How to garden in France: which plants do well?

 

See also my later post about dry gardening.

Gardening in southwest France is a challenge. Where we live, 1,000 feet above sea level, the summers can be very hot and dry and the winters freezing cold. In addition, the soil is poor and rocky. I quickly realised that a traditional English cottage garden wasn’t going to work here.

Of course, it’s not like that everywhere in France, but clearly the further south you are, the more you have to contend with drought and poor soil. So, which plants do well in these conditions? Here is the fruit of 13 years’ experience.

The main problem here is water. We can go for months on end in the summer with barely a drop of rain. While it can rain in sheets at any time of year, winter can be similarly drought-ridden, especially when the temperature doesn’t rise above zero for a week or so. The plants don’t get any water then, either. The trick is to choose plants that don’t mind, or even thrive on, drought. Also, with temperatures dropping to -10º C or less at times, it’s no good choosing frost-tender plants. I have tried and failed miserably.

Here is my list of plants that do well, of which I have direct experience:

Shrubs

  • Abelia
  • Bay
  • Box
  • Buddleia
  • Cariopteris
  • Ceanothus (both the upright and the creeping varieties, if in a reasonably sheltered spot)
  • Choisya
  • Cistus
  • Cotinus
  • Cotoneaster
  • Honeysuckle
  • Hibiscus
  • Hydrangea petiolaris (climber: tolerates a north facing wall. Not supposed to be very drought-resistant but I find it is)
  • Lavender (although I find it needs a lot of water in the first year, oddly)
  • Mahonia (tolerates dry shade)
  • Potentilla
  • Pyracanthus
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Spiraea japonica ‘Anthony Waterer’

 Hardy perennials (I don’t have a lot of these because we have few flower borders, but here are a few that work well for me)

  • Alchemilla
  • Crocosmia
  • Kniphofia (red hot poker; I also have a yellow variety called, alarmingly, Percy’s Pride)
  • Red Valerian
  • Sedum
  • Thyme
  • Vinca
  • Any rock plants, e.g. Campanula poscharskyarna, dianthus (pinks), aubrieta

 What doesn’t do well?

Azaleas and rhododendrons (not the right soil)

Roses, alas, although I can’t stop planting them. They start off the season well but quickly get black spot and rust and look miserable. They are so beautiful at this time of year, though, that it’s almost worth the disappointment later on.

 Copyright © 2010 A writer’s lot in France, all rights reserved

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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One Response to How to garden in France: which plants do well?

  1. Pingback: Dry gardening | A writer's lot in France

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