Author Archives: Cathy

About Cathy

An English-speaking gardener in a French garden

It’s ‘Summertime’!

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I feel sorry for this little rose. It is doing its very best.

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It was bought for the Bon Viveur, who loves yellow, as I do.

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We have some tall chimney pots on our supper terrace (4 in all). They used to have Morning Glory in them and I got fed up with it (I still have it on the balcony, which I only use in the morning and the evening, due to the heat).

So I bought two small climbing roses from David Austin in 2016 (the other two pots have clematis).

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They have been at their absolute best this year. The Bon Viveur never saw them, but last summer, when I was raving about what a pretty little rose it was, I asked him for his opinion. ‘It’s not my favourite’. Less than satisfactory and I speak to them every day to compensate. They are nearly up to the balcony and, although going over now, will flower again later, but never as beautifully as this.

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In a vase on Monday

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As you all have probably gathered, I’m not too hot on the flowering arranging (lack of patience, mainly). But I do love the flowers and the photos (and the blogging friends involved in this meme).

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I was out in the garden this afternoon and happened to notice that ‘Crown Princess Margareta’ had more flowers than ever before – so I had to pick. Such a pretty rose. Hope it doesn’t get the black spot it’s had in previous years.

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Naturally the photos followed on, because I do think of you all, although I rarely take part these days. Pale orange and blue are probably my favourite colour combination.

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And the nigellas have just started flowering. (Something that loves this garden! Hurrah!)

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I still haven’t found a decent technique or vase for arranging the shorter stemmed roses – I need to pay more attention to what the rest of you are doing!

My little Chinesey duck is because it might rain – and Cathy at Rambling in the Garden does love our little ‘props’. Now go on over and see every one else’s vases and have a lovely week!

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Mostly Irises

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One reason I don’t blog more is because I feel I endlessly repeat myself. But the truth is that the garden repeats itself too … there may be more areas developed each season, but the stars (the ones that endure on heavy clay with fierce summer heat) give me more of the same (but better) every year.

Seven years into gardening here, I am really beginning to appreciate what I’ve created. The Rose Walk (always hard to photograph, because the path is too narrow) is rising to its exciting peak with the first rose, ‘Fantin Latour’, starting to flower in the warmth today.

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The Bon Viveur’s little Euphorbia ‘Silver Swan’ has found what I hope is a happy home.

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And down at the bottom, Crambe cordifolia has exciting buds emerging.

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Let’s hope something (an insect?) does not come along and blight my pleasure as it did last year.

The Knot Garden continues to give its best, and it seems I have won a small battle against the wretched Box Tree Moth caterpillar: box provides the crucial structure (all from cuttings, so it’s taking a while). This year the tulips were exactly the same as last – but muddled up. I lifted them, mixed them, and then replanted in November. Going over now …

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The tulips were lilac ‘Blue Heron’, purple-black ‘Paul Scherer’ and a rather pretty primose called  ‘Cistula’. The last was a bad choice because it flowers earlier than the other two. Last year I had no flowers from ‘Cistula’ and this year, a smidgeon. I nearly complained to Peter Nyssen’s about it. But complaining is not something I enjoy.

The ground here is now covered in purple heucheras, Alchemilla mollis and Stachys lanata to mark out the patterns that the box makes. The other day I had a brain wave (well, I think it was) and decided to add a purple Ajuga reptans as edging to show off the silvery stachys and compliment the heucheras.

The peonies are not really supposed to be here, but the Stachys shows them off nicely.

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The Long Border is coming into its peak as well. Asphodeline lutea and thalictrum time again. I wish the asphodeline didn’t annoy me so much from mid-June onwards. But when it arrives in late May, I forget all about last year’s annoyance. A repeated plant is so very much more satisfying, but difficult when it doesn’t die back gracefully.

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This year the cardoon is much bigger and more dramatic. Must move the Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ that overshadows it from mid-July. Too late again this year. I’ll have to water anything (continually) that I move from now onwards.

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And the grey of this and Artemesia ‘Lambrook Silver’ really highlights the foliage of one of my favourite roses. Its either Rosa rubrifolia or R. glauca. I can’t keep up with the times and have stopped trying.

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But I wish Rosa ‘Canary Bird’ wouldn’t die off quite as much as it does. The whole shrub shouldn’t look so tatty with dead stems when it flowers. Some day?

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But the main thing I’m falling in love with all over again at the moment are the irises. Just like the old roses. How could you live without this plant that does it just once every year, but when it arrives it sweeps you away?

I was reading a lot of Eckhart Tolle in the winter. But I wonder if I can ever be ‘saved’? He says that, in the ‘now’, the best way to appreciate something in nature is not to know, or think of its name. He’s right. When I look at a tree, and don’t think ‘tree’, I do see it with fresher, more delighted eyes – especially in spring. Unfortunately this is a hard trick for a gardener hung up on the history and names of plants.

So – the name of the iris? Here are those that I do know and am appreciating at the moment. Many destined for a new, more accomodating border down below in the garden when it comes time in July to divide and replant. The first is obviously ‘Carnaby’, which heads up this post (look back).

Then there’s ‘Blue-Eyed Blonde’ (the slugs love it as much as I do) …

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And ‘Kent Pride’ …

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‘Blue Rhythm’ is just coming into flower.

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‘Raspberry Blush’ is luscious …

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‘Langport Storm’ has already been and gone (a really precious plant, although not a big ‘doer’).

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And (with ‘Carnaby’), the most recent to flower in the heat today, ‘Foggy Dew’ …

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And now a few whose names I do not know – a fact that’s driving me crazy! Can you help?

First is one of the commonest of garden irises – let’s call it the ‘old brown’ iris. In villages around here if you don’t see wild iris, Iris pallida ‘Dalmatica’, or a yellow (nameless – much like mine) it will be this one. I imagine it may be the same where you live?

The closest I can come is a thing called ‘Bruno’, which dates back to the 1920s. Someone must have a name for it. I even suspect I used to know it!

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Then there are the two – one white, one yellow – that I probably look at most in the garden, since they are on the Vine Terrace where I relax at the end of the day. I think it’s hopeless imagining that I’ll ever find a name for the white, but maybe the yellow?

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Finally, always amongst my very favourites, a plant I simply call ‘Sylvia’.

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It was given to me by a friend (strangely enough, called Sylvia) who found it in a heap by the side of the road. Someone just had too much – and not enough friends! Now, with a sumptious colour like this and the vigour that means you have so much you need to throw it away, this is some special plant.

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And it looks particularly rich with the Bon Viveur’s valerian. Now seeding upwards from their original bed. How do they do that? Do the seed heads pop? They were always supposed to go on the wall, but I thought I’d have to go up to the Mirror Garden and shake seed downwards. Aren’t plants very, very clever? Sometimes (but not often here, at Chatillon) they even do what we want.

All of these iris have all seduced me into buying more cultivars from Iris Cayeux (wish I could see their fields right now). Including one call ‘Black Suited’, which they reckon is the best ‘black’ they’ve created. Oh, and since I love yellow irises and can’t resist the name, ‘Common un Oeuf’ is also to be added to my ever-growing collection.

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Easter Sunday 2019 & the Mirror Garden

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I was up very early on Easter Sunday this year, because I couldn’t sleep.

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A special experience to sit on our balcony and watch the sun come up over Chatillon from about 6.30am. I’ve done this often enough during the summer when that time of day is the only relief we get from the sun until the cool of the evening.

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But I love my bed too much to do it often on a cold April morning. The old village on the ramparts and its little chateau are always enchanting in the early light.

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Fired with enthusiasm, I rushed upstairs in my dressing gown to the little Juliet balcony off our spare room to take pictures of the Mirror Garden.

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This is the oldest part of the garden, created by the sculptor who previously owned the house as an outdoor exhibition space for his work.

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I tend to take it for granted now, but with the grass just cut the day before, even this difficult part of the garden was looking superb.

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Why is it difficult? Well, there’s perhaps a foot of topsoil up here (at the very most) before you begin to hit the rock on which the ramparts were built. The ‘lawn’ was previously watered by the sculptor during dry summer weather, but I don’t bother. And it shows. A paradise for dandelions and other weeds.

Originally I wanted to make a garden in grey, green and yellow, simply to compliment the view and the mirror. I won’t clip the box until I see the first signs of the Box Tree Moth caterpillar. Clipping the beasts off and then spraying with Bacillus thuringiensis was quite successful last year, although the little dumplings are still trying to recover properly.

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Euphorbia rigida (above) and E. characias subsp. wulfenii are happy, but my favourite E. characias subsp. characias (with the black eyes on its frogspawn flower faces) died.

With a difficult garden like this, you have to learn to love plants that many gardeners consider to be weeds. The number of complaints I’ve read about self-seeding habits on other blogs. I’m just glad something showy can create a pretty picture.

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I put in a special request with the Bon Viveur to bring more Euphorbia cultivars (particularly ‘Black Pearl’) back from England. Unfortunately when he arrived it was with ‘Silver Swan’.

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An elegant but less than tough form that will expire without a doubt up here. I’m going to plant it down on the Rose Walk and then maybe take cuttings, so I can try it in different places in the garden.

The two Helleborus x sternii seedlings (from a  Hardy Plant Society member’s plant of ‘Boughton Beauty’) do well – the pink-flushed seedling, closer to the parent, has not died although I thought the weather might be too cold for it.

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The blue pots sit in place of the two large sculptures for which the garden was made. Overall, the design is very architectural and the layout of the box hedges leads the eye and begs for something more dramatic than my blue pots and their contents. So far I have tried to fill my pots with artichokes, Melianthus major and (last summer) the tall Salvia ‘Mystic Spires’. Nothing works!

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I want delicately twisting double-helix metal shapes, in a kind of wild, modern style, to evoke the ‘spirit of the place’.

The border below the mirror should be full of greys and yellows. But there is only about 6 inches of soil, so most things struggle.

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The climbing yellow rose ‘Lady Hillingdon’ hated it here and is now living elsewhere in the garden. Artemsia ‘Powis Castle’ and ‘Lambrook Silver’ don’t do badly, but I realise that I need to regularly replace them. This year 4 new seedlings were planted out.

What do you suggest?

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The crowning glory at this time of the year is always the Banksian rose, Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’.

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It was cut hard back in autumn 2018 and has proved to flower well on the new wood. The haircut was to save the tower wall (incorporated into the house, but part of the old ramparts) from being covered in the aggressive seedlings of Muelhenbeckia complexa – that planting was definitely a mistake!

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The only chemical I use in the garden is glyphosate (Roundup). The Muelhenbeckia is giving way, but I don’t know what I’ll do when I get through my stock pile of glyphosate. Hopefully I’ll have won the battle by then.

The other side of the rampart wall is the village street and, as you can see, our car parking area (we are gilets-jaunes friendly around here).

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From over the wall the tourists can enjoy the lavenders I planted to edge the Mirror Garden. But the bees enjoy them more …

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It’s a bit late to be wishing you Happy Easter, so I’ll wish you happy May Day instead!

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Notre Dame …

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If you are French, English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, German, Dutch, Italian, Portugese or Spanish and you have a craftsperson or builder in your very distant past, the chances are your ancestor was coerced or paid to assist in the building of Notre Dame de Paris way back in the 12th century when Europe really began to blossom.

If you are an American from one of these racial groups, you are equally involved. And there were many others, from many lands.

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This is a tragedy for all Europeans and those of European extraction – even those who, like the English, refuse to recognise that this is what they are.

I experienced a huge crying jag on hearing that the three main rose windows seem to have survived.

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Why? Most of all – although I remember the cathedral as the place where Mary Stuart, later Queen of Scots,  celebrated her marriage to Francis II of France – this relief was about the preservation of crucial craftsmen’s work that contributed to making this cathedral the unique jewel that we Europeans created in Paris over 800 years ago. Who does not remember the effect of light when entering a cathedral?

And it was also a recognition of how desperately sad it would be to lose Notre Dame at this particular moment in history.

Notre Dame is – and will be again – supremely beautiful, just like the narcissus I’ve chosen to illustrate this post. Did you read the account of the young boy, taken out by his mother this morning, Tuesday 16 April,  to see the awful mess, who exclaimed: ‘She’s still there!’

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How very wonderful that so many people all over the planet have understood how special Our Lady of Paris is. A spiritual home for all of us, if we wish. Whether Christian or not, she is a testimony to our many talents and aspirations if we direct them well.

And how very bizarre that this should have happened in Holy Week, just before Easter.

Let’s not let pleasure in beauty and the desire to share our talents with neighbours disappear from our lives. Even in the 12th century these were positive fuels that fired each human being involved or coerced into helping to build the miracle that is Notre Dame de Paris.

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Catching up & looking over my shoulder

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I’m a singularly uncommitted blogger, but that doesn’t mean I’m not out there, almost daily, still doing it! My garden calls to me more than the computer does, I’m afraid.

Every year it’s more rewarding. Having started the garden in 2012, there are some shrubs I’ve planted during the last five years that have probably given me real pleasure for the first time this year.

The winter-flowering honeysuckles finally did that thing of wafting their scent to me as I passed them. I planted two: Lonicera fragrantissima and Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’. Blow me if I can tell the difference (did I used to know?), but the pictures are of ‘Winter Beauty’.

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Up in the Mirror Garden, the Chimonanthus praecox ‘Grandiflorus’ is actually flowering a little in its first year. Hurrah – I thought it might only begin after I was long gone from Chatillon and I was hanging back on the planting. Sad that the Bon Viveur was not here to see it, since he egged me on (his speciality).

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At the top of the Long Border I finally have a nice show from Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Charles Lamont’.

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In the same area of the garden I’m beginning to think that perhaps the bank (full of rubbish and the debris from the days when no one had the privilege of a regular bin collection) really will be covered in comfrey and hellebores before I’m gone.

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Shame the honesty (Lunaria annua) won’t settle down in there – this year I’m trying my seedlings elsewhere in the garden.

The little woodland garden doesn’t look too shabby this year either. The Cornus mas is eventually going to live up to memories I have of wandering through large plantings of this sweetly scented winter shrub as a student, while I learned my plant names. Strange thing about the past … at the time we never realise that a hurried moment sandwiched between lunch and the afternoon slog will become such a precious memory. Savour those moments!

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The woodland corner gives me much of what I ever wanted from a spring garden. Primroses …

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…hellebores, Cyclamen coum …

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… and the odd Fritillaria meleagris (they don’t really like the summer heat here, even in the shade).

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Snowdrops and the happy little winter aconites are a memory now, but there’s still the pictures.

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Narcissus ‘Jet Fire’ and ‘Peeping Jenny’ now in full flood. ‘Jet Fire’ is always the first daff here.

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For some reason little white ‘Jenny’ (in the Rose Walk) does not ‘stay’ and bulk up as much as yellow and white ‘Peeping Jenny’. Don’t know if it’s the position (drier, more shade in summer), or perhaps something else.

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I’m still excited when the daffs appear. Sadly, this year there will be far fewer tulips, because the budget allowed me to purchase zero bulbs last autumn. But even that has a bonus, because now I can look at the garden and see what are real ‘stayers’ and make notes.

 

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Meanwhile, although many clumps don’t carry two leaves curled around each other to announce the arrival of a flower bud in the centre, the foliage of Tulip ‘Sweet Impression’ is still good value for money at this time of year in the Rose Walk.

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And, for the first time (in the frame that stands to the back of the Rose Walk), I have some lovely juicy lettuces, raddichio, kale and rocket that passed this mild winter under a cover of fleece.

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Time to start sowing again. This garden has the reputation of being the ‘earliest’ in the village (salad being an esssential ingredient of every French meal) and, after spring 2019, it seems I am finally beginning to live up to it!

I’m still getting muddy digging new borders in the rain – this must be an immutable facet of my stubborn personality, because I remember when I was little in my grandmother’s large garden I’d spend hours playing in the wet ditch that surrounded her rockery or raking autumn leaves to form the rooms of ‘mansions’ on the lawn. I do come in on time for my tea these days, however, and I’ve graduated to the pleasure of feeling clean after a nice hot bath.

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Finally finished – my first orchard border, which now needs the mirroring border on the other side to make up the symmetrical pair.  Next year. This year will involve removing a lot of couch grass that I’ll have left behind when I dug, but it doesn’t matter really … the first year is always a battle, then it gets increasingly easier if you stay on top.

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The hemerocallis you see in the picture below are shooting in the Long Border. At this time of year they look so lush with young angelicas that have seeded about.

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But, since this is the only stage at which I like them, they are due to go down to the new orchard border and the slopes above. The slopes are a (very) wild planting on a hard-to-garden site that is increasingly crammed with cast-off bulbs and shrubs moved from elsewhere

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The Hornbeam Garden hedges (planted in 2015, I think) are finally beginning to look like something and spring is the best time down here. I need to increase spring and particularly autumn bulbs, since it’s dry and parched in the height of summer.

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Unfortunately I seem to have lost two lovely spring shrubs (Viburnum ‘Watanabe’ and Philadelphus ‘Virginal’ – still small) in the summer drought last year, so I’ve definitely got to think again about how to clothe what is essentially a steppe or dry prairie habitat.

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I’ve now forgotten about the problems with the voles that ate every damn thing I planted (unless it was in a wire basket) in my first and second years, the ‘vers blancs’ (chafer grubs) that consumed all my lovely dahlias – then started on the sedums – in the third year, even the box tree moth caterpillar that threatened the plants so important to the structure of the garden last year.

Although it has to be said that the moth and its evil progeny are an ever-looming problem. My pheromone traps are currently up at the house to be recharged for late March, April, May duty. You can see one hanging on the Vine Terrace in the picture below (no tulips in the blue pots this year).

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Enough chat and on with the show … the sap is rising on the two old vines on the Vine Terrace under which the Bon Viveur had to painstakingly create his blue pergola.

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And the insects were busy really early this year, during our lovely fortnight of sun and warmth at the end of February.

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Curious – I’ve noticed that the carpenter bees that must be lodging in our stone walls love Helleborus foetidus more than Helleborus orientalis.

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Before lunch last year the Salvia ‘Mystic Spires’ next to the greenhouse brought them out in droves, to be replaced by honey bees in the afternoon. Perhaps they have a long afternoon nap?

Since it is now pouring with rain (again! – how I love spring rain), they’re well advised to doze away the rest of this wet Monday.

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