Spring cleaning the garden


With the weather warming up and the days lengthening, the call of Nature has been too much to resist for most of the population of this village in central France. Everywhere people are out tilling the soil and when the French garden they really garden: vegetables are grown in huge quantities by elderly men and women. It is not until you see a typical French family reunion of fifty or more settling down to Sunday lunch that you understand where all this produce goes.

Dicentra spectabilis alba - a supermarket purchase

We like to grow a little fruit and veg but my real interest is in ornamentals and on that count we beat the French hands down. I am sure we have more plant species in our garden than the rest of the village put together – and I’ve hardly started. There’s still a cold bite to the wind but the sun has been shining for days and plants are really responding. I’ve been moving plants about, pruning and weeding but the big job this week has been to add gravel to the driveway and the patio to tidy up for the new season. We have a 100 sq.m. patch of gravel outside the back doors which, for the want of another word, we call our patio. I have never owned a gravel patio before and in the hundreds of gardens we have built, never constructed one, but these days we have to cut our cloth according to our means: a decent stone patio is out, for the moment at least. This area does get well used however, both by guests and family for outdoor meals, aperitifs and just lazing about. It certainly looks tidier with a couple of tonnes of shiny new gravel hiding the weeds.

The race is on to create new beds in the front garden before the season overtakes us. The construction of a new boundary wall creates areas screaming out for planting and I have already added extra soil recycled from the excavations. I am in two minds whether to do it properly and spend the rest of the year getting them clean and nicely cultivated in preparation for autumn planting or to submit to temptation and plant now. I have a collection of plants left over from last year’s purchases, a dozen or so Azaleas, Rhododendrons and other plants bought from the local supermarket (yes, I know, but they were good quality and at remarkably low prices) and can’t wait to start exploring the spring plant fairs. In the end I expect I will prepare one bed carefully but quickly, over-plant it and move things around again in the autumn. It’s the sort of compromise I’m becoming famous for! I have photographed two of my supermarket purchases, both white, which are currently awaiting homes in the garden.

Erica darleyensis White Perfection

We have finally got our conservatory cleaned out of the stored office furniture and installed it in the Garden Design Academy classroom. The conservatory has immediately filled up with plants while the furniture has been arranged in the classroom ready for this year’s residential courses. Behind the classroom is a small sheltered area which I hope will become a fruit and vegetable garden. The Apricot we planted recently is in full flower today while the Peach buds are swelling. Being visible from the classroom we will want the garden to look attractive and plan to install a formal potager of raised beds and brick paths. Unless students volunteer to help out that is a project which will have to wait for next year, I fear.

Now that March is here seed sowing is very much on the agenda. So I was delighted to see a package from Thompson and Morgan in the post this morning. Readers may remember we installed a large, heated propagator in the loft last year and recently I laid sand over the heating cables. This should give a more even temperature across the base while also increasing the humidity and smoothing out fluctuations in both. Germination levels were not bad last year and I am hoping for even better results this season. More on seed sowing in a later post.

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