Alive and well in 2013

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Jasminium nudiflora in flower Christmas 2012

I am glad the world did not end at the end of last year. The French took it all in their stride, but various individuals descended on a tiny village in the Pyrenees to await the planet’s final days, convinced there were aliens hiding under the mountain and hoping to hitch a ride out of the impending disaster. Apparently the Mayans, or perhaps the Aztecs, said so. No-one could pretend the health of the planet is in good shape these days but that particular hiccup seems to have passed us by safely; my wife’s birthday, Christmas and New Year were all celebrated by our household without difficulty.

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Hebe Great Orme. This plant was raised from a cutting as an insurance – just as well as the mother plant died last winter.

In the meantime, I have had several requests for the results of my Christmas garden flowers survey so here is the small list of flowers from our garden in Central France:

  • Jasminium nudiflorum
  • Wallflowers (in several colours)
  • Hebe Great Orme
  • Pansies (mixed colours)
  • Erica carnea Springwood White
  • Calendulas (self-seeded in the gravel)
  • Mahonia media Charity
  • Viburnum tinus
  • Helleborus nigra
  • Helleborus foetidus

christmas 2012 002In addition we have a house full of orchids, a couple of Poinsettias’ and a Cyclamen in the windowsills, all flowering their hearts out and a real joy at this grey time of year.

You might like to compare this list to last years, when we had 31 plants in flower following a period of very mild weather: https://gardendesigncompany.wordpress.com/2011/12/26/in-flower-this-christmas/

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None stop flowering in Almeria, Spain

Immediately after Christmas I had business in southern Spain, where it was a very different story. Gardens and street planting featured many flowering plants, most of which would be treated as houseplants in this part of the world.

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Early autumn in the Loire Valley

It seems just yesterday, and is actually not much more than two weeks ago, that I was swimming in the warm waters of the Mediterranean and eating breakfast on the sun-terrace overlooking the harbour on the presqu’île de Giens. Today in the centre of France it is feeling very autumnal: damp and cool, with the sun struggling to burst out of the clouds and a temperature hovering around 20° C. I know; I expect no sympathy from the English!

Grapes ready for the harvest at the vineyard of Chenenceau chateau

Actually I like autumn or, to be more precise, I love the seasonal changes throughout the year and autumn is no exception. In the vineyards of the Touraine it is harvest time and every village you drive through smells of grape juice and wine. I have visited quite a few recently and in spite of a difficult growing year, the excitement and optimism surrounding the “vendage” is palpable. Bernache, the partly fermented not-yet-wine, bubbling, cloudy and yeasty grape juice, is a wonderful seasonal treat here, sold in plastic water bottles – it would explode otherwise. It is drunk immediately it is drawn out of the vat, with roasted chestnuts and much good humour, despite having only 2% alcohol.

Wild Cyclamen carpet the ground in a local garden

There are plenty of summer flowers hanging on although the town has lifted most of its 20,000 bedding plants to prepare the ground for winter and spring flowering plants. I managed to take a few late cuttings before they did so but I do not expect a high rooting percentage at this stage in the season – plants are closing down for the year rather than rooting.

Autumn can be a colourful season, with leaf colour adding to the display both in the towns and the countryside. Under the trees in many gardens and parks the Cyclamen and Colchicum are in full flower.

Autumn is also one of the most important times of the year for planting hardy subjects and I am looking forward to the great buying opportunities at the famous Courson plant fair in a couple of weeks. At the local garden centre I spotted of fine batch of discounted Hydrangea paniculata Sundae Fraise, a compact variety growing to only 1m and with flowers which mature from white to deep pink. I bought a plant to get me in the planting mood.

Something for nothing: mushrooms, plants and more

Just when we had given up finding anything other than Field Mushrooms, the continued mild, damp weather has produced a flush of Boletes of all types. Two days ago we were looking at a property for a client near Montrichard and stopped for a walk in the woods with the dog. This trip produced a pair of Orangé or  Leccinum versipelle, L. aurantiacum  or perhaps L. quercinum, as we found them under Oak rather than Poplar. We eat them later with a chicken stew dish: wonderful!

Leccinum from the woods of central France

Orangé mushrooms

Today we were out in the woods at Chabris and came across a huge area covered with Ceps and other Boletus. We came back with kilos of the things which, at Euro 30 a kg in the market makes our little walk seem like a profitable venture. Chantal has spent the morning cooking, freezing and drying our haul and I am very much looking forward to dinner tonight.

A selection of Boletes

A selection of Boletes

Ceps and other Boletus on the kitchen table

Ceps and other Boletus on the kitchen table

Out in the garden another free find; I had rescued some wild Cyclamen from in front of a JCB digging a trench for a new water main and, on another occasion, a plant from the woods where felling had just started.  Checking on their progress this morning I remarked again on how different the two white flowering plants were when I spotted Cyclamen leaves pocking through brambles and weeds near our Sequoia tree. It seems we have our own patch of wild Cyclamen in addition to the two I have introduced. It will be fascinating to see how they perform in the next few years.

I have started to plant out cuttings I have rooted in our nursery corner. The first of these came from the local school garden: Artemisia Powis Castle. I like the silver leaves, the scent and the way that leaves added to Vodka turn the drink bright green. I’ll bet they didn’t tell the kids that! 

Food for Free

Nature is bountiful at this time of the year, here in central France. We never fail to return from walking the dog without something in our pockets and at the moment, we are mostly collecting Walnuts.

 There are still plenty of Hazel nuts around and as we become accustomed to the area we are beginning to work out which trees are not picketed, where to find the largest nuts and which trees are the most productive. This morning we returned with a basket full of nuts and half a dozen ceps, our favourite edible mushrooms.

Cyclamen growing wild in the Robinia woods

Cyclamen growing wild in the Robinia woods

Locals are often very generous when they know you are interested. With a new kitchen recently fitted we have been testing out the equipment by jam and chutney making. Not having fruit of our own, people have been giving us bags of peaches, plums apples, pears and quince. Each of them receives a pot of jam from us in return. As I speak, Chantal is cracking walnuts ready to bake a cake this afternoon.

Colchicum - autumn crocus - growing wild in central France

Colchicum - autumn crocus - growing wild in central France

Autumn flowers are also much in evidence now that the weather is cooling, the day length reducing and the rains returning.

Where once the ground was speckled with orchids there are now wild Cyclamen, Colchicums and, an exciting find, Saffron Crocus.

 
Here on the edge of the Touraine the grape harvest is all in, picked last week when it was warm and sunny. Mostly the crop was machine harvested but, talking to local growers, they are increasingly hand picking to improve quality. We are great fans of the local white but are still to be convinced that the red is worth the effort to get to know.

We are still recovering from yesterday. We had a business meeting in Valancay at 11 am and on arrival in the town the temperature was 17 degrees C. An hour later it was thermometer on the car dashboard read 21 and by the time we reached home it was 25. 

The atmosphere was strange and people in the town reacted to it. Out walking in the afternoon we had hardly got to the end of the road when someone stopped us to show off his new motorbike and offered us drinks to celebrate. Staggering off to continue our exercise we were stopped a few yards on to chat with an elderly lady who was in tears recalling her dogs and admiring ours.

In the park a man had his head in his hands but beamed when the dog wandered over and gave him a lick. Prior to that we had been sitting on the beach watching the river, when our decorator came over to sit with us for a while. A strange day ended with a huge thunder storm, with a bright red sky and a game of scrabble.

Perhaps someone had drugged the water but according to the weather man a hurricane had moved up the Atlantic dragging hot African air up through France. Who needs alcohol with weather like this!