Virtual Visits: A French Country Garden

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.

Albizia in its heyday

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.

Red valerian
Love-in-a-mist
Chives – the flowers are edible
Poppies and hollyhock – all self-seeded

Mediterranean garden

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.

Summer jasmine scattering spent flowers into the pot of lavender beneath it

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.

Structural features

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.

Honeysuckle on the east-facing wall of the pigeonnier
A vine is trained along the front of our open-fronted lean-to. I found the vine trailing on the ground at the side of the building.

Barn

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.

Before

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.

Ruined house

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.

Where the tree surrounded by the round bed grows was once a house. This photo was taken just after we had finished the work.
Geranium “Johnson’s Blue” flanked by lavender and sedum

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.

First lychnis coronaria to bloom after today’s early rain
Sedum reflexum enjoys the dry conditions

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”.

You might also like:

Glorious French Gardens

Les Jardins de Quercy Revisited

Dry Gardening

Monet’s Garden at Giverny

Copyright © Life on La Lune 2020. All rights reserved.

10 comments

  1. What a lot of space you have! I didn’t realise how many old buildings (or parts of!) you had. I love your briar rose and love in the mist. Ideas for next year. Our village is on the end of the Massif Centrale so may be different soil type. We”ve never identified it. ‘Mr McGregor managed to grow the vegetables we like and our fruit trees that were here already prosper as for the roses. Two of the plants I brought from our UK garden are winter jasmine and broom. The broom is getting out of hand and may die on me but it needs hard pruning. The winter jasmine grows up the wall of the workshop opposite the house and its yellow blooms from late November through to February brighten the bare winter garden. I’m jealous of your geraniums asI have rarely kept them over winter although I put them in our cave. A friend puts hers in her barn and they grow away beautifully. I share several of your plants, honeysuckle and passion flower go wild here. Thanks for sharing your ideas…happy gardening! ps I used to grow verbena in my hanging baskets until I was told it was too hot where they were. Now I put in diplodenia and they are fantastic all through the blazing heat of July and August

    Liked by 1 person

    • At one time it was a hamlet here. Sadly, the other house was a heap of rubble by the time we arrived. The barn was heading towards oblivion, and the cow byre had already been demolished and re-used to make a large terrace area. We also inherited two wells and a citerne.

      The previous two winters have been the only ones in 23 years when I’ve been able to keep the geraniums. I just cut them right down and left them in a sheltered sunny spot with a wall behind them. I’ve tried the cave and the barn in previous, colder winters, but they didn’t survive. I must try diplodenia.

      Being on the edge of the Massif Central, I suspect you might have more acid soil than we do here, which is limestone through and through. So no azaleas or camellias. And they don’t thrive in pots.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love your garden – so much green!! We’ve probably had all the rain for this year, so things will start to dry and frizzle soon. Over the fourteen years I’ve had my garden, there’s been a lot of trial and error. If it needs too much water then it’s generally an error! 🙂 Of the perennials, I love my salvias – they are so generous in their flowering, and only need to be cut to the ground in spring! I’m also very fond of beschorneria septentrionalis, which povides a splash of bright pink colour in the spring, gaillardia, which seems to just go on and on, and bulbine frutescens is doing perfectly in my garden, flowering its heart out for most of the year!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is very green at the moment because of the mild, wet winter. We’ve also had a fair amount of rain on and off over the spring. By late summer, it’s all looking a bit parched with not much flowering.

      I must admit I had to look up beschorneria septentrionalis and bulbine frutescens, which were not plants I knew! I suspect your growing conditions might suit them better, but in the right place they don’t seem to need a lot of care.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bulbine isn’t hardy here strictly speaking, but for some reason the ones I have in my garden have survived and thrived!! If you have a sheltered spot you might be able to enjoy it – it’s very easy to grow from offshoots, so if you come to Saint-Chinian I’ll pull up some for you! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s amazing what can flourish in such a dry climate. It all looks very green now but I imagine it’s a different story in August. Love that stone table — looks like it was carved right into the terrace!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It can be extremely wet here as well, but it dries out quickly. The stone table was already here when we bought the place. We have often speculated on how they got it in place, since my husband reckons it weighs nearly a tonne. Crane, I suppose.

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