Category Archives: Propagation

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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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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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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An August indulgence (the long read …)

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Wow, even in a wet summer like the current one, our grass on the Mirror Garden is still parched.

I first started my blog quite a while ago (you can find my original here). It was a seed that sprouted from a desire to communicate what was happening in my garden here in France to my husband (endlessly working abroad) and my mother (living in Scotland).

The Bon Viveur is again absent working in England, so I’m taking him on our  customary tour of the garden. It’s been a long time since I took an objective look at the garden; this will consequently be a little lengthy. If you haven’t got the stamina for the walk (and the endless photos) goodbye until we meet again!

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We’re up on the balcony. It’s a cloudy Saturday evening; I can sit up here tonight without my sunglasses on. It’s been a bit of a battle to get plants to grow on the balcony, because it’s like an oven when hot. And since we are always going to be sharing our space at close quarters, the traditional suspects such as agaves are not an option. Even lavender has been a really tricky thing to get going – I can’t tell you how many plants have gone into my troughs in the last 3 years. And I actually had to google why my cactus were going funny colours: too much light (can you believe it?).

On Saturday 12 August, Châtillon-sur-Saône was preparing itself for the big, annual August Fête de la Renaissance.

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The château grounds next to our garden have been clipped to within an inch of their lives and the ‘other’ Bon Viveurs have put up their flamboyant little canopy in preparation for the sun, which didn’t quite arrive this weekend.

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Walking down to our supper terrace, below the balcony (see the map here, if you think you’ll get lost!), I’m celebrating the fact that my own special Bon Viveur has removed all the old gravel (in preparation for paving), reorganised the foliage plants and put up an artificial hedge.

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I was a bit doubtful about the latter – but it works. No space consumed, lots of privacy. I love the stripey Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ against the ‘hedge’ and my little Gingko biloba has new growth, which makes me want to sing.

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The next level is the Mirror Garden, looking as tranquil as always, after the tulips finish putting  in an appearance in May.

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The blanket of green on the tower is, rather surprisingly, a Muehlenbeckia species

I like the Mirror Garden like this – it’s fairly straightforward to manage and easy on the eye. But I’d like some more euphorbias and yellow/white thingeys up here in spring. I was shocked to see that my special baby, Euphorbia characias subsp characias was killed by our low temperatures this winter (down, probably, to -20 degrees). Start again time!

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Peaceful except for those little white bags that have sprouted furiously over our nameless white dessert grape on the tower. This is the kind of slow, loving job that the BV does the best. This grape is so sweetly delicious that the wasps always get to it before we do. Foiled!

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And, my dear friend Beatrix, did you notice that the tiny little Muehlenbeckia you gave me about 7 years ago is now holding up Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’? Just go back and look at the second Mirror Garden picture again! To think that I was cross with the BV for strimming it and ‘killing’ it only 5 years ago! Now it may take over the village. It certainly has designs on our guest bedroom.

As I come out of the Mirror Garden, the Vine Terrace is one level below. Currently being (again) revamped by the BV.

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I have a water reservoir with no water (all the pipework has been disconnected!) – but joy, oh joy – yes, another artifical hedge. I am not being tongue in cheek here – really. I spend hours and hours battling with ivy and parthenocissus growing on all the old walls in this garden. An artificial hedge seems a bit like heaven on earth. And it doesn’t look half bad either! Thank you Lidl (and Nick).

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This ‘haie artificiel’ has been done in only one layer – the one up on the Supper Terrace is 2 layers and a million times better. Try it yourself. The BV spends hours over a flora at the moment trying to discover what species of plant this is. And how will it mature?

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To my left, walking down by the steps, is the Iris Garden. Again tranquilly green after the once flowering of Rose ‘Blairii No. 2’ and the irises themselves. Although ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ still throws out the odd bloom – and I think you can probably see two in the photo?

It’s such a privilege to have a large enough garden so that you can enjoy things in season and forget about them later.

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I never fail to enjoy the BV’s lovely blue pergola in the Vine Terrace when I look up at it from the Iris Garden – in fact you can see it from most points in the garden.

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The blue pergola on the Vine Terrace – and you can also see the balcony above.

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I’m going to bulk up Eucomis comosa in the Iris Garden. I was too mean to buy more than 2 bulbs, initially – but we have our first flower spike, and it’s luscious! What a lift in August, when everything is looking sad and hope leaves the gardener’s heart (unless he/she understands that this month is actually the start of the new gardening year).

Although the Rose Walk was the first place where I started to garden, it now looks like a building site and has been the source of a lot of depression this summer. I felt so sorry for the poor old roses doing their thing in the midst of heaps of soil and stone rubble. And I longed for my paved path up the middle – definition in wildness, that’s what my goal is.

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The greenhouse is still a twinkle …

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Although I do have a lovely new compost bin (one of a trio).

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Unfortunately I’m getting used to the building site – can you see that I even weeded around the ‘greenhouse’, Nick? In future I hope it won’t involve climbing over great heaps of soil.

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Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ is beautiful. But it’s the strangest thing here – whenever I divide herbaceous perennials they have a tendency to peter out. I used to have 6 of this Echinacea, and made a couple of divisions. Then they all started to die. So I’m quite nervous about dividing this one decent plant.

Although much of the Rose Walk is a bit scorched looking, repeated plantings of Stachys lanata and Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ help to keep it fresh.

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And I’m really enjoying the little picture that Perovskia atriplicifolia is making with the new growth of the rosemary.

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Turning down into the Long Border …

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The Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ are finished flowering and all is pretty parched now (this is probably the hottest part of the garden).

But Echinacea purpurea …

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Cannas and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’…

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and young Helenium and Phalaris arundinacea ‘Picta’ are all looking good. When the hazels are coppiced in winter these will be so much better in 2018. At the moment everything is leaning forwards.

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Straight on from the Long Border is the veggie plot. Looks tidy, but is singularly unproductive.

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We had some nice spinach and peas earlier, before the heat set in, and I even managed to grow carrots this year, finally recognising that they had to be sprayed over every day to get them to germinate (and with a long germination time, that can be 20 days of spraying!).

Brassicas absolutely loath heat (to my chagrin, because I adore broccoli), but then recover in autumn, so the sprouts do fine (and I get late broccoli). This year there have been many, many failures in contrast to previous years.

When the greenhouse is up, I reckon the trick with this very hot site will be to sow in late February under glass, with a view to planting out in March.

From the Long Border I can look down onto the cut flower garden. That, and the fact that I had just completed all my strimming, were what made me decide to post today.

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It looks good although it is – wait for it! – unfinished. But you know, it’s a lot of work. I underestimated how much would be involved on our sloping site.

This year was my worst year for cut flowers. I had no sunflowers, no Ammi spp, no larkspur. But the sweet peas were good – over now! – and I am filled with joy when I look at the strong zinnia plants.

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Disappointing snapdragons, bought from Special Seeds. The cultivar ‘Black Prince’ looks to be completely dwarf, so useless as a cut flower. Why, oh why, do seed companies not do single colour packets any more? I know the answer, you don’t need to tell me!

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You can see more clearly why I call it a building site!

I started sowing too late, hence 2017’s cut flower disaster. I think I always underestimate how much work there will be in spring, given that I’m developing new areas all the time. All that digging and heaving means there isn’t a lot of time for pleasurable things like sowing. I really do hope I/we are nearly at the end of garden development – then I can begin to take pleasure in real horticulture!

As well as all the wooden/ turf steps in the Hornbeam Gardens (the top is the cut flower garden, the bottom the wild shrub garden), the BV has had to completely redo the stone steps that descend down there. I’m no longer in danger of breaking my neck, but it has been so time-consuming.

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Our cheap little Aldi metal arches that we bought to frame the entrances are really rather pretty – they won’t last forever, of course, but I’m hoping that by the time they are dust to dust the horbeam hedge itself will have grown up to make the arches. This week I had to be rather brutal with the hedges, because I realised that I was letting them grow up beyond something that would be beyond my control in the future.

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You will notice in the photographs above that I still haven’t decided what the eventual surface of these steps will be – but you can be sure it won’t stay like this! The easiest would be to sow some decent grass (involving weedkilling the ‘bad’ grass in September). Haven’t made my mind up yet.

This stretch of ground from the Rosa ‘Rambling Rector’ arch up to the ‘delphinum’ border is probably the path most impacted by the decision I make.

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I’m enjoying what Deschampsia cespitosa is doing down in the bottom part of the Hornbeam Gardens … it’s not all good though!

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To the right the lower Hornbeam Garden is completely scorched and horrid (although it looked pretty in spring). I’m thinking buddleias and sedums to withstand the intense drought here, caused in part by overhanging neighbour trees (no shade, just sucking!). Magnolias also seem to do really rather well in drought conditions. There is one here that battles on in the midst of the mess!

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The other side is really rather jolly, although it needs a lot of tweaking. The flowering shrubs here are all spring things – lilac, deutzia, Exochorda macrantha ‘The Bride’, Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’.

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There were hydrangeas for later, but all but one has given up the ghost – and that one remaining plant, H. paniculata ‘Limelight’, is not too happy. This is definitely not the place for the superb Hydrangea aspera.

Walking out into the orchard, this is the last area that I believe HAS to be developed in the garden – although I could go on down to the river with wild plantings (this is REALLY dreaming!). Much of the fruit is planted to make espaliers (although some poor souls don’t even have wires at the moment).

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Am in the midst of trimming hedges and strimming by the lines of espaliers (to the right)

There will be a meadow-style herbaceous planting underneath four Prunus ‘Tai-haku’ in the ‘will-be’ borders (we do need shade here, although you may not understand this) .

I have planted 4 yews to make strong boxy statements at the corners of the two broad borders. I intend to dig at least one side this winter – the side that already has some plants in it (roses, oxe-eye daisies, etc.)

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The little brown boy at the front is actually doing something very natural and unmentionable. I’m sorry you had to see this!

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My vision is for the cherries to flower with Narcissus poeticus ‘Recurvus’ below, followed by wilder roses and daisies. I’m learning what seeds itself well here, and this will be so very important in the future. Opium poppies do well (although I couldn’t get ‘Lauren’s Grape’ to germinate this year), verbascum and – miraculously – Verbena bonariensis. All the old verbena plants were killed in our very hard winter of 2016/17. I thought I’d lost it, but it’s popped up beautifully in the Hornbeam Gardens.

Knautia macedonica is becoming a menace and I never have to worry about losing nigella (although, again, have not managed to get ‘African Bride’  to germinate).

I am really, really looking forward to seeing this part of the garden swaying with species roses, daisies and wild carrot (‘Purple Kisses’ is a pretty one I tried this year).

And I so very much hope that this is the last winter with a huge amount of heavy work to do. Someday I’ll get sowing early instead of wallowing around in March still digging.

Well done if you made it through to here! And do cut me a bit of slack and remember that when we blog we are recording for ourselves too!

Nick – hope you enjoyed the walk around your garden?

Cutting garden review, June

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This is a useful exercise, inspired by Cathy’s Vase on Monday meme at Rambling in the Garden. Julie at Peonies & Posies used to do a ‘Cutting Garden Review’ last year, and now Christina at ‘Creating My Own Garden of the Hesperides’ is trying to keep up the tradition, so I’m joining in with her for my own records. Do go over to Christina’s garden, if you haven’t already. You’ll find other people’s links to cut flower borders there, as well as Christina’s record of what she’s been up to.

My own cutting garden is only in its second year. Three years ago it was field, but I had already planted the hornbeams (the cut flower area is the top area of the Hornbeam Gardens).

To the left, below, is my swell new sweet pea support in border 1, with border 2 over the horizontal ‘path’ beyond it.

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On the other side of the main path is border 3, the delphinium/aster border, with annual cut flowers sown in situ at the front.

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Left to do in this area of the garden:

  1. I’d like to install either an arch or a gate in the entrance ways (two) – to be pretty, train the hornbeam over –  and to help keep the bull out! He trampled the Bon Viveur’s delphiniums last year and it was distressing …
  2. During this winter I’m going to reseed the paths so that they are more than just couch grass and sow thistle.
  3. I’d also like to create board edges to the borders (there are three in all in the cut flower area) so that they are easier to cultivate. I could build up the soil level a little within the beds using composted materials and they would look tidier even when the grass/weeds haven’t been cut. At the moment, the minute I haven’t strimmed it looks like a field again!

Last year I had great (if unexpected!) successes with some cut flowers – this year it’s all very much later and results are not at all good. In fact a good deal of propagation has been disappointing since we moved here in 2011 and started the garden in 2012. Owing to three factors:

1 I have no proper propagating area (first time in my life without a greenhouse). I have space in a sun room, which will eventually be a dining room.

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I’ve had a lot of success with cuttings using those pots that come with little plastic supports to prop up/protect droopy or small climbing plants at point of sale. I put a plastic bag over the support and turn it inside out every day to dry off the condensation. It works well – without additional heat – for lavenders and pelargoniums. Penstemons seem to be something else I’ve been unsuccessful with since moving here.

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And a small, rather useless plastic ‘jardiniere’ type affair on the shaded supper terrace – I put my seed pots of sweet peas and herbaceous perennials in there.

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There is no where else in the garden that is ‘easy-access’ for a quick morning check/watering. Except for the future site of much much-longed-for greenhouse. At the moment the light is very one-sided where I sow seeds, take cuttings. Also, what propagating areas I do have tend to be very shaded for some parts of the day. In hot springs this is a boon (and mostly they’ve been hot so far). In a cold wet spring, such as 2016, there is a huge amount of damping off. And consequently a tendency on my part to nervously over- or under-water (due to uncertainty about the conditions I’m dealing with).

2 I have struggled with the compost available to me since I moved to France. (Not to mention containers – I had to import 5 rigid seed trays from the UK  in my hand luggage.) Compost mostly seems to be of rather poor quality and there is (to my knowledge) no available horticultural grit – always used to be my drainage solution in the past (a covering surface layer and/or mixed with compost). But a kind friend nearby has reminded me of two things: the possible use of worm compost (using my own wormery) and the comparatively close school of horticulture/basket-making, who could probably advise me on sourcing better compost elements.

The weather – I still can’t adjust. We have the kind of garden that goes from too wet to incredibly dry in 3 minutes. I do have a small cold frame down on the Rose Walk, but in a hot year it can be like an oven there:  the rampart walls are behind and flea beetle is rampant. I’ve tended to sow my brassicas there – this is the first year that they’ve not done too badly.DSC_0351. Good things

Anyway. On to the cut flowers I’m growing this year and a report on how I’m doing with them so far. Overall, due to the weather conditions and my poor propagating facilities/techniques, the seed in the open ground germinated much the best.

At least I have learnt to time my sowing according to the weather: dry weather but moist soil and a shower of rain due within 24 hours – but NEVER, NEVER during a period of heavy rainfall. This last is very important. When I worked in a botanic garden order beds, we once had to repeat about two week’s worth of sowings to make up for the two weeks of rain that followed. The seed all rotted in the ground – fortunately we had enough to resow.

My seed in 2016 mostly came from Thompson & Morgan  and Unwins. I bought from Unwins for the first time, because they are such famous sweet pea people and I wanted to try some of their varieties. T&M have a lovely selection of seed, but it is expensive and not all their products are reliable.

Aster (Callistephus) ‘Duchess Mix’  & ‘Milady Mix’. Only a few of the latter, left over from a previous year – they were gorgeous in 2015 and I hope they do well again. Sown in pots or seed trays. Little germination difficulty and didn’t hang about too long when pricked out.

Ammi majus. Open ground sowing and much patchier germination than Ammi visagna. But some decent seedlings growing on.

Ammi visagna. Germinated really well in the open ground for the second year running.

Antirrhinum ‘Torch Mixed’ Sown in pots 21st March, germinating beginning of April. They suffered my classic pricking out problem here:  without the heat and sunlight they need, they hung around for ages looking miserable and are only really just ready to plant out now.

Dahlia ‘Nuit d’Éte’ & ‘Noordwijks Glory’ (purchased 2015), plus 2016 additions of ‘La Recoleta’, ‘Playa Blanca’ and a pom-pom mixture. Growing on well after planting out 20th May. I grew ‘Bishop’s Children’ from seed in 2014 and over-wintered the tubers. They were planted in the cut flower area last year, but the flowers lasted badly when cut. I’ve used the tubers elsewhere this year for the dark colour of the foliage and their amazing heat resistance during the dog days of July & August last year. Below, the dahlias shooting in front of the sweet peas.

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Gladiolus ‘Buggy’,’Safari’ and a black cultivar that I think is ‘Expresso’. No problems here. I actually left the first two in the ground last winter and they came through last year’s mild winter weather just fine. But I shouldn’t really have taken the risk because I enjoyed cutting them in 2015.

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Calendula ‘Pink Surprise. Good germination. I enjoyed my ‘Sherbet Fizz’ last year for the unusual pinkish tones in the flowers, so thought I’d try this one for 2016.

Calendula officinalis, nigella & cornflower mixture (own seed). Direct sown, broadcast, in front of the BV’s delphiniums (as you can see below). The mix was really successful last year and I liked the way the marigolds held up the other plants and prevented flopping. Good germination. DSC_0230

 

Clary sage ‘Claryissima’ & Ornamental grass mix (Unwins). Sown in drills in front of the delphiniums. Very good germination. In the photo below you can just see the drills of clary sage and grasses to the left.

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Cosmos ‘Antiquity’. Surprisingly poor germination for the direct-sown seed. Never had a failure with cosmos before – this year could be a first!

Delphiniums. (plug plant mixture from Hayloft Plants – see the story here). The delphiniums have done so well. They were fed this year and I’ll refine their supports (made from hazel) next year – it’s good but not perfect.DSC_0231

Larkspur ‘Unwin’s Special Mix’. Direct sown in front of the delphiniums. Good germination, but slow. Need thinning/transplanting.

Helichrysum bracteatum. Sadly, a complete and utter failure. This was Lidl seed, but I’m going to blame my soil and the weather, not Lidl!

Statice ‘Sea Lavender Mix’. Very good germination in pots and grew on the best of all my cut flowers when pricked out. I’m so pleased, because I love it and want it to be easy!

Sweet Pea, Unwin’s ‘Garden Performance collection. Includes: ‘Queen of Hearts’, ‘Aphrodite’, ‘Duchy of Cambridge’, ‘Mars’, ‘Blackberry’, ‘Alan Titchmarsh’, ‘Romeo’, ‘Daphne’. To which I added the old cultivars ‘Cupani’ (said to come from the original Sicilian sweet pea) and ‘Painted Lady’. And then – for good measure – the very pretty ‘Molly Rilestone’ from T&M, which I grew for the first time last year and fell in love with. The sweet peas germinated rather slowly (I don’t give them heat, but leave them in the jardiniere). ‘Alan Titchmarsh’ didn’t germinate at all the first time, so I had to resow. I put that down to poor seed quality. My sweet peas have had the best of everything this year! Some worm compost from my very kind friend, a grand new support and lots of cool weather.DSC_0035

Sunflower ‘Velvet Queen’, ‘Vincent’s Mix’. Good germination, but nibbled by slugs. I’ve found that if I direct sow I don’t have to support – they definitely didn’t need it last year. Money for bamboo canes is rather limited – and I still haven’t sown my french beans for the want of.DSC_0240

Orlaya grandiflora. Excellent germination in a pot, responding well to pricking out. Unfortunately already running up to flower – need to get them out fast this week and see if they can be saved. And I was so looking forward to it!

Zinnia ‘Double Mix’, ‘Envy’ & ‘Purple Prince’. The disasters of the season. Can’t get them to germinate well this year, no way, no how. I have over-sown once and the resulting seedlings are struggling with the overcast conditions. The cheap mixture I bought in Lidl, sowed in a pot in the propagator and then pricked out (which you are not supposed to do with zinnias), is doing much better. The problem with the cell-sown seeds is that the trays are too big for my little propagator, so the seeds and young plants are missing the heat. I perhaps could invest in one of those thermal blanket type thingeys to help solve the problem in the future?

Comments:

Direct sowings Since my soil is clay and often too dry, I water the bottom of the drills in dry weather and then cover the seed with a layer of cheap compost to prevent capping. (I use compost from Lidl’s, which is not good enough quality to use in pots, but does this job fine.)

I’ve often covered seed drills with fleece, not only to warm the soil, but also (a trick I learnt from the blog of a vegetable gardener in hot Provence), to protect from very hot sun. Direct sowings are finally growing on quite well, but it will be a while before I have flowers and I still need to thin (not thinning in previous busy years has proved a disaster, particularly with cosmos).

There is just a little slug damage on some sunflowers. Mostly through being sown so close to the hedge. Unfortunately the little pest below is also attracted by my seed drills. (But she makes up for it in other ways!)DSC_0241

Prickly branches across the drills seem to be the only solution, but I hadn’t got around to it yet in the picture above.

Sowings in pots for pricking out. Mostly sown back on March 21st, only just ready to plant out now, mid June!

So, that’s it for June. Not bad, considering the weather. But not good either. Fortunately I have had many propagating successes in years past (using perennial seed from the Hardy Plant Society) without which I would have been unable to plant the Long Border when it was first cultivated in 2013. I’ve written a little about this here …

With thanks to Christina for giving me a nudge in recording my successes and failures. And hopefully some pictures of flowers in July!