Be careful what you wish for …

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And yes – you know, it really is almost the end of September.

I am not a faithful blogger. The last time I sat in front of my WordPress blog, it was late on a July night in Scotland and I was far from my own garden.

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Which now looks a (very lovely) mess!

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I can’t stop looking at the asters in the garden, buzzing with bees, hover-flies and other insects.

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After my first Scottish inspiration blog, some people asked about my roots. I’m a Scots-Canadian (I’ve no English blood at all) who was dragged back and forth across the Atlantic more times than she cares to remember before the age of 11. This may account for my disinclination to go out any more?

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My Canadian grandmother and great-aunt were passionate gardeners. The aunt was quite ‘big’ in the gladiolus breeding world in Canada. I have fond, rather lonely, memories of weeks spent on her 2 acres in Ontario. My grannie was … well, just my lovely grannie, and irises and lilacs will forever pop into my head when I think of her.

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I went to school in Scotland from the age of 11, and then to the University of Edinburgh. Who couldn’t be won over by the beauty of Scotland (especially if your Canadian ancestors, and yourself, come with a ‘Buchanan’ name tag on them)? And I was so lucky to spend my adolescent years in one of the most beautiful corners of Perthshire.

If I could garden there now … I would in a heartbeat!

Like many Scots I was forced down south to London for work (in publishing) when I was 21 years old. I do hope that this doesn’t happen to young Scots any more, given a more vibrant economy.

Spent much time in the capital and was finally very relieved (being a country girl at heart) to move to a small cottage in Suffolk at the age of 32, after working at Kew and completing the Kew Diploma in Horticulture.

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I don’t live in France by choice. It’s a country I never even particularly wanted to visit. I follow my husband’s work.

We were excited back in 2007 when we thought we might be living in Italy. Didn’t happen (I still mourn it). So, I make the very best of where I am and my husband is home much more frequently than he was when we lived in Ireland – sometimes every weekend!

And, since I am such a good, optimistic realist, I am learning to love where I am. What I am particularly learning to love is singing in the French language. How amazing is French as a language of song?

You will hear more about this! Whether you like it or not.

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What’s happening in the garden?  Be careful what you wish for …

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The Bon Viveur, once again unemployed for over 2 months, is recreating the battle of the Somme in the Hornbeam Gardens. Yes, I know your two great-uncles died there, Nick, but is this really necessary? Even as an remembrance of what happened 100 years ago?

I am assured it will be very lovely (later on) – and much easier to use. I won’t slide on my bum down the wet, grassy slope. But yes, sigh, there are more steps.

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And more steps.

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It really is all very lovely. I have the arches I have been yearning for and the beginnings of edges to my borders.

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But I think even Nick didn’t estimate the amount of earth moving involved.

Looking down to the recently planted area in the shrub part of the lower Hornbeam Gardens. What a mess!

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I’ve been fiddling in the veggie garden. I terraced this about 2 years ago. It was a continual slope and I had a deep desire to have some flat beds to work with. Last year I took both box and Lonicera nitida cuttings to make an edge to the terraces.

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It worked! Most have rooted, so this is a good plan for we gardeners who are ‘financially challenged’.

Now I am doing a ‘motorway’ style planting to retain the banks on the slopes, again with direct-stuck cuttings. I’ve no idea if this will work.

It’s an experiment. On the top slope, direct-stuck cuttings of Lonicera nitida (should be ok).

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On the lower slope, lavender cuttings – I doubt this, but if you don’t try you don’t find out.

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I spray them over every evening.

The veggies have not been completely disastrous this year, considering I started very late. Broad beans always do well on our heavy clay (I do an autumn and a spring sowing). French beans can’t fail.

Best sweet corn in the last four years.

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The broccoli is desperately late, but still good when picked and cooked. Brassicas only do well in this garden early or late – they hate heat and flourish when the nights are cooler.

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Lower down the soft fruit garden is ready to plant this autumn.

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And I’m finally going to create my huge herbaceous borders in the orchard, under the four Prunus ‘Tai-haku’.

Unfortunately I did a bit of glyphosate weed control down here (apologies to those who don’t approve).

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Meanwhile, I’m so glad I have so many asters in the garden – they are alive with peacock butterflies and bees at the moment. I’m almost coming to enjoy the insects more than the flowers. And for that I have to thank other blogs that have opened my eyes. Look here

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And, about 5 months after planting, Cobaea scandens is finally managing to produce more than one flower at a time.

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I haven’t forgotten the ‘Scottish Inspiration’ posts – they are up my sleeve for a rainier, less busy day. Hope to see you again soon.

 

 

 

 

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Scottish inspiration 1: Cambo Gardens

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The Walled Garden at Cambo House

You’d think that living in France would be inspiration enough for someone creating a garden, wouldn’t you? Not so. Little did I know, when I started making this garden, that I’d have to do without the following: horticultural grit, decent propagating containers, vermiculite, perlite, interesting herbaceous perennials – oh, and interesting shrubs.

Of course, I can (like anyone else) shop online for the plants that are missing in my life, but it’s not quite the same thing as picking up a special something on a day out, is it?

But the most serious gap in my gardening life is garden inspiration.

Consequently, when at home in Scotland once or twice a year (as I am at the moment), I often try to cram it all in. The rigid seed trays go into my hand luggage for the return journey (horticultural grit is a step too far), and sometimes I clock up the miles ogling fantastic gardens.

On Saturday 23 July we visited a garden in Fife, just south of St Andrews, that I’ve long wanted to see. Cambo Gardens at Kingsbarns.

Some of the information that follows comes from a wonderful piece that Stephen Lacey wrote about Cambo in The Telegraph way back in 2012. Do follow my link and read the original if you are interested in learning more about Cambo.

The estate has been owned by the Erskine family for three centuries, although the original house burnt down in 1878. The existing house is austere in the best Scottish sandstone tradition.

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Cambo House from the rear, on the paths that lead to the Walled Garden

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The front of the house, near the visitors’ car park

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To the rear again …

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What I would give to have an echium of this stature in front of my house …

The Cambo estate has become Scotland’s answer to ‘galanthomania’, because you can walk the woodland paths in February and drink in a wave of snowdrops to equal those further south in England. I can only drool these days …

Catherine Erskine began the snowdrop festival in 2003 and since then a number of other Scottish gardens have joined in to make Scotland’s own snowdrop trail. Have a look at www.discoverscottishgardens.org for more information.

Apparently when Catherine  arrived at the house in 1976 with her husband, Sir Peter Erskine, she didn’t exactly see eye to eye with the head gardener in post at the time. She suggested adding herbaceous plantings in the top corner of the old walled garden and was denied the liberty – this was the only place the wretched man could grow onions.

Fortunately Catherine found a more sympathetic head gardener in the shape of Elliot Forsyth who came to Cambo in 2001. When I read today that Forsyth’s wife is a landscape painter and he himself is an admirer of Piet Oudolf, I understood Cambo’s transformation from the days when herbaceous perennials were denied access …

I’m concentrating on the Walled Garden in this post because it set me on fire. Only a short walk through the gardened woods behind the house and into another world.

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A kind of greeting on the other side of the Walled Garden door … here we have modern chaos of the nicest kind, rather than Victorian order.

Yes,  there are many of the features you would expect to find in a Victorian or Edwardian walled garden.

The long pathways lacing the various elements of this two and a half acre site together.

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A peaceful horticultural oasis of lawn at the garden’s heart …

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There are the old greenhouses – one straddles a stream that runs through the centre of the garden.

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It is not schadenfreude to admit relief at the sight of box blight damage … if we suffer, we feel relief that others are soldiering on in spite of it.

The stream ornamented with a small gazebo and bridge in a vaguely Chinese style …

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Box-edged herbaceous borders in a more classical style …

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Some terrific plant surprises … stupendous Veratrum seed heads rising against the classic box hedges …

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… and treasures like this foxglove (which I believe to be Digitalis parviflora).

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And the usual vegetables you’d expect to find in an old Scottish walled garden … although they are teamed with some rather odd bedfellows. The potager (below) was ‘resting’ in 2016 because it is currently being revamped. It gives you some clues as to how the rest of your visit will go. This is not your standard walled garden.

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The remaining planting uses a very modern prairie style in a limited plant palette – its creators have let rip in the most exciting way. I cannot begin to name all of the grasses, although Stipa gigantea, Stipa tenuissima, Miscanthus and Calamagrostis are prominent.

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Associating with this backbone to striking effect are Achillea, bronze fennel, Agastache, Salvia, Veronicastrum, Veronica, Monarda, Eupatorium and Eryngium … in huge variety.  And lots and lots of Sanguisorba – in reds, whites, pinks. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

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Best of all – this is minimal maintenance. Forsyth (quoted by Stephen Lacey) says: ‘In February we cut them [the grasses and perennials] to near ground level with a strimmer, then drive over them with a mower on a high setting. The pulverised stems then get topped with bark. Any weeds get a wipe with glyphosate. We don’t do any staking or feeding, as we want plants to grow with low nitrogen levels as they would in a real meadow.’

Personally, I haven’t seen anything this beautiful since Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden. And I developed a serious love affair with Trifolium rubens

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And cemented my already fond regard for Heleniums …

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As well as Veronicastrum

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And Sanguisorba … and Eupatorium … I never knew there were so many beautiful species and cultivars.

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The only plant I saw at Cambo which would be doomed at Châtillon were the Eryngiums. So sad …

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I looked and looked and took too many photographs. My overall feelings were the following:

1. Wow – I’m in a time warp! These roses and perennials were flowering 6 weeks ago at home!
2. This is what I’m trying to do at home … and maybe it will work …

That’s a good garden, when you want to rush home and get digging/weeding.

The only criticism I’d level is lack of labelling on the many roses. These are planted underneath the old fruit trees in the Walled Garden (possibly in too much shade) and against the surrounding walls.

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In fact everywhere that the garden has been divided into smaller rooms, roses feature in the divisions.

The gardens are open from 9pm until 5pm every day and entry is £5.50 for adults. There’s a good cafe, handily positioned right next to the small plant centre, which offers the specialties of the garden, propagated on site.

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If I meet you there next year, don’t show me your purchases. You’ll only make me jealous because I can’t fit them in my hand luggage.

This is only the first part of my Scottish inspirations … there are at least three more in the pipeline.

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In a vase for Clare

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This post is inspired by Cathy’s meme, In a Vase on Monday, but I am not linking in to it because my thoughts today have a more personal, rather than a horticultural, inspiration.

Do go over and see everyone’s vases, they are bound to be beautiful.

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A small group of us in north-eastern France had a very special friend called Clare who passed away last week at the age of only 67.

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Clare taught me many things about giving and loving. Her last words to me on 30 June were: ‘I want to come and see the garden!’

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That’s a huge and very special gift from one gardener to another … like musicians, we work all on our own, trying to create something that may never be appreciated by someone else.

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But we are unstoppable nonetheless! The strangeness of the inspired human being ..

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Last week was a turbulent week, wasn’t it? As we watched the Bastille Day fireworks from the garden of friends in Haute-Saône, little did we know of the horror that was taking place in Nice. Poor France. Hollande is correct – we are truly at war.

These  events have been a reminder to me (and I often need one!) that we need to hug our loved ones close today, because there may be no tomorrow.

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I picked my first really big bunch of sweet peas last week (late, because of our season). They were simply gorgeous. I gave some to Clare, and I’m giving the rest to you – my friends in north-eastern France, in memory of our very special friend. I just want her picture on my (very public) diary …

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In a vase on Monday

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Firstly, I’d like to apologise to all those whose Monday vases I didn’t find time to appreciate last week – if you are good enough to look at mine, then I should find time to enjoy yours!

But stolen wheels, dentists and contract endings – not to mention the referendum and the tricky situation in which many of us on mainland Europe now find ourselves – took over my life.

This is my contribution to Cathy’s meme at Rambling in the Garden. I’m hoping she’ll cut me a bit of slack in offering up a vase that sits in my kitchen, but doesn’t come from my own garden.

While visiting a dear friend, she was kind enough to trap and cut a small branch of flowers from the tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera. She planted two trees in her box parterre over 10 years ago and both are just completing their flowering here in north-east France on 27 June 2016.

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The trunks of tulip trees were used by American settlers to fashion dugout canoes – presumably because the wood is soft and easy to work. Since the timber rotted fairly quickly in water, the canoes had to be replaced every 2 to 3 years.

Yet another bush skill borrowed from Native Americans. The Lenni Lenape, a tribe in Delaware, called Liriodendron the muxulhemenshi or ‘tree from which canoes are made’. Daniel Boone and his family moved from Kentucky to Missouri (to an area at that time known as Upper Louisiana) in a tulip tree canoe in 1799.

They did use wagons to transport their household effects – but I’ve just had the picture of myself, husband and four cats crossing the Channel from Ireland to France in a canoe flash into my head.

And here I am (the small, rather tubby one in the middle) … safely arrived in France by means of more luxurious transport and able to enjoy the flowers of a young tulip tree in yet another French garden. I’ve included this picture because it emphasises that even quite small trees flower well. (With thanks to J. for the photo!) During the week I’ll be posting about that fascinating garden in Haute-Marne, which is open to visitors.

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When I came home from my friend’s house, I put my flowers, with their leaves, in a small green bowl and have allowed myself to be drawn into and lost in the unbelievable colours every time I pass – flowers as meditation!

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With thanks, once again, to Cathy for hosting this meme whose friendly contributors now come from all over the globe – England, Scotland, Italy, the United States, Romania, France.

Now go on over to Rambling in the Garden and have a look at their wonderful vases this week (I’ll be just behind you)!

 

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