April: End of Month View

For the first time I’m joining in with Helen’s meme at The Patient Gardener. I’m sorry that this is rather long, but it’s been ages since I did a practical update on the entire garden; this is as much for my long-term record as for your interest.

DSC_0196April weather has been mixed. Heavy rains just at the end of March and the beginning of the month brought flooding. Not such a bad thing. For the last three years the months of March and April have been seriously dry and hot here. The water table in Lorraine has officially been declared dangerously low, and so could do with a boost from spring rains.


Then we had a couple of weeks of glorious sunshine, during which I achieved quite a lot in the garden, although my work cleaning beams and painting in our lovely new attic space came to a complete halt. I even managed to get the vegetable garden tidied before the beginning of May!

We’ve been chomping away like rabbits on the kale, purple-sprouting broccoli and perpetual spinach, while the broad beans are showing promise for June.

But it was also fairly cool (down to between 0 and 2 degrees C at night and often not higher than 8 to 14 during the day. The bonus was that everything slowed down to a ‘proper’ spring pace of flowering.

The hellebores stayed fresh to meet the bluebells in my mini woodland. Brunnera ‘Langtrees’ greeted my variegated hosta. All joined by the foliage of Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’. This might not seem very special to you – but on a really hot slope it has me jumping for joy! Now all in their second or third spring.


The narcissus ‘Jenny’ and ‘Jack Snipe’ in the Rose Walk lingered for about three weeks from the end of March.













Jack Snipe

The tulips hung around for more than a day.



Queen of the Night



Aquilegia alpina is taking it easy into flower.


My pink peonies in the Rose Walk are slowly gaining in height.


And the middle of the month brought the return of my Bon Viveur for the longest time he’s managed to spend at home since December. So now we have structure in the garden!

The new blue pergola on the Vine Terrace is (almost) finished. There’s always a ‘but’ with the BV … Apparently this is very complicated construction – and I am extremely lucky, because there is now a year’s waiting list. But yes, he really should be proud – and I’m already planning yellow flowers to contrast.


I finally decided what to do with my new knot garden.

DSC_0035DSC_0044Apart from the largest box ball and two small companions, the plants were all rooted here and finally set out in their positions in April 2015. In June 2015 I took more cuttings to finish up the pattern. Then came the heat of last summer and many of those cuttings were scorched. Took some more in September and am pleased to say that about 60 per cent are growing on. So far none of the Box caterpillar, although I check regularly.

The advent of tulip fire in the Rose Walk caused me to scratch my head. Should I really be continuing to plant tulips and then not lift them afterwards, as I’ve always done in the past? In any case, the positions where I had the fire mean that I should not really plant back there for three years.

I need somewhere else for bulbs and I think the knot garden could be the answer. I’ve decided to go ahead with my plan to plant hollies for topiary and some low, coloured, evergreen foliage. Hopefully it will all look good when we survey it from our balcony in the cold winter months.


From the balcony

So far I’ve only come up with Stachys lanata for grey, evergreen foliage. I’d like peaceful colours. Any suggestions?

But now I can buy tulips to use as bedding, then lift them and put them down in the cut flower garden to use the following year. Hurrah! I’m already excited about trying out some snazzier tulip colours and shapes for 2016. (And worried about how expensive my garden dreams always seem to be!)

Further down the garden, I finally finished planting in the Hornbeam Gardens and have dug the cut flower borders.

DSC_0076I even supported the delphiniums yesterday before it started raining again – although I was a bit worried to see that some already had buds on them. This is not right for April? Are they on their way out?


This is only the second year for the delphiniums and the first time I’ve used hazel to support herbaceous plants. In the past, in other gardens, I’ve used birch. Much more pliable, twiggy and easy to weave. I’ve no idea if the hazel will work, but hey … if you don’t fail, you don’t learn.


Mostly the shrubs I planted in the bottom half of the Hornbeam Gardens in late winter 2014/15 are doing well. Exochorda macrantha ‘The Bride’ is in full flower, although still quite tiny.

DSC_0048The lilacs – ‘Belle de Nancy‘, ‘Primrose’ and ‘Miss Kim’ are full of bud.


Belle de Nancy in bud

The frosts we had during the good April weather damaged the foliage on Hydrangea aspera var villosa and Hydrangea aspera subsp. sargentiana. But that happened last year as well, so I’m not too worried.

Worse is the damage on the Magnolia soulangiana planted over the body of my cat who died in 2014. It failed to flower this year – I foresaw that one year in three the frost might damage the flowers, but I thought we were past the ‘this is sticky, heavy soil and  I don’t want to grow here at all’ stage! I’ve previous experience of losing magnolias on heavy London clay, so perhaps I ought to know better.

Anyway – spoke to it tenderly yesterday afternoon and removed some soil that may have banked up and contributed to drowning at the base of the stem while I was planting perennials around it.

Hopefully this area of the garden will be a wild shrub and meadow garden in a few years time. It seems horribly regular at the moment. I just want a path down the middle really, to exit into the orchard and then meandering paths through to admire the shrubs when in blossom.


Many geraniums (planted in 2015), geums, grasses, scabious, nepeta, and so on, are already in the ground and the Narcissus poeticus I planted last autumn are coming into flower. It looks like nothing, but gives me something else to ‘observe’ on my daily garden tour.


Two plants that went in this March are a no-show … so far. I bought them by mail order from Lepage, recommended to me as a good online nursery by a French acquaintance. All were in tip-top health on arrival. The no-shows are a delicious peachy echinacea called ‘Summer Sky’ and Aruncus dioicus. Further up the garden there is also a ‘no-show’ for a much-loved Agastache ‘Blue Wonder’ that was combining well with Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’ and Aster frikartii ‘Monch’. Fortunately I did divide it last spring, and the piece in the Long Border is growing away.

I wonder if they all just want warmer weather to appear? You can only dig a plant up so many times to check.

Next to the Hornbeam Gardens my four little Prunus ‘Tai-haku’, planted in 2013, flowered for their third year. All doing well, although one was ‘pruned’ by a rampaging bullock from across the river last summer. Don’t worry – they won’t be flooded, because we know the maximum flood level on the slope.


We’ve light rain again today and the temperature looks set to rise next week. Hopefully my AWOL plants will wake up like Sleeping Beauty in the first week of May.

Thanks so much to Helen for hosting this meme – I look forward to reading about everyone else’s gardens in April by following the links on The Patient Gardener.


25 thoughts on “April: End of Month View

    1. Cathy Post author

      Thanks Pat – the worry is boring others rigid with one’s words – but garden bloggers are a patient, tolerant breed, aren’t we? I hope I’ve got it right first time too … we’ll see.

  1. Paula Clements

    I really appreciated this after last night’s visit!

    On 1 May 2016 at 14:11, “Garden Dreaming at Châtillon” wrote:

    > Cathy posted: “For the first time I’m joining in with Helen’s meme at The > Patient Gardener. I’m sorry that this is rather long, but it’s been ages > since I did a practical update on the entire garden; this is as much for my > long-term record as for your interest. April w” >

  2. rusty duck

    That last pic is beautiful. I’m now wondering if you’ve pointed out the reason for my own struggle with magnolias. It’s heavy wet clay here too.

    1. Cathy Post author

      I think that may be a problem – also too much mulch on a heavy soil. I lost a young M. stellata in London because I was working somewhere where we had lots of lovely leafmould available; I took some home in bags and piled it on too thick! If you plant on sloping ground, results might be better, however?

  3. Island Threads

    what a lovely wander through your garden Cathy, the steps leading down to the vine pergola look very steep! I think your knot garden filled with colourful tulips will look wonderful and from above is how they were originally designed to be seen, your steep hillside garden is perfect for it, I like your woven plant supports I keep meaning to make some from my willows, Frances

    1. Cathy Post author

      Hi – so glad you left a comment! I visited your site this afternoon (and a few other people with your comments system). I very much wanted to leave a message, but couldn’t. How do you do it? And of course you’d be welcome any time!

  4. Helen Johnstone

    I heard at a talk recently that you shouldn’t underplant magnolias as they don’t like the competition, I don’t know how true that is but I had just planted a stellata in a very full border!! We shall see. The flooding is amazing but I am sure the water is very much welcomed. It looks quite beautiful

    1. Cathy Post author

      Possibly a reason, Helen. I shall be careful about what I do. The flooding is truly superb (as long as you are living at the top of the slope looking down!)

  5. Annette

    Beautiful views, Cathy. We’ve had lots of rain too, let’s hope it’ll stop for a while. At least the rainwater tanks are all full. Must try my hand at these artistic plant supports which remind me of those at Wisley.

    1. Cathy Post author

      How kind – I don’t think they look like the ones at Wisley close up! When I worked at Oxford Botanic we used to use lots of birch cut for us in the arboretum and it was wonderful to weave (no breakage, unlike hazel, so supple). A peony that had been supported looked just lovely immediately afterwards and by flowering you couldn’t see a thing. I reckon I’ll plant a few birch!

  6. Tina

    You have quite a garden–it’s huge!! And so beautiful!! Does it require “regular” maintenance, or is your garden work more seasonal?

    1. Cathy Post author

      Hi Tina – the garden is possibly not quite as large as it looks. It’s about 1/2 an acre. But we get to enjoy the grounds of the chateau as well and all the landscape up and down the river. It is still very much in the process of being ‘made’, which means I am out there strimming, digging and weeding every time it is not raining. Hopefully, the work will become a little lighter now, as I am (more-or-less) at the end of creating the intensely gardened bit.

  7. gardeninacity

    Great post. Your blue pergola is going to be fantastic. Great selection of Narcissi also. I’ve never heard of tulip fire – gosh, another plant disease to worry about. Glad to hear you are still looking forward to colorful new tulip bulbs.


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