Anniversary Vase on Monday

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Happy fourth anniversary to all the wonderful IAVOM people! And especially to Cathy at Rambling in the Garden who first thought up this terrific meme and takes such trouble every week to visit and appreciate everyone’s vases.

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For the anniversay, she set us the challenge of arranging in something other than a vase. When I saw saw the email alert for Chloris’ vase today, I was a bit concerned that she had ‘stolen’ my idea. But maybe hers is a different colour? Couldn’t bear to look before I’d completed my work. My pictures are terrible (as is the arrangement!), but it’s the taking part that counts, isn’t it?

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Anyway – my ‘vase’ uses Sedum spectabile, some branches of hazel, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’, autumn leaves from Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ and spent flowers of Perovskia atriplicifolia.

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That miscanthus is really rather splendid – it deserves better than this!

I have been unable to do any window-dressing at all due to lack of space around the container that my husband suggested might feature today. If you look at my previous post, you’ll understand.

This is my arrangement’s most elegant angle, I think – do you agree?

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Once again – a very happy anniversary to everyone – and especially to Cathy! Go and look at the links on Rambling in the Garden. This week they are bound to be a hoot! Oh, dear – sudden thought. Should I have taken this more seriously?

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French Renovation: more for your pound?

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The main square in the old village of Chatillon

A couple of summers ago I had a rather ascerbic comment from one reader, asking me why I was always complaining. Specifically, if I didn’t like France, why didn’t I move? (She was so wrong about me not liking France – but I’m a realist and nowhere is paradise!)

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The view from our bedroom window

Well, truth is, I find blogs where people tell you about their problems far more interesting than those that present me with glorious pictures at which I can only drool … information and problem-solving are the hallmarks of my favourite bloggers. Not for everyone, maybe, but works for me.

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Lots of people are beavering away here – this is an old Santiago pilgrimage house, directly opposite our own house (known as the ‘Maison du Guetteur’ or ‘Watchkeeper’s House’)

So, why do I live in France? I never had a yearning to live here, actually, unlike most Brits. My heart is in Scotland, but my husband often works 2 hours up the road from here and, strangely enough, we quite enjoy spending time together.

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Mine is not the only terraced garden at Chatillon

Also – and very importantly – for the gardener with eyes bigger than their brawn, who also loves houses and has a strong sense of history, you get far, far more for your money here than you would in Britain.

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One of the most delightful houses in the village, owned by an equally delightful Parisienne

In fact, this is a good place for less than wealthy people to build a dream. But you do have to invest a lot – and the bad news is that you are very unlikely to ever get it back.

Although French people with a lot of spare cash (specifically, those from our provincial capital, Nancy) are spending a lot of money on our village. It is quite heart-warming to live somewhere where people are treasuring and investing in their own history.

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The first place to be renovated in Chatillon, during the 1980s, the Hôtel de Sandrecourt. During the Renaissance in France ‘hôtels’ were private residences in the country where an aristocrat would stay as he moved around his domain.

When I lived in England I spent a lot of time yearning after a sixteenth or seventeenth century house with a superb garden. It wasn’t possible, due to cost. And I watched WAY too much ‘Grand Designs’ – I still do, sadly. But with a glass of wine to dull the pain.

Because, you see, the one thing that never penetrated was the pain involved in renovating a very old house – I was naive.

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Our ‘cave’, or wine cellar. Chatillon is known for having many of these. A friend tells me that when her children were small they knew the way into every ‘cave’ in Chatillon. Sometimes, when people renovate them, they have little ‘cave’ parties (mostly a Dutch past-time)

 

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You can’t have a sixteenth century house without a spiral staircase. This is my version …

I’ll come to my wretched fosse septique problem at the end of this post, but you can have a look at the previous post here, if you want. Suffice it to say we’re busy creating grandeur upstairs and still haven’t sorted out the basics (I don’t say we are dreamers for nothing!).

So, the point of this post? I always wanted to write more about the renovation work we were doing here, but a deep need to be private has stopped me. However – I now feel I have something to report that could assist other innocents dreaming of France.

It all started in the attic and the renovation of our spare room. You may have seen the previous post, again here. That was actually relatively easy in comparison with what we’re currently embarked on.

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The new library upstairs …

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It all looked rather lovely in August, until the bathroom ‘took over’

I am writing this at the beginning of a new week – a week in which I may actually have the new upstairs bathroom I am dreaming of. It will not just be an ‘en suite’ for us during winter and when there are personal guests and family in the house, but also a bathroom for guests to our gîte, which we are hoping to launch in 2018.

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In fact the whole of the renovation has been partially aimed at the idea of supplementing income.

So, gaily we embarked on the plan at the end of June this year. Four months later, I have a toilet upstairs! Hurrah! But it’s the most expensive toilet in the world; well, maybe not, but you get my drift. There’s nothing else in there …

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And this is it … the grand unveiling of the toilet!

So far we have changed all the pipework, including that going down into the fosse. Which can now be emptied of 10 years worth of … well.  (It was previously inaccessible under a thick slab of concrete.)

In passing we have repositioned beams in the cellar, had interesting conversations with the mayor’s deputy about changing the point at which water comes into the house (too expensive), and knocked down almost everything that existed of my previous bathroom downstairs.

There are now no walls …

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We used to have a little privacy in this house …

Althought the BV has erected cardboard walls to sort out the fact that the cats now think it’s a toilet.

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Lovely new walls

We have uncovered the old window under the watchkeeper’s window upstairs … (see later).

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This bathroom was pretty ‘normal’, this time last year …

And we have found the back of the old chimney (and installed a really horrible temporary shower!)

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Back of the chimney

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Uggh! I thought I was lucky when it first arrived in late June …

 

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New beams in the cellar … which some claim was actually also the village prison.

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Today’s post is, however, really about our stupidity in laying our new floor upstairs. The Bon Viveur (my dear one) managed to persuade me that I was not going for expensive tiles because I didn’t feel I ‘deserved’ them. He had a point and I caved …

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Then it transpired that we had not purchased the right glue. We are laying our tiles on a base which is a little like OSB – but better. In France it is ‘dalle de plancher agglomere hydro’ – I have no idea of the English, nor am I interested.

So down to the shop for glue that is tailor-made for this surface, without the need to lay another (expensive) membrane using the (expensive) glue. This turned out to be almost triple the price of ‘ordinary’ glue.

At the beginning of last week we appeared to be running out again – down to the shop again for more glue. If I mention that the shop is 50 mins away, then 50 mins back and I attempt to lead a normal life, you will understand the frustration.

Then we ran out of tiles in the last corner – not expensive, but we’d missed the lorry delivery for the following day, so were forced to travel 1 1/2 hours each way for one box of tiles. (They kindly gave us a discount, due to our inconvenient journey).

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These tiles are very long (they happen to come from an Italian factory just behind the place where the Bon Viveur lived when he was working in Italy – again, our sentiment always gets in the way). Laying them was a bit of a nightmare.

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The result – well, it’s kind of superb. We stood around in the kitchen on Thursday night and had a little wine toast – finally with happy smiles after a gruelling fortnight.

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A bit sad that we couldn’t afford the cost of the new fosse in the cellar (19,000€, but with a big subsidy).

But maybe it will come. Meanwhile, we are hoping to offer visitors the special experience of poo-ing in the old sixteenth century watchkeeper’s room for the village. That’s got to be worth something.

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Every year in November, France runs a ‘Telethon’ – a kind of ‘Children in Need’. I’ll leave you with pictures of a previous Telethon in Chatillon … greetings from a corner of darkest, beautiful France, where even the Brits rarely set foot …

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In a Vase on Monday

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Wow – that was a cold one!

Inspiration for today’s vase came from the poor little flowers of Rose ‘William Shakespeare’ (David Austin) and the blushes of red and pink on the greeny-yellery flowers of a mophead hydrangea.

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Believe it or not this rose is frozen almost solid!

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I passed the hydrangeas (in pots) on my way down to the garden to pick something for my Monday vase and the first thing I came across was poor Willie, frozen solid in the Rose Walk.

I  bought ‘our William’ because I wanted another dark red Austin rose – I liked ‘Munstead Wood’ so much and it performed so well here.

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At first I thought that M. Shakespeare was rather a vulgar version of ‘Munstead Wood’, but this year he’s coming into his own and ‘Munstead Wood’ has been very poor indeed (I’m wondering if it’s not too fond of the plentiful rain we’ve had?).

Nice when you fall in love with something that left you less than totally enchanted to start with!

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Then I braved the prickles of Berberis thunbergii ‘Atropurpurea’, because I felt they’d add a certain bloody something (I’m thinking Macbeth here) to the arrangement. And a little gentleness came by way of Artemesia ‘Powis Castle’

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There is actually some Sedum spectabile in there as well (all the leaves dropped off when I picked it!), but it seems to be shyly hiding in every photograph.

Even the surface of our table on the balcony had a film of ice on it this morning. Willie is still standing outside, because I think he’ll fall to pieces if I put him in the warm kitchen.

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I’m afraid this vase isn’t going to even last the day out, but I did enjoy creating it!

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Greetings from a very frosty Chatillon – did you read that the Academie Francaise has just voted to get rid of circumflexes? Thank goodness, because whenever I type the word ‘Chatillon’ in a blog post, I’m forced to use a website offering French accents to copy and paste (there should be a little hat over the ‘a’ in Chatillon). Now I don’t have to worry!

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Go on over and get an eyeful of all the other lovely vases on Cathy’s Rambling in the Garden. And thanks to her as our gracious hostess!

 

October End of Month View

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I’m a bit late taking part in this meme, now hosted by Steve, at Glebe House Garden. But I’m too aware that, even just for my own sake, I’ve not been recording the garden as much as I should have been.

October has been a very mixed month: heavy, ghastly (and depressing) rain, interspersed with week-long periods when the garden was full of heat and sun in rare old Indian summer fashion. We were just going through one of those sunny spells on the eve of Halloween, the day my photos were taken.

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The heavy frost wasn’t a complete shock: I checked the weather after dark and managed to rush down and rescue a couple of pots from below, including my precious Cycas revoluta (Sago palm), which always reminds me of time spent working in a Floridean garden, as well as a nice little collection of fancy and scented leaf geraniums bought in the spring.

However, thinking back to last winter, perhaps the mercy mission wasn’t quite so essential. My tender plants are kept in a sun room, where the door is usually shut over night and I try to ensure the temperature is always above 0 C in winter. But this is also the exit for our cats into the garden. Usually this door is shut at night when the cats are inside, but I do remember one sad occasion when I came down in the morning to see two little furry faces locked out in the cold and frantically trying to climb the glass, their yelling mouths wide open at the insult.

Last winter, however, from about the begining of December to end of January I spent quite a lot of time in Scotland and the Bon Viveur was in charge. Unfortunately he sets more store by the cats than my plants, and the door was left continuously open for them. The thermometer showed me that we’d been down to -6 C in there. The point of the story is that the only things that died were my geraniums, broad-leaved penstemons (the most tender sort) and Helichrysum petiolatum. Oh … and one camellia which, I think, just dried out quite a lot. Cycad, olive tree, Aloysia citrodora (lemon verbena), Melianthus major and Abutilon pictum ‘Thompsonii’, all came through unharmed. Just shows you, doesn’t it?

Of course some things, such as my miscanthus and Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ are in nice terracota pots – they are over-wintered in the sun room for the sake of the pots, although freezing of a plant’s root system can be damaging. But they are all definitely much tougher than I imagine.

So, on the morning of 31 October, the garden was looking superb with the heavy frost. The Vine Terrace with the BV’s blue pergola always looks particularly special in autumn (this is where the cycad lives, so not too many steps to lug it up to the house!).

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From up at the Vine Terrace level I have a satisfying view of the Rose Walk, which does begin to look quite mature.

DSC_0003At the moment more than a few roses are still flowering – originally it was planned to be for old roses only, but I’ve gradually added more of the Bourbons (which repeat) and David Austin’s group. So ‘William Shakespeare’ and ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ (Austin) are all still on the go, as well as ‘Mme Isaac Pereire’, ‘Louise Odier’ (Bourbons); ‘Mme Alfred Carriere’ is a great climber for staying in flower right through a mild November. In spite of the flowers, you may have seen in my Wordless Wednesday yesterday that they were cruelly treated by the frost.

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Those who have paid any attention to my greenhouse drama will be interested to hear that the base is finally finished … et voila! …

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…and we can move on to the quicker work of putting the frame up. In fact you can see that some of the parts have already been assembled.

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Then it will be painted – don’t ask, we don’t know if it will work, but that’s not putting us off! Finally glazed – all of this only a year and a few days since the time it was delivered! We move quickly.

I was a bit shocked that morning to see that all the BV’s neatly ranged tools had been heavily frosted in the night.

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And, walking further down the steps to the veggie plot  (this is the map of the garden here if you are lost), I saw that the veggie plot was well and truly hit (yum, yum, lovely parsnips now) …

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and my sweet little butternut squashes were covered in rime too.

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The BV thinks they look like a line of convicts trying to escape – probably they knew the frost was coming, although I didn’t. Will they survive this and still store well? They were going through their 10-day cure when they were ‘afflicted’.

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I was going to join in with Cathy’s Tuesday View meme at Words and Herbs, but to be honest the Long Border is so dreadfully weedy that I was quite pleased when she told me she wasn’t going to be able to do it this week. However, turns out I’m shameless and will show you pictures anyway.

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It’s definitely the finest hour for the hazels before we get to the February catkins. This year they are not going to be allowed to do their thing, so I’ll miss them with the snowdrops. But since all the herbaceous plants and roses are now leaning determinedly away from them at a scary angle, I can’t put the regular coppicing off another year.

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And their cut stems are terrific for making herbaceous plant supports and weaving into small rustic tripods for clematis. Birch is actually better for the herbaceous plant basket support, because the stems are so supple and interweave beautifully.

The cannas that I’ve been bedding out with the aim of creating a tropical look for late summer were badly frosted – fortunately they are root hardy, now out of the ground (with my banana) and in the cellar.

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The grasses and fans of the crocosmia foliage are about the only thing looking good in the border now – although with the backbone shrubs losing their foliage I’m beginning to get glimpses of the red and yellow winter stems of cornus behind.

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Gaura lindheimeri – at the front of the picture above – surprised me last winter by surviving temperatures down to below -15 C. I wonder if it is because they were young plants last year? I was told many years ago that plants of dubious winter hardiness come through best if they are young specimens.

And the Sedum spectabile do look exceedingly pretty with the frost on them.

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The Hornbeam Gardens are similarly weedy and messy – on the other hand this is the first year that I’ve been able to look down from above (the walk next to the Long Border) and see that, yes, it is beginning to become what I wanted it to be.

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Glad I picked my last dahlias and zinnias for the Vase on Monday this week – the frost has now done for them! Interestingly enough the snapdragons look like they still have a bit of mileage left.

Have a wonderful November and do pop over and see the other contributions to End of Month View at Steve’s Glebe House Garden blog.

In a Vase on Monday

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Gosh – it’s been such a long time since I blogged (my August Indulgence, in fact), never mind contributed something to Cathy’s nice meme at Rambling in the Garden.

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Fully determined, I was, this morning, to pick some of the last roses flowering in the garden. But the endless rain did for them yesterday and instead of coming back with a large bunch of ‘Louise Odier’, ‘Mme Isaac Pereire’ and ‘Mme Alfrede Carriere’ (the first two being Bourbons, the last a climbing noisette, I think), I tried to focus on my snapdragons instead.

There are only two this year and, actually, they also are not too hot at the moment either! I grew ‘Black Prince’ (with nice dark foliage, but stems that are really too short for cut flowers) and ‘Rocket White’ (much more pleasing, with lots of long-stemmed flowers over a long period). I think I had a mind’s-eye picture of a small vase of the red antirrhinum with maybe some small Ammi majus flowers as well.

But as happens only too often, it didn’t quite turn out that way. Still, I like the autumnal feel of the vase. There are two roses – climbing ‘Wollerton Old Hall’. This is one of the most luscious roses it’s ever been my privilege to give a home to, but you can see it’s suffered from our heavy rains this year. More than its fair share of black spot – when will I learn to do the last minute primping properly!

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And then there’s a bud of ‘Sweet Juliet’, which I’ve found makes a really good cut flower, along with ‘Queen of Sweden’.

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However – and I will probably be accused of being a bit retro here – the truth is I’ve never regretted buying three Hybrid Teas in 2017. They make much more classic cut flowers than the old roses or David Austin’s group. Long stems and plenty of perfectly shaped buds. The best has been white ‘Pascali’, followed closely by sweetly scented dark red, ‘Mr Lincoln’. Pity I never shared them with you, but I’ll be adding some more colours next year and I’ll try and do Monday vases with them. Can you suggest other good cut flower HTs?

And there is an unnamed pink dahlia …

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Pink is not usually ‘my’ colour in dahlias – I prefer the dark purples, which I keep losing over winter – but this flower has a sort of grace and delicacy that I’ve enjoyed greatly this year.

Then I added some Zinnia ‘Benary’s Giant Lime’ and the greyish-blue foliage of Thalictrum flavum subsp. speciossisum, which was cut back in July and is now good and fresh again. I seem to use it endlessly – hopefully I’m not boring you?!

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Finally three flower spikes of Pennisetum alopecuroides. I’m still struggling to find a good position for this grass which was, as they say in the States, a ‘pass-along’. It keeps being dumped down behind other plants and never gets to show itself off much as it deserves.

Isn’t it funny how you spend a fortune on some plants that don’t thrive, and then others – lovely gifts –  are neglected, but still persist. There’s a bit of transferable gardening philosophy there.

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Lovely to be sharing with the Monday vasers again. Life has just been so darn difficult recently … time for another new leaf, I think!

Now pop on over to Cathy’s meme at Rambling in the Garden for plenty of inspiring vases …

 

 

 

 

An August indulgence (the long read …)

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Wow, even in a wet summer like the current one, our grass on the Mirror Garden is still parched.

I first started my blog quite a while ago (you can find my original here). It was a seed that sprouted from a desire to communicate what was happening in my garden here in France to my husband (endlessly working abroad) and my mother (living in Scotland).

The Bon Viveur is again absent working in England, so I’m taking him on our  customary tour of the garden. It’s been a long time since I took an objective look at the garden; this will consequently be a little lengthy. If you haven’t got the stamina for the walk (and the endless photos) goodbye until we meet again!

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We’re up on the balcony. It’s a cloudy Saturday evening; I can sit up here tonight without my sunglasses on. It’s been a bit of a battle to get plants to grow on the balcony, because it’s like an oven when hot. And since we are always going to be sharing our space at close quarters, the traditional suspects such as agaves are not an option. Even lavender has been a really tricky thing to get going – I can’t tell you how many plants have gone into my troughs in the last 3 years. And I actually had to google why my cactus were going funny colours: too much light (can you believe it?).

On Saturday 12 August, Châtillon-sur-Saône was preparing itself for the big, annual August Fête de la Renaissance.

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The château grounds next to our garden have been clipped to within an inch of their lives and the ‘other’ Bon Viveurs have put up their flamboyant little canopy in preparation for the sun, which didn’t quite arrive this weekend.

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Walking down to our supper terrace, below the balcony (see the map here, if you think you’ll get lost!), I’m celebrating the fact that my own special Bon Viveur has removed all the old gravel (in preparation for paving), reorganised the foliage plants and put up an artificial hedge.

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I was a bit doubtful about the latter – but it works. No space consumed, lots of privacy. I love the stripey Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ against the ‘hedge’ and my little Gingko biloba has new growth, which makes me want to sing.

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The next level is the Mirror Garden, looking as tranquil as always, after the tulips finish putting  in an appearance in May.

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The blanket of green on the tower is, rather surprisingly, a Muehlenbeckia species

I like the Mirror Garden like this – it’s fairly straightforward to manage and easy on the eye. But I’d like some more euphorbias and yellow/white thingeys up here in spring. I was shocked to see that my special baby, Euphorbia characias subsp characias was killed by our low temperatures this winter (down, probably, to -20 degrees). Start again time!

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Peaceful except for those little white bags that have sprouted furiously over our nameless white dessert grape on the tower. This is the kind of slow, loving job that the BV does the best. This grape is so sweetly delicious that the wasps always get to it before we do. Foiled!

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And, my dear friend Beatrix, did you notice that the tiny little Muehlenbeckia you gave me about 7 years ago is now holding up Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’? Just go back and look at the second Mirror Garden picture again! To think that I was cross with the BV for strimming it and ‘killing’ it only 5 years ago! Now it may take over the village. It certainly has designs on our guest bedroom.

As I come out of the Mirror Garden, the Vine Terrace is one level below. Currently being (again) revamped by the BV.

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I have a water reservoir with no water (all the pipework has been disconnected!) – but joy, oh joy – yes, another artifical hedge. I am not being tongue in cheek here – really. I spend hours and hours battling with ivy and parthenocissus growing on all the old walls in this garden. An artificial hedge seems a bit like heaven on earth. And it doesn’t look half bad either! Thank you Lidl (and Nick).

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This ‘haie artificiel’ has been done in only one layer – the one up on the Supper Terrace is 2 layers and a million times better. Try it yourself. The BV spends hours over a flora at the moment trying to discover what species of plant this is. And how will it mature?

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To my left, walking down by the steps, is the Iris Garden. Again tranquilly green after the once flowering of Rose ‘Blairii No. 2’ and the irises themselves. Although ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ still throws out the odd bloom – and I think you can probably see two in the photo?

It’s such a privilege to have a large enough garden so that you can enjoy things in season and forget about them later.

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I never fail to enjoy the BV’s lovely blue pergola in the Vine Terrace when I look up at it from the Iris Garden – in fact you can see it from most points in the garden.

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The blue pergola on the Vine Terrace – and you can also see the balcony above.

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I’m going to bulk up Eucomis comosa in the Iris Garden. I was too mean to buy more than 2 bulbs, initially – but we have our first flower spike, and it’s luscious! What a lift in August, when everything is looking sad and hope leaves the gardener’s heart (unless he/she understands that this month is actually the start of the new gardening year).

Although the Rose Walk was the first place where I started to garden, it now looks like a building site and has been the source of a lot of depression this summer. I felt so sorry for the poor old roses doing their thing in the midst of heaps of soil and stone rubble. And I longed for my paved path up the middle – definition in wildness, that’s what my goal is.

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The greenhouse is still a twinkle …

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Although I do have a lovely new compost bin (one of a trio).

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Unfortunately I’m getting used to the building site – can you see that I even weeded around the ‘greenhouse’, Nick? In future I hope it won’t involve climbing over great heaps of soil.

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Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ is beautiful. But it’s the strangest thing here – whenever I divide herbaceous perennials they have a tendency to peter out. I used to have 6 of this Echinacea, and made a couple of divisions. Then they all started to die. So I’m quite nervous about dividing this one decent plant.

Although much of the Rose Walk is a bit scorched looking, repeated plantings of Stachys lanata and Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ help to keep it fresh.

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And I’m really enjoying the little picture that Perovskia atriplicifolia is making with the new growth of the rosemary.

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Turning down into the Long Border …

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The Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ are finished flowering and all is pretty parched now (this is probably the hottest part of the garden).

But Echinacea purpurea …

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Cannas and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’…

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and young Helenium and Phalaris arundinacea ‘Picta’ are all looking good. When the hazels are coppiced in winter these will be so much better in 2018. At the moment everything is leaning forwards.

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Straight on from the Long Border is the veggie plot. Looks tidy, but is singularly unproductive.

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We had some nice spinach and peas earlier, before the heat set in, and I even managed to grow carrots this year, finally recognising that they had to be sprayed over every day to get them to germinate (and with a long germination time, that can be 20 days of spraying!).

Brassicas absolutely loath heat (to my chagrin, because I adore broccoli), but then recover in autumn, so the sprouts do fine (and I get late broccoli). This year there have been many, many failures in contrast to previous years.

When the greenhouse is up, I reckon the trick with this very hot site will be to sow in late February under glass, with a view to planting out in March.

From the Long Border I can look down onto the cut flower garden. That, and the fact that I had just completed all my strimming, were what made me decide to post today.

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It looks good although it is – wait for it! – unfinished. But you know, it’s a lot of work. I underestimated how much would be involved on our sloping site.

This year was my worst year for cut flowers. I had no sunflowers, no Ammi spp, no larkspur. But the sweet peas were good – over now! – and I am filled with joy when I look at the strong zinnia plants.

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Disappointing snapdragons, bought from Special Seeds. The cultivar ‘Black Prince’ looks to be completely dwarf, so useless as a cut flower. Why, oh why, do seed companies not do single colour packets any more? I know the answer, you don’t need to tell me!

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You can see more clearly why I call it a building site!

I started sowing too late, hence 2017’s cut flower disaster. I think I always underestimate how much work there will be in spring, given that I’m developing new areas all the time. All that digging and heaving means there isn’t a lot of time for pleasurable things like sowing. I really do hope I/we are nearly at the end of garden development – then I can begin to take pleasure in real horticulture!

As well as all the wooden/ turf steps in the Hornbeam Gardens (the top is the cut flower garden, the bottom the wild shrub garden), the BV has had to completely redo the stone steps that descend down there. I’m no longer in danger of breaking my neck, but it has been so time-consuming.

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Our cheap little Aldi metal arches that we bought to frame the entrances are really rather pretty – they won’t last forever, of course, but I’m hoping that by the time they are dust to dust the horbeam hedge itself will have grown up to make the arches. This week I had to be rather brutal with the hedges, because I realised that I was letting them grow up beyond something that would be beyond my control in the future.

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You will notice in the photographs above that I still haven’t decided what the eventual surface of these steps will be – but you can be sure it won’t stay like this! The easiest would be to sow some decent grass (involving weedkilling the ‘bad’ grass in September). Haven’t made my mind up yet.

This stretch of ground from the Rosa ‘Rambling Rector’ arch up to the ‘delphinum’ border is probably the path most impacted by the decision I make.

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I’m enjoying what Deschampsia cespitosa is doing down in the bottom part of the Hornbeam Gardens … it’s not all good though!

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To the right the lower Hornbeam Garden is completely scorched and horrid (although it looked pretty in spring). I’m thinking buddleias and sedums to withstand the intense drought here, caused in part by overhanging neighbour trees (no shade, just sucking!). Magnolias also seem to do really rather well in drought conditions. There is one here that battles on in the midst of the mess!

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The other side is really rather jolly, although it needs a lot of tweaking. The flowering shrubs here are all spring things – lilac, deutzia, Exochorda macrantha ‘The Bride’, Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’.

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There were hydrangeas for later, but all but one has given up the ghost – and that one remaining plant, H. paniculata ‘Limelight’, is not too happy. This is definitely not the place for the superb Hydrangea aspera.

Walking out into the orchard, this is the last area that I believe HAS to be developed in the garden – although I could go on down to the river with wild plantings (this is REALLY dreaming!). Much of the fruit is planted to make espaliers (although some poor souls don’t even have wires at the moment).

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Am in the midst of trimming hedges and strimming by the lines of espaliers (to the right)

There will be a meadow-style herbaceous planting underneath four Prunus ‘Tai-haku’ in the ‘will-be’ borders (we do need shade here, although you may not understand this) .

I have planted 4 yews to make strong boxy statements at the corners of the two broad borders. I intend to dig at least one side this winter – the side that already has some plants in it (roses, oxe-eye daisies, etc.)

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The little brown boy at the front is actually doing something very natural and unmentionable. I’m sorry you had to see this!

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My vision is for the cherries to flower with Narcissus poeticus ‘Recurvus’ below, followed by wilder roses and daisies. I’m learning what seeds itself well here, and this will be so very important in the future. Opium poppies do well (although I couldn’t get ‘Lauren’s Grape’ to germinate this year), verbascum and – miraculously – Verbena bonariensis. All the old verbena plants were killed in our very hard winter of 2016/17. I thought I’d lost it, but it’s popped up beautifully in the Hornbeam Gardens.

Knautia macedonica is becoming a menace and I never have to worry about losing nigella (although, again, have not managed to get ‘African Bride’  to germinate).

I am really, really looking forward to seeing this part of the garden swaying with species roses, daisies and wild carrot (‘Purple Kisses’ is a pretty one I tried this year).

And I so very much hope that this is the last winter with a huge amount of heavy work to do. Someday I’ll get sowing early instead of wallowing around in March still digging.

Well done if you made it through to here! And do cut me a bit of slack and remember that when we blog we are recording for ourselves too!

Nick – hope you enjoyed the walk around your garden?