Couple on a tractor

Philippe and Magalie Mary

Learn the story of the husband and wife team who produce Verbena. At their small farm in Provence, they're proud to farm organically.

The Herbalist Couple Behind Our Organic Verbena

From their first meeting on the lush tropical island of Réunion, to owning a farm amid the rolling hills of Provence, Philippe and Magalie Mary have lived a storied life together. Their shared passion for sustainable farming and Provençal herbs led the couple to cultivate their crop: verbena. This is the tale of how they discovered the lemon-fragranced plant and became producers for L'Occitane, providing organic floral water for our refreshing verbena scent collection.

A SHARED DREAM

Woman picking up verbena in a land of verbena

With a background in farm management and agricultural engineering, the couple dreamt about setting up a working farm from early on. When they moved back to mainland France from Réunion, they started looking for both land and a building from which they could run a guesthouse. 

"We were actively looking for a place to settle in Provence, where I had grown up" Philippe explains.

In 1998, they found the perfect property. Back then, the "Bâtisse du Catalan" was a ruin in Jouques, near Aix-en-Provence. But over the course of a year – and with some help from family – they breathed new life into the land and building.

GROWING MEDICINAL AND AROMATIC HERBS

Man distilling verbena
After settling into their new home, the couple started to build their business, working the lands and cultivating Provence aromatic herbs. Soon afterwards, they partnered with a local cooperative, producing medicinal herbs (thyme, rosemary and savoury) with traceability in mind. The land turned out to be even more special than they'd realised.

"The local micro-climate makes it possible for us to plant fine lavender below 600 metres, which is exceptional!" the couple explains.

After working with local distillers, the two eventually offered Philippe Soguel, Manager of Distillerie Bleu Provence, the chance to distil their lavender and thyme. He was impressed with their focus on sustainable agriculture and asked them to add more plants – like bourbon geranium, with its rose-like aroma – to their repertoire.

A PASSION FOR ORGANIC FARMING METHODS

Woman carrying verbena in a wooden crate

Distillery manager Soguel was eager to work with the couple because of the careful way they tended their land. From the start, they used organic methods to grow their herbs, having strayed from the natural way just one time. "We once sprayed a pesticide and when we saw the disastrous result on the biodiversity of our fields we decided to never do it again," explained Philippe.

Intrusive weeds were pulled by hand and they only used fertilisers made from organic ingredients to enrich the soil. Although they had no business reason to seek organic certification, they did it anyway and were awarded the label in 2008. "We don't even use the exempted chemical products allowed in organic farming,"

Magalie says, "so it's even more organic than organic in the end !"

PARTNERING WITH L'OCCITANE

Land of verbena during a sunny day

Four years after first meeting Soguel, the distiller put the couple in touch with L'Occitane and asked if they'd be interested in planting verbena. Philippe Soguel has been working with L'OCCITANE for many years, their relationship is based on trust and transparency. They were delighted by the opportunity and excited at the chance to grow not only something new but also a quality ingredient. Magalie explains that they felt “our personalities and values would match,” and that it was “not only a business venture but also a human adventure between L'Occitane teams and us.”

"We like to discover new crops, and that's how our project to specialise in verbena was born," says Magalie. As part of the new relationship, L'Occitane offered support with a team that came to help the couple at their first planting.

VERBENA THROUGH THE YEAR

Man on a tractor in Provence

Each May, they replant their fields as the delicate crop can't survive harsh winters. They water the new seedlings carefully and feed them with organic fertiliser three times during the growing season. There are two verbena harvests per year – once in August, when the sun is at its hottest, and again at the end of October as the chill of winter begins creeping into the fields.

“We wanted to produce a local crop adapted to our climate and our land,” Magalie explains, going on to express her love for verbena’s unique scent and vibrant green colour, which sweeps across their landscape.

A NEW FAMILY TRADITION

Tractor during harvest season on a land of verbena

Despite their success, the couple are happiest running a small sustainable farm. They can focus on the quality of their crops and care for their fields properly, weeding competitive grasses out by hand. Because they replant their verbena each year, they can adjust their field size based on demand – in 2018, they planted one hectare.

With tradition comes a constant search for innovation with this farming couple. “We try to adapt as we like to try new things!” they explain. Their commitment to improving soil quality and promoting biodiversity through research, experimentation and observation is what makes their verbena so special.

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