Happy New Year to my readers.
January is a time for planning changes and improvements to the garden. It’s often too cold (or wet) for much gardening, but it’s pleasant to sit indoors with good gardening books and seed and plant catalogues and do some blue sky thinking and planning. Having said that, here in SW France the weather has been cold but pleasant with clear blue skies and a lot of sunshine, so it has been possible to do a lot of walking in the countryside and some weeding and tidying up in the garden.
In the autumn of 2017 I had a pond dug in a corner of my garden, just beyond 2 oak trees which drape their branches close to the ground. I think they are marsh oaks, they are certainly in the wettest part of the garden. A couple of years ago I got a tree surgeon to cut off the lowest branches, so that the branches still trail down to the ground but it is possible to sit underneath the trees in the summer. It’s like sitting under a marquee, but one you can see out from, and is the coolest place in the house or garden in our hot summer months.
Beyond the trees and looking out of the garden, there is a view across vine fields and also into the small oak wood behind my house. This is the wildest part of the garden, so seemed a good place to site a wildlife pond.
The first year of the pond, 2018, I planted a few pond plants including 2 water lilies, various oxygenating plants, and some marginal plants in the shallow end of the pond and around the pond. I was very pleased to have visits from dragonflies and damselflies every day and wood pigeons and other birds dropping in for a drink. Some of the plants around the edge of the pond struggled in the very hot weather. This year I am hoping to incorporate some more home made compost or topsoil before more planting. I will be planting different grasses and flowering plants around the pond.
The woodland border close to the pond has good soil full of leafmould, but faces due west and is baked in the sun on summer afternoons. This limits the planting of many herbaceous plants, which find the summer conditions too drying. However shrubs and bamboos thrive in this border. I have bought 2 additional bamboo plants, one with green stems,(Phyllostachys aurea) and one with black stems, (Phyllostachys nigra) which I am ready to plant, now that I have purchased some bamboo barrier material to stop the roots from spreading too rapidly.
Close to the pond there is an existing silver birch tree which looks rather sad on its own. I have bought 2 more trees ( Betula utilis ramifie) and am going to plant them with the other in a small group of 3, which I think will look attractive particularly in spring with species daffodils planted underneath.
I am also intending to plant Fritillaria meleagris in this area around and underneath the trees as they enjoy the heavy and marshy conditions.
On 2 sides of the 2 large oak trees, I have had 2 oval beds dug by tractor, necessary on my heavy soil, where I will be planting grasses and tough herbaceous plants such as Echinacea and late summer perennials, which will hopefully thrive in the hot summers. At the moment I am thinking of having one bed with hot colours, yellows, reds and oranges, and the other with purples and deep reds. I will then have views from the trees of the wood, the pond, and 2 colourful perennial beds.
I have also had dug a small cut flower bed next to my potagers (vegetable gardens). I have found it difficult to buy attractive cut flowers in the supermarkets in France so am hoping to grow some of my own from annual seeds. Again the soil will need improvement with compost or topsoil particularly before planting small plug plants or sowing seeds.
It has always been one of my dreams to have a greenhouse, where I can raise plants from seeds and cuttings. At the moment I have a small planthouse on my terrace, but the capacity is not very big. As I live close to the Chateau de Gageac, I had to check whether I need planning permission for the greenhouse. Unfortunately the area of the garden where I want to put it, at the front next to the drive and close to the potagers, seems to suddenly have an underground spring which last summer was becoming more active.
If I can sort out the location, I hope to get the greenhouse installed this year. It is too hot here in the summer to use a greenhouse, so it would mainly be used for overwintering plants and cuttings, and raising plants from seed in the spring.