Author Archives: Cathy

About Cathy

An English-speaking gardener in a French garden

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?

Tuesday View

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The hornbeams frame ‘Ghislaine de Feligonde’ as you turn the corner onto the Long Border

Firstly, may I apologise to all of those whose vases from yesterday I still haven’t visited. Suffice it to say that I am struggling to carry on blogging at the moment. I look forward to visiting, commenting and enjoying over the next few days.

Here is the border at the moment. My first picture (above) is at the far end of the border (against the garden wall). You can see a plan of my garden here if you are already lost.

We move around from deep shade and lovely Rose ‘Ghislaine de Feligonde’ is there. Here she is.

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And then you look left, and you have your view towards the Long Border.

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It is even wilder and woollier than last week.

Looking in the opposite direction, towards ‘Ghislaine de Feligonde’ again.

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Some nice things are beginning to happen. I have quite a few plants of Salvia sylvestris, grown from seed, now coming into flower.

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And a lot of tangles, although I have managed to rescue my little (soon, hopefully, to be big) Onopordon acanthium from the clutches of the weigela on the bank.

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The orange of the hemerocallis is even more appalling than last year with moss rose ‘William Lobb’. Unfortunately you can get used to it, but I musn’t.

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You can’t fault ‘William Lobb’, however, as a rose (if you like big plants).

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Next year I will learn how to control the corncockles. But when you grew something pretty from seed, it’s called Agrostemma githago ( treasured British native) and you love it, it’s hard to dig your heels in. Especially when it’s growing up through Rosa rubrifolia (I can’t remember what I’m supposed to call it now!).

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The Thalictrum flavum ssp. glaucum is finally in full flower. I’ve been using the grey foliage and tight flowerbuds in vases for a while now.

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As are the elegant, curvy spires of Veronicastrum virgicum.

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So that’s it. Many thanks to Cathy for hosting this lovely Tuesday meme at ‘Words and Herbs’, in which we record weekly what a part of our garden looks. Do think of taking part – I’m finding it’s really helping me to think about what I like (and don’t like).

I sincerely hope I have more time next week. Looking foward to visiting you soon!

In a vase on Monday

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I was SO not going to take part in Cathy’s meme, ‘In a Vase on Monday’, at Rambling in the Garden today.  I promised myself a quick peek at everyone else’s vase this evening and was quite content.

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Then I sprinted at high speed around my weedy plot with a camera and saw three things that pleased me a lot and inspired me to do a vase anyway.

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The first thing I saw, Rose ‘Veilchenblau’, is already a little on her way out. Unappreciated, poor thing. Since I know that we have only limited time in our house here, due to the difficulty of the garden for an older person, I’ve planted some of my favourite roses (50 in all since 2012) here and there amongst the monster weeds.

They will take time to settle. I promise myself that in the next year or so I’ll get on top of the weeds – and then I’ll have 15 odd years to enjoy. The tactic does work, I promise you! Although it’s probably the reverse of what every other gardener does.

‘Veilchenblau’ is a perfect example, struggling with grass, nettles and the virginia creeper that adores our old walls so much. This is the first year (after 4) that she’s really flowering properly. Here she is in her weedy bower!

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The second things I saw were the sweet little spikes of what I believe is short-lived perennial Digitalis lutea. I had a lovely little tray of seedlings from a friend in 2015 and they are settling nicely. Must save seed this year.

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Third pretty thing was Knautia macedonica – mental note to self, be more brutal! It’s a sweetie, but currently making the lower Hornbeam Gardens even more of a mess than should be the case.

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Who is responsible for this mess?

It didn’t do well higher up in the garden, but here it is taking over the shop. At first there was pleasure at the seedlings, now I’m kicking myself.

I also added the first decent flowers I’ve had of Scabiosa caucasica since it, too, was planted in 2015.

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Et voila!

I’ll look forward to enjoying the links to everyone else’s vases at Cathy’s Rambling in the Garden later in the day. Now I’ll get on and do the work that I was supposed to be doing when I got up this morning. (The weeding will, sadly have to wait!)

I hope this week brings some happy moments in your garden!

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Tuesday View

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Raining heavily this morning and so, after a two-week pause, I’ve the leisure of time to contribute again to Cathy’s ‘Tuesday View’ meme at Words and Herbs.

Unfortunately the Asphodeline lutea more or less came and went during my time away from the garden. When I arrived back there were still some spikes looking good, but I didn’t get my camera out fast enough. Lazy, lazy … and the same lazy gardener is late again cutting the grass.

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Also making an appearance – some rather nice yellow irises and a newly planted Achillea ‘Moonshine’. I’m bound to lose the latter after a couple of years, so must make sure I propagate it next spring to keep it going in the garden. Did you know that it was one of the 5 plants that the late, great Alan Bloom was most proud of introducing? The rose just off centre right is the first to flower properly in the border, ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’.

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Berries of Asphodeline lutea

Now there are only the bright green berries and a few small yellow starry flowers of the asphodel left. I do enjoy their effect in the Long Border, so a bit sad, but there’s always next year.

The roses had a frosting in early May, and lost quite a few buds, so they are really only just coming back into their own. Moss rose, ‘William Lobb’ was the exception. We call this the ‘monster’ rose at Chatillon. I keep cutting it back after flowering, but it persists in sending up long ungainly shoots for next year’s flowers.

Unfortunately it blooms at the same time as a bright orange hemerocallis that I inherited when we moved into the garden. The hemerocallis are definitely scheduled for removal this autumn because another year with the colour clash is going to give me a headache!

I wish I liked hemerocallis more. They do really well here, with the heat and the clay soil, but I have an aversion to their rather heavy flowers. Must work on changing that … Learn to love what loves you!

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Mossy little buds of ‘William Lobb’ – the one known as ‘Old Velvet Moss’. It’s an incredibly healthy rose – just a tad over-vigorous!

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‘William Lobb’ never behaved as badly in a previous garden where I had it planted. A much more dignified tall shrub.

Looking in the opposite direction down the border, I hope you can make out at the very far end against the wall Rose ‘Ghislaine de Feligonde’?

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The peachy blooms of Ghislaine are in the top left corner of the photo.

The rose is not actually in the border itself, but growing against the garden wall. Last year, with all our rain at rose time, it was a washout. Fabulous show this season to make up for it.

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I missed my chance to cut the four hazels in the Long Border back this February and, as a result, the herbaceous plants towards the front of the border are far more shaded out than I would like. Even the philadelphus planted on the bank have been rather over-shadowed by the hazels and we can’t really see their flowers properly.

I’ve coppiced the four hazels in the Long Border once, three years ago, when I first dug and planted the border. Since they are too big this year, I think it might be worth reducing that to every 2 years – or perhaps stagger the coppicing? Cut back 2 hazels one year, another 2 the next?

If you gardened here, with all our fierce heat in the summer, you’d understand my reluctance to do such a regular coppice! (Never mind the fact that all that cutting and dragging is pretty heavy work.)

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I also seem to have lost some rather nice Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’ divisions that went into the ground last spring. I’ve no idea what happened – how can large clumps of plants just disappear? Anyway – there we are! That’s gardening life. I’m more philosophical than I used to be!

Enough of the problems – there is one rather pretty feature that appeals to me this week. The curling flower stems (still in bud) of Veronicastrum virginicum are looking quite charming with the grass Calamagrostis ‘America’.

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Hopefully you can make out the tempting pleated spikes of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ foliage rising up behind and amongst Artemesia ‘Lambrook Silver’? I’m quite enjoying the spikiness of the border.

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Go over and have a look at everyone’s Tuesday views at Cathy’s Words and Herbs. And many thanks to Cathy for graciously hosting this lovely meme that gives us a reason to record one area of our garden every Tuesday – and exchange (virtually) plant ideas and tips!

In a vase on Monday – back in the game!

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I guess I must have a bit of an addiction – not just to Cathy’s lovely ‘In a Vase on Monday’ meme at Rambling in the Garden, but also (and more seriously!) to delphiniums.

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Now the thing is, they are not the kind of plant I would normally be comfortable growing. They require far too much work, and in a big garden with only one person keeping everything up to the mark that’s something you can do without out.

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I was persuaded to buy the first in 2012 – my husband, the Bon Viveur, saw it in our local market at Jussey. One stately, gloriously tall white spike in a very large pot. After saying ‘no’ several times, I gave in. It went home with us and was planted out in the Rose Walk. Only about a week later it collapsed completely, a victim of the voles that were gobbling things up as quickly as I could plant them that year.

I bought a Hayloft plant collection. They were planted in March 2015, lower down in a cooler spot and watered, fed, supported lovingly.

So far, so good, for two years. Last autumn/winter many disappeared (I didn’t water much last summer and winter temperatures dipped to nearly -20C). Out of about 15 plants I think we had six left this spring. But by then it was far too late. I purchased more – another Hayloft collection for planting out next spring and quite a few decent sized plants from a mail order nursery I’ve started using called Promesse de Fleurs.

And so it goes on … and will doubtless cost me a small fortune before I’m through. And then there’s the hours spent googling the best way to show them real TLC. Sadly I learnt that the sort I’m planting – ‘Pacific Hybrids’ – are considered by some to be biennial.

This year they have had no attention at all – no support, nothing. A bit of a horticultural disaster.

When the first rain and thunderstorms we’ve had in a fortnight threatened on Friday night I rushed out to pick some of the blooms that were already trailing on the ground.

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They’ve made a pretty vase, accompanied by two stems of Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus (I think!) …

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… and some white Campanula persicifolia.

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When I look at their little furry faces through my camera lens, I know there’s no hope for me.

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And oh, that blue! A friend of mine says she doesn’t like blue flowers. Can it be possible that there are gardeners out there who don’t relish a touch of blue on their plots?

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Do you have a favourite flower colour in the garden? Tall delphinium tales also gratefully accepted!

Hop on over to see what all those lovely Monday vases look like – you’ll find the links at Cathy’s Rambling in the Garden. And many thanks to Cathy again for being such a gracious and generous host for the IAVOM meme (at least that addiction doesn’t cost me anything!).

Have a wonderful gardening week!

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