Category Archives: Garden development

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 (and an End of Month View for April)

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Rose ‘Canary Bird’ in the Long Border

Cathy’s meme at Words & Herbs is such a good idea (you show the same view of your garden as it changes through the seasons), but I’ve always hesitated to join in with it because I felt my pictures would be too boring! Now I’ve found a reason.

I’m not very happy with what I call the ‘Long Border’ in my garden. It’s ok, but it fails to please me later in the summer when all is baked hot and dreary with the 30 degree C temperatures we usually get at some stage or another.

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Earlier there were some rather nice tulips and Narcissus ‘Actaea’. Now the border’s moving on to the next stage with philadelphus due to flower along the bank.

Until 2013 it was just a slope of rough grass with three hazelnut bushes. I added cuttings of philadelphus and deutzia that I made in the town where we used to live. Then I started growing plants from the Hardy Plant Society seed list every year.

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Looking up the border from the other direction, it’s clearer that there are also iris and hemerocallis living here.

I was less successful than I used to be in the past, but I still had plenty of Thalictrum flavum ssp glaucum and Asphodeline lutea to plant out. I’ve added yellow and white irises and there are quite a few tulips.

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Artemesia ‘Lambrook Silver’ (from cuttings), Asphodeline lutea (from seed) and Thalictrum flavum ssp. glaucum (from seed) were repeated a little along the border for good foliage effect – now some of the excess thalictrum is due for removal down below to allow space.

Now I want to create a much hotter border for later in the summer – because of the clay soil and the heat, I am trying to bump up the grass and helenium population. Both seem to do well, even with little watering. Grey plants (which I love) don’t do very well here and I make the most of those that are thriving.

Currently a rather nice little ‘Canary Bird’ rose is finally getting away below the purple berberis, embellished with a little Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fern Cottage’ at its feet. The rose has died back a little each year since planting – this seems to be what always happens on this clay soil – but finally this year it is getting its toes in.

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Last year the Long Border still didn’t look right. I’m hoping that in joining in with Cathy’s meme I can work out how to really change it so that I’ll enjoy it in the summer months too.

Anyway – here I am now, Cathy, with my boring border pictures!

The photos were taken on the last day of April – I took them originally to link in with Helen, at The Patient Gardener‘s End of Month View. 

So there are a few more pics of two other areas in the top (nearly completed – continually evolving!) part of the garden.

In addition to the Long Border, I’ve taken a few of the Rose Walk (no roses yet!). I lost my four large bronze fennels in the winter … a pity, because they were so lovely when the alliums came along. Now replanted with the seedlings they threw all over the shop.

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The box balls have been rather badly damaged by our late frosts. I’ve kept them shaggy so far as a measure against box blight while they grew, but they are now just about the right size to keep a bit tidier (out of the typical box blight weather). The roses have an edging of chives and an underplanting of Stachys lanata, Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’, dianthus and Achillea ‘Lilac Beauty’ – which still isn’t quite working, but I’m getting there.

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From the other end, there’s a good view of my new greenhouse (still under construction – green umbrella marks the labourer’s shelter).

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There were not as many tulips this year because 2016 saw a lot of tulip fire in this part of the garden, so nothing was added. But these ‘Sorbet’ tulips were still rather jolly.

…. and my tiny little mini-woodland. This last is going to sleep now. I used to adore woodland plants in the past, and this little shaded area at the end of the Long Border is the only place I have (so far) to grow my favourite plants.

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Do go and look at Cathy’s Tuesday View and enjoy what other bloggers are showing us.

Similarly, the great pictures of Helen’s front garden in her End of Month View. She’s renovated it in the last couple of years and I’m in awe!

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More than he could chew?

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So I’m finally getting it! Yeah! The greenhouse that I’ve been longing for.

However, as with most things in our life, it’s a long, slow process. The actual greenhouse arrived back on 25 October 2016. It was a present from me to me (courtesy of my mother) to celebrate my 60th birthday. Here it is, arriving all the way from England.

The man that drove the lorry was held up overnight by the clearance of the migrant camp at Sangatte, Calais. What an awful thing to drive into accidentally.

And yes – how else would the Bon Viveur celebrate the occasion? In fairness, I forced the glass of wine on him, because I was overcome with happiness …

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An awful lot of money for just a few little boxes! It is a little Eden Orangery that we plan to paint pale blue (not the dark, experimental blue that is shown in my pictures, more like the blue of the pergola above it).

Only time and experience will prove whether this attempt to paint an aluminium greenhouse will work.

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In the autumn last year the garden looked lovely. I was even quite proud of the vegetable garden (for once).

As soon as the greenhouse arrived I was kept busy moving the enormous heap of compost and material for the shredder that had been standing there since the spring of 2012 when I first started gardening the adjacent Rose Walk.

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Here’s the heap. It took days – make that weeks – to shift it. It was bigger than it looks!

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In March this year I was joined on the last leg by the Bon Viveur whose job it was/is to actually put the thing up. We were nearly at the finishing line! (I thought … )

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But progress has been painfully slow. The measuring … well, I don’t even want to talk about it. This is a tricky (uneven and rocky) space. Come to think of it, all our spaces are rocky and uneven.

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As with anything, the foundations are crucial. And we are fitting the greenhouse into a corner of the garden edged by the old village ramparts. Plus it has to line up with the planting already done in the Rose Walk.

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The BV’s tasks have involved cutting away (safely) stone to fit the greenhouse into the corner and building a small wall on which it will rest.

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The wall has been the most problematic factor in the whole operation. The BV had to cut each stone by hand (and I had to nod understandingly over the trials and tribulations involved). My oven was taken over for several days to dry stone and sand. And then the kitchen table was fully occupied to weigh said stone and sand.

The point was to achieve the perfect lime mortar mix for the wall. Apparently you have to assess the absorption level of your stone (ours is very absorbent) and the quality of your sand before you can arrive at the correct lime/sand ratio that will withstand the test of time. The standard advice is a mix of 1:3. In times gone past they used a 1:1.5/2 ratio – apparently more suitable for our absorbent walls. The water ratio to this is also important, but I’m told it’s like Easter – very variable.

Although the precise explanations of this process leave me yawning, I’ve only got to look around me to see the disastrous effect of much of the concrete pointing that has been done on our walls here. Concrete has no natural ‘give’ and during the winter it will be the stone (very soft and porous in our case) that takes the strain and cracks, rather than the mortar which is supposed to take up the strain.

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He is now the world expert on mortar. I shake in my shoes when he describes the hours he intends to spend in the future righting the wrongs done on our many walls.

He’s got other stuff to do (of which more at a later date) …

I tried to focus on Narcissus ‘Jenny’ flowering in the Rose Walk instead.

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For the time being the much promised ‘grand opening’ on Easter Sunday is a just a precious dream. I kind of wish I hadn’t sown those tomatoes after all. When all my carefully raised plants died of the blight last year – with barely a crop – I swore I’d never plant them in the open ground again. This was actually the fourth year of tomato misery. Something to do with the soil (the ghosts of many potatoes, perhaps?) and morning mist over the river.

Here he is, bless him. Head full of ratios and huge, huge plans for palm houses that will never materialise.

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This blog isn’t called ‘Garden Dreaming’ for nothing.

In front of him is rather a decent show of tulips in the future Knot Garden. You may remember that I planted this from cuttings. The box plants were clipped in March last year and were immediately struck by the worst blight I’ve ever seen.

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Tulips ‘Aladdin’ (red) and ‘Ballerina’ (orange)

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Tulip ‘Green Triumphator’ completes the colour scheme

This year I’m keeping the little box plants wild and woolly. Box plants in nature rarely suffer from blight, it’s the tight clipping that makes them susceptible – I think! And so, until the knot is of a better thickness and health I’m letting it grow (so far no sign of the wretched caterpillar in the garden).

The tulips are not thickly enough planted – I’m going to have to double the quantities in future.

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This will been my main tulip area in the garden eventually. I’ll replace them every year and plant the current bulbs elsewhere in the garden.

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But they are pretty in the evening sun, after a hard day’s work …

Hope to see you again next week? Meanwhile – have a wonderful, flowery Easter, full of hope for the garden in 2017.

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Tulip ‘Flaming Artist’ in the Long Border

Be careful what you wish for …

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And yes – you know, it really is almost the end of September.

I am not a faithful blogger. The last time I sat in front of my WordPress blog, it was late on a July night in Scotland and I was far from my own garden.

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Which now looks a (very lovely) mess!

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I can’t stop looking at the asters in the garden, buzzing with bees, hover-flies and other insects.

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After my first Scottish inspiration blog, some people asked about my roots. I’m a Scots-Canadian (I’ve no English blood at all) who was dragged back and forth across the Atlantic more times than she cares to remember before the age of 11. This may account for my disinclination to go out any more?

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My Canadian grandmother and great-aunt were passionate gardeners. The aunt was quite ‘big’ in the gladiolus breeding world in Canada. I have fond, rather lonely, memories of weeks spent on her 2 acres in Ontario. My grannie was … well, just my lovely grannie, and irises and lilacs will forever pop into my head when I think of her.

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I went to school in Scotland from the age of 11, and then to the University of Edinburgh. Who couldn’t be won over by the beauty of Scotland (especially if your Canadian ancestors, and yourself, come with a ‘Buchanan’ name tag on them)? And I was so lucky to spend my adolescent years in one of the most beautiful corners of Perthshire.

If I could garden there now … I would in a heartbeat!

Like many Scots I was forced down south to London for work (in publishing) when I was 21 years old. I do hope that this doesn’t happen to young Scots any more, given a more vibrant economy.

Spent much time in the capital and was finally very relieved (being a country girl at heart) to move to a small cottage in Suffolk at the age of 32, after working at Kew and completing the Kew Diploma in Horticulture.

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I don’t live in France by choice. It’s a country I never even particularly wanted to visit. I follow my husband’s work.

We were excited back in 2007 when we thought we might be living in Italy. Didn’t happen (I still mourn it). So, I make the very best of where I am and my husband is home much more frequently than he was when we lived in Ireland – sometimes every weekend!

And, since I am such a good, optimistic realist, I am learning to love where I am. What I am particularly learning to love is singing in the French language. How amazing is French as a language of song?

You will hear more about this! Whether you like it or not.

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What’s happening in the garden?  Be careful what you wish for …

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The Bon Viveur, once again unemployed for over 2 months, is recreating the battle of the Somme in the Hornbeam Gardens. Yes, I know your two great-uncles died there, Nick, but is this really necessary? Even as an remembrance of what happened 100 years ago?

I am assured it will be very lovely (later on) – and much easier to use. I won’t slide on my bum down the wet, grassy slope. But yes, sigh, there are more steps.

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And more steps.

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It really is all very lovely. I have the arches I have been yearning for and the beginnings of edges to my borders.

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But I think even Nick didn’t estimate the amount of earth moving involved.

Looking down to the recently planted area in the shrub part of the lower Hornbeam Gardens. What a mess!

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I’ve been fiddling in the veggie garden. I terraced this about 2 years ago. It was a continual slope and I had a deep desire to have some flat beds to work with. Last year I took both box and Lonicera nitida cuttings to make an edge to the terraces.

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It worked! Most have rooted, so this is a good plan for we gardeners who are ‘financially challenged’.

Now I am doing a ‘motorway’ style planting to retain the banks on the slopes, again with direct-stuck cuttings. I’ve no idea if this will work.

It’s an experiment. On the top slope, direct-stuck cuttings of Lonicera nitida (should be ok).

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On the lower slope, lavender cuttings – I doubt this, but if you don’t try you don’t find out.

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I spray them over every evening.

The veggies have not been completely disastrous this year, considering I started very late. Broad beans always do well on our heavy clay (I do an autumn and a spring sowing). French beans can’t fail.

Best sweet corn in the last four years.

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The broccoli is desperately late, but still good when picked and cooked. Brassicas only do well in this garden early or late – they hate heat and flourish when the nights are cooler.

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Lower down the soft fruit garden is ready to plant this autumn.

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And I’m finally going to create my huge herbaceous borders in the orchard, under the four Prunus ‘Tai-haku’.

Unfortunately I did a bit of glyphosate weed control down here (apologies to those who don’t approve).

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Meanwhile, I’m so glad I have so many asters in the garden – they are alive with peacock butterflies and bees at the moment. I’m almost coming to enjoy the insects more than the flowers. And for that I have to thank other blogs that have opened my eyes. Look here

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And, about 5 months after planting, Cobaea scandens is finally managing to produce more than one flower at a time.

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I haven’t forgotten the ‘Scottish Inspiration’ posts – they are up my sleeve for a rainier, less busy day. Hope to see you again soon.

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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

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Jenny

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jack Snipe

The tulips hung around for more than a day.

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Queen of the Night

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Aquilegia alpina is taking it easy into flower.

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

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Good things … what we did in our holidays

db718657bf0ba61b3226dc2eda4595dcI had Nick here for three weeks at Christmas – no, he didn’t create that amazing effect you can see above, but he made a start on our own espalier divisions in the garden.

WordPress seems to have deprived me of the possibility of setting up a link to something on my own blog, but if you want to see where the new espaliers will be, see the Garden Plan in the index above.

Following on from the example of blogging others, I want to give Nick a little epithet. Words fail me. ‘The Handyman’? Mostly not … although he was at Christmas … until he fell through the living room ceiling. Where have I read that story before?

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IMG_8220Bon viveur seems to sum him up (affectionately BV). You will be continually referred back to this point in case you lose the plot during the next year.

Anyway, we were quite busy outside at Christmas because the weather was superb – now we have the rain and miserable (but mild) conditions that half the world is experiencing. Snow – and a spurt of garden dreaming – is forecast for later in the week.

Have you read the Roman de la Rose? This is a medieval allegorical poem of courtly love. It caused a real stink in its time. Filthy letters, back and forth, between the academics of Europe – it was considered by many to be outrageous. Read C.S. Lewis’ Allegory of Love if you want to know more. But be prepared for some heavy academic stuff. It’s not really about swooning around in a rose-scented garden.

I am drawn to the Roman de la Rose on many levels: I studied medieval history and literature; I am a gardener; and I live in a sixteenth century house (ok, not medieval, but I hope you are not quibbling?). Lastly, and not least, I love roses. The garden influence is the most important.

The setting for the poem is a walled garden (here we go with my ‘walled’ Hornbeam Gardens, etc.). Most important of all (for my current post) is that the allegory of the walled garden and rose includes the idea that old age is ‘beyond the walls’. One remains forever young within. I’m really busy building those walls!

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If you look down from above, the walled theme is beginning to emerge.

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And the hornbeams are becoming more visible

 

The latest ‘walls’ take the form of our new espalier supports, begun by the BV over Christmas. On a more practical level, growing fruit in an espalier form allows the gardener more plants in a comparatively small area.

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The walnut grass circle is now framed by a prospective entrance between pear espaliers. We have the plants … and now the supports!

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You can look beyond the small hornbeams at the top of the picture and see the second line of espaliers.

I’ve been busily grafting fruit trees, as a member of the Croqueurs de Pommes, since I arrived here in 2012. Last year my 3 ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’ were planted out and languished through lack of support. I had already hatched the espalier plan, and they were part of it (as are another 10 or so pears/apples that I’ve grafted since 2012).

 

This Christmas the BV came along and rescued them. I have absolutely no idea if the whole scheme will work. And will probably be leaving here by the time I see it in all its glory. But he’s a nice chap, and quite fond of dreaming himself …

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This is the support for the Cox’s Orange Pippins going up. And you can see the hornbeam hedges more clearly here.

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Looking along the main, long, line of espaliers that divide the very cultivated garden – where we are forever young! – from the wilderness

Now I lie in bed wondering how I am going to train them all. I was quite sure that I liked the lines of a tree that has been espaliered horizontally (the most prevalent style). This is first in the diagram below. But … it’s like a new dress. (More likely in my case, a new plant.) The choice is very wide and each option much too tempting.

 

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I kind of like the Belgian lattice – possibly more interesting in leaf? Definitely more complicated and long-winded to train

The idea is that my ‘wilderness’ (into which I intend to plant many trees and shrubs and to grow woodland/moisture-loving plants … if there’s time) will be kept at bay by a glorious free-standing espalier of blossom.

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I will remain forever young behind this appealing barrier … ha!

The other thing that the BV did over Christmas was to carry on with his wonderful blue pergola. Fair play to him that he was game enough to get out there and get on with it. For, as we all know, Christmas is the natural season (with summer solstice) for bon viveurs the world over.

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The steps are those down from the Supper Terrace to the Vine Garden. Again, see my (scrappy) new garden plan on the main menu.

My vines were languishing. They dream of the day when this marvellous new support is, well, supporting them.

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My camera seems to have taken the low light levels and accentuated the blues here. Or, more probably, the photographer still has things to learn

Can you see that he has painted it in two different blues? The surfaces below each post are a darker blue to emphasise light and shadow.

No, I knew you wouldn’t see it. Well you will just have to visit and see the glorious effect for yourself.

There is more to come, but at least we finally – this all started in May – have the four main beams out of the ground. It will eventually be a kind of hexagon. And I will be so proud of the BV.

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Even this year in its unfinished state it looked rather lovely.   In May 2015 Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ and some superb yellow irises complemented the blue perfectly.

 

I should, perhaps, finish with a rose, in view of my thoughts about the Roman de la Rose? My favourite, Fantin Latour.

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Cutting Garden Review, 2015

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On Sunday I set my screensaver to flash through pictures of the 2015 garden and was rather inspired by how much I had managed to create in the weedy Hornbeam Gardens this year. Last year it was only a field, but this year it brought us quite a lot of joy (and vases … too many actually). I would have liked to recreate the same impact here, but can’t quite work out how to do it (I think you need Java something or other).

It was my husband, Nick, who suggested we should have a cutting garden at Châtillon. The hedges for the Hornbeam Gardens were planted in February 2013 and lightly clipped for the first time this autumn. They are only just beginning to make the two ‘rooms’ that I’m after. The top ‘room’ (nearest in the photo – bare soil) is the cutting garden. The bottom ‘room’ is much grassier in the photo and has the new shrubs I planted last year.

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The garden in April. It all looks very tidy, given it was a field the previous season. The supports are up for the sweet peas, the delphiniums are planted mid-border on the right of the path, with asters to the rear.

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In the lower part of the garden (dedicated to spring & summer-flowering shrubs), you can actually catch a glimpse of the hornbeams themselves, to the rear of the monster docks.
I don’t think you can miss the docks (even if the hornbeams are hard to locate) … they are pretty much dwarfing everything else. I had just sprayed them with the evil, nameless one that I’ve always considered – until this year – to be one of the few chemicals I’m happy using.
The idea with this whole area of the garden (and the orchard next to it) is that even our 79-year-old selves should be confident enough to venture down the 98 slippery steps by the time April comes in – so we can begin to go to town on blossom down here from that point in the season onwards.

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Just a little later, in May, the garden looks messier (not strimmed that week!) but the plants are growing on well.

One May morning 148Signs of progress in the area where seed was sown.

The sowings started at the hedge (if you can make it out!) with sunflower ‘Harlequin Mixed’ and ‘Velvet Queen’. The first did badly, since it was sown too close to the hedge, but ‘Velvet Queen’ was fabulous in deep, rich reds and golds. None of them were staked and stood remarkably tall until some storms in September. Next year I might try pinching the seedling tips for lower, smaller flowers. (Although I would miss the pleasure of those first unbelievably luscious and massive blooms.)

Next in the rows were Gladioli ‘Safari’ and ‘Buggy’. Both in greeny-yellary shades and small-flowered. Definitely for the flower arranger (that’s me) who prefers what Nick calls ‘jazz plants’: in other words flowers that are green and uninteresting to all but the aficionado.

Then came Ammi majus and Ammi visagna. I was sorry that flat-headed A. majus failed to germinate, but the domes of A. visagna were a joyful revelation – lasting so long in water – and I’m never letting it go now. Am also dreaming of adding Euphorbia oblongata, which I recently read described as a kind of living florist’s foam. Sounds just grand to me.

Then came Cosmos ‘Sensation Mixed’. Due to the fact that I fail to pinch/space properly, cosmos are always ugly things here. They grow to 2 metre monsters without proper control and I’m continually disappointed by them. No change this year … must do better.

I have a yen to trial all available marigold seed strains in connection with a little sideline I’m planning, so I tried ‘Sherbet Fizz’ and ‘Touch of Red’, as well as ‘Greenheart Orange’ (all T&M). I liked ‘Sherbet Fizz’ a lot, but ‘Touch of Red’ was disappointingly similar. ‘Greenheart’ not as exciting as in my long-ago memories.

Then came Cornflower ‘Tall Mixed’, Larkspur ‘Sublime Mixed’ and Cornflower ‘Black Ball’. All lovely, but suffering badly from neglectful gardener syndrome. Could have done with pinching and supporting – unfortunately I was too busy strimming, mowing and generally hacking … elsewhere.

The larkspur served (with dahlias and others) as my contribution to a May event in Châtillon. They were, in all their breathtaking perfection, studiously ignored by the ‘real’ florists who concocted the bouquets. Florists like flowers that last a very long time – and they didn’t choose any of mine!

But back to the Cornflower ‘Black Ball’ sadness/collapse. I’ve discovered a fabulous trick for cornflowers and marigolds – keep reading …

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The garden has been strimmed now, so you can see the hedges (and the heaps of rubbish!) more clearly.
Can’t imagine how I’m going to get some decent grass paths without digging them up and sowing seed … but there’s still no time here for that kind of pernickety stuff. Later.
In the picture above you can see quite a few tubers from 2014 seed-sown dahlia ‘Bishop’s Children’, whose dark foliage is just shooting through in front of the delphiniums.
Putting them there was a BIG MISTAKE … we had to peer over their heads to see the delphiniums cowering behind.

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As I said, I am definitely an Ammi visagna convert – here with another triumph which I’m hoping to repeat, and repeat … double Zinnia ‘Green Envy’. Not all the flowers were double, but I liked even the 50% of singles for their colour.
Dahlia ‘Nuit d’Été’ is looking a bit past it in the same vase, but Gladiolus ‘Safari’ looks fairly pert.

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Here you can see (to the right) the ‘Bishop’s Children’ foliage more clearly. And, just above, towards the camera, the green shoots of my best move to date … still reading?

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Into July and ‘Velvet Queen’ is doing her thing.
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And …. this is it! Agreed by both of us to be the success of the year. A mix of seed saved from the garden in 2014: calendula, cornflowers, Clary sage and nigella. The amazing thing was that they needed no support. The sticky stems of the marigolds held the others up – unlike the defeated cornflowers (re-enter ‘Black Ball’) in another area of the cut flower garden. And I cut them, and cut them.
I’m sure you’ve already tried this at home – but I was gobsmacked by how something so simple worked so well. And carried on flowering (without water), throughout an exceptionally hot July & August. I just want to inject a little more of the salvia and nigella next time.

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The sweet peas (this is, I think, ‘Molly Rilestone’) were the best ever, in spite of the hot summer. It was the first year that I tried them off the hot terraces and in this cooler part of the garden (also the first year that I had a ‘cooler part of the garden’ to cultivate).
From July, however, the growing tips began to be deformed/fasciated. After some research on the net I decided this was a cultural shock: difference in day/night temperatures, watering in the evening rather than – more correctly – in the morning. I understand cultural shock all too well, as a Scottish-Canadian transplanted to France.
They grew out of it a little, but it did stop them in their tracks towards the end of July. And, of course, I didn’t get round to taking their photos until a little too late.

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‘Chatsworth’ and (I think) ‘Molly Rilestone’ growing together. But the hazel supports were a real mistake. Too heavy and mighty for such delicate flowers. I’ve tried to find a (ready-made) substitute that looks good, so far with no success … suggestions?

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The ‘Bishop’s Children’ and those scrumptious cornflowers/marigolds again.

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Dahlia ‘Bishop’s Children’ tubers survived last winter through being tossed into a cardboard box without sand/compost or anything vaguely moist. They were then left in our cave from October 2014 to March 2015. (I’m sure you are already aware, but a cave is a French wine cellar: even in the 36C plus we had in summer, it never topped 15C and in winter it doesn’t fall below 10C.)
I discovered (through a lot of cutting) that the Bishop’s Children  don’t make such good cut flowers, but the foliage is superb.

Nick's delphiniums flourished - and then were threatened late season by a marauding bullock from the other side of the river.

Nick’s delphiniums flourished (courtesy of a Hayloft Plant collection – or two – in 2014. Their arrival here is another postal horror story).
This was fitting, since they were the first things I was sure should be planted down in the cut flower garden. They even survived a bit of a pummelling from a marauding bullock tempted over from the other side of the river in search of fresh grass.

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Just a reminder of how beautiful they were when I first started cutting them back in May …

 

Now we are down in the same area putting up supports for espaliered apples and pears – I’m regretting letting the weeds outrun me, but mentally preparing my annual seed list and corm/tuber list for 2016 (I have ‘collecting fever’ for dahlias and gladioli).

And I do wish that online nurseryman Jacques Briant had not sent me a special ’10€ off’ voucher for my birthday, just at the point when I am pondering planting the odd Hybrid Tea for long-stemmed roses in the future. How can you resist the lure of spending 60€ (that you haven’t got) in order to save money?

What cut flower could you not be without?