I'm doing the usual clearing up operations, made heavier and harder by all the rain we've had recently. Apparently the groundwater levels are the highest that they've been in France for a number of years (in other words 'normal'). But to get that ideal we've had to suffer the deluge and the messy work of autumn is worse as a result. Nevertheless, the pictures in my head make it easier (as usual!). All those tulips and alliums I'll be planting when the ground is cleaner: tulips 'Sorbet', 'Queen of the Night' and 'China Pink' in the Rose Walk, along with Allium sphaerocephalon, azureum and 'Purple Sensation'. Up in the Mirror Garden I'm building on the white and yellow theme with tulips 'White Triumphator' and yellow 'Westpoint' (both elegant lily-flowered cultivars). I wish I was daring enough to plant some in my blue pots (of which I'm now rather fond). Perhaps I could buy some cheap yellow parrot types from a supermarket and see how I get on? Has anyone any experience of planting bulbs in pots in a very cold climate?
(Apologies for my obsession with songs in this post.)
Finally the long border is finished and ready for inhabitants. I've decided to plant most in the spring because our soil is so heavy, but I'm adding asters and Shasta daisies at the moment (lifted from the Rose Walk where they were much too big and overwhelming the poor roses). And there were some hostas that went in around the beginning of June - to take advantage of the shade that the hazels (four in all) make.
But there's the rub. I'm going to coppice the hazels this January/February - the stems will be great for herbaceous perennial supports next year and for making sweet pea and runner bean tripods. I'm not sure how the poor hostas will fare without the shade, however, and I'm going to miss the lovely effect of the catkins and the snowdrops together, but I have to go for it for the following reasons:
1). It is time - I think they have about eight year's growth on them and the normal coppicing cycle is seven years.
2). They may have encouraged box blight in the Rose Walk this summer. The earliest/worst of the disease seemed to occur under the shade of the hazels . I recently had to pull out all the young plants I put in this spring (about 50€ worth). This was depressing because I had a dream of making a knot garden that we would look down on from the house in winter. That plan's scotched, temporarily, because I won't be able to plant box where I pulled out the diseased plants. I believe it's not usually such a problem in France as in Britain - with hot summers, it's checked if not unknown. (I've since noticed that almost every box planting in the area around me has been affected to a greater or lesser extent this year.) But we've such a lot of healthy box in the garden, I didn't want to take the risk and those little plants had to come out. I now know that nurseries use sprays not available to amateurs to suppress the symptoms. My new plants did not go into the ground until well after the recommended six-week quarantine period, but still they were very poorly by mid September. Interestingly enough, six very badly affected plants that I lifted and potted up back in June (and that sat right up on our supper terrace for the summer) look great now - not a bother on them! That, I expect, is the result of good air circulation. Worse still - I can't quite bite the bullet - one of my lovely new box balls down below seems about to kick the bucket as well. I've removed affected growth and mulched - and wait with baited breath. In future I'll have to resort to my own box cuttings. Quite a number were taken in August, but I still have the problem of planting them into soil that has leaf litter affected by the blight. Currently I'm wondering whether I could plant young ones through landscaping fabric in spring to protect them from rain splash and the traces of this year's diseased plants?
3.) I've realised that I may have given the rat taupiers (water voles) a worse press than they deserved. It is extremely possible that many of my young plants - and particularly roses - were affected by the European chafer or vers blancs last year. These feed on grass roots and, of course, in a new garden I'm always digging up grass to make borders. The Rose Walk has been virtually (not totally) unaffected by damage this summer (second season), but the new Long Border has seen quite a few casualties, particularly roses. The body count includes: Rosa rubrifolia, 'Jude the Obscure' and 'Buff Beauty' (this last not quite gone yet, but on the way out, which is sad because I've been longing to grow it for years). But what part do the hazels play in all this? Well, in the course of our research, we discovered that when the grubs (that do the damage underground) hatch, the adults fly up into neighbouring tree branches in May (enter hazels, stage left), before descending to lay their eggs again. Hopefully the coppicing of the hazels and the second year of the border without grass will at least reduce damage. But I'm nervous about planting any more roses at the moment. Point of interest: I have noticed that ramblers planted in circles in the grass (to grow up onto walls) are growing really strongly - those little wretches seem to be mostly interested in my plants when grass is not available. So hope for the future?
These are really starting to take shape, mostly due to the hard work of strimming and mowing that Nick did when he was home over the summer. We now have a lawn mower living permanently down there, so all should be easier to look after in future as we gradually inch our way out into the wilderness. The four Prunus 'Tai-haku' (which you can actually see, now the grass has been cut!) will hopefully flower next year and I've a number of grafted fruit trees that I may or may not - depending on how much I still think they are in need of coddling - plant out this winter. I'm planning to start planting Narcissus poeticus 'Recurvus' into the grass next autumn and there will be very long borders below all the fruit trees eventually, with shrubs and a wilder planting of herbaceous perennials.
In the Hornbeam Gardens (below) there are only about five young hornbeams that need replacing this winter, in spite of having to compete with a huge amount of weed growth for half the summer. Tough cookies! In the spring the second of these new gardens (the one closest to the river, furthest away in the picture) will welcome twin magnolias and a wilder geranium/bulb type planting. The walk down to the small walnut tree below this second hornbeam garden will take all the young coloured-stemmed willows I already have, with a view to planting them closer to the river later on. With, perhaps (if I work hard enough), a coloured-stemmed 'fedge' right next to the river itself.
The first hornbeam garden (closest in the picture) is destined for cut flowers and (we hope) a flat terrace and barbeque area. Except that we might have to provide our poor visitors with chair-lift facilities ...
One beautiful, sunny day about a fortnight ago I actually started digging up the cut flower borders. After all that faffing about on the terraces above it was good to be on dry land again - I can hardly wait to get down there. And the vers blancs have taught me a useful lesson: only annuals in the first year - we'll add hybrid tea roses for cutting later on.