Good things this week

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The Mirror Garden looked like this today. Actually it always looks pretty much the same, come sun, come rain, come snow. Perhaps that’s its beauty.

No possibility of being in the garden this week, what with other commitments and snow yesterday (today was my only hope). But I’m continuing, nevertheless, with my comments about the shrubs I bought before Christmas. Since I ended with a viburnum last time, I’m starting with … something else. (The viburnums come later.)

The Mirror Garden was designed by the previous owner as a display area for his sculptures. Because of the view, it’s always said ‘architectural plants’ to me. I’ve added simple greys and greens and yellows so far. Climbing rose ‘Lady Hillingdon’ on the back wall, euphorbias, a lavender hedge, hellebores in a scree area, thymes, etc. In the blue pots I’ve been growing Melianthus major (now indoors for the winter).

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The grass scorches terribly here in summer and the moles have, in previous years, wreaked havoc in winter. Not this year – and we are noticing a huge number of worm casts everywhere. Maybe the cats are finally on top of the situation, or has this just been a very good year for worms?

In any case, it’s time for a change. If I was a sculptor, I would probably keep up the tradition and make something to ‘showcase’ my work – failing that, it’s down to the plants. This part of the garden is looked down on from the street and we have a lot of visitors to this rather pretty little Renaissance village. Slowly I’m deciding that this will be a knot garden, making use of the previous hedging. Since I still like the silver and grey planting theme I originally thought of, I’m toying with putting in twin Pyrus salicifolia against the laurel hedge. I saw some lovely examples of this used as hedging in another Vosges garden, Berchigranges, which I’ll be reviewing around daffodil time.


But my recent purchases include a Judas tree, Cercis silaquastrum (above, courtesy of Cinco Pinos), that would replace the blue pot nearest to you in the picture. I’ve wanted to grow it for a while and just have a hunch that it might provide the right kind of shape to show off against the landscape – plus it’s relatively small (or at least slow-growing). I don’t really care what happens when I’m gone, but maybe someone else will enjoy the pink pea flowers on bare wood in late April to May? Since this is the only area in the garden where I can guarantee that the drainage might be good, that should suit it too. It will certainly get enough sun up here.


Interestingly enough, it arrived in the UK in the seventeenth century (when our village was sacked by Cardinal Richelieu’s troops and abandoned for a hundred years or so). So it might be a good ‘period’ purchase as well?

And so to the viburnums. I’ve always (like everyone) wanted a walled garden and there was a cosy little corner in the bottom garden whose atmosphere seemed to suggest that kind of intimate spot. My walls, however, are hornbeam hedges.

The hedges went in during the winter of 2012/2013 and although they don’t look much in the photos, they are doing amazingly well, given the weeds they’ve had to put up with (and the careless gardener!)

Stras 129Hornbeam had already been planted in this garden when we arrived and it’s a better choice than beech on a heavy soil, so when I decided to design our ‘walled gardens’ it seemed like a good idea to stick with what did well here.

This area has been divided into two squares by the hornbeam hedges and the top garden will be for cut flowers. I’m hoping that the sweet peas will enjoy a bit more shade down there. They haven’t done so well over the past two years higher up, but we noticed that even part day shade helps a lot (we do get temperatures of over 85 degrees centigrade regularly on terraces), so a cooler spot might work.Stras 041

The picture above is taken from the top of the cut flower garden, looking down the central walk that I’ve started to lay out. All was going swimmingly – I’d even bought the string! – until our recent snowfall. The lower part of the garden will be spring and summer flowering shrubs and that’s where many of my new purchases will go. I’m thinking horizontal tiers of white and pale pinks?

I was rather inspired by the Wall Garden at Nymans a few years back. That inspiration suggested that we might plant two Magnolia soulangeana on either side of the central path. The first (straight species) is planted over the grave of Eirig, the affectionate Burmese cat (it needs daffodils, because he came from Wales). The matching M. soulangeana on the other side of the ‘path’ died in our three months of drought last year and so, after much thought, I ordered a M. soulangeana ‘Lennei’. Darker in colour, but I think we’ll enjoy it.


When the shrubs are better established, I plan just a groundcover of geraniums and bulbs (maybe grasses) down here.

Enter viburnums. I adore the elegant tiers of Viburnum plicatum ‘Lanarth’. My mother’s tiny garden in Scotland has a ‘Lanarth’ that was less than well accommodated against a fence, where it fought with a ‘woodland’ of other shrubs – a typical small garden that, after 20 years, became choked with happy growth.

We had a small conference about what to do and decided that the interfering stems at the base should be pruned away and left to make the typical tiered shape higher up, silhouetted against the fence. Remember this is all in a very small space. Unbelievably it worked and her ‘Lanarth’ is really quite treat now.

I couldn’t get hold of ‘Lanarth’ here, but ‘Watanabe’ looked to me like a good substitute, and possibly more suitable as it is smaller and more upright in habit. viburnum_watanabe

I’ve also purchased Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’ (‘Boule de Neige’). The snowball tree may be common, but the flowers are the desired white and excellent for cutting (as good in the early green stage as when they become white). We won’t have berries, in planting the sterile form, but the huge bird population in the woods opposite steals all our berries anyway. That includes any grapes that aren’t netted. I’ll be satisfied with the flowers and the fine autumn colour on the shrub’s lobed leaves.

Back next week with the entry of the lilacs (as you may not have experienced them before?) Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with this morning’s image of the Iris Garden in the snow (now furiously melting!)

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13 thoughts on “Good things this week

  1. pbmgarden

    What beautiful land on which to garden. It’s nice to read about your plans. Voles are a big nuisance in my garden too–even the neighbor’s cat is at a loss as to how to control them.

    1. Cathy Post author

      I think that opening up the garden a bit more (even just for a short period) and not using mulches helps – but it’s hard to do if your aim is to cover the ground with plants. When they were really bad, I’m afraid I resorted to poison!

  2. johnvic8

    Cathy, I appreciate your letting us into your brain to see where you are going and how your are going to get there. It is very helpful in understanding your garden.

  3. Christina

    Dear Cathy, I love how much thoughts you are spending on design in your garden! I am sure that this will pay off long term.
    You mentioned that you planted a ‘Cl. Lady Hillingdon’ in your garden and I can’t wait to see it flowering in the summer. In my previous post about Mottifont Abbey Rose Gardens there are photos of this rose and it is totally stunning. It is such a lovely rose!
    Your tree and shrub choices are fabulous. I especially love the JudasTree, cercis silaquastrum and the two white viburnums. I have so little knowledge about trees and shrubs it is a shame, so I am always happy to see interesting varieties mentioned on other people’s blogs. I have thought about planting a white viburnum in my own garden, though, because at least some of them stay a manageable size, but I have to do some research if they can withstand our heat and drought.
    Looking really forward to seeing all your lovely new shrubs and trees flowering in spring!
    Warm regards,

    1. Cathy Post author

      Re Lady Hillingdon. I’m afraid she’s hung back a bit since she was planted. Gained ground last year, but I don’t expect you’ll be seeing anything like the LH at Mottisfont for some time here! I so enjoyed your post about Mottisfont! Thanks for doing that lovely post … you are in love with roses as well, aren’t you? Re the viburnum. The ‘Watanabe’ will prefer a little part day shade. Although it gets quite hot here, I think it will manage down in the bottom of the garden, but probably not on the terraces. The only way to find out is to try (and it’s a good reason for buying small, cheap plants as well – plus small plants tend to establish better, if they do at all). Always lovely to have your comments!

    1. Cathy Post author

      You are so right – same genus. I toyed with the idea of having C. canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ further down the garden, but decided that the European version would take the heat and sun better.

  4. Julie

    Hi Cathy, what exciting choices and a lovely post too, I had not appreciated how startling the blossom is on a Judas tree before. I removed V. opulus roseum here as I had not got on top of Viburnham beetle, I would plant again and use nematodes next time. I love Lilacs, I am not sure why but I always think of France when I think of Lilacs, looking forward to your next post.

    1. Cathy Post author

      Hi Julie… hmm, viburnum beetle, I hope that’s not going to be a new challenge! Funnily enough, lilacs remind me of Canada and my grandmother … till next time!


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