Category Archives: The Iris Garden

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?

And then came the roses …

 

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Unfortunately, the rain accompanied the roses – and continues (endlessly). The tomatoes are unplanted (just as well, the blight would get them), the french beans unsown. Weeds as high as an elephant’s eye on the veggie patch, with barely a thing to eat (aside from some rather gorgeous broad beans and lettuce). Of that more in another post …

In the Iris Garden, as I’ve already mentioned, ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ is a washout this year. (But splendid in 2015 – she stays!). But Bourbon rose ‘Blairii No. 2’ was ploughing manfully on when I took my photographs on a nice evening that seems light years away now.

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It was recommended to me by the late Peter Beales when I visited his nursery many moons ago, while I was living in East Anglia. This is the second time I’ve planted it and I never regret taking his advice, even though it only flowers once. Needs a lot of restraining/hacking twice a year because it’s so vigorous.

Meanwhile, I’m so glad that I took pictures of the Rose Walk before it was completely devastated and drowned. Sigh … there’s always next year. I don’t have many pictures of this area of the garden in full flower. It’s difficult to take pictures in there once everything is as good as it gets (although it smells fabulous when you walk among the blooms – and that was the point, after all).

Who is responsible for this mess? Roses having a riot.

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At the entrance you push your way through (too many) nigella, oriental poppy ‘Karine’, chives, Nepeta mussinii ‘Six Hills Giant’ and Allium christophii. There’s also a fair number of corncockles (Agrostemma githago) self-seeding around, I’m pleased to say. But now that they’ve jumped over into the Long Border, they must be ruthlessly removed from the Rose Walk. (Who am I kidding?)

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And the first rose on your left is David Austin’s ‘Eglantyne’. The only rose left here that I’ve any fears about. Last year there was a spurt of growth after the main flowering. I cut things back around her continually – once she gets her head up properly, I hope she’ll be away (providing she survives the nigella assault). So pretty …

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Then reliable DA rose ‘Munstead Wood’ …

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And Centifolia ‘Fantin Latour’. I love him. So vigorous and disease-resistant, with beautifully  shaped blooms. Even in all this awful weather, perfect. (Just as well, because he’s on the way out for 2016!)

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Last year I added two clematis to the Rose Walk. The one next to ‘Fantin Latour’ is ‘Mme Julia Correvon’.

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There’s another, probably a little too close to ‘Eglantyne’. The semi-herbaceous ‘Warszowska Nike’.

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To the left of ‘Fantin Latour’, Alba rose ‘Celestial’ is flowering already, but more on the south-facing aspect down to the Long Border. The other Alba rose, Great Maiden’s Blush or ‘Cuisse de Nymph’, is only just in bud.

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‘Gertrude Jekyll’ is finally pulling it off this year. A year ago she was engaged in the same struggle as ‘Eglantyne’

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Just along from ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ is DA’s’William Shakespeare’. Again a question of getting your head up high enough to compete with the crowd. I’m a little disappointed in this rose as the colour (to my mind) is much a much harsher red than the very similar ‘Munstead Wood’.

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Is there another white rose more perfect than ‘Madame Hardy’?  Do you have a favourite white I could add to my collection? (Note to self: need to learn how to photograph white roses!)

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‘Madame Isaac Pereire’, a Bourbon rose and therefore repeat-flowering,  has a lovely bloom, but she’s prone to black spot. Next year I think I’m going to be more careful about collecting affected foliage and mulching.

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Appearing from a veil of nigella and trying to lift her head up from the crowd is ‘Louise Odier’, one of the newest and planted in 2014.

A strong grower and with little sign of the wretched black spot that afflicts ‘Mme Isaac Pereire’. Also a repeat-flowering Bourbon.

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Facing Louise is ‘Belle de Crecy’ – no disease problems in the rain, but flowering less well this year. This is a Gallica rose, the only one in the garden. I think they prefer light soils, but I noticed in the autumn last year that Belle had started spreading around in her allotted border.

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The last rose in the Rose Walk is ‘Boule de Neige’. Another Bourbon added at the same time as ‘Louise Odier’. I’m tending in their direction, amongst the old-fashioned roses, because they repeat through the summer after a good initial flush in June. But I wish it would get its act together and do something other than produce lots of (rain-drenched) flowers on top of spindly sticks. It was so sulky in the rain that I didn’t bother to take its picture.

Lurking around here are foxgloves starting to spread themselves …

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And oriental poppy ‘Patty’s Plum’. This picture is as good as I’m going to get this year. The buds keep rotting off in the rain, but at least I’ve had a glimpse of that perfect colour before they rot.

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There was a super Crambe cordifolia coming into bloom at the end of the Rose Walk. The one massive inflorescence was first bowed and then finally broken by the rain – as you will see if you read my ‘Vase on Monday‘.

 

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At the end of our Rose Walk, to the right behind the short length of hornbeam hedge, is our garden gate. It gives on to the grassy village lane down to the river (up which the bull came ‘exploring’ a week or so ago).

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The lane hasn’t been strimmed for a while, so not looking quite so tempting for an evening walk (unless you are a bull, of course).

I’ve planted several roses inside the garden along this wall, hoping that I’ll be able to train them over the wall and allow everyone who uses the lane to enjoy them. No doubt the flowers will be better on the other side!

Next to the gate is once-flowering modern climber ‘Alchymist’. A really good year for the rose, finally more than one or two flowers – pity about the rain. You may already have seen it’s portrait in my End of Month View for May, but just a reminder.

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The other two roses against this wall are …

‘Ghislaine de Feligonde’. I love the way the almost orange buds and young flowers fade to pale yellow. It’s a very short rambler that could be used as a pillar rose. In a sense that’s what I’m trying to do with it, because it is planted against a buttress in the wall. Not looking her best here, but I hope you get the picture.

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And finally ‘Abraham Darby’. Still too low-growing to be enjoyable, but the manure mulch and feed I gave him this spring has produced great upright shoots. A very tall rose that can be trained as a climber on a lowish wall (mine is). No picture – he’s currently ‘resting’ and will hopefully reappear with a little sunshine.

Soon I hope to complete the record of roses in my garden for 2016 with pictures of the roses in the Long Border and the once-flowering ramblers elsewhere.