Gardening gifts (or the gift of gardening)


Heaven knows I do my best! I get up in the morning, full of enthusiasm for the tasks I have planned for the day, but so often it all goes delightfully wrong.

Lilac flowering today

Take yesterday for example; we received a telephone message telling me to rush ’round to a neighbour who has something for me. The poodle and I set off on our normal afternoon walk in the countryside; a couple of swims for her and a bag full of wild asparagus shoots for me, we eventually arrive at our friends house to see what all the fuss is about. I was given a spade and a fork and ordered to start digging. This grape vine would be better in our garden than hers; that Pomegranate is one of ten she rooted a couple of years ago and we should have it; it’s good luck to have Lily of the Valley so here is a huge bundle of the pink form and finally, the “piece de resistance”, a clump of the hardy orchid Bletilla striata for our Oriental garden. Of course I lifted and replanted a cherry tree for her, staying long enough to exchange views on various local builders and put the world to rights over a cup of tea. Life does not get much better than this for a gardener but it doesn’t get the work done!

The day before was much the same when half way through the morning walk the dog decided to go off on a tangent to visit another gardening friend. She greeted us warmly and demanded we stay for coffee and gateau, not allowing us to go us go until I had knocked in support canes for her Dahlias and taken a few pots of her Coeur de Beuf tomatoes. She would not accept cherry tomatoes in return and is reserving the right to refuse chilli peppers.

The weather has been splendid for a month or more with summer temperatures this spring reaching the high twenties and the season, according to local vineyard owners, around two weeks in advance. Plants are not sure what to make of it: we have daffodils and tulips flowering alongside wisteria, lilac and Cercis in a wild mix of spring and early summer blossom. Visit the garden twice in an hour and you can see the plants growing!

The English have their standard Roses, the French their standard Wisteria

The first buds of Iris germanica are showing and catalogues from top Iris grower Cayeux arrived this morning, one in French and another in English. I was pleased to see that one variety we bought from him a year ago – the deliciously named “Ravissant” – has won medals at three international shows. I’m becoming quite a fan of these lovely plants and we now have a collection of eight varieties from various sources. Cayeux lists 600 so we have a way to go yet, but plan to visit the nursery fields when they are in full flower sometime in May.

Student assignments for marking arrived by email today as they do most mornings, one (RHS Level 3 Certificate in the Principles of Plant Growth, Health and Applied Propagation) from Argentina and the other (Certificate in Garden Design) from Florida. I am enjoying this unexpected international aspect of our work, with students from every continent now choosing to work with us. Many come from the UK for our residential courses and we have just added two more to our web site: study tours of Loire Valley gardens and a Feng Shui garden design course offered in association with British expert Elizabeth Wells. Early indications suggest these will both be popular.

Back in the garden and we decided to construct a pergola screen using materials from the Dutch manufacturer Hillhout, our favourite supplier when we were landscapers in Hertfordshire. It seems to be a general rule that if a company has offices in several countries, the French office will be the least effective and again this seems to be true. No amount of emailing would elicit a response from the Hillhout agent to our sales enquiry and eventually we ordered the products through a local garden centre, using code numbers found on the internet. The pergola is slowly coming together, two or three posts a day, when I need a break from marking assignments. Today I managed to get the first plants in: Rose Amadeus (a superb modern climber from Kordes which bears trusses of deep ruby red flowers that are repeat flowering and have a light spicy scent) and Clematis Vivian Pennell (deep violet blue and one of the best doubles).

Chateau de Valencay

We were recently invited to the Chateau de Valençay by the tourist office for the opening of the new season. While there we enjoyed a tutored wine tasting of Valençay AOC wine and AOC goats cheese and were guided around the chateau vineyard by the head vigneron . He spent a good deal of time explaining how they reduce yields to improve quality, starting with the site selection (a sunny slope on clay soil with bands of flint and limestone), pruning (to slow the sap and reduce the number of fruiting shoots), allowing competing weeds to remove water and nutrients, fruit bunch removal (maximum of two bunches per shoot), leaf removal and even fruit thinning. Of course, no irrigation is allowed, pesticides are used only in extremis and fertilisers are organic. The results speak for themselves: we like the white, Sauvignon Blanc with 10% Chardonnay, very much.

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