The organised gardener

For once I am so organised. Christmas presents for the family were all bought in November and my seed order from Thompson & Morgan has just arrived. I really enjoy growing plants from seed. Each year I order them from the T&M and Suttons catalogues, buy a few locally and collect seeds from gardens and parks as I travel about.

This season’s purchases, as always, include many novelties and new varieties, together with old favourites I have had success with in the past and could not resist.

I am growing many more vegetables next year and that seems to be a general tendency. In our case, we grow them in spare corners in the front and back gardens, but also mixed in with flowers in the borders. I shall be constructing a new fruit and vegetable garden behind the Garden Design Academy classroom, just a small one, and have bought four beautiful raised bed kits in Loire Valley oak from a local sawmill for the purpose. This will be my Big Winter Job.

Tomato : Suncherry Premium F1 Hybrid  We always grow Cherry Tomatoes in the garden and in addition to the unfailingly good Sungold I am trying a new variety called Santonio, with plum-shaped fruits. Last year was not good for outdoor Tom’s, but our plantation of Sun Cherry Premium was a great success. We grow a few Courgettes each year, you don’t need many, usually as a mixture to add interest on the plate This year I am trying BBQ mix; last year we had a good crop from another F1 variety early in the season, but Mildew eventually got to the plants and they had to go.

Sweetcorn : Lark F1 Hybrid  Sweet corn has not been a success here so far despite being a region where maize is grown commercially. I am hoping the new raised beds will provide better growing conditions provided I am more attentive to their need for water. I like the sweet varieties and have selected Lark F1 this time. Lettuces are traditionally grown amongst the flowers and seem to prefer the lighter soil in the back garden. Coloured foliage is always welcome and I have ordered traditional Lollo Rossa in addition to a Romaine type called Chartwell.

Artichoke : Originals  Growing perennials from seed is something we do each year as it’s a wonderful way to fill up a new garden. This is now extending into the vegetable garden with the purchase of a packet of Artichoke Green Globe Improved. I love fresh artichokes and I am determined to have a large clump despite them dying whenever I buy plants from the garden centre.

Climbing Bean 'Monte Cristo'  Beans are not something I do well but I persevere! For the first time since we moved to France we will be trying Broad Beans and have selected an RHS award-winning dwarf variety called Robin Hood. My wife loves to eat them raw. Climbing beans are my ‘bête noire’, always running out of steam before I have harvested more than a handful. I have been growing them on a pergola where a neighbour’s tree, now removed, competes heavily for nutrients and water. Monte Cristo is going to change all that, I hope.

Swiss Chard 'White Silver'  Finally, for a bit of fun, I am intending to grow Swiss Chard White Silver 3, of which I know very little but it was recommended in the T&M catalogue by Alan Titchmarch, no less. In addition I am trying Golden Berries (variety Little Lanterns), delicious and very trendy fruits which I last grew in a greenhouse with great success some 25 years ago. Wish me luck!

It’s always summer in the South of France

We have just returned from a trip to see customers in three regions of France: one near Carcassonne, another near Antibes and the final visit close to Vichy. Three gardens, three different clients, soils and climates. We combined these visits with a short holiday, staying in a hilltop village near the Mediterranean for a week, while overnighting on the way down and on the journey back, close to our clients’ homes. This, we felt, would give us a good feel for the potential of each garden while also giving us our first break in a long while.

Carcassonne

Garden in the heart of the medieval fortified city of Carcassonne

For reading material I took a witty novel by Terry Darlington called Narrow Dog to Carcassonne, which seemed rather appropriate given one of our stops. I also had the new UK version of the Thompson & Morgan seed catalogue which arrived on the day of our departure and Gardens of the World by Rory Stuart, a new book on the development of the pleasure garden in different cultures of the world.

We were very pleased to acquaint ourselves with other parts of this beautiful country and to have three exciting new projects to work on. As we often do these days, in each case we prepared initial surveys by CAD on our laptop, allowing us to check and confirm measurements before we left the site. Spending that much time in the garden, looking at it in detail and in the round, also gave us ample opportunity to absorb the environment and consider design options.

We loved each region for different reasons. The first property is a typical vineyard house, tall and solid with local stone walls and terracotta tile roofs. The layout is rectangular with stables opposite the house connected by other working buildings, now converted to accommodation. There is a large swimming pool and a collection of palms and olives but otherwise we have a blank canvas to work with. Not far away is the magnificent medieval city of Carcassonne, separate from the 18th century town with its grand buildings and Canal de Midi port. All around are vineyards and farmland but wild, wooded limestone hills are also close by.

Provence

Exotic planting by the harbour at Cannes

The second is in the hills behind Nice and Antibes; a modern villa on steeply sloping, rocky ground. The climate is very hot in summer, but with surprisingly humid air as it rises towards the Alps from the sea. The soil is good when there is any, but in places there is just bare rock. There are lots of olives and citrus fruits and cacti do very well. In this part of the world a pool is a must, although there are plenty of mosquitoes in the evening, enough to drive inside all but the most resilient. We left the centre of France with the autumn fast approaching, to find ourselves back in summer temperatures. The mountain scenery is particularly spectacular here, but we did find time to visit Nice, Antibes, Cannes and other coastal resorts and ports. Monte Carlo was denied us by huge traffic jams and Grasse was a real disappointment in its shabbiness.

The final visit was to Vichy, the famous Belle Époque spa town in the Massive Central region of ancient mountains. Here the air was cool and the soil acid: ideal for Rhododendrons and all the other wonderful woodland plants. The house is large, traditional and on the edge of a village the time has passed by. It’s a lovely spot and warm in summer and cold in the winter – just as it should be but much harsher than our part of the world. I shall particularly enjoy the planting in this garden, which is the main part of our contract with the owner. Visiting the town on the Sunday we spent a happy few hours in the riverside park, with its amazing collection of rare trees. We tasted the famous spa water,which I am rather fond of, and the traditional sweets derived from it. We wondered around with the dog on this rather chilly day, enjoying the architecture and other sights of this most elegant town before setting off on the six hour drive to Chabris.

Vichy

The park alongside the river Allier at Vichy is a tree lovers paradise.

Back home and we have a mountain of letters and emails to work through, several new students and the log cabin classroom to finish off. We bought a few plants of course, and these need planting. I am not sure I have the time to write this really!

We were quite self controlled I thought, with our plant purchases, but returned with a large Callistemon, two varieties of artichoke, a white Lagerstroemia to add to the pink and the red forms we already own, and a plant new to me: Leonotis leonurus, a South African plant related to Phlomis. I may be pushing my luck with this plant, but will repot it and attempt to overwinter it with a bit of protection, before planting it out next year.

Our next plant purchasing opportunity will be the unmissable Courson plant fair south of Paris, 15-17th October. If you have a chance to go, take it! More details and a review in  later blog postings.

Leonotis

Leonotis leonurus- Loin's Tail.

Central France in Spring mood

Spring is advancing very nicely here in the northern most part of the Indre, one of the departments that make up the Central region of France.

Cherry blossom

Cherry blossom: Chabris, France, 8th April 2010

Yesterday the Cherries started flowering, adding a white haze to orchards and gardens, already warmed by pink peach blossom. This combination creates a subtly beautiful scene when compared to the vivid colours of Forsythia and Chaenomeles which have dominated garden planting thus far. Interestingly perhaps, only the white cherries are in flower – the pink are nowhere to be seen. Pears and Apples will not be far behind.

The progression of the season is noticeable near ground level as well. Tulips replace Daffodils; Cowslips in their thousands adorn the countryside and on a recent walk we found long lines of hairy, brown caterpillars crossing the forest paths.

Cowslips

Cowslips - Primula veris

Our own modest contribution to all this growth and flower comes in the form of recently planted shrubs, bulbs and herbaceous plants. In the front garden a yellow-leaved form of the flowering current, Ribes sanguinea is attracting attention while in the back our Magnolia stellata is full of flower. Other flowering highlights are the supermarket-bought Tulips and the self-seeded Cowslips.

Cowslips have become rare in the wild in the UK but are abundant here. Primroses however, we hardly see, except in gardens. I have no idea why that should be but I’m very grateful for one out of two!

Not to rest on our laurels, we have installed a propagator in the loft and are busily sowing seeds. There is a tale to tell about this recent purchase and if the seed company I bought it from do not deal promptly with my complaints, all will be revealed.

Flowering current

Yellow-leaved Ribes sanguineum Brocklebankii

We are growing a range of vegetables and flowers in this device, which features a small plastic tunnel, a heat mat and a proper thermastatic control system. Its a miniature vesion of a commercial system and should give us great control over the germination environment allowing s to provide ideal temperatures and humidity. More on this later…….

At the Garden Design Academy one of our American students, who had to describe a number of gardens as part of her project work, introduced me to the stunnng Japanese Garden in Portland, Oregon. I pass on this web address in case you might be interested too:  http://www.japanesegarden.com/