Tag Archives: Knot garden

April: End of Month View

For the first time I’m joining in with Helen’s meme at The Patient Gardener. I’m sorry that this is rather long, but it’s been ages since I did a practical update on the entire garden; this is as much for my long-term record as for your interest.

DSC_0196April weather has been mixed. Heavy rains just at the end of March and the beginning of the month brought flooding. Not such a bad thing. For the last three years the months of March and April have been seriously dry and hot here. The water table in Lorraine has officially been declared dangerously low, and so could do with a boost from spring rains.


Then we had a couple of weeks of glorious sunshine, during which I achieved quite a lot in the garden, although my work cleaning beams and painting in our lovely new attic space came to a complete halt. I even managed to get the vegetable garden tidied before the beginning of May!

We’ve been chomping away like rabbits on the kale, purple-sprouting broccoli and perpetual spinach, while the broad beans are showing promise for June.

But it was also fairly cool (down to between 0 and 2 degrees C at night and often not higher than 8 to 14 during the day. The bonus was that everything slowed down to a ‘proper’ spring pace of flowering.

The hellebores stayed fresh to meet the bluebells in my mini woodland. Brunnera ‘Langtrees’ greeted my variegated hosta. All joined by the foliage of Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’. This might not seem very special to you – but on a really hot slope it has me jumping for joy! Now all in their second or third spring.


The narcissus ‘Jenny’ and ‘Jack Snipe’ in the Rose Walk lingered for about three weeks from the end of March.













Jack Snipe

The tulips hung around for more than a day.



Queen of the Night



Aquilegia alpina is taking it easy into flower.


My pink peonies in the Rose Walk are slowly gaining in height.


And the middle of the month brought the return of my Bon Viveur for the longest time he’s managed to spend at home since December. So now we have structure in the garden!

The new blue pergola on the Vine Terrace is (almost) finished. There’s always a ‘but’ with the BV … Apparently this is very complicated construction – and I am extremely lucky, because there is now a year’s waiting list. But yes, he really should be proud – and I’m already planning yellow flowers to contrast.


I finally decided what to do with my new knot garden.

DSC_0035DSC_0044Apart from the largest box ball and two small companions, the plants were all rooted here and finally set out in their positions in April 2015. In June 2015 I took more cuttings to finish up the pattern. Then came the heat of last summer and many of those cuttings were scorched. Took some more in September and am pleased to say that about 60 per cent are growing on. So far none of the Box caterpillar, although I check regularly.

The advent of tulip fire in the Rose Walk caused me to scratch my head. Should I really be continuing to plant tulips and then not lift them afterwards, as I’ve always done in the past? In any case, the positions where I had the fire mean that I should not really plant back there for three years.

I need somewhere else for bulbs and I think the knot garden could be the answer. I’ve decided to go ahead with my plan to plant hollies for topiary and some low, coloured, evergreen foliage. Hopefully it will all look good when we survey it from our balcony in the cold winter months.


From the balcony

So far I’ve only come up with Stachys lanata for grey, evergreen foliage. I’d like peaceful colours. Any suggestions?

But now I can buy tulips to use as bedding, then lift them and put them down in the cut flower garden to use the following year. Hurrah! I’m already excited about trying out some snazzier tulip colours and shapes for 2016. (And worried about how expensive my garden dreams always seem to be!)

Further down the garden, I finally finished planting in the Hornbeam Gardens and have dug the cut flower borders.

DSC_0076I even supported the delphiniums yesterday before it started raining again – although I was a bit worried to see that some already had buds on them. This is not right for April? Are they on their way out?


This is only the second year for the delphiniums and the first time I’ve used hazel to support herbaceous plants. In the past, in other gardens, I’ve used birch. Much more pliable, twiggy and easy to weave. I’ve no idea if the hazel will work, but hey … if you don’t fail, you don’t learn.


Mostly the shrubs I planted in the bottom half of the Hornbeam Gardens in late winter 2014/15 are doing well. Exochorda macrantha ‘The Bride’ is in full flower, although still quite tiny.

DSC_0048The lilacs – ‘Belle de Nancy‘, ‘Primrose’ and ‘Miss Kim’ are full of bud.


Belle de Nancy in bud

The frosts we had during the good April weather damaged the foliage on Hydrangea aspera var villosa and Hydrangea aspera subsp. sargentiana. But that happened last year as well, so I’m not too worried.

Worse is the damage on the Magnolia soulangiana planted over the body of my cat who died in 2014. It failed to flower this year – I foresaw that one year in three the frost might damage the flowers, but I thought we were past the ‘this is sticky, heavy soil and  I don’t want to grow here at all’ stage! I’ve previous experience of losing magnolias on heavy London clay, so perhaps I ought to know better.

Anyway – spoke to it tenderly yesterday afternoon and removed some soil that may have banked up and contributed to drowning at the base of the stem while I was planting perennials around it.

Hopefully this area of the garden will be a wild shrub and meadow garden in a few years time. It seems horribly regular at the moment. I just want a path down the middle really, to exit into the orchard and then meandering paths through to admire the shrubs when in blossom.


Many geraniums (planted in 2015), geums, grasses, scabious, nepeta, and so on, are already in the ground and the Narcissus poeticus I planted last autumn are coming into flower. It looks like nothing, but gives me something else to ‘observe’ on my daily garden tour.


Two plants that went in this March are a no-show … so far. I bought them by mail order from Lepage, recommended to me as a good online nursery by a French acquaintance. All were in tip-top health on arrival. The no-shows are a delicious peachy echinacea called ‘Summer Sky’ and Aruncus dioicus. Further up the garden there is also a ‘no-show’ for a much-loved Agastache ‘Blue Wonder’ that was combining well with Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’ and Aster frikartii ‘Monch’. Fortunately I did divide it last spring, and the piece in the Long Border is growing away.

I wonder if they all just want warmer weather to appear? You can only dig a plant up so many times to check.

Next to the Hornbeam Gardens my four little Prunus ‘Tai-haku’, planted in 2013, flowered for their third year. All doing well, although one was ‘pruned’ by a rampaging bullock from across the river last summer. Don’t worry – they won’t be flooded, because we know the maximum flood level on the slope.


We’ve light rain again today and the temperature looks set to rise next week. Hopefully my AWOL plants will wake up like Sleeping Beauty in the first week of May.

Thanks so much to Helen for hosting this meme – I look forward to reading about everyone else’s gardens in April by following the links on The Patient Gardener.


Birth of a Knot Garden

Birth of a knot garden 025My recent inspiration hasn’t translated itself to the keyboard. It took a new project and a day or so of much-needed rain for me to get up the desire to write about what I’ve been doing. My pictures are not exactly sparkling, because the weather was rather dull today (a bit like the photographer). Yesterday I finally began to set out the knot garden I’ve been planning for a couple of years. The box cuttings were taken from my existing box hedges in the garden last June and simply thrust in little bundles into the garden soil of the cold frame. During the heat of summer they had the protection of a small poly tunnel to stop them drying out. I’ve been amazed at how well they’ve done (although still pretty titchy by anyone’s standards). I didn’t have enough to finish my chosen pattern. It’s not – forgive the pun – a ‘true lovers knot’ (click on the link here for images of that design), but a more angled geometric design that I think will suit the site well. I took some pictures from the little balcony of our guest bedroom today and the fact that I had watered the plants in shows the design off perfectly. Birth of a knot garden 029 Now I’m feeling inclined to carry on this year and finish it, by dint of a method that some gardeners have used, but that I originally felt might not work on our hot slopes. In June, since I’ve nothing to lose, I’ve decided to direct-stick cuttings to finish off the little boxy bits in the corners of the design. The pattern below is is how it should look in the end (with a larger central circle). But I’m also going to do cuttings in the cold frame, since I’ve any amount of use for box in the garden. knot garden 1 (2)I’d like to add some topiary shapes, particularly in holly. Infilling? Not sure yet, but we thought originally to use peonies and summer-flowering bulbs with some foliage colour like artemesia, santolina, lavender. I think (like the design itself) it will be ‘make it up as you go along’ – but given that tulip time is just around the corner, I’m feeling intense yearnings tonight. Now that I’ve learnt to handle box blight better – not to mention the fact that a fungicide for amateur use has just been introduced, according to my February issue of The Garden  – I’m allowing box to take hold of my imagination. I knew there was a reason we bought a sixteenth century house … On the other side of the path from the knot garden (which I’m also calling a ‘winter garden’, since in harsh winter weather it may be almost all we see of the garden from the house) is the ‘wild winter/spring’ garden. Birth of a knot garden 031 It’s starting to come together, although I still haven’t enough ground cover to protect the clay soil from harsh summer sun. I’ve planted a silver-foliaged lamium, purple ajuga, epimediums, comfrey, vinca, and so on – I’ll split them up and spread them around. A little Lysimachia nummularia (Creeping Jenny) given me by a friend is very useful, but is already starting to assert itself a little too much. And a nice surprise to find that my ground-cover plantings have all survived a very wet winter. I had fears for the Lamium maculatum ‘Mega White’ (couldn’t get rust-resistant ‘White Nancy’), but it has its toes in now. It’s not that easy to find plants that will take lightly shaded, but still hot, conditions on a heavy clay soil that is either almost too wet to work or dried hard like concrete. I’m also considering bergenias and I have small pots of Mileum effuseum ‘Aureum’ (Bowles’ Golden Grass) and Corydalis solida to plant out. Both came from my mother’s garden in Scotland and, although C. solida is pretty tough, I’m not sure that it will survive my clay … but nothing ventured. In the autumn last year I started to add bulbs to this area. First Narcissus ‘Jet Fire’, which I used to have in my garden in Suffolk. Much-loved by my husband, Nick, who still (rather weirdly) remembers them fondly, although he is not really a ‘plant person’. The trumpet becomes much more orange as the flower matures. Birth of a knot garden 042 Also ‘Peeping Jenny’, presumably deemed to be a kind of mix of the best characteristics of white ‘Jenny’ and old ‘Peeping Tom’. I love ‘Jenny’, who I wanted to add to the Rose Walk this year for her white flowers. I was too late to order and bought this yellow trumpet version instead. A beautifully shaped daffodil. Birth of a knot garden 123 Then there were bluebells (taking liberties, because Hyacinthoides non-scripta is not native to this part of France). The foliage just appearing now. Birth of a knot garden 104 And, yes, Nick – we now have fritillaries! We thought Fritillaria meleagris would be perfect for the ground low down in the garden near the river (we do dream a lot – hence the blog’s name – and Nick and I visited nice wild colonies together in Suffolk). The 15 purchased in 2014 (only 3 have flowered) is my start, hopefully to raise more from seed for eventual naturalising. In the same area are what I now call ‘Beatrix’s anemone’. A dear friend in Basel who visited in 2012 presented me with bags of hostas (all still alive Beatrix!) and this little Anemone nemorosa came along for the ride. Wonderful to have such a plant-rich garden that little sweeties like this hitch a ride when you give something away. Birth of a knot garden 109 This week there was a sleepy bee on one of my Hayloft Plants hellebores, drunk in the warm sunshine (the bee, not the hellebore). Odd that it was a double flower – I thought pollinators didn’t like doubles? Tree Following March 262 Tree Following March 269 It lay inside that flower for such a long time that I thought it was dead, so I nudged it gently. It buzzed drowsily and was gone the next day. The hellebore wasn’t supposed to be double (it’s one of Hayloft’s ‘Pretty Ellen’ series), but I’m charmed regardless. Birth of a knot garden 168 The Rose Walk is at one of its nicest stages, in my opinion. Lots of allium and tulip foliage pushing through. Unfortunately I spent so much on other bulbs last autumn that I’d not really money in the budget to add to my plantings of ‘Queen of the Night’, ‘Sorbet’ and ‘China Pink’. I suspect the display will be rather disappointing, but they should come back again a bit next year after their ‘year off’, since they are amongst the most persistent of tulips. It will be interesting to see how many flowers they have in their second/third years without adding to them, as I originally planned. Further on down the Rose Walk I did add this tulip with the pretty white edge to the leaf, ‘Sweet Impression’. Birth of a knot garden 138 When we first moved here I had many, many bulbs in pots that I had raised from Alpine Garden Society seed. They had followed us from England to Ireland, to here. Many were killed in the first hard winter because I didn’t plunge them properly. The fritillarias and the cyclamen were the saddest loss, but the survivors are sweet, and just starting to flower now. Birth of a knot garden 175 Narcissus pseudonarcissus. I thought this was the Tenby daffodil (N. pseudonarcissus subsp. obvallaris, but it doesn’t look right with those pale-yellow petals. Perhaps simply N. pseudonarcissus, although I can’t imagine why I wanted to grow it from seed. Birth of a knot garden 184 Narcissus bulbocodium – hurrah! The first flower … Birth of a knot garden 201 On the banks right next to the Rose Walk where the hazels live I’ve managed to get foxgloves going as well as Angelica sylvestris and Hesperis matronalis from Hardy Plant Society seed. The last swamped all the roses in their first year, but I’ve persuaded it to migrate onto the slope were it will still partner without threatening. And finally, something else that came in under a different name. This was supposed to be Calamintha nepeta, but is clearly Pulsatilla vulgaris. I’m pleased because I know it did well on the clay of a previous garden and will increase easily from fresh seed. Birth of a knot garden 206