Category Archives: Good things this week

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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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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Rain!

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In spite of my fears, we were incredibly lucky and the rain did not pass us by! Although it has just stopped, it came and I’m thankful.

Every gardener (except maybe in gardens like Inverewe, in Scotland, where it rains 1.5 days out of 3) loves rain. I love it because it reminds me of that exceptional feeling of being ‘saved’ from double digging or wheeling barrels of manure when I worked as a professional gardener.

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This is not something that we would share with someone else – except if it was your partner – it’s not ‘cool’, in that world, to allow any doubt that physical work is anything other than ideal. If you let the doubt creep, the blues creep in too. But we all knew by each other’s cheerful faces as we filed into our messroom or shed.

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Whenever it was raining (or snowing) we had the luxury of joining the more civilised world indoors where everyone’s clothing was not covered in mud from head to toe.

For a brief time our backs and arms would stop aching and we were free to calmly pot and top-dress amazing plants, with the leisure to properly admire as we worked. Or we cleaned seed and chatted away sorting out the world … nice memories of rain on a glasshouse roof and the knowledge that the soil was going to be too wet to work, at least for the day.

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Chamaerops humilis on the balcony

I love the way the colours of plants glow when it rains so that you want to rush and get the camera or to paint them.

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Self-sown seedlings of Nicotiana ‘Perfume Mixed’ on the balcony

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Lycianthes rantonnetii on the balcony

The way that the sun stops scorching the earth that you’ve worked so hard to make a good home for your plants. And the way that the plants themselves seem to almost be reaching up for the gift (spot of anthropomorphism here!). They never look like that when you turn the hosepipe on …

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The things I don’t love about rain are, on balance, much less important. The knowledge that all of that seed I was ‘just about’ to collect is now soaking wet. The picture of the downpipe that I broke when pruning pouring its contents down an old stone wall I’m trying to caretake.

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Most of all I just think – aren’t I lucky to live in a part of the world which is still green, proof positive that (at least for a few years to come) rain will always arrive in the end?

If you feel like it, I’d like to know what rain makes you think of?

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September garden musings

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If you happened to drop by and you enjoy looking at pictures of my garden – welcome!

But be aware that this post is mostly for the benefit of my absent husband who likes to keep up with what’s happening – it may be too long for you! Also – although I love garden memes, I sometimes find them really exhausting. When I first started blogging, I did it because I wanted to record some of my own garden experiences. To be honest, I wasn’t too bothered if nobody else read what I wrote. The memes have taken some of the pleasure out of that experience … added to which my eyes are not taking kindly to the hours in front of the computer demanded if you truly try to ‘keep up’ and be a good blogging friend.  So these are just ramblings. And I’m giving myself permission to do more!

Here’s your parched garden, Nick. Still no rain to speak of and temperatures have climbed a little again into the low 30s. We are forecast a little rain tomorrow after 12 days – but it often passes us by. And then there seem to be no dark clouds for days to come. Hey ho …

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The supper terrace has been the most luscious place this summer, the foliage so huge, the blooms of hydrangea so welcome (must get more) when it’s hot. This just proves what watering can do.

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And the orchids do seem to be enjoying the trick of hanging outside with a regular spray over. I really enjoy them, because they look more like the orchids I remember from my botanic garden days.

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As epiphytes they relish that regular touch of cool and damp. Unfortunately I haven’t got it automated and so I have to run down (or up!) regularly with my little hand sprayer. But they are looking cool and much happier. The idea is that they are whisked into the house in flower.

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On the Mirror Garden we have a desert aspect. The only things left in the lawn are the Verbascum thapsus that grow everywhere in Chatillon. They have to have their heads chopped regularly.

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I had to cut back the Banksian rose (Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’) hard in July, mainly to dispose of Muelenbeckia complexa. It looked so sweet in that little pot – and remember how I gave out when you accidentally strimmed it Nick? But it’s a horror, and I do wish I’d read how invasive it is before planting it. Below are before pictures …

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It was growing in all the crevices of the old tower which is part of the medieval ramparts. I was fearful for the stone. I’ve sprayed it twice with weedkiller since rooting it out, but it will need more and I noticed yesterday that a tuft in the wall is greening up again.

And some ‘after’ pictures …

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You can see how much pruning I had to throw down to the next terrace (and then throw down to the next – my disposal method for woody prunings). You can also see that I accidentally broke the downpipe from the roof! Even that rusty old thing had Muehlenbeckia growing in it!

Fortunately the rose is coming back after the massacre, although we won’t have much flower for next year.

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Following attacks by the box tree moth caterpillar (Pyrole de buis) I sprayed twice with Bacillus thuringiensis (May and late July) and set three pheromone traps (which caught a lot of adult moths). My box is still alive and, if not thriving, still providing the structural element I like.

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Back in May I did clip all the garden box at the same time when I first discovered the caterpillar (I usually do it in stages). And that removed tonnes of the little blighters, so quite an important step! It took me about 3 days, with 3-hour stints each day. The actual spraying takes about 2.5 hours to cover everything in the garden. It’s debatable if this process is for everyone.

I still like to think the box tree moth can be controlled. It was so bad this year – decimating everyone’s box for miles around – but I think that may have been due to the fact that no one in the area paid much attention to the first onslaught in 2017, myself included. Next year I am also going to try a French nurseryman’s recommendation that box be clipped in late February – he says this can remove any ‘problems’ that are over-wintering in the top growth.

The Vine Terrace is looking sweetly autumnal – although the birds and wasps have had the grapes as usual. Next year, maybe? We need to be bottling our own wine in this house!

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The greenhouse still has some tomatoes coming on, although it’s all slowing down now.

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Outside I’ve been really enjoying the Salvia ‘Mystic Spires’ and white antirrhinums that were planted in the two new pots you bought me, Nick. They look good with the Ricinus communis that were never planted out in the Long Border due to the early heat. And what I think are carpenter bees (comments anyone?) are enjoying them too. These big black bees come in the morning (perhaps nesting in the rampart walls?) and are replaced by honey bees in the afternoon. Curious.

I’m so glad that Eryngium ‘Mrs Willmott’s Ghost’ is seeding and spreading in the Rose Walk.

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Biennials and annuals that like to self-seed here are to be treasured because the heavy clay is not for everyone. So far we have Salvia sclarea, Papaver rhoes, P. somniferum and Verbascum thapsus that seem to like us. I notice that all of these like heat and have quite fleshy taproots (with the exception of the annual poppy). For the life of me I can’t establish Dame’s Violet (Hesperis matronalis) or Honesty (Lunaria annua) or Forget-me-not (Mysotis) although I keep on trying, and perhaps they will do better below where there’s more space for self-seeders.

The veg plot is a DISASTER!

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I am still waiting for my brassicas to recover (they usually do in September, but we haven’t had the rain and cool they like). The pumpkins did quite well, but surprisingly little fruit, and the french beans didn’t get enough water after my first great pickings, so petered out quickly. On the other hand, the autumn-sown broad beans were great and I still have perpetual spinach and chard to pick (chard running up to seed slightly), since they can take a bit of heat.

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The Long Border looks pretty messy and dry, but that always spurs you on to plan constructive changes for the following year. There are many shrubs due to be replanted down below and I’m sick of the vast swathes of hemerocallis that I inherited with the garden. It’s a pretty boring plant, in my opinion. But it does love it here and perhaps I should experiment with different, prettier, colours than the standard orange.

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Still roses flowering. ‘Jude the Obscure’ hasn’t been too bad this year, after slowly moving into gear for the last two seasons.

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A friend has a ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’, consumed by what I think is brown canker. David Austin should think twice before naming roses after tragic heroes and heroines. But I think Jude will win out, unlike his namesake.

This is the first year that the Reverend Pemberton’s Hybrid Musk rose ‘Felicia’ has risen to her full height.

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There are one or two interesting perennials still flowering (many of my flowers were over far too soon in the Long Border this year, although fortunately it looked good in May and until the end of June when the garden was open). Aster ‘Monch’ is always nice …

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Funnily enough the other asters (michaelmas) haven’t really got into their stride yet. One helenium remains in flower. My least favourite called ‘Loysden Wieke’. I should take it back to the nursery, because they swore I’d love its quirkiness …

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The Hornbeam Gardens are still taking shape from what used to be their field – with the expected weeding (especially of crab grass) that comes with the transformation.

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I’ve managed to clip the hedge in the top half, which is the cut flower garden. You can see my ladder working on the arch …

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But the hedge at the bottom remains hairy and wild. The bottom is also proving a bit of a problem because it is incredibly dry down there, owing to heat and the greedy roots of an ash tree just beyond our boundary. No matter how big your garden, this is a problem that you always seem to encounter. But maybe I should rejoice that the ash is not yet dead, as it is in Britain?

Finally – the little cyclamen, many of which came from your mother’s garden in County Wicklow, Nick, are still alive and starting to bloom really well. A terrible picture, but in the life they are more than whispy ghosts! Hopefully they will still be on the go when you are back at the end of September!

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This summer has given many of us pause for thought. We do not all love gardens that are ‘bedded out’ every year, and some of us feel immoral when we over-use the hosepipe. I water my spaces no more than once a week. In the past this has worked, but this year when I look at the pots that are watered every day and the borders that are rationed I can note a huge difference in growth.

I do not feed borders either, because I believe this just plays into the hands of the big businesses that want to take my precious pennies. And I prefer a natural style of gardening. Instead I use a little slow release, organic fertiliser on roses and I hope that mulching with the product of my new compost bins and the material that runs through the recently purchased shredder will give the soil back what it needs.

I refuse competition. My garden is for our pleasure, not to make somebody I’ve never met a lot of money or to impress my neighbours. But it’s difficult when you encounter climate change as we are doing at the moment. Ideally I’d have a low maintenance Mediterranean-style planting here, with lots of greys and drought-tolerant plants. That’s also why I’m so interested in things that like to self-sow. But the soil does militate against this style of planting. It is cold and very wet in the winter and dry as – well, fired clay, in the summer!

My new year resolution (did you know that September is traditionally thought to be the start of a new gardening year?) is to try and evolve a planting style that is appropriate for this place and not so based on the traditional English herbaceous style that I ‘grew up’ with. So lots of lists – and lots of seed to purchase! I do think grasses and bulbs will figure large, with early-flowering perennials, because the late-comers can’t take the heat. Just wish I could add succulents and dramatic shapes to the Long Border, but it will be way too cold for them here. Could be fun, if and when I rise to the challenge!

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Grateful this Christmas …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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French Renovation: more for your pound?

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The main square in the old village of Chatillon

A couple of summers ago I had a rather ascerbic comment from one reader, asking me why I was always complaining. Specifically, if I didn’t like France, why didn’t I move? (She was so wrong about me not liking France – but I’m a realist and nowhere is paradise!)

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The view from our bedroom window

Well, truth is, I find blogs where people tell you about their problems far more interesting than those that present me with glorious pictures at which I can only drool … information and problem-solving are the hallmarks of my favourite bloggers. Not for everyone, maybe, but works for me.

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Lots of people are beavering away here – this is an old Santiago pilgrimage house, directly opposite our own house (known as the ‘Maison du Guetteur’ or ‘Watchkeeper’s House’)

So, why do I live in France? I never had a yearning to live here, actually, unlike most Brits. My heart is in Scotland, but my husband often works 2 hours up the road from here and, strangely enough, we quite enjoy spending time together.

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Mine is not the only terraced garden at Chatillon

Also – and very importantly – for the gardener with eyes bigger than their brawn, who also loves houses and has a strong sense of history, you get far, far more for your money here than you would in Britain.

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One of the most delightful houses in the village, owned by an equally delightful Parisienne

In fact, this is a good place for less than wealthy people to build a dream. But you do have to invest a lot – and the bad news is that you are very unlikely to ever get it back.

Although French people with a lot of spare cash (specifically, those from our provincial capital, Nancy) are spending a lot of money on our village. It is quite heart-warming to live somewhere where people are treasuring and investing in their own history.

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The first place to be renovated in Chatillon, during the 1980s, the Hôtel de Sandrecourt. During the Renaissance in France ‘hôtels’ were private residences in the country where an aristocrat would stay as he moved around his domain.

When I lived in England I spent a lot of time yearning after a sixteenth or seventeenth century house with a superb garden. It wasn’t possible, due to cost. And I watched WAY too much ‘Grand Designs’ – I still do, sadly. But with a glass of wine to dull the pain.

Because, you see, the one thing that never penetrated was the pain involved in renovating a very old house – I was naive.

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Our ‘cave’, or wine cellar. Chatillon is known for having many of these. A friend tells me that when her children were small they knew the way into every ‘cave’ in Chatillon. Sometimes, when people renovate them, they have little ‘cave’ parties (mostly a Dutch past-time)

 

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You can’t have a sixteenth century house without a spiral staircase. This is my version …

I’ll come to my wretched fosse septique problem at the end of this post, but you can have a look at the previous post here, if you want. Suffice it to say we’re busy creating grandeur upstairs and still haven’t sorted out the basics (I don’t say we are dreamers for nothing!).

So, the point of this post? I always wanted to write more about the renovation work we were doing here, but a deep need to be private has stopped me. However – I now feel I have something to report that could assist other innocents dreaming of France.

It all started in the attic and the renovation of our spare room. You may have seen the previous post, again here. That was actually relatively easy in comparison with what we’re currently embarked on.

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The new library upstairs …

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It all looked rather lovely in August, until the bathroom ‘took over’

I am writing this at the beginning of a new week – a week in which I may actually have the new upstairs bathroom I am dreaming of. It will not just be an ‘en suite’ for us during winter and when there are personal guests and family in the house, but also a bathroom for guests to our gîte, which we are hoping to launch in 2018.

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In fact the whole of the renovation has been partially aimed at the idea of supplementing income.

So, gaily we embarked on the plan at the end of June this year. Four months later, I have a toilet upstairs! Hurrah! But it’s the most expensive toilet in the world; well, maybe not, but you get my drift. There’s nothing else in there …

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And this is it … the grand unveiling of the toilet!

So far we have changed all the pipework, including that going down into the fosse. Which can now be emptied of 10 years worth of … well.  (It was previously inaccessible under a thick slab of concrete.)

In passing we have repositioned beams in the cellar, had interesting conversations with the mayor’s deputy about changing the point at which water comes into the house (too expensive), and knocked down almost everything that existed of my previous bathroom downstairs.

There are now no walls …

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We used to have a little privacy in this house …

Althought the BV has erected cardboard walls to sort out the fact that the cats now think it’s a toilet.

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Lovely new walls

We have uncovered the old window under the watchkeeper’s window upstairs … (see later).

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This bathroom was pretty ‘normal’, this time last year …

And we have found the back of the old chimney (and installed a really horrible temporary shower!)

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Back of the chimney

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Uggh! I thought I was lucky when it first arrived in late June …

 

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New beams in the cellar … which some claim was actually also the village prison.

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Today’s post is, however, really about our stupidity in laying our new floor upstairs. The Bon Viveur (my dear one) managed to persuade me that I was not going for expensive tiles because I didn’t feel I ‘deserved’ them. He had a point and I caved …

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Then it transpired that we had not purchased the right glue. We are laying our tiles on a base which is a little like OSB – but better. In France it is ‘dalle de plancher agglomere hydro’ – I have no idea of the English, nor am I interested.

So down to the shop for glue that is tailor-made for this surface, without the need to lay another (expensive) membrane using the (expensive) glue. This turned out to be almost triple the price of ‘ordinary’ glue.

At the beginning of last week we appeared to be running out again – down to the shop again for more glue. If I mention that the shop is 50 mins away, then 50 mins back and I attempt to lead a normal life, you will understand the frustration.

Then we ran out of tiles in the last corner – not expensive, but we’d missed the lorry delivery for the following day, so were forced to travel 1 1/2 hours each way for one box of tiles. (They kindly gave us a discount, due to our inconvenient journey).

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These tiles are very long (they happen to come from an Italian factory just behind the place where the Bon Viveur lived when he was working in Italy – again, our sentiment always gets in the way). Laying them was a bit of a nightmare.

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The result – well, it’s kind of superb. We stood around in the kitchen on Thursday night and had a little wine toast – finally with happy smiles after a gruelling fortnight.

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A bit sad that we couldn’t afford the cost of the new fosse in the cellar (19,000€, but with a big subsidy).

But maybe it will come. Meanwhile, we are hoping to offer visitors the special experience of poo-ing in the old sixteenth century watchkeeper’s room for the village. That’s got to be worth something.

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Every year in November, France runs a ‘Telethon’ – a kind of ‘Children in Need’. I’ll leave you with pictures of a previous Telethon in Chatillon … greetings from a corner of darkest, beautiful France, where even the Brits rarely set foot …

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