Bank holiday gardening in the Loire Valley

Our Japanese Maple is enjoying the damp weather

The Bank holiday weekend has been wet, continuing the sort of weather we have been experiencing for some while now. After delighting in this much needed rain, we are all beginning to think enough is enough.

Undeterred, we decided to brave the elements and nip over to Azay- le-Rideau to check the route and the restaurants prior to our next Loire Valley Gardens Tour. Our first stop was the Chateau de La Chatonnière, tucked in a fold of countryside above the river Indre. It’s a lovely spot and a great garden; we took the opportunity on this quiet day to chat to Ahmed Azeroual, the famous head gardener of La Chatonnière who, since 1992, has been in charge of the creation and maintenance of this masterpiece. Ahmed came to La Chatonnière from Villandry, recommended by proprietor Robert Carvallo.. You don’t get a better reference than that!

La Chatonnière viewed from the countryside

Back on the road, we drove to nearby Azay to compare restaurants and then, having made our choice for our lunch stop later in the month, continued to Villandry to see if we could arrange for the Head Gardener to speak with our visitors – tricky, but not impossible, I was told. We collected guide books and other details but turned down a free visit in the pouring rain. The return drive home passes through one of the less salubrious districts of the city of Tours and a large amount of road works. An alternative route will need to be found but wow, what a great day we are going to have!

Our Magnolia Daphne is at its peak and also enjoying the rain. Probably the best yellow magnolia so far ceated was raised by a Belgian breeder (and wealthy brewer) Philippe de Spoelberch. It is a cross between ´Miss Honeybee´ and ´Gold Crown´

The following day the sun came out and I was delighted to be able to do some gardening again. I have been planting bedding and vegetables, weeding and clearing up after the swimming pool construction gangs. Revisiting the garden after an enforced break has been a real joy, with new flowers and foliage to admire at every direction. There are treats, as plants thought not to have survived the winter are clearly recovering, but also disappointments in discovering that some of them will not be with us this year. Such is life.

Choisya Aztec Pearl has proved to be much tougher than C. ternata. Shown here flowering in our garden with Euphorbia griffithii Fireglow

Delights are everywhere and it is all so exciting that I flit from one side of the garden to another, doing a little tidying here, some weeding there and planting up a patch of ground vacated by the loss of something else. In my travels I discover that one of our Magnolias is struggling, ravaged by Vine Weevil. After finding an adult on a leaf and a grub in the ground, both killed and gloated at, drastic action was called for. Fortunately I have the answer in a packet of Nemasys nemotodes in the drawer of the fridge, next to the yoghurts.

A creamy gunge of live beast killers is mixed with water and watered over the plants: I concentrated on Rhododendrons, Camellias, Azaleas and Magnolias all of which are particularly susceptible to Vine Weavil. I understand it takes around three weeks to be effective and then the nematodes, which are naturally in the soil in small numbers, fall back to normal population levels. Having had limited success with chemical controls last year I am eagerly awaiting the results of this intervention. May next target is Chafer Grubs, for which I have another Nemasys product.

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Wild orchids, Lily Beetles and a Plant Fair

The Cowslips have reached their peak here in central France and orchids are providing the excitement now. We have come across several Early Purple orchids in damp, shady patches but a recent find made our day: a meadow full of thousands of Green-winged orchids in the full range of colours from deep purple, through lilac pink to pure white. This delightful sight is in one of the fields we pass most days when walking the dog and I believe there are many more floral treats to come in this spot.

Wild orchid

Orchis morio...or is it O. longicornu in the meadows at Chabris

On Sunday we jumped in the car to visit the plant fair in Bouges le Chateau, leaving the dog in the house hiding from the heat. The gardens are interesting and will be better later in the season when there are more flowers, but in the English style park there were again thousands of orchids in the meadow running down to the lake, amongst Cowslips too numerous to think of counting. Around the chateau there is a very formal French topiary garden and an Italianate water garden. The chateau is not large but is privately owned and full of furniture; the same age as our house, Chantal was keen to see how it had been decorated. The plant fair itself was much less interesting but we did meet people from the Indre Horticultural Society and chat them up about our gardening courses.

The white form of the Green-winged orchid

The weather is a warm 24 degrees C today and I am trying to find as many excuses as I can to spend time in the garden. Anything I need to plant requires the creation of new beds so even planting a few sweet corn requires major effort. I check the whole garden several times a day for new signs of growth or flowering and as a result can easily remove Lily Beetles as I find them: three again today.

In flower only recently – Choisya Aztec Pearl – a hybrid between the American Mexican Orange Blossom C. arizonica and C. ternata, bred and  released by Hillier Nurseries in 1989 – we have it in the central bed formed from the water feature dating from 1890 or there abouts. It is close to the Dining Island which is fast becoming surrounded by flowers as we had intended when we started this project. Another wonderful plant here: Salvia argentea, with amazing silky white hairs all over its large oval leaves. It has overwintered and is growing spectacularly well in our light, sandy soil.

Salvia argentea