans and wine.

The kardy in the Stiftsgarten in Bern. Photo:

Basel, Merian Gärten, ProSpeciesRara garden, the artichoke from Geneva

Basel, Merian Gärten, ProSpeciesRara garden, the artichoke from Laon

Basel, Merian Gärten, ProSpeciesRara garden, the artichoke from de Provence

The Huguenots from Mediterranean France were born gardeners and winegrowers. The city and Republic of Geneva provided them with land near Plainpalais. Since then, Plainpalais is considered the cradle of vegetable cultivation in Switzerland (Le berceau de la culture maraîchère en Suisse/Wiege des Gemüseanbaus in der Schweiz).

The Stiftsgarten in Bern

They transformed the marshy area between the Arve and the Rhône rivers into a flourishing garden of vegetables and wine. The Mediterranean architecture of the farms and the bocage landscape (small fields separated by hedges) are a reminder of this history.

Picture from the landregister of Geneva in 1717. Source: Archives d’Etat de Genève, Cadastre B16 (Photo: DZ)

From Geneva, the new agriculture spread to Waadt (then governed and occupied as a territoire sujet/Untertanengebiet by canton Bern), Bern, Zurich and other areas, depending on (religious, geographical and climatic) opportunities.

Geneva, however, remained at the forefront for centuries. The first school of horticulture (L’École d’horticulture) opened in 1887 in Châtelaine (canton of Geneva). The first school of horticulture (Gartenbauschule) in German-speaking Switzerland followed in 1920 at Oeschberg in canton Bern. The Berner Seeland became Switzerland’s vegetable and fruit garden after the first Juragewässerkorrektion (1862-1891).

Botanical scientists

The Huguenots were also (botanical) scientists. The physician, Jean Bauhin fled to Basel in 1542. His sons Johann Bauhin (1541-1612) and Caspar Bauhin (1560-1624) were prominent doctors and (botanical) scientists. Johann is one of the founders of botany with his unfinished) work Historia plantarum universalis and several botanical gardens he created. His brother Caspar published a survey of thousands of plants in his Pinax theatri botanici (1623). The famous Swedish botanist Linnaeus (1707-1778) based most of his work on this research.

Caspar Bauhin, Pinax theatri botanici

Olivier de Serres (1539-1619) is the founder of agronomy with his 1,000-page publication Le théâtre d’agriculture des champs (1600). The work had five reprints and discussed viticulture in Geneva (his hometown), the artichoke, kardy, beans and the silkworm.


Finally, the viticulture of the Huguenots deserves further attention. Despite its small size, Geneva is Switzerland’s third-largest wine-growing area today. The Huguenots strongly contributed to this development.

The most common viticulture is low-growing grapevines on stakes or high-growing grapevines on pergolas. The Huguenots introduced the hutins. Hutins are grapevines which grow on fruit trees. Cereals were sown between the rows of trees.

Picture of hutins. J.C.L. Simonde de Sismondi (1773-1842), in ‘Le Tableau de l’agriculture toscane’, Geneva, 1801

This method had several advantages: they were less vulnerable to (night) frost, the soil was used for fruit, wine and grain and generated more yields. The disadvantage was the lesser susceptibility to the sun. Be that as it may, by the end of the 18th century, 7% of the Republic of Geneva area was used for hutins.


The contribution of these Protestant refugees to science and economics in northern countries has long been known and acknowledged. However, this brain drain was also significant for agriculture, viticulture and horticulture.

The touring exhibition ‘Wurzeln schlagen – Menschen und Pflanzem im Exil/prendre racine – hommes et plantes en exil‘ (freely translated ‘Integrating, people and plants in exile’) in the (former) Stiftsgarten (monastery garden) in Bern (until 1 October) is a joint project of the Stiftung Via and its partners in France, Italy and Germany.

(Source and further information: Musée protestant; Stiftung ViaStiftsgarten Bern)

The Stiftsgarten in Bern