French garden centres, snow, Mimosa and Moth Orchids


When my trusty leather working boots gave up on me this autumn I bought a new pair from one of the better garden centres locally. I like to drop in on Gamme Vert every so often but only rarely spend money there. Like most French garden centres, they have a limited range of plants at high prices and in the shop itself I am always surprised by their stock – both what they do sell and the things they don’t.

They carry a very good range of outdoor clothing however and I was pleased with the boots I selected, until two months later when a hook for the laces broke. I could not find the receipt and having had a poor experience with nurseries when plants died I was preparing for a fight. My lecture entitled Customer Relations and Good Retailing Practices was prepared but in the event not needed: they exchanged the books promptly and politely. I was so taken aback I bought a Mimosa to celebrate – see, being good to clients makes good business sense!

Mimosa Le Gaulois

Mimosa Le Gaulois is a cross between A. dealbata and A. baileyana, bred in the Cote d’Azure in the 1900’s as a cut flower variety. These days it is grown alongside later-flowering Le Gaulois ‘Astier’ to extend the season. Having lost a young ‘Mireille’ to the cold a year or two back we were keen to replace it and bring some winter colour into the garden. I carefully selected a strong, grafted plant and negotiated a small discount, thus concluding our business very satisfactorily. The Mimosa will stay in the cool of the front conservatory to fill the structure with flower and scent over winter and be planted in the garden in the spring. My plan is to plant an evergreen shrub over it to provide protection during particularly hard winters.

The TV news is full of snow reports, with regions from the channel coast to the Dordogne and of course, the mountain areas, suffering from its effects. Here in the Centre we have seen no more than a few flakes, but this may change (it is just starting to snow now). There have been four nights of frost so far this season and yesterday the temperatures dropped to -2°C, lower out in the sticks. A visiting gardening enthusiast expressed surprise that we grow Olive outside and suggested Phormiums should be protected. Cold hardiness is a funny thing, with so many different factors resulting in success or failure to survive the winter. We benefit here from a light soil which does not get too wet in the winter. It also warms up early and the long growing season we enjoy is another benefit. The garden is completely enclosed, providing a high degree of shelter from damaging winds while our practice of mulching and close planting protects venerable roots. The climate in the Centre is kind, neither too hot in the summer nor too cold in the winter and rainfall is sufficient but not excessive. All these factors combined allow me to grow a wider range of plants than I was able to in southern England, although I also take more risks here and loose a few plants as a result.

Plant maturity is another issue, with the surface roots of newly planted stock particularly venerable.We have planted Lagerstroemia each year for the last three years and the first winter is always a worry. The cold weather usually takes all but a single shoot to grow the following spring but by the second winter the plant is strong enough to survive anything our climate can throw at it.

Moth Orchid - Phalaenopsis

With little to be done in the garden we are delighted that our collection of Moth Orchids – Phalaenopsis –  which increases by one or two specimens each year, is beginning to come back into flower. In truth, there is hardly a day of the year when at least one of them is not in flower. They surround us with life and colour and on Sundays at this time of the year we start  planning next season’s garden, with the seed catalogues out and important decisions to be made.

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