Autumn in the Loire Valley

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Autumn colour – flower and foliage – from Miscanthus and Rhus

The circus has come to town: a sure sign that autumn has arrived. In the square behind our home a riotous collection of goats, lama, camels, long-horn cattle, geese and other creatures are incongruously dotted around the lawns of the Place de Foire, calmly awaiting the first show tonight, like the professionals there are. We can hear the music and the announcements of the promotional vans.

After a short, hot summer, autumn has been variously warm and wet or cool and wet, conditions which are driving vineyard owners to the point of despair. The grape harvest started in mid-October and depending on the variety, will continue in the rain for the next few weeks. This is going to be a challenging year to produce fine wine in the Loire Valley and I feel for the growers.

I have three weeks’ worth of residential garden design and CAD courses starting on Saturday and am desperate to get out and tidy up the garden before students start to drift in from around the globe. Our first Israeli garden designer arrives for a week of CAD training on Saturday, while a parks manager from the Sultanate of Oman will be with us at the end of the month for two weeks of study. We work a lot with garden professionals from Oman and I find their horticultural skills to be of a very high standard: I must get the weeding done!

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Salvia involucrata in flower at the Garden Design Academy

Despite, and in some cases because of the rain, there is still plenty going on in the garden. Yellow flowered Buddleja x weyeriana has been in bloom for months and shows no sign of wanting to stop. Salvia species like S. coccinea, S. patens, S. leucantha, S. elegans, S. microphylla, S. uliginosa and S. involucrata are all looking superb and I am taking cuttings of many of them at the moment for insurance purposes – some may be killed by a cold winter. Grasses are also looking good; we have several Miscanthus sinensis varieties, the majority in flower at the moment, while there are signs of autumn leaf colour on shrubs such as Rhus and Hamamelis. Anemones are showing well, especially Honorine Jobert in the white border and in the oriental garden the Colchicum Waterlily are in full flower. I know, Colchicum autumnale is a European native – I do things like this to see if you are concentrating.

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Chateau de Civray sur Cher and its wild Cyclamen

Under the trees in the parks of the chateaux of the Loire Valley, both great and small, blankets of pink and white Cyclamen are in bloom but in the borders the gardeners are removing summer bedding ready to replace them with winter / spring flowering varieties. A great garden like Chenonceau must always look good, so the change-over brings out dozens of gardeners to get the work done in the shortest possible time.

Sunday will be the last opportunity to see the gardens of the International Garden Festival at Chaumont sur Loire; it closes its doors to the public on 20th October and reopens with two dozen new gardens in the spring. I shall be going with a group of garden designers to see how it has progressed since my last visit earlier in the summer. In the mean time we look forward to the 2014 edition, which will try to conjure up both the faults and the excesses of our time and the free, spiritual universe of eternal gardens, with the show theme: “Garden of the Deadly Sins”; expect to be challenged!

Sadly, because I am teaching, I will not be attending the plant fair at Courson, south of Paris this autumn, saving a great deal of money by missing a favourite plant-buying expedition. There will be other opportunities I have no doubt.

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Courson plant festival (autumn 2011) – JOURNEES DES PLANTES DE COURSON – the results

If you don’t know about Courson you really have not been concentrating; it has been featured many times in this blog and is far and away my favourite plant fair. Held twice a year at the chateau Domaine de Courson , south of Paris, the festival is recognised for its quality and authority and awards for stands or individual plants are coveted.

Although life got in the way of my annual pilgrimage to the festival, I was sent the press release and can therefore reveal the award winning plants at this autumn’s show:

Trees

x Gordlinia grandiflora

Quercus palustris ‘Pringreen’ (GREEN PILLAR®)

Acer capillipes ‘Antoine’

x Gordlinia grandiflora

Acer pentaphyllum

Shrubs

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Invincibelle’

Hedera helix ‘Silver Butterfly’

Conifers

Taxodium ascendens ‘Nutans’

Sequoia sempervirens ‘Henderson Blue’

Picea abies ‘Frohburg’

Herbacious plants

Stokesia laevis ‘Purple Parasols’

Saxifraga fortunei var. incisilobata ‘Momosekisui’

Ajuga reptans ‘Metallica Crispa’

Ajuga reptans ‘Metallica Crispa’

Boehmeria sylvatica

Mertensia maritima

Grasses

Molinia ‘Les Ponts de Cé’

Stipa calamagrostis

Eragrostis trichodes

Saccharum brevibarbe var. contortum (Syn. Saccharum contortum ; Erianthus
contortus)

Ferns

Selaginella uliginosa

There are many interesting plants in this list, deserving a place in our gardens. If you have experience of any of them perhaps you’ll let me know?

Peche de Vigne and other autumn planting temptations.

At the Saturday market, Roger the market gardener was offering Peche de Vigne, a fruit I had only vaguely heard of. “What is the difference between a normal Peach and a Peche de Vigne?” I asked, and was told that they were not grafted but grown from seed. Also the fruit was not as good as a grafted variety but used in cooking.

Clearly this was not the whole of the story so I investigated further. Peche de Vigne is not really a variety but rather a type of peach, late flowering, fruiting at around the same time as the grape vines and used as an indicator plant in Lyonnais vineyards in the way that roses are in the Bordeaux region. Both the rose and the Peche de Vigne are very prone to mildew, so if you plant them at the head of your row of grapes they act like a canary to a coal miner, warning of troubles ahead. Apparently selected varieties exist and there is said to be a collector in Saint-Etienne d’Estrechoux in the Herault with 120 different varieties gather from all over France and fruiting over a 5 month period. Many of them have red flesh and this form is commercialised in Soucieu-en-Jarrest, self-styled Capital of Peche de Vigne, south-west of Lyon.

It feels a little autumnal today; temperatures have dropped ten degrees to around 20° C and as if to prove the point, plant catalogues have started arriving in the post. I am a cynic when it comes to this end of the gardening market; outrageous claims, dodgy photographs and a lack of Latin names are a feature of these publications. Offers seem too good to be true and generally are, and why do they think price draws and free gifts are a good idea? I guess I am not their ideal customer profile.

In France, Jacques Briant is perhaps the acceptable face of this genre and their autumn catalogue has made interesting reading. An inserted special offer leaflet with four David Austin roses for 28€30 attracted my attention and had me turning pages. I arrived at page 18 very rapidly, but paused to look at Camellia williamsii Anticipation – 9,99€ for a 7cm rooted cutting….I don’t think so! Seven pages later a primrose caught my eye – Zebra Blue has sky blue veins over a white background – very pretty and five times the price of Suttons in the UK, but then, Suttons don’t send plants to France.

Fruit next and yes, they offer both white and red-fleshed Peche de Vigne. There’s a selection of Apples, Pears, Plums and Cherries, including Bigarreau Trompe Geai, with yellow-white fruits, unattractive to birds. Being France, there are also Apricots and other fruits, more or less exotic to the English gardener. They give a half page to the self-fertile Kiwi (Actinidia) Solissimo, which I bought from a rival company in the spring. My plant arrived in a pathetic 7cm pot and finally convinced me I was never going to buy from Willemse again.

Rushing on to page 48 to look at the shrubs. Abelia Kaleidoscope is a lovely looking plant, already growing happily in the front garden, as my reader will be aware. Mahonia ( nitens) Cabaret is doing well in the back garden, as are Daphne odora (Aureomarginata) – full Latin names are not always used – and several others featured here. By pages 52/3 we have moved on to Hydrangeas, including some tempting new varieties. I think I’ll wait until the Coursan plant show to buy a few more, perhaps Hydrangea arborescens Incrediball, with truly massive white flower heads.

Moving on past several interesting climbers, including their own Schizophragma Rose Sensation, which we planted this year, interesting looking Akebia quinata rosea and several attractive Clematis, we finally arrive at the trees, where several plants take my fancy.

I have always felt the front garden needed a tree and considered moving a speciment from the back to the front, but obviously we want to sho off a bit! Three other possibilities leap out from the page: Albizia (julibrissin) Rouge Pompadour a gorgeous Mimosa-like tree of sculptural form with fluffy red flowers, Acacia Casque Rouge (actually Robinia Pseudoacacia Casque Rouge, but I’m sure they know that) a deep pink form of the Robinia that grows wild all around us and, Chitalpa x.taschkentensis Summer Belles. This last tree is really rather interesting. A recent hybrid between Chilopsis and Catalpa, the original breeding work was undertaken at the Uzbek Academy of Science in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in the 1960s before being introduced internationally in the mid 1970s. This small hybrid with a rounded form initiates flower bud in June / July, opening to produce an abundant display of frilly pink flowers with yellow throats for the rest of the summer.

Other forms exist but this could be the answer.

The catalogue continues up the order form at page 120 by which time I have very mixed feelings. On the one hand some interesting plants, on the other, French retail prices and irritating marketing methods which do not inspire confidence in this gardener.

Chaumont Festival of Gardening 2011

I have had a few messages asking when the next edition of my Chaumont review is due.
The truth is I have been so busy I haven’t had time to write any more on the subject, but I have posted all the photos I took to


Here’s the link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/89684154@N00/sets/72157627445409907/with/6102715115/

The garden festival at Chaumont-sur-Loire 2011

If you have the time, please let me know what you think.

A SHORT HISTORY OF NATURAL GARDENS

A client recently rang to ask me to visit her home to design a Natural Garden. I am happy working in an endless range of garden styles but the first thing to ascertain when someone has a request of this type is what they mean when they use such  terms: Mediterranean, Japanese, Formal, Baroque, English – its a veritable minefield for the unwary designer.

The client was asked to show me examples of what she had in mind and an interesting discussion ensued.

Here then, is my…..

SHORT HISTORY OF NATURAL GARDENS

In 1597 Francis Bacon wrote an essay entitled “Of Gardens”.  His definition of a garden in this essay makes it clear that his was an escape from nature, which needed be brought under human control. It begins: “G0d Almighty first planted a garden. And indeed it is the purest of human pleasures”. Untamed Nature could still be regarded as a threat to man at that time, but now in the 21stcentury we are all too aware that the reverse is true.

Chinese style - Chelsea Flower Show 2008

Natural gardens are by no means a recent phenomenon.  In fact the very first Taoist gardens of the Chinese were a means of enabling man to live to live undisturbed by external events and in harmony with nature. Records from the eighth century explain the philosophy and techniques of garden making in great detail.

The origins of recent movements toward natural gardens can be traced back to the late nineteenth century.

At this time in the UK garden landscape was dominated by formal design, inspired by those of Italy, by way of French and Dutch landscaping. In contrast to this, a movement arose which supported natural garden design, a reaction to the highly structured format of these “foreign” imports.  Around the 1850’s some designers were challenging the use of bedding plants and calling for the use of hardier, more permanent plants.  William Robinson’s book ‘The Wild Garden’ was published in 1870 and signalled the beginning of the modern natural garden movement.  Many would consider Robinson to be the grandfather of the natural garden and his wild garden brought the untidy edges (where garden blended into the larger landscape) into the garden picture: meadow, water’s edge, woodland edges and openings.

Non-native "wild flower" meadow

Another pioneer of natural garden design was Jens Jensen.  Born in Denmark in1860, he migrated to the United States in 1884.  In partnership with Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect, he developed the ‘Prairie Style’ of gardening which used indigenous plant material. Jensen transplanted the wildflowers into a corner of Union Park, Chicago, creating what became the first American Garden in 1888.

Important contributors to the natural garden movement    

Many since Robinson have advocated natural gardens, and some important publications over the years are as follows:

  • Gertrude Jekyll: Wood and Garden (1899)
  • Wilhelm Miller: The Prairie Spirit in Landscape Gardening (Urbana 1915)
  • Frank. A. Waugh: The Natural Style in Landscape Gardening (Boston 1917)
  • Jens Jensen: Siftings (Chicago 1939)
  • Willy Lange: Garden Design for Modern Times (Gartengestaltung der Neuzeit) (Leipzig 1907); and
  • The Garden and Its Planting (Der Garten und seine Beplflanzung) (Stuttgart 1913)
  • Piet Oudolf:  Planting the Natural Garden (Timber Press 2003)
  • Violet Stevenson: The Wild Garden (Frances Lincoln 1998)
  • Samuel B Jones and Leonard E Foote: Gardening with Native Flowers (Timber Press 1997)

Waugh, Robinson and Lange all suggested that exotic plants which fitted with natural plant associations could be included in the natural garden.  Others such as Jensen argued against using any foreign plants in the American garden.  Alwin Seifert, a German landscape architect, also insisted that no foreign plants should be used even if it meant there were only a few native plants to choose from.

Natural planting style: Koblenz 2011 garden festival

Theories behind the natural garden movement   

Given that this movement gathered momentum towards the end of the nineteenth century it has been argued that it was a reaction to the rapid change to the natural environment imposed by the industrial revolution.  Indeed the movement towards natural gardens took place in the rich, industrial nations of Europe, the United States and Australia.

Other theories have suggested the implication of nationalism and racism, and yet others have suggested a backlash against the architecture profession. In addition, the devastation to the natural environment caused by invasive exotic plants has been significant in many countries, including the corner of rural France where I now live.

RECENT HISTORY

Natural planting in an English downland garden

In the 1970’s there was a revival of late nineteenth and early twentieth century ideas about natural gardening, which have continued into the 21st century.  We have witnessed the development of ‘Green Parties’, ‘Eco-Warriors’ and various other environmental groups around the world in recent decades.  As awareness of environmental problems has grown, many have attempted to bring nature back into the different realms of everyday life.  This desire to re-unite with nature is also reflected in the work of some modern garden designers.

Many of the classic texts mentioned above were re-published during this period.  Another important publication was (Natur einschalten-Natur ausschalten) ‘To Switch on Nature – To Switch off Nature’ by the Dutchman L. G. Le Roy (1978), feted by those struggling with German post-war politics.

The term ‘Natural’ is now often considered synonymous with ‘Ecological’, focusing on a new generation of practitioners and thinkers concerned with moving our society onto a more sustainable path.

Around the world many countries and peoples have supported ‘native plant movements’ where the use of natives in garden designs has been the ultimate goal; evidence of such movements has been observed to a lesser extent in Europe but it is rapidly gaining ground.

The argument has always been coloured by a lack of clarity over what actually makes a plant “native” and what “nature” is. From the outset, William Robinson and his contemporary, the English architect Reginald Blomfield, (1856-1942), debated at length over this subject and the discussions are sure to continue….

Mushroom of the day, flower of the day, bulb of the day, shrub of the day

A huge Boletus mushroom found, picked and eaten today.

Tradescantia flowering in the garden at Chabris, central France today.

Today I thought it would be nice to show you some of the plants from our garden. Every day we rush out to see what is newly flowering or growing and this is a small selection of those which are rewarding this simple effort and pleasure.

Most of these are newly planted this year so their first flowering is a special treat!

Erythrina x bidwillii is a cross between E. crista-galli from South America and E. herbacea from North America.

Colchicum Waterlily in flower under the Sequoia and close to Toad Lillies and Hostas, also in flower.

Feng Shui Garden Design

Chelsea Medalist Colin Elliott of the Garden Design Academy has joined forces with Elizabeth Wells FSSA to launch a unique hands-on Feng Shui garden design course.  Designed to bring the benefits of this ancient art to the garden, the first six-day residential course at the Garden Design Academy in the Loire Valley, France, will take place from 13 September 2011.

Garden designers, landscape architects and other “place makers” have searched for inspiration from wherever it is available. Some look to nature, inspired by the local landscape or that of the Great Outdoors elsewhere, while others immerse themselves in the fine arts of painting and sculpture in all its forms. Garden history may also point the way by providing examples from the great gardening traditions of Islam, classical Italy, Japan or China.

Feng Shui is an ancient Chinese system of aesthetics widely used to orient buildings in an auspicious manner. Depending on the particular style of Feng Shui being used, an auspicious site can be determined by reference to local features such as bodies of water, stars or compass. Feng shui was suppressed in China during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, but has since seen an increase in popularity with clients from home owners to major corporations all seeking the benefits this traditional geomancy can provide.

The practice of Feng Shui ensures that our surroundings are arranged and organised in the best possible way in order to achieve success, health, wealth and happiness.   As our homes and gardens are so interlinked it makes sense that as well as creating a beautiful home space that delights our senses, good Feng Shui outside will help attract high quality energy inside. Our homes and gardens are co-dependent, whatever the size of our garden space.

Feng Shui principles have been the same for centuries: everything should be in proportion and there should be no straight lines – curves all the way.  For instance, flow can be created by paths, edging, pots, shrubs; hard concrete can be covered with a more fluid material such as gravel and corners can be filled and softened with pots, climbing plants and statues.

Hostas and lantern

Hostas and granite lantern in a shady spot in the gardens of the Garden Design Academy

Every view of the garden should be agreeable, therefore if the garden is overlooked or has unpleasant views e.g. bins, fuel storage, factories, then these should be hidden from view by using trellis and climbing plants.

Protection to the rear is also important so that the property lines are clearly defined and the home feels secure.

Water features, trees, statues etc are all meaningful and have their appropriate places in the garden – in the wrong position they can be detrimental.

From the point of view of Feng Shui, these points are simply the tip of the iceberg.  There is so much more to discover, think about and use with this practical and exciting approach in the outdoor spaces.  Because FS techniques are common-sense and straightforward, our gardens can only benefit from using them.

 

The course is aimed at the amateur gardener and is priced at £950. Numbers are strictly limited to ensure attendees maximise the benefit from the hands-on support provided.  No previous knowledge of horticulture or design is required, only an interest in gardening and a desire to give the garden (however large or small) a new lease of life and an independent energy. 

For further details of this exciting new course visit the website:   http://www.gardendesignacademy.com/residential_Feng_Shui.html