First signs of spring 2014

It is wise to be cautious in gardening, but here in the Loire Valley it is even harder to ignore the clear signs of approaching Spring.

jan 2014

Wild Hellebores thrive under the Sequoia

Even the most pessimistic and wary of the locals were convinced when hundreds of cranes flew over the town this weekend. Like many a British pensioner, they have been overwintering in south-west Spain and are now migrating to their breeding grounds in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. We often have them spend the night nearby: the river Cher and the lakes of the Sologne are ideal for a good nights rest and a snack before moving on.

The mild weather has encouraged an early flowering of many plants in gardens around the village. We have a couple of Camellias I full flower and there are many others to be seen on our regular walks. This morning we found a huge Magnolia soulangeana covered with deep purple flowers and our own M. stellata is beginning to open. The White Border should be a real picture very soon with Magnolia stellata, Viburnum burkwoodii and Clematis armandii all about to flower. There are increasing numbers of Daffodils and Crocus out while a large number of early Prunus are colouring the gardens white and pink. If the birds and the flowers think its spring, who are we to doubt it?

Chaumont_FESTIVAL_2014We have just heard that Chaumont Garden Festival, surely the one “must see” European event for garden designers and enthusiasts, is opening between 25th April and 2nd November this year, a slight extension at the end of the season which should prove popular. Between students, garden tour clients and general visitors, we visit this show up to a dozen times each year and never tire of it. This year’s theme is “Gardens of Deadly Sins”. I can’t wait!

Frustratingly, this morning’s post brought our copy of the Yellow Book of UK gardens open to the public. Frustrating, because we visit the UK only very rarely these days and have little chance of enjoying any of the 8,800 gardens detailed in the handbook. It has been suggested from several corners that I organise a series of English garden tours, so I guess you never know. I commend the Yellow Book to you along with visits to as many gardens as possible; it’s all for charity and a fantastic learning experience for any gardener.

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Salon Vegetal trade show 2014

On the other hand we had a great day out at the Salon Vegetal trade show last week and our membership of the Association of Parks and Gardens allows us access to all sorts of private and public gardens in the centre of France. Only last week we were invited to a chateau only recently open for garden visits and conveniently close to our home. The chateau de Poulaine is sure to attract plant enthusiasts and we will be keeping a close eye on developments.

High on my list of gardening events this year is the Floralies at Nantes, an international garden show hosted by France every five years. One of Europe’s largest floral events, it is to be held over ten days from May 8th. I hope to visit with Academy students who are coming to us from Oman for a two week course on cactus growing. Apart from the garden show, I gather the botanic garden in Nantes houses one of the largest collections of cacti in France.

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New potager behind the Academy classroom

Most of my gardening time has been spent catching up with the weeding and pruning to prepare for the rapidly approaching new season. I have also just completed our little potager behind the cabin and will soon be turning my attention to two additional projects: finally building our Moon-gate, the materials for which have been sitting around on a pallet for far too long, and to sort out the compost section, a disgraceful area at present. It all takes time, but I am getting there.

One last event which put a smile on my face; my propagation bench was bought through Thomson and Morgan. The polythene cover features an array of zips and openings making it a very practical piece of equipment, but a year of sunshine, supplementary lighting, dust and general use had left it in a rather sorry state. I noticed that although it was bought in the UK the packaging was German so I decided to contact the original supplier, Bio Green to ask if I could purchase a new cover. Not at all, I was told, we will supply one free of charge on warrantee. Service beyond the call of duty, I thought; Bio Green are on my favourite suppliers list from now on. The propagator is full of emerging seedlings….I do love this time of the year!

Poisson d’avril, wild asparagus and other gardening tales

Acer palmatum Bloodgood

The first of April gave us the opportunity to have a little fun with the child of a guest, who found a large fish hiding under his breakfast napkin. Don’t know what I’m talking about? In France, on what we Brits call April Fool’s Day, fish-related pranks are played on and by children and childish adults like us. Typically, paper fish are hung on unsuspecting victims backs and although no-one seems to know why, it’s all good harmless fun. It’s origins may go back to the standardisation of the New Year by King Charles IX of France in 1563 and the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, when folks who did not keep up with the changes, still celebrating the New Year at the end of March were made fun of. The fish? No idea!

Dicentra spectabilis alba

As spring takes a hold of the land, more and more plants are coming into flower, making the choice of our Plant of the Week increasingly difficult. We could have chosen Primula veris the Cowslip, or P. vulgaris, the Primrose, both flowering in the garden and the countryside at the moment alongside (in our garden) hybrids of the two. There is a lot going on in our White Border, despite the Clematis armandii dying, full of flower bud, this winter. Osmanthus x burkwoodii is in flower next to Viburnum x burkwoodii (one of our many horticultural jokes), both scented and delightful. White Dicentra spectabilis is about as photogenic as any plant can be.

Bulbs are popping up in unsuspected places, like the Ipheion in the gravel under the rotary washing line, while the sight of newly emerging leaves on many plants is a real joy. Maple leaves unfold alongside flowers in many cases and we eat wild asparagus with our Sunday lunch, harvested from various corners of the garden and local fields. If you want to know what did finally make it as the Plant of the Week, pop along to our page on Pinterest.

Ipheion

We had confirmation this week of a group of Australians visiting in May to join us on a tour of the gardens of the Loire Valley. We are very much looking forward to this week-long tour; there are still a few places if you want to join us. We hope to be attending the next major plant fair in the Loire Valley, held each year at the Château de la Bourdaisière, where they grow a staggering 650 varieties of tomato. I will report back on this in due course.

The white garden in spring

Sounds a bit pompous, calling it a white garden, but a stretch of the new bed which reaches out along the boundary fence towards the Sequoias, has been designed with a selection of white flowered plants.

Magnolia stellata

Magnolia stellata - a moving in present from English friends

Starting at the end of the herb patch outside the kitchen window with an Iris germanica variety called Frost and Flame, the bed features a white Lagerstroemia in a sunny spot and Philadelphus and white Lilac on a little more shade against the fence.

Clematis armandii

Clematis armandii against the wall in Chabris

At this time the evergreen Clematis armandii is providing early flower, with a Magnolia stellata given to us by English friends, also in bloom and showing a touch of pink in bud. Nearby are Narcissus of a cream-white colour with Lilies planted amongst them to continue the effect when the Daffs have finished.

A large shrub of Viburnum burkwoodii is about to perform and I am eagerly anticipating the sweetly scented flowers. Underneath, a white Wood Violet, recently discovered in the lawn, has been transplanted to this more appropriate spot. Another recent addition bears the same name as the Viburnum, is also sweetly scented, with evergreen leaves and white flowers: Osmanthus burkwoodii.

Both these plants were named after Arthur Burkwood who, with his brother Albert, started the Parkwood Nursery in Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey, England. Other plants containing this name include: Cytisus scoparius ‘Burkwoodii’, Daphne x burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’, Osmarea burkwoodii, and Cytisus scoparius ‘Burkwoodii’

White Narcissus

White Narcissus - not all Daffs are yellow

We will continue to add white flowered plants to the small selection in this border to ensure that we have something in flower there throughout the year. I have recently been expanding the bed both to create more space for future planting and to produce a much more interesting shape than we had at first. It has also had the effect of improving the growing conditions by providing a range of habitats. The Lagerstroemia, for instance, is far happier now that I have been able to move it out into a spot with more direct sun.