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.

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

Rendez-vous aux jardins 2011 (French national open gardens event)

Rendez-vous aux jardins 2011

Les jardins des Metamorphozes

This weekend was too good to be missed: a three day festival of gardening with, in our region of Centre, 97 gardens open. These ranged from the vast gardens of local chateaux to those of a much more domestic scale. Having spent ages putting together a web site on Loire Valley gardensI was keen to try some of those smaller, less polished gardens, the passion and pride of their private owners.

Rendez-vous aux jardins 2011

Les jardins des Metamorphozes

Rendez-vous aux jardins 2011

Domiane de Prieure at Valaire

The list of great gardens was tempting but we did resist, choosing as our first port of call the Domiane de Prieure at Valaire, where an art gallery and garden have been established in the grounds of an 11thC priory. It is a pretty place, with interesting planting and sculptures dotted about, created as a private garden but open now to the wider public. Les jardins des Metamorphozes offers a series of garden styles in a small space: formal and informal, with French, English and oriental influences inspired by notable gardens visited by the owners.

Chatting with the owner we were recommended to another garden on our way home, the Jardin du Pouzet at Couddes. An enthusiastic ex-nurseryman has retired and failed to sell his business (we can sympathise, having had the same problem in the UK). After a period watching his enterprise deteriorate he decided to create a garden from the old nursery, finding a new use for the site and recycling to remaining plants.

Passionate and knowledgeable, the owner will guide you around and show you his horticultural treasures if he likes you, and I am delighted to say we got on very well indeed. It has to be said that this is not a garden as many visitors understand it and some will go away disappointed, but it features 200 varieties of Rose and depending on the season, thousands of bulbs, bedding plants and herbaceous plants in new beds amongst the established trees and shrubs, many rare or not often seen. He also has France’s biggest collection of Gingko and we spent a contented couple of hours exchanging plant stories as we toured his collection.

A tree new to me seen in this garden: Euodia / Evodia, now called Tetradium daniellii, a meliferous plant from S.W. China and Korea. It is named for William Daniell, an army surgeon who, in the 1860s, collected a specimen in Tientsin province , China.

Rendez-vous aux jardins 2011

Gingko variety at Pouzet

I hope we have made a few friends today and it was suggested we join an association of parks and gardens of the Central region so that we can meet more gardens owners. I am very keen to get involved with local horticulture and have sent them an email to see if they will have us. I gather our garden will have to be inspected by experts….is it good enough?

After some recent rain, the first in several months, the garden at home is looking much happier, although the gravel patio has almost as much growth on it as the lawn, which is now in need of a cut. We have a number of projects on the go…..but more on these later.

Thoughts on the printing of garden design plans.

The “hand draw vs CAD” discussion has largely been replaced in forums like this by questions surrounding the type of software to use for designing gardens. Arguments about this will rumble on for the foreseeable future: is AutoCAD too hard to learn? Is Vectorworks better than TurboCAD? Is there a place for 3D visualisation? Will clients pay for it and will landscapers understand it? Unfortunately there are still some who feel that software originally designed for amateur use is adequate for technical drawings.

Eventually however, thoughts will move on to the printing of CAD plans and other documents for clients, contractors and other interested parties; this posting is intended to anticipate this and allow a debate for the benefit of those just starting out with CAD.

My first attempts to teach myself CAD involved downloading freeware DOS programs over twenty years ago. I am embarrassed to confess my efforts were printed on an A4 dot matrix printer and pretty dreadful they were.

I was eventually persuaded to pay for my programs and to print them we used an 8-pen plotter. Clients loved it: pens were picked up and lines and other shapes drawn just as I had entered them in the program. Backwards and forwards the arm would go, changing pen colour after returning the old pen to its place at the side of the plotter, which looked for all the world like a conventional drawing board. Years later I was still using it at shows where it attracted large crowds.

When even good old CAD programs dropped DOS and discovered Windows, both my software and printers were changed. Now I could insert and print colour photographs and text with the drawing but I still thought A3 paper sheets were ideal until one day I was asked to design a series of gardens around the local manor house. I still think the design was not bad, but on A3 it was presented at an unreadable scale. I tried printing on several sheets but the client was unimpressed and I lost the contract to someone designing by hand onto serious pieces of paper.

The next day I started researching large format printers. The cheapest A0 colour plotter I could find was the HP Designjet 450C, which, like the Designjet 500PS which I bought second hand several years later, we still own and use. No doubt Hewlett-Packard would not approve but their plotters just keep slogging on! For A3 work (more on this later) I have an HP Deskjet 9800, which I also use for A4 letter writing, labels and other office printing tasks.

While both of my large format printers (Plotters) are obsolete now, newer models are readily available. They are not cheap but as I indicated earlier, I would not be without one for professional presentation of my designs. For those whose output is not great – and there are a large number of designers working on only a few gardens each year – many print companies will take your CAD file on disc or flash card and print the drawing for you. This solution is less flexible but cost effective for such designers.

When considering the paper size and type to use, my old 450 will only work with rolls of paper, which it cuts to size at the end of the printing process. The 500 however, will take a range of media, both sheets and rolls, in a huge selection of sizes. Flexibility is a good thing, in my experience.

Since upgrading to large format sizes all those years ago, clients have always received their design on A1 or larger paper. Landscapers appreciate this size for an overview, but I find they are often delighted to have a series of details on A3, which I encapsulate in a plastic for them. These sheets can be taken out in all weathers without fear of damage. Planting plans are especially appreciated this way, with the drawing on one side and the plant list on the other. Similarly, I often put the textual specification on the reverse side of layout plans and other technical drawings to assist them during construction. If the design calls for irregular curves requiring large numbers of offset dimensions on the plan I will sometimes print on graph paper to make setting out easier for the contractor.

A design can be wonderful on the computer screen but clients and contractors need carefully thought out physical drawings. Clients’ plans will be enhanced with photographs and sketches while those for the contractor will feature many more measurements and technical details. Having your own large format printers will allow you to plot your drawings to perfection in your own studio.

Winter garden dreaming again

Snow in a French garden

Waiting for summer - snow in a French garden

I don’t know about you, but this time of the year always encourages introspection and navel gazing in this gardener. It’s partly the enforced idleness, with freezing conditions, snow and rain keeping me inside and partly the lack of sun, warmth and vitamin D. New Year parties have never excited me: I just want to get back to work and get outside in the garden.

I had been brooding yet again over garden design as a maligned and misunderstood art, when up popped an offer of work by email. I have been cultivating a valuable contact in China for many years and he has an offer for me. I was asked to come up with proposals and drawings for the landscaping of a 120,00 sq.m. luxury housing development; I had 10 days to complete it, no budget, no design brief, no visit or photographs: just a “read only” Autocad plan of the site with notation in Chinese. A rough sketch would do, I was told, with a design fee offer at around one twentieth my rate for the full plans. It’s a competitive tender and my drawings will be key to winning the contract. I’ll do what I can, of course; I can come up with ideas – I have theories and a rough scheme in mind – but give up Christmas to create a plan and visuals good enough to win a major contract? I don’t think so.

A scene in the book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the Little Prince, comes to mind. The Little Prince demands that the narrator draws him a sheep. After three attempts at drawing sheep are rejected, he draws a box: ” The sheep you wanted is in the box” the narrator explains. Little Prince is delighted with the result. Perhaps I’m missing a trick here.

box (sheep)

There is never enough time to achieve everything I wish to do in a week, but I have lately been sparing the odd moment to read Rory Stuarts’ Gardens of the World; with luck, it’s on your Christmas list. There’s a great quote towards the end from Men and Gardens, a book for the 1950’s
by Nan Fairbrother: ” …most of our gardening books are not about how to make gardens at all, but on how to grow flowers. For it has seldom occurred to us that they are quite different things, as building a house is different from arranging the ornaments on the mantelpiece.”

I’m not sure where this meditation is leading, accept to say that I understand that in the great scheme of things garden design is a luxury permitted the wealthy nations and if it disappeared tomorrow humanity would probably muddle through somehow; but if I am going to design gardens I like to do the best I can: it’s an art that takes time and patience, extensive knowledge across a range of disciplines, experience, proficiency and (in all modesty!) talent. As a result, it’s also going to cost you.

<<<<—>>>>

This is the time of the year when I write books and courses, design and redesign our web sites and plan our business for the following season. All of these things are connected and one of our big projects revolves around the gardens of the Loire Valley. We are introducing garden tours to the Garden Design Academy and being close to many of the finest, these are to be the subject of our next book and, we hope, a series of tours for garden enthusiasts. The web page is launched and a full site may follow. The Loire Valley region of central France is known throughout the world for its chateaux – the ancient homes of the kings and aristocracy of France. It is also an area of great natural beauty and it was in recognition of the regions balance between architectural heritage and the natural environment that UNESCO has listed the Loire Valley as a World Heritage Site for its cultural landscape.

French garden style

The parks and gardens of the region are equally well regarded, often enhancing the chateaux which have made central France famous. Our home in northern Indre is surrounded by many of the great gardens of France. Several dozen of the best are within 2 hours drive and some are just around the corner. We are very excited about the possibilities and have already been approached by one UK-based company to lead tours in the region.

<<<<—>>>>

Creating a new garden is wonderful, but one of the frustrations of a young garden is the lack of cutting material for the house. This seems especially true during the winter, when it is delightful to bring a little home-grown colour and scent inside. We have planted evergreens and winter flowering plants of course, but there is not enough and they are far too small to spare the quantities needed for regular floral displays. We have therefore been looking to the countryside and to neighbours gardens for material, with limited success. Braving the snow and the cold we have cut flowering branches of Ivy from the boundary wall, Ruscus aculeatus (Butcher’s Broom) complete with a berry or two from the woods and huge balls of Mistletoe, which is plentiful in France. Holly, a common wild plant in the UK and a traditional Christmas cutting plant, is rare in these parts. I can think of none in the woods and hedgerows nearby and in the village there can’t be more than three or four cultivated plants; this year I have seen no berries either.

Rose hips

Still a few berries about