Two have been planted since October 2012. To the right is a hedge of Lavandula x intermedia (or so I imagine, the plants were cheap and you don't ask questions!), planted on the drop down from the Mirror Garden to the Rose Walk in spring 2013. I believe this is the 'lavandin' (a cross between L. angustifolia and L. latifolia), which can grow a foot or more larger than true lavender (L. angustifolia). The lavandins are the most commonly cultivated for essential oils because they produce such a large quantity of flowers. The quality of the oil is, however, inferior due to a larger proportion of camphor. Lavandin oil is used in soaps, detergents and cheap perfumes. 'Grosso' is perhaps the most well-known cultivar in Provence and was introduced by Pierre Grosso in 1972 in the Vaucluse. I'm going to get hold of plants of 'Grosso' next year - but perhaps I've acquired it without knowing?
The second hedge (below) is, I think, closer to a L. angustifolia 'Hidcote' type (again, very cheap in Aldi!). 'Hidcote' originated in France, but was taken back to England by Lawrence Johnson in the 1920s and made available commercially by Thomas Carlile of Twyford's nursery. My hedge was planted in October 2013 and I really wasn't sure that it would make it through the winter (I've a suspicious turn of mind and thought perhaps nurserymen were offloading excess stock on the unsuspecting public at end of season!). But it has survived and has just been clipped to encourage it to bush out a bit for next year. Again - a good sign that this is true lavender which flowers earlier (so would be ready to be clipped earlier) than the lavandin. The plants in the Mirror Garden are still flowering quite prettily.
These two areas were a pain to weed and I am gradually realising that hedges will make a massive difference in this garden, since it is largely looked down on from above. I've also read in my French gardening magazine that it's believed lavender actively supresses weeds - and not just because of the spread of its foliage. Never heard this before, but fingers crossed.
View of the scree bed in the Mirror Garden with hellebore, seed-raised Thymus vulgaris, (unclipped) box cones, and Artemesia 'Powis Castle'. The euphorbias and hellebores were planted out in October 2012 (thymes earlier, in summer 2012). I sowed seed of Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii and E. characias subsp. characias on 10 March 2012 (RHS seed) and the pots spent one week in the fridge - they germinated on 23 April. I was astonished to discover that the slugs liked them - I wouldn't dream of eating the bitter stems and foliage of a euphorbia myself. I now use slug pellets for the first time in 20 years; previously I had a greenhouse and a proper cold frame to give protection against the beasts. Four plants went out and one plant of subsp. wulfenii died over winter. It's my favourite of the two subspecies - just typical!
The hellebores were Helleborus x sternii ex 'Boughton Beauty' (from Hardy Plant Society seed). They spent six weeks in the fridge and germinated not so well - but I still had two plants to put out in October. I notice now that one of the two has already sown itself. Since H. x sternii is not a dead cert with our cold winters, it will be interesting to see if both plants (and euphorbias) make it through their second winter here. I've planted out young plants to make sure that they root into the unwelcoming scree - and also because young plants tend to be hardier. Whenever a plant makes it through the winter here, I plan to add its name to a blog list of plants for cold winters/hot summers.
The new sprinkler will make my life so much easier - who knows, I might even have some veggies next year! Everything we do on this slope is very time-consuming and, well, just hard work. But we are lucky that at least the soil is moisture-retentive. I don't know where we would be if this was a sandy garden - probably moving to another house.
My veg plot is in three horizontal strips running down the steepest slope in the top garden and it is extremely hot. Good for early veg, but not so comfortable for those unlucky enough to experience summer heat. If I get my act together (and March 2014 does not prove too wet) I might well manage spinach next year, courtesy of the sprinkler.
In the picture are my (pathetic, unwatered) potatoes from which a loving drift of ivy has just been cut back (hence steep lean on the poor plants). Behind, a small nursery bed with excess hornbeam, yew, lilac, Amelanchier, willow - anything that couldn't be planted out in the main garden this year.
This top strip is the gentlest - it gets much worse! Below I've some broccoli (also waiting eagerly for the sprinkler), courgettes and pumpkins.
I was curious to try France's favourite and most commonly grown pumpkins this year. I've chosen: Potiron ‘Rouge vif d’Etampes’. The notes I've made descibe it as 'Very large. The most cultivated in France, coming from the town of Etampes in the Essone. Good even without much water [good - hasn't had any at all!]. The flattened and ribbed large fruit are a gorgeous deep red-orange. A very old French heirloom variety, this was the most common pumpkin in the Central Market in Paris back in the 1880s. The flesh is tasty in pies or baked. Can also be picked small, like summer squash, and fried. It is a good yielder too. '
'Potimarron', alias Cucurbita maxima, Courges châtaignes, Potiron doux d’Hokkaido, Courge de Chine. 'Trailing. A famous French heirloom variety. The name of Squash 'Potimarron' derives from potiron (pumpkin) and marron (chestnut). Squash 'Potimarron' is one of the very best for baking and roasting, fruits reach 1.25-1.75 kilos (3-4lbs) in weight, with an
aromatic chestnut-like taste. Good for storage.' The pumpkins down there are all labelled, but without looking I think this is the one beginning to take over my slopes as I type.
Potiron ‘Musqué de Provence’ 'The ribbed, flat, tan fruits are, on average, 8-15 lb. Thick, deep orange, moderately sweet flesh. In France cut wedges are sold in supermarkets and farmers' markets for cooking. Decorative. Late maturity. Long storage. Sometimes called 'Fairytale' in the U.S.'
I'll report on the results - at the least I hope to be enjoying lots of pumpkin pie and soups - and there will be pumpkins in our windows at Halloween. Good idea for a kind of spooky little Renaissance village.
Actually - my most recent garden dream is to completely replace the veg plot with huge blocks of iris and lavender. It seems to tie in with the hedge theme/block planting that I think will look perfect here. And it would be easier to maintain in our old age (although suddenly a vision of an eighty-year-old me weeding vast tracts of iris has popped into my mind ...). Whenever I think of spinach, lettuce, rocket, broad beans and French beans, however, I begin salivate a little and I don't know how I'll reconcile that dream with the lavender/iris.
And the View to the House!
Rediscovered and not experienced for some time, due to long grass ...
Top Left: The sixteenth century houses and ramparts running along the Chatillon ridge, with the church behind.
Above: One of three young walnuts in the (soon-to-be) orchard and the path that leads down to the gate onto the riverbank.
Bottom left: It's a long way up from the orchard to our balcony! I was told by someone in the village that there are 90-plus steps. Some day I'll take time to count them.