Just Pear-fect!

I have only rarely grown Pear trees and never with much success, so I was amazed to discover when we started to explore our adopted village in central France, that Europe’s largest private pear collection was held in a plot near the vineyard. The grower in question has amassed nearly 650 different varieties, some of them on the edge of extinction and trained them in 20 different forms. His apple trees number over 300 and he has many other fruit trees besides. https://i1.wp.com/pomologie.com/oc/belghort/1852/p176poirewilliam.jpg

A botanical artist of some considerable talent (the illustartions here are not his), whose art is much sought after, his collection started as 60 potted plants which he was meticulously painting, recording them throughout the seasons. The cultivars grew, as these things do, and he eventually set up his orchard on its present site. The work involved in their care is huge and he has taken the decision to reduce the collection to more manageable proportions. I am one of a few who have benefited from this decision, having acquired the following for my own garden:

  1. Belle et Bonne d’ézée
  2. Beurré d’Amanlis
  3. Beurré Bretonneau
  4. Beurré Dubuisson
  5. Duc de Bordeaux du Mas
  6. Graft Holtke
  7. Mouille bouche d’été
  8. Olivier de Serres
  9. Starkrimson Clapp’s Rouge

https://i0.wp.com/pomologie.com/oc/belghort/1851/p372poires.jpg

Many of these are local or ancient varieties and all are beautifully trained espaliers in “U”, “Double U” “Palmette Verrier” and single cordon forms. We are very excited to have acquired these specimens and proud to be offered the opportunity to cultivate and preserve them. We will be carefully nurturing them through their first couple of seasons after the shock of their transplantation and continue to prune them to maintain their current elegant forms. My next job is to set up a system of support wires and rods, to ensure they are securely held into the shapes they have been trained to.

Other gardening tasks have kept me very busy this autumn. I was keen to lift the Cannas before the frost and have them now stored in the log cabin for the winter. The five varieties we bought this year have performed well, some putting on huge amounts of growth to form large clumps, while others have flowered but remained relatively small. They have all been lifted, cut back, divided where necessary and potted in leaf-mound. They will be kept ticking over in the heated cabin until it is safe to bring them out again next year. Not having a greenhouse these days, the cabin is being increasingly used for overwintering plants, although we keep hardier specimens, young shrubs and the like, in the north –facing conservatory.

We have a number of Dahlias and sometimes we lift them but other years we don’t. A small white one certainly needs moving from the front to the rear, where it can join other new plants in the White Border. A huge orange variety suffered last year, from damp as much as cold and I think this will be lifted for the winter.

Autumn is a great time for planting, but also for moving plants that have not performed well in certain spots or which are being swamped by more vigorous neighbours. I have replanted half of the Gaillardias, which were sown this year and have flowered well, so that other parts of the garden are brightened up next year. Other seed raised perennials like Gauria lindheimeri and Penstemon are also on the move. F1 hybrid Wallflowers are looking very good in the patch of garden where I planted them out in the spring. I am gradually lifting these and spreading them around the garden to provide a spring display – although there is some flower evident even now.

A Hibiscus, on the other hand, has not grown at all well and has been lifted from under a Miscanthus and given a better position in full sun. No doubt other shrubs will also be repositioned in the next few weeks.

Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Worplesdon’

The autumn is giving us a visual treat in the form of leaf colour, with our Cherry trees looking particularly good. Liquidamber is a feature of gardens and parks in the area and these too, depanding on variety, are looking amazing at the moment.

Missed opportunities and great potential.

My wife and I have wasted the whole day fighting with Dell, the supplier of our PC’s – not the way a gardener should be spending such a lovely, sunny day. I won’t bore you with all the facts, but after a hard disc failure on my wife’s machine, Dell seem to be doing everything they can not to honour the 24-hour repair warranty we were persuaded to take out. The latest tale is that while they will repair it free of charge, we have to purchase a new copy of Windows 7, the operating system without which the PC will not function. It’s a bit like buying a plant at the garden centre, roots not included!

This has not helped our sense of humour or improved our sun tan. In the meantime not only did the Courson Plant Fair come and go without us overspending, or indeed attending, we also seemed to have missed the Chestnut season; how could this be? Gardening works with the seasons if it works at all – if you sit too long in the shade, the summer will just pass you by – you have been warned by one who knows!

Fortunately there are suppliers out there who can be relied upon and the loud thud which accompanies the arrival of the seed catalogues is enough to galvanise even the most lackadaisical and distracted into action.

Big Begonias growing with Petunias in our garden

Over the years I have noticed a change, discreet at first but now gathering momentum, as the seedsmen increasingly sell their more interesting varieties as young plants rather than seed. This is difficult for us, as most UK companies will not post to France. There is good reason for this; our testing of grafted tomatoes was ruined by the condition of the plants on arrival: only two out of nine survived. A trial of a new variety of Begonia was similarly blighted (although I maintain the grower was also at fault, a theory firmly disputed by the company concerned). Benary’s Begonia “Big” has finished the season on a high, but taken most of the year to recover from the damage inflicted by the journey from the UK.

Commercial growers and parks departments have been utilising seedlings and young plants for twenty years and most now leave this stage to the specialists. Many years ago we had a 6 acre glasshouse nursery providing this service on behalf of a French seed company. At the home gardener level, tricky and expensive plants like F1 Begonia, Geranium and Impatiens are important seedling / plug subjects, but the range available is increasing at a pace.

Plugs and seedlings

The Dobies catalogue features 25 pages of flowers and 11 pages of vegetables offered as young plants, in addition to bulbs and fruit plants. Suttons also list more than 26 pages of flowers and vegetable plants, while Thompson and Morgan have them scattered throughout their catalogue. As the nature of their customers’ changes from garden enthusiasts to a much wider public and gardening skills diminish, this convenient and profits-enhancing development is sure to evolve.

T & M was the first of these catalogues to arrive and my order was sent by email a while ago. We do not yet grow a wide range of vegetables as, for the moment at least, we don’t have a lot of space for a proper veg garden and those we do grow are scattered amongst the ornamental plants. We like our tomatoes however and Sungold, Suncherry and Sungella are our choices for next seasons salads. Courgettes do well here but the plants take up too much space for my liking. This year we will try the F1 hybrid Defender, which I gather is a much more compact plant and less likely to give us marrow-shaped fruits of the variety we grew this year. Lettuce Lettony is a new variety I thought worth a try. I am hoping the promise of being resistant to bolting holds true as we had too much of that this season. Golden Berry Little Lanterns completes our selection and I hope it will do well out of doors: we used to grow them in the greenhouse and I love both the look and taste.

Gaura lindheimeri

In flowers, we are trying a mixture of easy and challenging subjects, including a few herbaceous perrenials like Eryngium, Gaillardia, Gaura lindheimeri and Lupins. New this year is Sweet Pea Prima Ballerina, Papaver Pink Fizz (two-tone pink with frilly edges) and Godetia Rembrandt, while Calendula Chrysantha is a variety which dates from the 1930’s. We are trying some tuberous Begonias from seed in addition to double Impatiens and award-winning Geranium Moulin Rouge. We are growing Antirrhinum Axiom mixed and Sunflower for cut flowers, with Sweet Pea White Supreme in the white border.

As I write, Chantal is studying the other catalogues.