Pointless pottering…why it matters

I have often said, when asked ‘What were you up to today?’, this:  ‘Oh you know, pointless pottering in the garden.’  I really have to stop saying that.  There is no such thing.  Firstly, it’s when you wander round that you really notice things, and very often, it is only by breaking the routines of how and where you potter, that you actually see the bigger picture.  I think this is particularly true of me, because I am more than bit of a self-confessed plantaholic.  This means that I am often only looking at the performance and behaviour of one particular plant at a time.  Interestingly, this is how I photograph the garden too. Plant by plant.  There is a side aspect to this, that I have a camera that is not that great at bigger, wider shots, but in truth, I could do this differently than I do.  Habit, you see.

So, today, I am widening the lens just a little, living dangerously and showing you more than one plant at a time.  Combinations came to mind today, those serendipitous moments when you have introduced a new element, or in my language, stuffed another plant in, and the picture is really changed and developed.

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Acanthus mollis behind, Leycesteria Formosa ‘Golden lanterns’ just opening up on the left, and a handful of doughty, unknown cream tulips- and one fly looking for stardom, Tostat, April 2106

I could swear these tulips have moved.  I know they are very robust because I planted a cheap packet of them easily eight years ago, and they may be down to this small clump and one other, but they always turn up.  And now that the Acanthus has really taken hold, the other morning on a light, grey day was just the perfect time to catch them in a photograph with no glare.  But the tulips were definitely further left to start with.

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Narcissus ‘Thalia’ in front of unknown blue Iris, 4 unknown cream peony double tulips, frothy Cenolophium denudatum, tiny glimpse of Ranunculus ficaria’Brazen Hussy’ and the box hedge replacement, Eleagnus x ebbingei dusty brown new foliage, Tostat, April 2016

In a similar cream/green combination, the addition of Narcissus ‘Thalia’ has changed this mini-scene for me.  It extends the cream and green away from the unknown, another doughty tulip returner, and as the Cenolophium is now in is third year, it too is making more of an early impact.  The frothy new foliage is a great contrast with the almost cardboard-coloured new foliage of the replacement hedge.  That was a torture, ripping out the mouldering remains of the box last August, but I think the Eleagnus will give us different vistas through the year and I am quite excited to see how well it does.

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Narcissus ‘Thalia’, Tostat, April 2016

This Narcissus is so delicate and pretty.  Mind you, I was lying down to take this photograph as it is quite small in stature.  Note to self: buy some more and find a way of raising them up for next year.

And, whilst pottering, I looked down into the centre of the new Helleborus foetidus foliage.  And, I know that I am trying to broaden my looking, but, it is exquisite close-up and like a mysterious world unto itself.

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New foliage on Helleborus foetidus, Tostat, April 2016

So, here is what I am looking forward to in about 5 weeks, a great drift of Anthemis ‘Hollandaise Sauce’ punctured later by the tall columns of Liatris scariosa ‘Alba’ which brings some definition when the Anthemis takes a breather.  And that’s a bit more of a vista.  So, now that I have noticed my monoist (is there such a word?!) tendencies, I will try and broaden the angle a bit. If nothing else, I can then remind myself that the whole is more than a sum of its parts.

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Anthemis ‘Hollandaise Sauce’ in drift, Tostat, June 2015

Once a lavoir, on the way to becoming a place to stop and relax…

About 2 years before we came to France, Andy’s Mum gave me an enchanting book, which really inspired me to want to find ways in which gardening and design can support the development of public spaces for enjoyment. This slim little book, ‘Diary of a French Herb Garden’ by the well known cookery writer, Geraldene Holt, told the story of her restoration of an ancient potager once used by the local priest of the little village of Saint Montan in the Ariege.  The small plot was about to be taken as parking space when she asked the local Conseil if they would allow her to restore it into a public aromatic garden, staying true to the memory of priests supporting the community as the apothecary. They did, she did, and the garden remains to this day as a public space.

And as time turns around and comes around, I have been asked to think about how a village public space can be transformed into an engaging and easy to care for public space, offering time to stop and think.  This tiny little plot, by an ancient ruisseau or agricultural canal, lies just beneath a very small bridge over the ruisseau, and is bounded by walls and hedges.  But, when you step down into the plot, only 9m x 8m at its widest, it does feel as if you have stepped down into the past. The small road vanishes from view, and the rushing water, and the presence of an old upended washing stone, reminds you of how hard a woman’s life was before domestic machinery.

The lavoir from the small bridge with the upended scrubbing stone visible April 15
The lavoir from the small bridge with the upended scrubbing stone visible April 15

The telegraph pole is a bit in your face to start with, but, being wood, it begins to merge into the background.  The shopping bag is mine, with my measuring tapes and whatnot in it.

The view back to the lavoir from the other side of the bridge April 15
The view back to the lavoir from the other side of the bridge April 15

You can also see that an old kneeling stone survives so that the women would have been able to stay clean-ish themselves when bending down to do the washing.

Ancient lavoir with women doing the washing Photo credit; www.fontaine-fourches.com/
Ancient lavoir with women doing the washing
Photo credit;
http://www.fontaine-fourches.com/

So, how to make this into an enchanting space? I thought I should begin with attracting attention from the road with flowering planting that will last all year, and then also keeping the palate simple with good perennial cover that will take care of itself, and colours staying within the cream-yellow-blue range, with a flash or two of pink. I have drawn a quick isonometric sketch just to give an idea…

Lavoir isonometric Apr 15

Coming from the little road, you step onto big and small paving stones towards 2 angled slate benches underneath a pergola, shaped a bit like an open book. It will need to be a strong pergola that will support the full weight of the earliest rose, Rosa banksiae lutea, which will shower down onto the pergola in April-May. This rose will be followed by the white passionflower, Passiflora caerulea ‘Constance Elliott, which will flower till the frosts. Should be a showstopper.

This is the cream version of the rose I am planning. Rosa banksiae alba plena. Just imagine this...only creamy yellow. April 2013
This is the cream version of the rose I am planning. Rosa banksiae alba plena. Just imagine this…only creamy yellow. April 2013

Rosa banksiae is tough as old boots and thornless, all good things in a public space. Another rose, Rosa Jacqueline du Pre, will be nearby flowering white and cream later from summer into autumn, bright blue Louisiana irises will cluster at the water’s edge from June till August, and Saponaria officinalis Rosea Plena, the double form of the soapwort which was often planted near lavoirs in ancient times, will provide a good splash of pink.  Earlier in the year, Helleborus orientalis will robustly flower, leaving great foliage all year and a Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata, which we will have to wait a bit for, will scent the scene from January till March. Acanthus mollis will also fill in gaps with good greenery all year and pinkish flowers in early summer.

Let’s hope that people like the sound of it, and we all start saving plants to make it happen. With one or two purchases along the way.