Ferns and other inconveniences

The local paper is up in arms! A hypermarket had bought a patch of land next to its store to expand its activities at a total project cost of 15 million Eurors, only to be told it cannot proceed because of the existence on the site of a wild fern, Ophioglossum vulgatum.

This plant is not especially uncommon in Europe but has protected status in several areas, including the Sologne, on the edge of which the hypermarket is located. The Adder’s-tongue Fern is an unusual fern that grows in old grasslands, on hillsides, along woodland rides and on sand dunes. It usually appears between June and August, spending the rest of the year underground as a rhizome. Looking more like an Arum than a fern, it is considered a good indicator species of ancient meadows and can be found alongside Common Spotted-orchids, Quaking Grass and Devil’s-bit Scabious. For centuries it has been used as a treatment for wounds, using a preparation of it known as the ‘Green Oil of Charity’.

Ferns (but not this one) are one of the solutions recommended in Graham Rice’s new book, “Planting the Dry Shade Garden”. Billed as the only book deal with this growing condition, I was interested to read what was advised, having several dry-shade areas in my own garden. The book starts by discussing the nature of the problem of planting against shady walls or under trees. It goes on to explain how to improve the situation by reducing shade and increasing the amount of available moisture around trees. Crown thinning, crown thinning and tree removal are suggested options to increase light levels while a range of techniques are available to improve fertility and soil moisture content.

Planting the dry-shade garden - Graham Rice

In dealing with the soil the suggested actions are to raise soil levels, improve soil quality, install irrigation and mulch regularly. Container planting is also proposed. Increasing soil depth is a common but controversial technique, and one which may have your local authority tree officer rushing ’round to intervene. Few trees can confidently be predicted to thrive or even survive if more than four inches of fill are placed directly over their roots, so great care must be taken when gardeners construct raised beds as suggested. The rule of thumb is to preserving the existing levels in a circular area around the tree, equal in diameter to at least one-foot for every inch of stem diameter. This means that I should protect an area of 100 feet (30m) around our 150 year old Sequoia which is 8ft 4″ (2.55m) in diameter!

The other issue not discussed here is the serious harm which may be done to trees by planting amongst their roots. Regular cultivation of the soil can also remove or damage delicate feeding roots and introduce soil-borne diseases, so a high degree of care must be taken when gardening under trees.

As Graham Rice points out, what can be grown in dry shade depends on how bad the problem is – after all, some on the world’s finest gardens are woodland gardens. The main part of the book describes a range of plants suitable for the toughest conditions, a source of inspiration to those gardeners who have about given up hope with their own shady areas. Around 130 plants are listed and illustrated, with descriptions written in a style that suggests he knows them personally. The well-illustrated sections are divided into Shrubs, Climbers, Perennials, Groundcovers, Bulbs and Annuals and Biennials. We already have a few of the plants suggested in our bed under the Sequoia and  in the shade of the neighbour’s Lawson Cypress, but I am happy to say that I learned a thing or two and plants I might have not considered were brought to my attention. It is the nature of such a book that a few of my favourites were left out, while some of the suggestions would need controlling if they were not to take over more favoured parts of the garden.

All in all I would recommend this book to gardeners of both the armchair and the hands-on kinds. It is written by a well-respected and knowledgeable plantsman and aimed at garden owners on both sides of the Atlantic. At just over £10 from the Garden Design Academy bookshop, it could make an ideal stocking filler this Christmas.

Something for nothing – residential courses – and plant cuttings.

Something for nothing always goes down well with clients, I find, and the Garden Design Academy has been attempting to provide just that this week.

Residential courses were the surprise success of 2011 and as a result we have been able both to reduce the price of the courses for 2012 and host them more often. There are five residential courses currently offered, compared to eighty home study courses, so there is great potential to create more if a demand becomes apparent.

The longest running is Design your own Garden, intended for amateur gardeners and originally held as evening classes in the UK, where I taught to up to forty students at a time at technical colleges north of London. This has transferred very nicely to our home in France, where it is held for much smaller groups of up to eight, as a “hands on” alternative to traditional garden design services. It is popular as a short activity holiday, combining the satisfaction of creating your own garden and considerable design cost savings, with a holiday in the Loire Valley. A variant offered for the first time this year introduced students to Fung Shui as an additional design tool, taught by our friend and Feng Shui expert Elizabeth Wells. Originally held in a renovated annex of the main house, it now has its own home in our superb log cabin classroom constructed last year, nestling under the 150 year old Sequoias at the end of the garden.

Inside the log cabin

Inside the log cabin classroom at the Garden Design Academy

The other course we brought with us from the UK supports professional garden designers and landscapers investigating CAD as a tool in their work. We have been using CAD since the 90’s and one of our employees was the first to gain acceptance to the Society of Garden Designers using 100% CAD drawings (although I don’t think the organisation realised what was happening at the time). While many of the older generation of garden designers feel threatened by the technology, most new designers were weaned on computers and taught CAD as part of their professional training. For those facing the decision and unsure of which way to turn, we offer CAD for Garden Designers which looks at all aspects of the subject rather than a single piece of software, allowing each designer to choose which system is right for them. Better informed, these potentially costly decisions are more easily made. Internet forums are full of discussions about software, hardware and presentation methods, and this course attempts to answer many of these questions. We also offer an overview lesson as a free module in our distance learning Certificate in Garden Design, our most popular home study course by far.

It was comments on the professional internet forums and requests from students which lead us to offer Site Survey for Garden Designers. Many designers feel they have been inadequately trained and prepared for this aspect of their work, so this two day course allows them to hone their skills and learn new ones. We get out in the garden, measuring and drawing challenging sites and noting the levels, heights and orientation using a range of equipment. We also consider hidden obstacles and existing plants, an aspect notoriously poorly undertaken by many professional survey companies. Last year a group of students stayed on to visit some of the châteaux gardens and the garden festival at Chaumont sur Loire. In conjunction with our B&B accommodation guided tours of the gardens of the Loire Valley have proved popular with guests from the United States, alongside English garden designers and day trippers down from Paris. These gardens are part of the reason we moved to the region and provide us with considerable stimulation and inspiration in our work as garden creators.

I have spent the last two days updating the Garden Design Academy web site with the details of these courses and have reduced the prices ready for the new season. Perhaps now I can get out and do some gardening!

Indian Bean Tree

Now is the time for taking hardwood cuttings but the suggestions by most gardening advisers do little to excite this gardener. Species recommended are normally the cheap and easy plants- Laurel, Forsythia, Philadelphus, Ribes and the like. But then I saw a line in an article suggesting we take hardwood cuttings of golden Catalpa and I started thinking: what else could I try? I have a chest-high Catalpa bignonioides – ‘Aurea‘ (Indian Bean Tree) in the garden but a superb specimen also grows in the local park on the banks of the river Cher. In flower this American native is a magnificent sight. References I have suggest taking cuttings in the spring but I shall make a point of trying hardwood cuttings this week and let you know how it goes. If anyone has any experience of this I would be pleased to hear about it.

Flowers

Ribes and Forsythia

Of course, although I have been quick to dismiss Forsythia, Philadelphus and Ribes, many beautiful varieties of these plants are available and well worth propagating, if only I can find the plants to take cuttings from. While there is a limit to the number of each plant we can grow in our own garden, I do like to give them as gifts and home raised plants are so much more personal than buying a present from a nursery. In the mean time I do have a small list of plants I would like to try, but resolve to be more open minded to other possibilities when I am out with my secateurs.

Early Spring, Paris, the clock and the Sequoia

There is good news and there is bad news: where to start?

Before: Sequoia in the snow Dec 2010

Halfway: Sequoia before pruning

Going: Sequoia before pruning

 

We received a letter by recorded delivery from our next door neighbour on Thursday, demanding that we remove the overhanging branches from our Sequoia, or legal action would be taken. It would seem the honeymoon period is over and the gloves are off.: there is bridge-building to be done here, I suspect! To be fair, she has been asking us to cut down the Sequoia, 150 years old at a conservative estimate, since we purchased our house five or six years ago and the only time she has talked to us in the last couple of years has been to complain about it. On Friday the tree men came and I went to Paris for the day, hopeless coward that I am. Three branches have been hacked back to the boundary and today I have been cleaning up the mess. A happy bunny I am not!

After the pruning

My visit to Paris was not all about my reluctance to witness the damage being done to our beautiful tree; I also had clients to see and I took the opportunity to reacquaint myself with this lovely city, which I used to visit very regularly. It was one of those trips with not quite enough spare time to do anything properly but I did have a pleasant stroll through the Tuillery Gardens between the Louvre and Place de la Concorde, now containing the Paris version of the London Eye. The garden is one of landscape architect André Le Nôtre’s first commissions and was constructed from 1666 to 1672, after which King Louise XIV became irritated with Parisians continually questioning his authority and he moved to Versailles. In 1667 the gardens became the first Royal Park open to the public. Around lunch time on an unseasonably mild January, the place was crowded.It would have been nice to take in an exhibition – Monet was in town and my clients were raving about it –  and I remembered too late that the Jardin Botanique, right next to the station I was to use to return home, had restored and re-opened their grand plant house and was surely worth a visit. Ah well, perhaps next time.

The weather is extremely warm for the time of year, encouraging bulbs to poke their heads out of the soil to see what is going on. Even in this young garden we have yellow Winter Jasmine – Jasminium nudiflorum and Hamamelis Arnold Promise in flower behind the house, heralding the approaching spring. After months of colour from our pot of Camellia sasanqua, placed on the stone steps by the front door, Camellia grijsii, in a matching blue pot, is just beginning to open. These marvellous plants have both proved to be pretty tough species with us but we will watch the weather and if it turns cold again move it into the unheated, north facing conservatory where the flower will be protected and the scent can be better appreciated.

Witch Hazel: Jan 2011

There was much sympathy from locals in the market square this morning for our prolonged session with influenza. People here are generally inoculated against it and those who prefer not to use homeopathic solutions. We were given a pot of a honey / thyme concoction which we are mixing with our regular green tea with mint and it is wonderful! It smells and tastes great and has eased our coughs better than the chemical goo our doctor prescribed. We were told that bees have been already seen swarming and one lady had an invasion which stripped all the flowers off her Hyacinths. These are strange times indeed.

Talking of which, we have finally fitted the clock to the outside of the log cabin classroom which we built under our famous Sequoias. It is powered by some clever electronics which chats to a satalite all day to ensure it has the correct time, but it has then to pass this information to the analogue clock sitting so proudly on the wall. I am, as we speak, talking to companies in London and Switzerland in an attempt to achieve this.

The clock: 5 hours out but soon to be corrected?

Planting under the Sequoias

Those of you who have been following my posts (and there are more of you out there than the number of comments would suggest) will know that one of the features of our garden in central France is a couple of ancient Sequoias. The largest is a Sequoiadendron giganteum, around 150 years old and with its top taken out by lightning in the twenties, while behind it is a Sequoia sempervirons or Coast Redwood. Nestling between these is our new log cabin, the lecture room for the Garden Design Academy.

Aster

In flower today: Aster 'Schone von Dietlikon'

The construction team is now dealing with the finishing details to complete the building so our thoughts are turning once again to the gardens and how to incorporate the cabin into the surrounding landscape. I know there are many American gardeners reading this so I would appreciate your thoughts on what American native plants would be appropriate under the trees.

The soil here is a silty-sand and there is a great deal of accumulated organic matter at the base of the Sequoias. Brambles do well and I have been out this morning hand weeding them; White European Cyclamen are in flower at the base and there are plenty of seedling Bay and Laurel. In a bed close by I have planted Japanese Maples, Rhododendrons, herbaceous Geraniums, Heuchera, Alchemilla, English Bluebells, Solomon’s Seal, some native woodland Orchids and two species of Hydrangea. Hostas do well if they are regularly watered: I grow an attractive group around a stone bird bath which is filled to overflowing every day. There are still plenty of woodland plants I can select from but I would love for someone who knows Sequoias in its homeland to put me on the path to planting something authentic. The idea is a small bed surrounding the trees with a woodland path pushing past and giving access to the tiny veg plot I hope to create in the space beyond.

Salvia

Salvia uliginosa in a sunny bed near the Sequoias

Every sunny day now is named “the last day of summer” and we are trying to make the most of it by getting out into the garden and the countryside as much as possible. Last weekend was the second anniversary of our moving to France so after guests had packed up and gone (we had a group of 10 in the house) we took a picnic down to the river and spend the afternoon, eating, drinking, sunbathing, swimming and playing with the dog. Today is also beautiful so although we are trying to catch some sun, I have been weeding the Sequoia and Chantal is trying to locate a B&B for our imminent trip to the south of the country by trawling the internet. She has exhausted herself recently trying to keep up with jam-making while friends and neighbours keep dropping over with more baskets full of fruit. The latest batches have been peaches, raspberries and blackberries but we have just had to start saying “No” and hope they are not too offended. The jams are turning out great but recently she made pate des fruits from fallen peaches….now that is good and makes wonderful giveaways when we visit friends.

I have been looking at Cedric Pollet’s new book “Bark” in spare moments. I am sure this will be in every gardener’s Christmas stocking this year so a review will be posted here very soon. In the mean time, please get your thinking caps on for my bed under the Sequoias.

French Regional Gardening at election time

Today was Regional Election Sunday. Chatting to locals it seems that half the people do not vote in the regional’s, arguing that they do so for the European, Presidential and Parliamentary elections and of course for the local mayor. But the town square was crowded today with people discussing politics in the cafe, at the baker, the grocery shop and outside the church. Preparations for this afternoon’s important boules competition added to the sense of carnival and as we walked the dog through the town a brightly coloured bicycle race poured down the main street.

In France there are three levels of local government: the commune, the department and the region. It is with the regions that the real power now lies following recent attempts at decentralisation. The region of Le Centre holds the purse strings and local mayors, for all the considerable respect they are given, have to go cap in hand to ask for cash for local projects.

Having left France for England before her 21st birthday, Chantal has never voted in France so we were ignorant and quite excited about the process. We have been asking everyone we know to tell us how it works and this had led to some delightfully animated conversations over the past week or two. In the end she took her voting card (in her maiden name) down to the Salle de Fête, fighting through the Sunday morning crowds to the voting hall. Each main candidate is represented by a sheet of paper indicating his name and those on his party list. Voters pick a selection of these sheets together with an envelope. They then disappeared into a booth where, hidden from view, they place the leaflet of their preferred candidate’s team in the envelope and present it to the officials sat at the table with the voting box. Next Sunday they will do so all over again for the two or three candidates remaining in the race.

Daphne laureola

Daphne laureola - native shrub of France

As a foreigner, I stayed outside with the dog, shaking hands with all the people we knew and complaining that the poodle and I were excluded from the vote. After all that excitement we headed off to the woods, me to hunt for flora and the poodle to chase the fauna. We found several wild Daphne shrubs amongst the trees, while the dog amused herself with a hare, a deer and several pheasants.

Daphne laureola is an undemanding evergreen shrub, ideal for dry soil in shade and an excellent backdrop for Hellebores and Snowdrops, which flower at around the same time. The slightly fragrant lime-green flowers are a god-send for early bees, much less showy than many Daphnes, but very welcome all the same. It grows wild on the greensand ridge near Ampthill in Bedfordshie and, we have discovered, on limey-clay in the centre of France. The list of plants coping with these conditions is not large, so a plant like this is very welcome. Plants tolerating the same conditions inevitably flower in the spring, before the trees take all the light and while there is still some moisture in the soil. I often plant Forsythias under conifers, especially the French variety Marée d’Or (Gold Tide), which grows only 60cm tall but 2m wide. This and many other fine Forsythia varieties were produced in Angers in the Loire Valley, the results of a breeding program involving exposing the plants to radiation. I gather this was deliberate, rather than an accidental leak from the local nuclear power station!

Forsythia Gold Tide - Maree d'Or

Forsythia Gold Tide - Maree d'Or

Another standby for such challenging conditions is the Flowering Quince, or Chaenomeles. C. japonica and speciosa are Japanese and Chinese plants respectively, while Chaenomeles x superba is a hybrid between the two. These spiny plants come in a range of colours – shades of white, pink and red – and in heights from groundcover to 3m or more. They can be trained up a shady wall, shaped into a security hedge or allowed to ramble at the base of trees The Chinese use the fruits medicinally to assist blood circulation and relax muscles, having dried and sliced them after harvesting; we use them in jam.

Back in the woods again and we come across a deer that had been hiding in the undergrowth. The dog goes haring off in hot pursuit while I find myself in the middle of a huge clump of Solomon’s Seal. I have always considered this to be a rather choice plant, to be grown in the shade with other spring flowering herbaceous gems like Dicentra and Corydalis. There are a number of different species of Polygonatum and I make a note to return to this spot, take photographs and try to identify the plant. Nearby there are patches of Lilly of the Valley, Muguet in French, the flowers of which are sold by gypsy children in the market square for the 1st May.

Solomon's Seal

Solomon's Seal

Gardens in France tend to have trees so knowledge of shade loving plants is important. Our own garden suffers in places from the shade and dryness created by neighbours’ conifers and we have walls along two boundaries. One of them, we discovered, has been built in such a way as to steal a metre of garden from us along its entire length, requiring expensive correction at some stage. The French are not above taking the occasional liberty when backs are turned. While the walls create a little shade, the biggest shade challenge is also a delight: our two massive, one hundred and fifty year old Sequoias.

Sequoias are touchy-feely plants: they have soft, spongy, red-brown bark which would turn the most serious of you into a tree-hugger in the time it takes to open a bottle of Touraine. Guests at our B&B have complained about the brambles at the base which discouraged close inspection of the trees, so I have had to get out with the strimmer and clean them up. Later, when time and money allows, I plan to build a deck which will be cut to the shape of the trunk so that we will be able to sit with our backs against it and look up into the heavens through its branches. The trees are a magnet for wildlife; I have installed a lovely Japanese granite water bowl for the birds, insects and dog to drink from and gradually I am planting closer and closer to the base.

Our students’ geographical diversity has added an extra dimension to our gardening. We now have a large group studying the RHS Certificate in Horticulture and a few on the Certificate in Garden Design, all responding to our teaching with experiences of their own. Talking about shade loving plants brings comments about gardening in Canada, the USA, Australia, France and all over the UK which enhances our knowledge and excitement for the subject. With gardening, you never stop learning.

Preparing the garden for winter

My reader from a cold climate will have noticed that winter is fast approaching. Even here in the Loire Valley most of the deciduous plants are naked after, in many cases, treating us to a final, fiery display of autumn leaf colour.

Our St. Catherine’s Day Magnolia planting was partly in preparation for this season. It is a far too valuable and beautiful specimen to lose. I have been getting in the ground as much as I can from my last delivery of plants so that they would not be frozen in their pots over winter. The soil acts as an insulator from the cold and, in the case of tender subjects like perennial Salvia uliginosa and Artemisia Powis Castle, I have planted deeply to make the most of this property of the soil.

 
Christmas cactus

Christmas cactus in the conservatory for the winter

Some plants have had to stay in pots for the time being. My little collection of winter flowering Camellias has been placed, in cold weather at least, in our unheated and rather leaky, north facing conservatory.

Here too are a pot of Begonia and another of Geraniums, which used to sit outside the door of the Gîte. It will not be the end of the world if they don’t survive the cold but I hope they do.

When the climate dictates I will also move the Tree Fern under cover joining the huge pot of Christmas Cactus which will soon be in flower. Eventually this conservatory could be something really special to greet clients and other visitors when they arrive at the front door. At the moment however, most of the space is taken up by office furniture and carpets awaiting a final home, so it rather lets us down.

Lemon tree under fleece

Lemon tree under fleece

Our two lemon trees, brought from our home in England at great trouble and expense, have been treated to a pair of fleece covers with which they have been enveloped for some time now. This allows rain and some light through, but allegedly protects them from the worst of the frost and cold winds. These plants have not had a comfortable life since being turned out of their lovely conservatory in Bedfordshire and dragged, kicking and screaming, to this country. It’s sad to see them suffer but in the fullness of time a home will be found for them in the new office building: when we finally get ‘round to building it.

Other plants are dotted around the garden waiting for me to dig a bed to accommodate them. These will have to deal with the cold as best they can but the wet is equally a factor in winter plant loses. I have ensured that these pots do not sit on the ground in such a way as to become waterlogged. It is for this reason that when filling a tub or other display container you must add gravel, crocks or other materials inside to keep the drainage holes clear. It is also worth considering raising the pot off the ground during winter to create very free drainage of excess water.

Drainage is an important aspect of the soil as well, but harder to modify. Vulnerable plants can be planted in little mounds of soil to improve drainage, or grit can be added. Underground drainage pipes can be installed in particularly difficult sites but if you garden on heavy clay soil you have to accept that your soil will be cold and damp over winter and plant accordingly. We moved to mid Bedfordshire to escape the clay soil in Harpenden and here in France the soil is wonderful.  This will allow us to over-winter plants not dreamed of in our earlier gardens.

We have two enormous Sequoias in our property, as our regular reader will remember. These give us a few problems, but three great benefits: the dappled shade they provide is ideal for woodland plants and we have created an oriental style garden of Camellias, Rhododendrons, Hamamelis, Japanese Maples and other plants here; the soil nearby is dry, supporting plants which need to keep their roots this way and the overhanging branches act as protection from the frost. Consider placing your own frost-tender plants in the shade of a tree over winter.

Calendula

Calendula as living mulch

 

We have tried one other trick this year to protect some tender plants from the cold. I sowed seeds of Californian Poppies, collected from plants flowering in the garden, around a clump of Salvia argentea hoping that they would act as a barrier to the cold and keep the soil a little drier. I did the same for newly planted Euphorbia giffithii Fireglow and used Calendula in a similar way elsewhere. It will be interesting to see how this turns out.

In gardens in the village some plants, notably large palms and Oleander, have been wrapped up in bubble plastic, while Arum Lilies have been covered in thick layers of straw mulch. I have noticed a few improvised cloches which shield plants from damp in addition to keeping them warmer –  our silver-leaved Salvia would enjoy that sort of protection.

If you must grow tender plants,- and I must even if you don’t – these sort of protective measures will ensure, as much as you can ensure, that your treasures make it through to the next growing season.

November in central France

Sign made of Apples

Sign made of Apples

We are still recovering from Wednesday; we were up early to greet the first group of workers who were charged with the removal of a sad, ailing Copper Beech from the front garden. It gave us no pleasure to see it come down but the poor thing had been butchered by EDF employees keeping the overhead power lines clear of branches. I counted at least three different species of fungus growing out of the trunk and from the roots and we thought it best to take it down in a controlled way before it did some damage one stormy night in the future.
The tree surgeon we used was good value and very good at his job. He could reel off a list of all the chateaux he works for, maintaining historic trees in the parks and gardens of the Loire Valley. We sought him out mainly for the cleaning up of the Sequoia in the back garden, a task that needed love, care and professionalism if the venerable specimen was to look its best: this was no job for itinerant tree-cutters! The conifer is thought to be around 150 years old and is one of three in the village. It was hit by lightning 60 years ago and now has three stems from halfway up. A lovely tree with a circumference of over seven meters, it is home to huge numbers of birds and bats and is worth every cent of the one thousand Euros we paid to have it attending to.
Within moments of the arrival of the arboricultural team the plumber pulled into the driveway, closely followed by the white vans of builders and decorators; the first day of the renovations had begun! Plans and quotations were consulted, last minute changes agreed and they were off, ripping out pipes, knocking down walls and achieving more in a morning than we had over the last two months. Offers of hot drinks were treated with timid incredulity but there was no confusing the time at mid day. At the sound of the 5-minute warning from the church bell, all tools were dropped; the workers cleaned themselves up and were away back to their homes by twelve, for their regular two-hour lunch break.
Meanwhile there was the little matter of a delivery from the UK to deal with. For reasons far too wearisome to bother you with, we have had our lovely office building at Wyevale dismantled and shipped over to France. The log cabin, which had only been erected at the garden centre a few months previously, arrived as a full load of wood and ancillary pieces and was unloaded by forklifts borrowed from the envelope-making factory in the village. I was dreading the lorry’s arrival and the difficulty of dealing with 10 tonnes of materials, but with the support of our neighbours and the good humour of the driver all went well and it was on the ground in time for lunch. The pieces now sit in the front garden, covered in black polythene and awaiting permission from the planners to erect it behind the house.
For light relief we dropped in to a local flower festival after a visit to a client last Saturday. Villentois is a pretty limestone village, in a deep river valley and on the edge of an ancient Oak forest, with its own derelict castle and mushroom farms cut into the white stone cliffs.

In the mushroom tunnels of Villentois

In the mushroom tunnels of Villentois

For the last 20 years the good people of Villentois have held a flower show in one of these tunnels and it is a popular and quite unique event. Supported by many local florists, landscapers and growers, displays are constructed in underground passages once packed with trays of champignon d’ Paris. Chelsea, it is not, but try getting a meal down there on the Friday and Saturday night; the impromptu restaurant was fully booked within an hour of opening for reservations! Being France, the show needed a theme for the artists to work around and this year it was “Women through the Ages”, giving plenty of opportunity to quote George Sand, a local author with strong views about men.
Flower arrangements ranged from the amateurish to very clever while the landscapers clearly struggled with the conditions. Other exhibits included sculpture (including live carving of the stone tunnel walls), porcelain, paintings and jewellery, all from local craftspeople. There was a strong smell of wine in the air and the bar was well supported.
We are still getting used to the novelty of weekends off and on Sunday afternoon drove a few miles north to the Cour-Cheverny apple festival. I had heard there was a conservatoire of old apple varieties and hoped we would be able to buy some trees for the garden. Chantal meanwhile was keen to taste the local wine, the only appellation using a grape variety called Romorantin, named after our local shopping town across the river Cher and on the edge of the Sologne. We are holding back our opinion of this grape until we have tried further samples: they can’t all be that bad! We came back with no wine and no trees but, in spite of the rain, enjoyed our trip out.
Summer bedding displays having been removed I assumed our village would manage only a small winter display. Not a bit of it. Just before All Saints Day huge arrangements of Chrysanthemums were erected in front of the church and the town hall and over the following few weeks thousands of Pansies and other winter bedding plants have been planted alongside the major streets. Gangs of workers have been removing fallen leaves and this done, most of the street trees have been pruned back. For a population of around 2,500, Chabris’ parks department compares well with the larger towns in Hertfordshire.
I would love to be able to describe the build-up to Christmas, with the inevitable festivals, markets and cultural events heightening the excitement. At the time of writing (in mid November) even the supermarkets have only just started to gear up. I am delighted by this, never having been pleased to see the Christmas sweets arrive at Tesco at the end of the summer. We are looking forward to our first Christmas in our adopted home and will report on it in due course.
We have had our first few requests for vouchers for garden design courses next year, two from France and one from the UK. The interest from the French is very pleasing as I had never expect it, but it puts pressure on me to make sure I can teach in French when the time comes. There have also been enquiries for garden design as a Christmas gift so in spite of all the economic doom and gloom it looks like we will be busy next year.