Spring / not Spring


The mild weather has got central France moving; in back gardens and allotments throughout our region gardeners are stirring from their winter hibernation. Frames and tunnels are breaking out all over and the national sport of shrub pruning has been resumed with enthusiasm. We are far from immune, urging the season on so we can get out and garden, smell the flowers and revert back to the outdoor life we love.

Viburnum bodnatense

Viburnum bodnatense or something very similar

I have been creating new beds, cutting a new line into a weedy gravel patio to create more, and more interesting, planting opportunities. I’m quite excited about this new shape, which reconciles the formal house with an original 1890’s water feature we have converted into a flower bed and dining island. A few plants can then be moved and a bed I was never quite at home with will be transformed into something far more appealing.

There are signs of live everywhere in the garden, but few plants flowering as yet. Our Hamamelis is a joy and around the village crocus, Camellia, and Primroses are appearing. Snowdrops are in full flower, having popped up a couple of weeks ago only to be promptly buried in snow.

Snowdrops at Chabris mill

Snowdrops at Chabris mill

The weather is very up and down. In the course of a week we have had mild spring-like days and gentle rain, clear frosty nights and mornings and then, this weekend, one of the worst storms for decades hit the west coast of France, turning the Vendee and Charente Maritime coasts into disaster zones. We had plenty of wind here, but short of few trees and a handful of roofing tiles down the town had no great problems. Someone’s polythene greenhouse flew in overnight, ending up in a flower bed, ruining our tree Peony. We hardly slept, listening to the storm battering our Sequoia and ripping the polythene sheeting off the stack of wood in the front garden.

The postman has delivered our “publicity”, a post-box full of brochures from DIY chains, supermarkets and gardening stores offering plants, equipment and accessories for the garden. Specialist mail order nurseries over here, as in the UK, produce catalogues featuring plants of unlikely colours and descriptions making the most ordinary variety sound like the crown jewels. The flowers are bigger and the fruits juicier than any normal plant but amongst the hype and nonsense there are some interesting plants. Jacques Briant is offering a delicious new Hydrangea paniculata variety called Vanille Fraise at 10 Euros a pot. At 1.25 Euro our local hypermarket offers stainless steel stakes in a spiral shape for supporting tomato plants, something I promised myself after watching early fruits suffer in the damp last year. The other item I have my eyes peeled for is solar powered garden lighting: I am hoping to rig up something to use with our Japanese granite lantern but have yet to find the solution I am looking for.

Hydrangea paniculata Vanille Fraise

Hydrangea paniculata Vanille Fraise

Also hard to find is lawn edging: amazing but true. The new edge to our patio needs edging and the least complicated and cheapest solution is plastic lawn edging. We have been searching high and low and the best we can come up with is to order it from the UK. Delivery costs will no doubt double the price.

Our ideal solution would be to use planks of Robinia – basically a weed around here but excellent rot restistance, better even than Oak. We would need to cut lines into the wood to enable us to create the curves we have designed but hope we can find someoen to lend us a bench saw to do so.

We are having difficulty finding these too and continue to research both on the internet. In the mean time the news is full of the disaster in the west of France, with sixty people drowned, thousands of homes damaged, the oyster industry laid waste and 10% of the farming land inundated with sea water.

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