Category Archives: Greenhouse

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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Greenhouse & end of month view

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The greenhouse has been a terrific success for the tomatoes, sweet peppers and chilli peppers.

I was worried that it would be too hot, but the Coolaroo shading the Bon Viveur put up in May seems to have worked well, even though the south side and the roof have not yet been shaded.

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It’s a 50% shading from Australia and seems mainly to be used for sails and shaded pergolas in the garden. Not my first choice, but it works. Although with the disadvantage that it has been trapping a fair few butterflies and moths, for whom I feel sorry every day as I rush past in the heat.

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Perhaps some more traditional green shading for the roof next year would keep it cooler, but temperatures have not risen about 35.2 degrees C. Sounds bad, but the thermometer on the supper terrace (open on all sides, but shaded) shows me temperatures have been up to 36.8 degrees there.

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I received a very welcome present of a vine cutting from a friend, and I’m planning to use it as a more natural ‘shading’ – at the moment the little thing is trying to climb up the Coolaroo – so pretty successful! I’m also toying with the idea of a tub of water in the centre, which would be filled with cooling water and in which, who knows, I might even be able to grow a tiny waterlily like ‘Perry’s Baby Red’. Mmm … could be nice.

At the beginning of July we also put in the louvre ventilation purchased with the greenhouse, but not installed straight off. Instantly we noticed a really big difference in air-flow.

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‘Joe’s Long’ chilli pepper with louvred vents in the background

So – my bad dreams of the whole thing exploding in a burst of broken glass and melted metal in the first summer turned out to just be nightmares.

I wish I had started my annual seeds off earlier, however. I was forced to sow everything at the beginning of April, since I was away at the end of March and knew that everything would die if left untended.

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In some cases this was a big mistake, because it meant that I was still planting out in the second half of June when the heat struck us – much earlier than usual this year. The heat came so early, in fact, that my cannas and castor oil plants have never seen soil and remain in pots. At least the cannas will be fine for next year, but they’ll need to be planted out as soon as possible after the Saints de glace (Ice Saints) next year, so quickly after 11-13 May.

For some annuals the heat was too much – they should have seen their permanent summer positions by the end of May, latest. I was so excited about the good germination of little Rudbeckia ‘Cappuchino’. But when planted out in pots in mid-June, no amount of spraying over could save them from shrivelling in the sun. I think I have only 2 plants left. Other failures were my little ‘Cactus Mix’ dahlias, from Sarah Raven. The plants in the street (shaded for some of the day) are oksh, but those in the garden have never really found their feet after first being ravaged by slugs and then exposed to fierce sun as struggling babies.

But the joy of watching all those little seedlings germinate so easily and then grow into small plants that were – for the first time at Chatillon – not etiolated and miserable will not be forgotten in a hurry. There’s always next year.

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We had some shading left, so the BV created a little canopy over my frame where I attempt to grow lettuce, radish, carrots and rocket. It’s working quite nicely (sprayed over once a day), but I’m not having any luck with germinating lettuce in there at the moment. Predictably, since lettuce tends not to germinate above 26 degrees C. Those days are far behind us now!

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The tomatoes in the greenhouse are fabulous! I grew two from Thompson & Morgan called ‘Big Daddy’ and ‘Mountain Magic’, as well as a tomato reputed to be the best for pizzas – ‘Cuore di Bue’.

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Tomato ‘Cuore di Bue’

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Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’

Pointless to tell the BV that with three plants we would, if lucky, have enough fruit for three pizzas. Luckily, the ‘Cuore di Bue’ are equally lovely in sandwiches and on burgers.

The tomatoes show heat stress by rolling their lower leaves, but I’ve been cutting those away and they are ripening nicely. Similarly, the best sweet peppers (‘Californian Wonder’) that I’ve ever had and already some nice green chillis from ‘Joe’s Long’. The last is a variety I strongly recommend. It produces prolifically, even in the open ground here – so much so that I still have dried chillis in the kitchen that I grew about 3 years ago. I think I’m going to have a glut this year because I’m growing 5 plants.

The sweet peppers should be thinned – but I’m so proud of them! I’ve also read that you should prune them to open the centres up a little and ripen the fruit. Next year.

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I even have two melons (I know, but I’m only a beginner!) and the best pot herbs – marjoram, basil and lemon basil – I’ve ever managed to raise here.

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The greenhouse was definitely at its most exciting when all the annuals were germinating in April. But the late sowings meant that the newly planted sweet peas struggled to survive the sudden onslaught of heat in June. The delphinium seed that I so lovingly moistened with damp tea towels were a complete flop, because the temperatures had risen so that I panicked a little and started to move them around – up to the house where, predictably, they were frazzled by sun in the space of an afternoon.

The lupins, ‘Chandeleer’ (pale yellow) and ‘The Governor’ (blue) were my greatest sadness. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m not succeeding. I lost a lot of seedlings when they were pricked out into lovingly purchased John Innes No. 2. Then I noticed that they were yellowing (chlorosis) and potted them on. Instant death. Next year I’ll not give up and I’ll try a peat-based compost and restrict watering to rain water (our water is very, very hard). A friend to whom I gave some seedlings says hers are doing brilliantly – so it must be my poor cultivation technique – possibly over-watering? Always something to learn!

Happy Eclipse season! I hope to be back very soon. August is my most hated month and I’ve set myself the challenge of posting very regularly to compensate. We’ll see …

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Delphiniums and other dreams

 

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Euphorbia x martinii & Tulipa praestans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My pathetic delphiniums …

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

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

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

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

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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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