Failing the gorgeous swathes of herbaceous perennials and grasses that still exist only in my mind's eye, my imagination was rather captured this afternoon by the picture of the two newest pumpkins in my harvest and the nasturtiums that border the path down to the orchard. And yes - you are right - we need more evergreen columns on the way down the path to match that large blocky box at the bottom. But probably yew, rather than box, because of the box blight.
As for the real 'Autumn Joy' (Sedum x spectabile, please stand up!), mine have approximately 1cm worth of growth on them this year, owing to the way the vers blancs (European chafers) have been munching away at their roots since the spring. Flowering just isn't in your vocabulary when you're that small.
The weather is simply superb, for which I'm very grateful. I used to be a person who enjoyed leaving her garden over the winter. Here it's a different game. There is a small window of opportunity come the spring and then, because we are on a south-facing slope, all hell breaks loose (circa April) and things grow about two feet in a fortnight. Two autumns after arriving here, I know that it will pay me to be on my toes right now.
I have two wild roses in the cultivated garden (there are probably more down below, but I haven't fought my way through to them yet). The first (above, left) is up on our little supper terrace by the containerised sweet peas. I knew it was there, but couldn't bear to pull it out because, well, there's nothing quite as charming as a dog rose in flower. The second (right) blagged its way into the garden, posing as Rosa 'Pierre de Ronsard'. Just a simple misunderstanding between the two of us, I hasten to add. It was already in the garden and I was confused while heeling roses in during our first autumn. But now it has a rather special place on the walls of the Iris Garden and even I don't like dog roses that much. So, although it doesn't realise it yet, it will be descending this winter to the wilderness below.
Meanwhile, I'm making rosehip tea next week: 30 grams of rosehips per litre of water, let to boil for 2 minutes. Or at least that's what the recipe says. This from my French gardening magazine. But since I've become used to this nation's style of making everything seem just a little too easy, I'm going to chop them up. It will be worth it! Did you know that rosehip tea is the best natural immune system booster available, and can help with kidney and bladder problems, as well as stress, nervousness and exhaustion? Not to mention its anti-ageing properties. Bring it on, I say!
Cyclamen coum (left)
It's clear that the ants have aided and abetted this tiny plantlet in self-sowing activities. (Please ignore the holes in the leaves - fortunately I'm not that kind of gardener and I'm ignoring them myself). One tiny tuber (grown from seed) went out in spring - et voila!
I'm sorry now that I didn't stretch the budget to purchasing some autumn-flowering Cyclamen hederifolium tubers this autumn. I thought that the Vine Terrace would be perfect for cyclamen and, it seems, I was right. But there's always next year.
Euphorbia myrsinites was also planted in the shade of the vines when I arrived and I feel like a bit of a heroine for having rescued it and carried it up to the Mirror Garden to rest near Thymus lanuginosus, Thymus vulgaris and the beautiful nest of plaster eggs decorated with dragonflies.
Nerine bowdenii (below)
Planted over my cat's grave in the Iris Garden back in March. Flowering superbly, even if I am a little disappointed that my supermarket bulbs only delivered a rather washy pink, instead of the hot pink I've been anticipating. But - heh! - they are growing!
I've spent the afternoon digging, strimming and mowing down in the Hornbeam Gardens and Orchard. I'm now quite convinced that this will be my favourite place in our future garden.
The sound of the river when you work down there is so relaxing - add some rosehip tea and you're on your way to real rejuvenation. Mix in the noise of a few half-term kids further along the bank, yelling and splashing away while they do the whole 'happy childhood' thing. The symphony of this garden?
All I need down there is maybe a little shelter and a camping stove. Who knows, perhaps I'll just move out of the house. All that damned housework!
This is our third autumn in the garden. The first year (2011) there were no grapes left when we arrived on 6 September (presumably picked by previous owner). Last year Nick spent hours and hours pruning/thinning the vines (there are two on the Vine Terrace, both the same as far as I can tell). There were no grapes in the end - although we were amazed and excited by the potential right up until the beginning of September. But the birds had them - straight away! I guess that Nick had perfected his art (his kind of thing) and the birds were also amazed and excited.
So we made plans to put little paper bags around the bunches after we'd done the pruning/thinning in 2013. It didn't happen (any of it). There are now far too many (small) grapes, and the birds aren't interested. They have a slightly musky taste (the grapes, not the birds), so I'm thinking they are a wine grape rather than a table grape. I need to check. Sometimes I sense a little flurry of bird activity when I open up the back door early in the morning, but otherwise the grapes are untouched. Eventually I will both manage/prune and use the grapes. A fine day!
Does anyone out there have any ideas for French grape cultivars that I might plant in the future? I find the whole subject massively confusing, but will doubtless eventually settle to the hard work involved in the choice. I've already started, with preference given to the Burgundy reds & whites and the Pinot Gris of Alsace (since both Burgundy and Alsace are near neighbours). This is probably what we should do with the frightening slope of the vegetable garden - but where on earth will I grow my spinach, broccoli, lettuce, etc.?
Perhaps my first step should be a friend in the village who knows all about what was cultivated at a time when Chatillon produced its own wine in a modest kind of way. Meanwhile, Peacock butterflies seem to cluster around them in large numbers - for the sheer sweetness of the fruits that are now splitting? Another plant they like is Bidens ferulifolia.
I've only grown this as a bedding plant before (and it's great for pots, hanging baskets etc., because the foliage and flowers are so light that they don't interfere with their container companions).
I had the seed from the Hardy Plant Society seed list, but it's been on my favourites list since 1986 when I met it as a bedding plant at Kew. Strangely enough I've no experience of it self-seeding to the extent that it is making itself happy here. And very welcome in a new garden for filling massive late summer gaps. Not just gaps in borders, but also in a strange kind of concrete structure on the Rose Walk level. I've a horrible feeling that if I'd been here seven years ago, someone might have left me the legacy of the large greenhouse I now crave with all my heart!
At the moment 'all my fickle friends are leaving ...' (in Sandy Denny's words, in case you didn't get the reference in the post's title). But I hope the humans currently fleeing the cold winter here are back with the swallows next spring. Around 25th of September I saw those little beauties gathering in the sky, flying low and skimming for insects in great flocks, almost level with our balcony. It's a bit sad that I didn't note their exact day of departure as I have for the past two autumns that we've spent at Chatillon. Life's better for noticing important events like that. Note to self: be more aware of the present moment in 2014!
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?
'I had a little nut tree ...'
(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?
The Orchard and Hornbeam Gardens
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.