Author Archives: Cathy

About Cathy

An English-speaking gardener in a French garden

A few favourites … daffodils and tulips

 

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So there I was this morning – all chirpy and free like the birds, with a day to spend in the garden. All is going so well down there – things shooting that I never expected to see again, plants establishing nicely with the warmth and a drop of rain.

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Lots of things ticked off my open days ‘to do’ list – forget about clipping the box, visitors will have to experience it wild and woolly! (I got nervous about clipping it because tightly clipped box is more susceptible to box blight. Little did I know that was the least of my worries!)

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Cheerfully I went down, weeding bucket in hand, to attend to revamping my delphinium and aster border in the cut flower garden.

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That was then, and this is now, with me sitting in front of the computer on a still bright April evening. Not my style. How did that happen?

I’ll explain later – first I want to record (as much for my own sake as anything) a few of my ‘favourite things’ over the last four weeks. (Note to self: blog more frequently … and more briefly!)

I haven’t many different daffodils in the garden, but I do treasure the ones I have. First to flower is always the Bon Viveur’s ‘Jet Fire’.

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He develops obsessions with particular plants (two peas in a pod?) and so in it went, first in 2014, and another 10 in 2017.

Then there are the Jennys – ‘Jenny’ and ‘Peeping Jenny’. ‘Peeping Jenny’ starts before ‘Jenny’, in March. Gazing up in search of something … it is all that a daffodil should be.

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‘Jenny’ is my favourite, much shyer and with a paler trumpet. A little confused, with all the little heads looking in different directions. Where is danger coming from? Is it the voles today?

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‘Mount Hood’ was a new addition this year, although I’ve grown it in the past when it just kept on giving and increasing. The Bon Viveur bought the bulbs when he was in Ireland last summer – they came from our previous home in West Cork (where we never grew it!). If you like white daffodils, definitely give this one a go.

 

 

Narcissus ‘Actaea’ is amongst the last of the narcissus to flower – with a delicious scent.

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‘Actaea’ is followed by Narcissus poeticus ‘Recurvus’, the wild poet’s narcissus. It comes into flower at least a week later and is still going strong here, down in the wilder shrub area I’m trying to create in the Hornbeam Gardens.

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This area is a bit like me … it photographs poorly!

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Another new addition (which I don’t recall flowering last year, although it was planted in Autumn 2016) is ‘Goose Green’. Also in this Narcissus poeticus group,  I love it for the pronounced green inside the little coronet. But I’m a sucker for green in flowers.

 

 

And the tulips – ahhh … will I ever get enough of them?

The first, flowering from about 8 April,  was ‘Sweet Impression’ in the Rose Walk.

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There were three little species tulips in the Rose Walk as well. A dainty little Lady tulip, Tulipa clusiana, called ‘Cynthia’ …

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Tulipa tarda

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And Tulipa batalinii ‘Bronze Charm’, which was still flowering this morning.

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Tulipa  saxatilis  ‘Lilac Wonder’ was on the go in the Hornbeam Gardens just before before Narcissus poeticus ‘Recurvus’ started into bloom. When I first planted them in 2016 I had only leaves – this year some flowers!

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I always eagerly await ‘Queen of the Night’ and ‘China Pink’ in the Rose Walk. These were planted because they persisted in a previous garden. However, after much thought, I’ve decided that the persistence of a tulip depends on the soil: that previous garden was on clay too – but not as heavy and the garden not as hot as at Chatillon. The Queen and ‘China Pink’ have to be topped up every year in this garden if I want a decent show. The message seems to be that just because a tulip is persistent for someone else doesn’t mean it will work in your garden!

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‘China Pink’ in the background, with ‘Sorbet’ in the foreground.

On the other hand ‘Sorbet’, which hasn’t been planted since 2015, comes back in fairly satisfying numbers each year. It’s a very nice surprise, indeed, when it arrives.

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This is what I love about the Rose Walk at this time of year. I have been equally entranced by stitchwort growing in long grass on road verges – I could look for hours. It’s the allium buds that have me spellbound here.

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I have some rather good ‘West Point’ and ‘Flaming Spring Green’ in the Long Border, which reappear and have done so since planting in autumn 2013 – and I don’t think their number has ever dwindled.

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As planned, I took the ‘Ballerina’ and ‘Aladdin’ (which I had in the Knot Garden in 2017) down to the Long Border this year and they’ve been quite a treat, especially as I managed to plant Euphorbia polychroma (an old favourite of mine for the spring contrast it makes to tulips) last spring. I really love this plant – it’s as delightful in the same way as that old trouper, Alchemilla mollis.

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‘Ballerina’

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‘Ballerina’ with the grey foliage of Asphodeline lutea

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‘Aladdin’ just going over, with Euphorbia polychroma.

In pots I’ve also been enjoying a NOT ‘Queen of the Night’ on the Mirror Garden in my blue pots. It’s really charming, but definitely not what I wanted. Any ideas?

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And on the supper terrace are two pots full of dear little cheapies from Lidl – ‘Greenland’. I adore the Viridiflora tulips. Again that passion for green in flowers …

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And so – in the Knot Garden this morning I met my nemesis (for the next year or so, I reckon). I was admiring the individual charms of purple-black ‘Paul Scherer’ …

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teamed with the fringed violet of ‘Blue Heron’ …

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… while swearing also that such a dark tulip as ‘Paul Sherer’ should never be planted in the centre of the knot again – it disappears – and regretting the fact that pale yellow ‘Cistula’ hadn’t shown up at all (I’ve never complained to a bulb merchant before, but there’s always a first time).

And then I noticed some suspicious webbing on the box plants. Yes, it’s here – box tree moth caterpillar. In fact I suspect that it was lurking last year, but I was in denial at that stage because 2017 saw me in a bit of a Greta Garbo phase!

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I have now trawled over the entire garden and it is everywhere – not a single hedge or plant is untouched (and I have a few hedges).

XenTari has been ordered, and sprayer from Amazon (XenTari is a Bacillus thuringiensis biological control which gets a good press). All arriving Saturday. But I fear the fight to save the box will prove too costly, both in time and money. In my head I’m already planning their replacements. I think lavender would be nice for all the terrace edges where we have box at present. But what about my sweet little dumplings in the Mirror Garden?

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Ilex crenata might look to be a good idea, but I don’t think holly is very happy on our heavy soil. And apparently the only other plant that box moth likes is euonymus … so my back-up plan to replace box with Euonymus japonicus ‘Microphyllus’ is out of the question.

I’ll be afraid to go out into the garden tomorrow morning – will all the box be dead already? Will I spend another 2 hours (as I did today) hand-picking the little blighters?

At times like this you have to go a bit Scarlett O’Hara don’t you?

Otherwise you’d be as sombre (and not as beautiful) as a black tulip.

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In a vase on Monday … finally

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I now, officially, have ‘spring back’ – I’m sure I share this stiffness with many other gardeners in the Northern Hemisphere. But the garden looks a bit better, so it’s worth it.

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I wouldn’t swop the thrilling experience of this time of year for (most) other euphoric experiences. The sheer joy of going down to the garden, early in the morning, and seeing the tulips rising up out of all that fresh foliage (which will be looking decidedly browned off in another two months) …

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Today I was inspired by Tulip ‘Angelique’. It’s a peony-flowered tulip that I’ve wanted to grow for years – this morning I saw that it’s known as ‘America’s favourite’ – comments from American blogging friends? Finally a few were planted in the cut flower garden last autumn, near last year’s ‘Carnival de Nice’.

These tulips, in my humble opinion, are only for the vase – although I’m prepared to be converted! I’m afraid I may have overdone the Rembrandt/Fantin-Latour effect a little in the pictures, but I hope you can see what inspired me so much.

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They are teamed with the ‘Carnival de Nice’, which you may remember from an IOVM vase last year. I’ve been so pleased at how the Nice tulips have come back to give pleasure again. When a tulip looks as choice as this, you imagine that it’s now … and then never again (unless you buy some more).

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They are on our little supper terrace, where I take refuge from the heat in between cracking down below in the garden. I used a vase brought back from Spain by a dear friend …

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… and became rather mesmerised by how strong and well-formed the handle on the vase looks in this light.

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The little teacup is one of the last remaining bits of china from my Canadian grandmother – the crack that I observed in its side is more seriously leaky than I imagined – thank goodness the saucer holds all the water dripping through! It has a tulip pattern, which seemed appropriate when I broke off one perfect flower of ‘Angelique’.

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I’m hoping to do a post a little later in the week about some nice tulips and daffodils that are flowering (or have recently finished) here – and since the weather is a little cooler, might also catch up with the ironing and our tax returns this week as well. (Although, it has to be said, cooler weather is more pleasant to garden in, so I’ll be torn!)

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Tell me some of your favourite tulips I could add to my ever increasing shopping list?

So nice to be back with Cathy for her nice Monday meme at Rambling in the Garden. The other vases produced by the IAVOM folk are likely to be a little less ‘dark’ and more spring-like than my own. Go on over and see!

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Delphiniums and other dreams

 

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Euphorbia x martinii & Tulipa praestans

This site is called ‘Garden Dreaming at Chatillon’, but I never really write about the main dream. Today, when the dream seemed so far away, I refocused and pondered whether or not I actually needed some help in the garden.

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Tulip ‘Sweet Impression’. Still flowering since planting in autumn 2014. Definitely a ‘stayer’.

Since I was about 26 years old my biggest dream has been to have a very large, very beautiful garden and to share its beauty with other people. Sad, I know, but that’s kind of the way some of us think. That dream led me through endless evening classes in London, jobs in parks departments and finally to RBG Kew, where I did rather well.

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Narcissus ‘Peeping Jenny’.  I add to them every year.

Ok – there were other dreams too. I wanted, for instance, to be an excellent flautist (now I am the worst flautist in the local orchestra). I also wanted to be a passing good artist (I love it, but find very little time to do ‘the work’). I also dreamed of playing the violin (I still do, but the cats leave the room).

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News today! Narcissus poeticus ‘Actaea’ is flowering. So sweetly scented and one of my favourites, but later this year with the cold weather and rain.

That’s life, isn’t it: if you don’t dream and reach, what are you?

I’m about 1 and a half months behind with work in the garden at the moment (there are very good reasons, but I won’t bore you with details).

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The veg plot is a mess. But there are broad beans, and soon there will be peas!

And it’s going to be open to the public for the first time on Sundays May 27 and June 10 under the Jardins Ouverts scheme here in France. Today I looked at the garden and thought: how can you possibly say that this garden is worth looking at? It’s a mess! Sometimes I think it looks a bit like a four-year-old’s drawing of what a garden should be!

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Euphorbia characias subsp wulfenii doing its thing in the (weedy) Mirror Garden

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The steps by which visitors will enter the garden. The hazel at the bottom of the steps needs a close eye kept on it – otherwise people will feel less than welcomed!

Moreover, since I now write a monthly column in an Anglo-French paper called The Connexion, I have a very small reputation to keep up. Ok, so I am a trained horticulturist and I do know what I’m talking about. But it’s starting to feel like ‘don’t do as I do, do as I say’.

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The Hornbeam Gardens, where I was working today. Weeds – and scarce a delphinium in sight!

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The geranium and grass border in the Hornbeam Gardens is now overrun by weeds and Saponaria officinalis. I was attracted by the knowledge that the National Trust still clean their fabrics using a solution concocted from this plant.  I had no experience of its desperate tendency to run – and only the odd tapestry to clean.

There are weeds everywhere (I can rationalise and say that most of my borders were virgin soil in 2012 to 2015, and I’m still getting rid of field weeds, but how is that going to help me when people are actually walking around this place?)

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My little Magnolia stellata still braving it out on its weedy bank. Another slope in our garden planned to be ‘managed’ with thick shrub plantings … cough, a natural planting?

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So pleased that the cowslips like us – they are early this year, I think.

So, what I think I need is something called a ‘WWoofer’. The daughter of my Canadian cousin introduced me to this idea when she stayed with us in 2015. She was working her way around Europe, mostly cooking (magnificently) for other people on organic farms. WWoofers are young people who travel round organic smallholdings and are given bed, board and ‘knowledge’, in exchange for their physical labour. When she spoke to me about the concept, I really didn’t take it seriously. Now I’m tempted. Any WWoofers wanting a month in north-east France apply here!

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In the midst of everything I did still manage to replace my hazel clematis supports in the Rose Walk. Not bad – the previous lasted 3 years and I would have spent a lot of money on something that rots just as fast as the hazel I already have growing here.

The delphiniums of the title are another dream gone bad. I have spent so much money on them since the Bon Viveur forced this passion on me about 3 years ago. They have systematically died away after giving their best. His was a passing whim, but now mine is a real addiction.

Long nights over the winter trying to work out why I lost them. The answer is probably that I’m growing (or rather, buying and killing) the ‘Pacific Giant’ series that were bred in on the west coast of the States in the 20th century. They were specifically bred as biennials/short-lived perennials. Which is why they are much cheaper than your standard Blackmore and Langdon type. So, having established that I am buying cheap, short-lived delphiniums, what’s the next move?

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The greenhouse is just grand (although not properly set up yet) and I finally have seedlings germinating that will not be lop-sided.

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Annual lupin ‘Blue Javelin’ making a dramatic showing today.

I decided this year to buy yet a few more cheap Pacific Giants (one is already dead, still in the pot!) …

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My pathetic delphiniums …

… and to invest in some seed of a new New Zealand strain which is bred to be truly perennial. (I could also invest in Blackmore and Langdon plants – I may still! – but it would set me back about £70 for 6 plants, including delivery to France). So, I now have two packets of seed from the ‘New Millenium’ strain (‘Super Stars’ and ‘Pagan Purples’), courtesy of Jelitto Seeds in Germany.

I will be sowing them this week – more internet research here! – after leaving them to moisten for 48 hours in the embrace of 2 damp towels. I hope to goodness this works! Delphiniums are an expensive habit. Watch this space if you are unfortunate enough to share this addiction …

Gone are the days when I used to pride myself on not losing plants!

What’s your dream – and do you have any tips for keeping the dream alive when all seems lost?

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February 2018: End of Month View

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Looking down on the Rose Walk and Knot Garden

Can this really be the first day of March, with my garden looking like this? As we struggle on in the winter cold brought about by cold Artic weather pushed further south (while the Artic itself experiences record highs), you do ponder climate change a fair bit.

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Looking down on the Vine Terrace pergola, with the Iris Terrace below

The temperatures during the past week have not been as icy as the prolonged cold spell last winter (down to minus 15-20 degrees C in Dec/Jan 2016/2017) – we’ve only hit about minus 10 this year! But, for goodness sake, it’s the beginning of March. What do I do with this white stuff when I’m supposed to be digging borders?

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Straight down on the Iris Terrace and vegetable garden

We’ve had months of rain (everyone tells me that during their time in this part of France the winters have become wetter, the summers hotter – my least favourite combination) and then, at the end of February when the sun finally came out, we walked, eyes wide open, into this icy blast.

Along the wet February path there were, of course, snowdrops, aconites and the start of the hellebores. Which reminds me, do your Galanthus ‘Sam Arnott’ take a year off? I seem to remember this phenomenon in the past. Last year was great, this year I have one flower. Sad, since he’s my favourite.

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Aconites

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Euphorbia rigida

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Semi-double hellebores which the bees DO like!

But there’s good, too, in the midst of this cold. I’ve really been enjoying (obsessing, almost), over the effect my new greenhouse has made with my dogwoods, planted for winter colour.

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The hazels in the Long Border have now all been chopped back, so a very different feel here …

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And next year there will be a decent mulch, thanks to my new compost bins!

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And this is the first year I’ve really been able to appreciate my knot garden as it was meant to be viewed: from the house above in winter. Virtually all of the box have been grown from cuttings taken elsewhere in the garden – I can’t experience the pain of box blight or box tree moth and the financial loss as well! It would be too much misery, so I prefer to make my own, and slowly. Also experimenting with yew hedging.

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The young plants were direct-stuck in the pattern I wanted over a 3-year period (there were some, although not huge, losses). I’ve done this in either June or September, and have noticed a better ‘take’ with the September cuttings (we have warm, long autumns, generally). I don’t fiddle with them – just trim the base neatly, remove the bottom leaves and push them in. (Confession: even dispensed with the tidying process last time – we’ll see in the spring).

I have now completed the entire pattern, although the smallest, youngest lines in the pattern are not really visible in the pictures you are looking at. I’ve also planted my three Ilex aquifolium ‘Aureo-marginata’ into the Knot Garden – they are supposed to be clipped into spirals. Will I live to see the mature specimens? We gardeners are an undaunted breed, aren’t we?

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This will be the second year I’ve indulged in a rare financial fling – a tulip bedding scheme in the knot garden. Last year I didn’t plant quite enough bulbs. This year I’ve doubled quantities. I chose 100 ‘Blue Heron’ (fringed, mauvey-blue – I’ve admired it for a while, but never tried it), 100 Cistula (a very pale yellow), and 100 Paul Scherer (a very beautiful dark purple, which looks to be a fuller flower than ‘Queen of the Night’). My plan has always been to bed out new tulips, try colour combinations, in this area (‘play’, in other words!) and then to lift the bulbs and replant them elsewhere (even wild areas) in the autumn. The plan’s a bit pricey! Maybe only 50% more would have been enough to do the job.

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Dahlia tubers, gladioli corms and seeds, have been pouring through the front door (whenever the delivery men make an effort to get here on the designated day). That’s because I’m starting to panic about the end of May and beginning of June. We are opening the garden to the public for the first time under the Jardins Ouverts scheme and I sure am nervous! Have a look/click on the link above. Even if you are not coming to my part of France in 2018, there’s bound to be a garden in your chosen area that pleases.

There is SO much to do in SUCH a short period of time and at the moment I’ve no husband-help in the garden. (Although he does plan to come back and make carrot cake for visitors.)

When we get into the beginning of April I will not only be cutting the grass once a week on my own, but also doing all the sowing, planting, etc.

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There’s an awful lot of pruning to be done in the next few weeks

And I am still bound and determined that my new orchard borders will be half-dug (I’m a past-master at digging new borders in June – there’s always too much to do earlier!)

Here the borders will definitely have to be completed by about mid-April, because it gets too hot and new plants in new borders need too much water in the summer months. (Autumn planting is not terribly successful on our heavy clay, what with wet winters.)

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Goodness – I am both excited and REALLY stressed just thinking about what I’ve got to do! Then I think about all the glorious colours of dahlias, gladiolus and tulip I’ve bought and I go back to the nicer kind of dreaming.

Have a wonderful March, and I’ll hope to catch up with you at some time in the midst of it all.

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Grateful this Christmas …

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Counting my blessings this Christmas. A lot of money has flowed under the bridge since this time last year (what with a greenhouse and one and a half bathrooms!).

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I also lost my precious mum at the start of January 2017: Christmas Day 2016 was spent (very happily, actually) by a hospital bed in Perth, while the Bon Viveur tended to things at home in Chatillon.

But wow – she must be so delighted when she looks down and sees what we have created in 2017!

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This is a very special greenhouse – it was my personal present to myself, for my sixtieth birthday in December 2016 (courtesy of financial help from my loving mother).

The BV has made an incredible job of constructing it – over a very long period of time. We started clearing the compost heaps that previously stood in this corner in October 2016. That took about a month on its own.

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Then the actual construction commenced in March. Due to the layout of my garden, this was the only possible place to put it. The bijou Eden Orangery was chosen for its small size and price tag – but mainly for the interest of its shape in a prominent position.  It was painted blue by us for the same reason. We imported it to France using a British company based in Brittany, since the French aren’t too hot on glass greenhouses (poly tunnels and workman-like spaces, no problem!).

We were toasting the final panes of glass going in with champagne as we greeted our second dump of snow for the year. And took the opportunity to show the first plants (lavender and santolina cuttings) their new home.

Can you see in the picture below that I go into my local supermarket to beg the polystyrene boxes that fish is delivered in? They make superb seed trays, pricking out boxes and carrying crates – and they last for an amazingly long time. I started doing this (on the recommendation of a local florist) when it became clear that I couldn’t get decent, rigid and reusable plastic seed trays in my part of  France.

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Not content with constructing the greenhouse, the BV also got his finger out for my wooden compost bins, painting and positioning them in the place I’ve had in my mind’s eye for the last five years or so. I kind of wanted little beehive shapes … but these will do nicely, thank you!

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They were purchased when the refuse collection system in our area changed to a ‘by weight’ calculation (I was already composting kitchen waste, but took advantage of the offer). The bins were supplied at a cost of only 36€ each by the company charged with refuse collection in the area. Each came with a nice little green compost container for the kitchen (so I have three that I can wash out and have on stand-by) and a stirring implement for each bin, looking a little like Neptune’s trident. Sicotral (the company in charge) even ran a day course on composting when the new scheme was introduced in May 2017. The French are so very, very thorough!

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The BV also created some temporarily duck boards so I don’t slip in the mud and crash into the glass of the greenhouse. We’ll use them lower down in the garden when I’ve re-established the grass path.

The upper level (to the right, in the picture below), where the greenhouse entrance is, will be a small wisteria-covered pergola, tailor-made for this gardener to pot and prick out to her heart’s content.

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There’s a lot of tidying to do, but next spring is already filling me with excitement and getting me to the serious seasonal task of seed-catalogue browsing.

Yes – it is going to be hot in there in the summer – very, very hot. Apart from the usual damping down and venting, I’m looking at purchasing something called ‘aluminium shading’ (clipped to the outside of the greenhouse), sold by a company in the UK called Simply Protect. I found them through an article in The Guardian and it looks like a fairly efficient solution – and not too very expensive. The technology appears to have been researched and developed by someone in North Carolina. Click here to take a look.

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We are also thinking of making a case at the back of the greenhouse so that several of the very long panes of safety glass on the sides can be removed and stored without fear of breakage – until we put them back in again in the autumn. Other ‘cooling’ ideas gratefully received!

I have been totally unable to raise tomatoes at Chatillon, due to blight (and I thought living on south-facing slopes would give me the best tomatoes I’ve ever experienced!). So, really, the greenhouse is a summer home for tomatoes.

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But I’m slowly realising that it will be more useful in the winter. Lettuces, spinach, oriental greens from September through to February, perhaps? The best, however, will be raising veggies and annuals from seed. I’ve experience only about 60% success rates with propagation in our sun room, up at the house – it only gets full, good light for half the day. I used to be quietly confident that I was good at this in the past!

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At the end of the day, I’d say the thing I’ve got to be most grateful for is the darling BV who has worked so hard on this project over months and cheered me beyond belief during a tricky year. Here’s to you!

I hope that all of you who have taken time to read my blog over the last year have a splendid Christmas! I know that I’m not always the best gardening blogger ‘friend’, but your kind comments have brought the sun out for me on many occasions.

If this Christmas turns out to be a sadder one than you would have wished, please accept a spiritual hug from me and my very best wishes for 2018.

A toast to the warm-hearted world of gardening bloggers and a very merry Christmas to you all!

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In a vase on Monday

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I am struggling to post, what with all going on in the house and our lives. Still, here is my Vase on Monday.

Not too many words, but I’m fond of my (soon to be coppiced) hazel and my hellebores.

Yes, we also have snow, which makes our balcony really slippy going. (Nearly broke my neck taking these pictures!)

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Don’t the hellebores almost look like orchids if you half close your eyes? They started flowering (surprisingly) in November.

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The vase was a vide grenier find from a local glass company at Isches, now no longer existing. I love the fine tracery on the surface, but (as a second-hand buy) it is pretty flawed. More pretty than flawed …

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You may be interested to see that my ‘toilet arrangement’ is still flaunting itself in the living room. (Here’s the previous Vase on Monday, if you missed it.)

Perhaps a comment on how much dust we have around in the house at the moment, since it doesn’t seem worth replacing?

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The element I’m enjoying the most (apart from the darling little hazel catkins and the grasses) is the dried foliage of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’.

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A funny way to say ‘Merry Christmas’, perhaps, but I’m going to post pictures of my magnificent – and long-awaited – greenhouse later in the week. And I’ll be just full of the right spirit then, because the Bon Viveur is on his way home for Christmas – see you soon and enjoy the next few days!

With many thanks to Cathy at Rambling in the Garden who always gets me happy and grateful when I think I’ve no energy left. Pop on over to her blog and see the other Christmassy vases.