Today I’m taking you on another virtual visit, but this time it’s close to home: my garden! This is not a brag; the garden is not particularly special or exotic. But it serves to show what can be done in less than ideal conditions. Many plants are flowering, fresh and green before the summer heatwaves grill them. After yesterday’s early morning rain, I wandered about with the camera and took stock. It was good to have a respite from the repetitive mowing, strimming and weeding that gardening involves in the spring.
What does well – and what doesn’t
In 1997, there was almost nothing in the garden of our former farmhouse. Over the years, I have planted up areas with shrubs and perennials. Friends have kindly given cuttings and plants to supplement garden centre acquisitions. It will never be an English cottage garden: the soil is too poor, and the climate doesn’t favour it. And acid soil-loving plants hate the limestone here.
I learned that plants and shrubs often do nothing for three years. Then they either die or thrive. A beautiful albizia tree did well for a few years and then succumbed to an untreatable fungus.
You have to protect against wildlife, too. This lovely bronze-leaved cotinus is under regular assault from the deer that come in from the surrounding fields and woodland. I have had to cage a rose and a young hibiscus to protect them.
I love self-seeding plants: red valerian, love-in-a-mist, evening primrose, chives, thyme and lemon balm all do well here. These are plants for free, but sometimes they have to be restrained from taking over.
We start at the front of the house, facing almost due south. I call this my Mediterranean garden. Outside our kitchen door, a cistus bush has spread to occupy the whole of the space and threatens to bar access to the house. I love the peppery, aromatic scent, especially after rain. Earlier, it was a riot of pink flowers with papery petals.
On the wall next to the cistus is a passion flower, with its exotic, elaborate flowers.
On the opposite wall, tiny white blooms shine like stars amid the green foliage of a summer jasmine. A distinctive scent, especially in the evening. Beneath the jasmine, an ancient rosemary bush struggles a little – one of the only things that was here before we came.
In a Mediterranean garden, you must have geraniums. The winter was so mild that I managed to keep all my potted geraniums. These in the trough are four years old. I like the contrast of the blooms against the stone.
A key aspect of the garden is to use the old structures, or what remains of them, as features: the barn, the ruins of a house and the old cow byre. And, of course, plenty of wall area provides space for climbers.
The back of the barn was choked with hazel trees, brambles and blackthorn. We cleared it all, created a terrace and rebuilt the well and the citerne.
I don’t mind wild plants (okay, weeds) provided they aren’t invasive, so I left this rambler rose by the well. It also has a scent, like dry tea leaves.
This area faces south-west and can be hot in the afternoon, so I have planted shrubs and plants that will tolerate it: a cariopteris, sedum for autumn colour, another rosemary bush and some Hidcote lavender (the dark purple variety). A fig tree gives architectural height.
A climbing rose takes up the end wall and bloomed abundantly this year, despite the fact that I forgot to prune it.
Next to the barn, a heap of stone and rubble, with an ash tree growing in the middle, was once a house. We cleared the rubble, used the dressed stone for other projects and the SF built a wall around the ash tree to prevent it from falling down. This now forms a raised bed, which is home to drought-resistant plants, such as trailing ceanothus, sedum and lavender.
From cow byre to terrace
A large cow byre was demolished when the house was restored in the 1970s. The rubble was used to make a raised terrace, where an umbrella-like hazel tree provides shade for the stone table where we eat in the summer with a rustic barbecue nearby.
On the left is a bay tree, planted in the lawn beneath the terrace and now around 8 feet tall. The tree appreciated the planting hole created by having to remove a huge boulder.
Along one raised part of the terrace, hazel trees had seeded themselves over the years. They never flourished and looked awful. We cut them down and dug out the roots. The soil is quite good, since the fallen hazel leaves had rotted into humus, but it is very dry, so drought-resistant plants such as pinks, were essential.
After our little tour, let’s sit under at the stone table under the hazel tree and enjoy a glass of white wine in the evening warmth. Tell me your favourite plants; I’m always on the lookout for ideas.
If you are ever in this area, I can recommend a visit to les Jardins de Quercy, between Verfeil and Varen. This garden is a labour of love: planted on sloping former fields and developed over a couple of decades into a delightful series of themed “rooms”.
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