Category Archives: Hellebores

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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February 2018: End of Month View

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Looking down on the Rose Walk and Knot Garden

Can this really be the first day of March, with my garden looking like this? As we struggle on in the winter cold brought about by cold Artic weather pushed further south (while the Artic itself experiences record highs), you do ponder climate change a fair bit.

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Looking down on the Vine Terrace pergola, with the Iris Terrace below

The temperatures during the past week have not been as icy as the prolonged cold spell last winter (down to minus 15-20 degrees C in Dec/Jan 2016/2017) – we’ve only hit about minus 10 this year! But, for goodness sake, it’s the beginning of March. What do I do with this white stuff when I’m supposed to be digging borders?

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Straight down on the Iris Terrace and vegetable garden

We’ve had months of rain (everyone tells me that during their time in this part of France the winters have become wetter, the summers hotter – my least favourite combination) and then, at the end of February when the sun finally came out, we walked, eyes wide open, into this icy blast.

Along the wet February path there were, of course, snowdrops, aconites and the start of the hellebores. Which reminds me, do your Galanthus ‘Sam Arnott’ take a year off? I seem to remember this phenomenon in the past. Last year was great, this year I have one flower. Sad, since he’s my favourite.

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Aconites

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Euphorbia rigida

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Semi-double hellebores which the bees DO like!

But there’s good, too, in the midst of this cold. I’ve really been enjoying (obsessing, almost), over the effect my new greenhouse has made with my dogwoods, planted for winter colour.

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The hazels in the Long Border have now all been chopped back, so a very different feel here …

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And next year there will be a decent mulch, thanks to my new compost bins!

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And this is the first year I’ve really been able to appreciate my knot garden as it was meant to be viewed: from the house above in winter. Virtually all of the box have been grown from cuttings taken elsewhere in the garden – I can’t experience the pain of box blight or box tree moth and the financial loss as well! It would be too much misery, so I prefer to make my own, and slowly. Also experimenting with yew hedging.

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The young plants were direct-stuck in the pattern I wanted over a 3-year period (there were some, although not huge, losses). I’ve done this in either June or September, and have noticed a better ‘take’ with the September cuttings (we have warm, long autumns, generally). I don’t fiddle with them – just trim the base neatly, remove the bottom leaves and push them in. (Confession: even dispensed with the tidying process last time – we’ll see in the spring).

I have now completed the entire pattern, although the smallest, youngest lines in the pattern are not really visible in the pictures you are looking at. I’ve also planted my three Ilex aquifolium ‘Aureo-marginata’ into the Knot Garden – they are supposed to be clipped into spirals. Will I live to see the mature specimens? We gardeners are an undaunted breed, aren’t we?

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This will be the second year I’ve indulged in a rare financial fling – a tulip bedding scheme in the knot garden. Last year I didn’t plant quite enough bulbs. This year I’ve doubled quantities. I chose 100 ‘Blue Heron’ (fringed, mauvey-blue – I’ve admired it for a while, but never tried it), 100 Cistula (a very pale yellow), and 100 Paul Scherer (a very beautiful dark purple, which looks to be a fuller flower than ‘Queen of the Night’). My plan has always been to bed out new tulips, try colour combinations, in this area (‘play’, in other words!) and then to lift the bulbs and replant them elsewhere (even wild areas) in the autumn. The plan’s a bit pricey! Maybe only 50% more would have been enough to do the job.

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Dahlia tubers, gladioli corms and seeds, have been pouring through the front door (whenever the delivery men make an effort to get here on the designated day). That’s because I’m starting to panic about the end of May and beginning of June. We are opening the garden to the public for the first time under the Jardins Ouverts scheme and I sure am nervous! Have a look/click on the link above. Even if you are not coming to my part of France in 2018, there’s bound to be a garden in your chosen area that pleases.

There is SO much to do in SUCH a short period of time and at the moment I’ve no husband-help in the garden. (Although he does plan to come back and make carrot cake for visitors.)

When we get into the beginning of April I will not only be cutting the grass once a week on my own, but also doing all the sowing, planting, etc.

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There’s an awful lot of pruning to be done in the next few weeks

And I am still bound and determined that my new orchard borders will be half-dug (I’m a past-master at digging new borders in June – there’s always too much to do earlier!)

Here the borders will definitely have to be completed by about mid-April, because it gets too hot and new plants in new borders need too much water in the summer months. (Autumn planting is not terribly successful on our heavy clay, what with wet winters.)

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Goodness – I am both excited and REALLY stressed just thinking about what I’ve got to do! Then I think about all the glorious colours of dahlias, gladiolus and tulip I’ve bought and I go back to the nicer kind of dreaming.

Have a wonderful March, and I’ll hope to catch up with you at some time in the midst of it all.

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In a vase on Monday

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I am struggling to post, what with all going on in the house and our lives. Still, here is my Vase on Monday.

Not too many words, but I’m fond of my (soon to be coppiced) hazel and my hellebores.

Yes, we also have snow, which makes our balcony really slippy going. (Nearly broke my neck taking these pictures!)

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Don’t the hellebores almost look like orchids if you half close your eyes? They started flowering (surprisingly) in November.

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The vase was a vide grenier find from a local glass company at Isches, now no longer existing. I love the fine tracery on the surface, but (as a second-hand buy) it is pretty flawed. More pretty than flawed …

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You may be interested to see that my ‘toilet arrangement’ is still flaunting itself in the living room. (Here’s the previous Vase on Monday, if you missed it.)

Perhaps a comment on how much dust we have around in the house at the moment, since it doesn’t seem worth replacing?

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The element I’m enjoying the most (apart from the darling little hazel catkins and the grasses) is the dried foliage of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’.

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A funny way to say ‘Merry Christmas’, perhaps, but I’m going to post pictures of my magnificent – and long-awaited – greenhouse later in the week. And I’ll be just full of the right spirit then, because the Bon Viveur is on his way home for Christmas – see you soon and enjoy the next few days!

With many thanks to Cathy at Rambling in the Garden who always gets me happy and grateful when I think I’ve no energy left. Pop on over to her blog and see the other Christmassy vases.