Visiting Sombrun

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One of the lovely old wrought iron fences and gates, with (?) Clematis Dr Ruppel getting going, Sombrun, May 2017

I love visiting gardens.  Old friends, new friends, places that I have never been and old favourites are all alike in that I just love seeing gardens, other people’s ways of using their space, and inhabiting their world for a short time.  And when you meet people who have tackled, and are still tackling, an impressive amount of space, with open areas, courtyards, woodlands and open meadows- it is quite humbling.  In Sombrun, a village about 30 minutes from us, a couple have done just that.  These are not flowery people or the gardener who might have a trough of alpines on display- this couple wanted a ‘green garden’ and so have set about their big space with the eyes of landscape designers rather than gardeners.

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Using the woodland but adding the definition of the clipped stairway alongside the actual steps, Sombrun, May 2017

With mature woodland on almost three sides, they have chosen to melt the garden into the borrowed landscape in all sorts of clever ways.  I loved this faux hedging staircase alongside the actual steps, which shows so well that just a little formality can bring a disparate woodland scene together.

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The angular, zigzagged hedge snakes up the hill away from the rear courtyard, Sombrun, May 2017

But there are areas where the dense privacy of a really good hedge was needed.  And so, working its way up the hill is a long, zigzagged hedge of beech, which embraces the newer tree planting in the angles of the zigzag.

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Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’ in another crook of the opposite beech hedge, Sombrun, May 2017

And now and then, there is a flash of colour, like the Mutabilis rose snuggled into a crook of the beech hedge.   Another bold choice was to create tiered sweeps of hedging taking you away from the courtyard to the start of the hill, I love Eleagnus x ebbingei for its silvery look and slightly stiff shaping, and it was a great choice to make this statement.

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Eleagnus ebbingei tiered hedging looking very silvery, Sombrun, May 2017

To soften the hedging emphasis, the grass is allowed to be longer, to support buttercups and other wild flowers, with mown areas where a passageway is needed.  This made for a relaxed feel in amongst the big formal strokes.  And green it is- I loved the faux crowns of Phormium sprouting through the spreading conifers.

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A hedging archway, with spreading groups of conifer crowned by the upright Phormiums, Sombrun, May 2017

One mixed border runs close by the side of the house, where clipped shapes and big, spreading shrubs are supported by perennials- this area used to be a woodland, but the removal of the trees opened up light and air for the house- you can still see the tree stumps through the grass.

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A mixed border close to the house, Sombrun, May 2017

Pencil cypresses draw the eye up and out of the rear courtyard, past the pretty cart- as if the farmer had just pulled up there.  The swimming pool can just be seen because of the cover, with a large cream Cistus flowering at the far side.

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The rear courtyard, Sombrun, May 2017

I was running round the garden as a big, cold storm piled in- so my last stop was to get closer to the pink clematis twisting through the old iron fencing at the front of the house. There were lots of photographs that never got taken!

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The bright pink of Clematis ‘Dr Ruppel’ (?), Sombrun, May 2017

Such strange times….

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Cistus x purpureus, Tostat, April 2017

Never mind the politics on either side of the Channel, at the moment, we have hurtled from mid-Spring to high summer with barely a heartbeat between.  The last 3 weeks have been so warm and sunny that everything in the garden is straining at the leash, but, at the same time, short and depleted as we have had no rain to combat the sudden warmth.  I have never had to seriously water tulips in pots before.   So bizarre and a bit worrying, all out of joint somehow.  But, on the positive side, it is rather wonderful to see almost all the roses in the garden out together, rather than the Banksiae rose being a solo turn for at least a month.

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Rosa banksiae lutea, Tostat, April 2017

The downside is that the normally tall and wafty Thalictrum aquilegifolium (usually 1.5-2m high) is under a metre high, still, from a photography point of view, it is amazing to be so close to the powderpuff flowers, and on a sunny day against the dark stream bank, it looks almost spectral.

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Thalictrum aquilegifolium, Tostat, April 2017

It isn’t possible to do any weeding at all as the soil has baked dry, and so the weed friends are having a great, if slightly dwarf, experience, and there are parts of the garden that I haven’t made it round to yet.  The penalties of being away, having lovely friends to stay and the weather- never mind.  I am currently enjoying, though she can be quite tart (!), ‘The Deckchair Gardener’ by Anne Wareham, which reassures my dutiful-daughter persona that nothing will be lost by weeding later or not at all!

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Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’, Tostat, April 2017

Sticking with the roses briefly, here they are, looking the best that they have for years. For them, I suspect, the drought is not too problematic as they are really well-established, but the warmth has been accompanied by cool, refreshing nights and so this may be really suiting them down to ground.

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Rosa ‘Crepuscule’, I think, Tostat, April 2017

I adore this blousy old rose, which I think is ‘Crepuscule’.  It has gorgeous, warm, coppery colouring which fades to a creamy yellow and apricot- and a sweet, deep scent.  It doesn’t produce many flowers but they are all worth the wait.

Rosa 'Jacqueline du Pré', Tostat, April 2017
Rosa ‘Jacqueline du Pré’, Tostat, April 2017

 

‘Jacqueline du Pré’ is a rose that I once attempted to smuggle back from the UK in hand luggage, but gave it up as a bad idea.  It now lives happily in Shropshire with my friend, Jane.  But last year, it appeared in France and so that was the green light.  It is only an infant but even now, has four beautiful flowers, which are probably going to be smashed by the heavy rain that we are finally promised this afternoon. So I dashed out to take it’s portrait whilst intact.

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Rosa ‘Pierre Ronsard’, Tostat, April 2017

‘Pierre Ronsard’ opens to a dark pink, tightly furled centre, with pale outer petals and then settles into domesticity as above, looking, well, pink.  But it is a lovely shape and I adore the tightness of the furled petals.  Useless for insects unless they had mining equipment, but lovely all the same.

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Rosa ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’, Tostat, April 2017

MAC is curently flowering amongst the euphorbias, and other remnants of Spring, in a dry and sandy location- but it is looking fabulous, hurling itself over a wall and shooting up in the air.  What an extraordinary athlete this rose is.  I can’t recommend it enough as totally trouble-free rose- and it flowers off and on all summer in spates.

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Rosa ‘Zephérine Drouhin’, Tostat, April 2017

Looking for a thornless, trouble-free climbing rose that needs a little support, but after that, will dig in forever- ‘Zephérine Drouhin’ is the one for you.  Lipstick pink is matched with bright green foliage and she now measures about 4m x 3m with me, and is still going up, draping herself very nicely over the end of the house and the covered barn. She is a showstopper when in full flow, which is expected to be next week once the rain passes over.

And at the other end of the scale,  Begonia grandis evansiana is making a start in a massive pot.  By the middle of June, the pot will be filled by it, reaching 1.5m high and wide, and it is such a good doer that I forgive it for being a begonia.  Waiting now for the rain…

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Begonia grandis evansiana, Tostat, April 2017

All change. The blog, the climate and me…

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End of the afternoon sunlight, Tostat, November 2016

It’s been almost two months since the last post. And, it is almost the end of the second year of this blog, which started out as an experiment in not boring myself, and trying out what has become a real conversation with not just me, but with readers whose responses I really enjoy and look forward to.

So, a month travelling in Ethiopia, a couple of weeks working on and running a weekend retreat here in English and French, preparing for and having our interviews for French citizenship, and having young people, ill and well, for a week or so- all that filled time and took time.  And allowed me to think about what I am doing here in this blog.

So, I have moved to my own domain platform for the blog.  You can now get to it by just typing

http://www.jardinecofriendly.com

and there will be no more irritating adverts slowing things up.  And I have tidied up the main page a wee bit, with some new photographs.

And, more importantly, I am reminding myself that what I do in my garden matters for the ecosystem as a whole, and so, my principle of using no additional water (with the possible exception of some hand-watering in hot months of the first year of growth in the case of perennials and shrubs) is uppermost in my mind as I think about climate change.  Which is really on my mind, and what is coming out of Trump Tower is very bad news indeed.  But, at almost the same time as the US elections, I watched an incredible documentary film (thank you Erica), which has both hardened my resolve and strengthened my spirit.

The film is ‘Demain’ made by the actress Melanie Laurent and colleagues- watch it, it is hard, scary and utterly fabulous.   The first time I have got beyond being simply scared about climate change- and begun to move towards really identifying what I can do myself- and with others.  Google it and you will find ways to see it.

So, what this means in terms of the garden is this:  I am even more concerned to source plants as locally as I can, to grow from seed what I can’t easily get, and to focus down on recognising that hot, dry summers and wet winters/spring are probably the pattern for the next few years.  So this means looking to research plants that thrive in areas with these conditions- notably the Mid-Western and Northern Californian areas in particular.  I recognise that I will also need to find forgiving plants that will tolerate something less drastic as well for those many inbetween days.

But meantime, there is lots to talk about from autumn trips and plans for next year, so I will step down off my plinth and simply share some photographs of what is still looking lovely in the garden, even now.

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The acer colouring is simply the best it has ever been…Tostat, November 2016
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Even the apple tree has joined in…Tostat, November 2016
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Miscanthus on the left, Berberis ‘Helmond Pillar’ looking red in the face, and Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’ going buttery against the banana, Tostat, November 2016
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It won’t be the last rose, Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’, Tostat, November 2016

 

 

 

Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’ and Le Bois des Moutiers

Sometimes, a visit to a garden introduces you to an unforgettable plant, idea or atmosphere which stays with you. Back in 1990, as a new gardener with not much under my belt, I visited Le Bois des Moutiers, an unforgettable house and garden near Varengeville-sur-Mer, in Normandy. And the plant that I saw there which became one of the first things I bought when we moved to Tostat, was Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’.

Rosa chinensis 'Mutabilis'  August 2014
Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’ August 2014

It is a wonderful shrub rose. It will grow almost anywhere, is pretty much evergreen all year, requires no pruning other than dead bits, grows away to itself until, in our case, it reaches 3m x 3m, and it flowers for 8-9 months of the year in bursts. It also needs no watering or special feeding of any kind. And when it flowers, it is as if a crowd of peach, pale cream, dark pink and buttery yellow butterflies have landed on the bush. The flowers are single, and crinkle up, so that they really do resemble butterflies en masse. And the colours change as the flower ages, from buttery yellow to deep deep pink. For me, it is one of the highlights of our ‘Shitty Bank’, see my earlier blog for more details.

And I first saw it at Le Bois Des Moutiers. The link takes you to the opening page of their website, and there is a video embedded which will give you a really good idea of how beautiful it is. Still owned and run by the Mallet family, who first commissioned Edwin Lutyens and his friend and associate, Gertrude Jekyll to design the house and the garden, it is a ‘must-see’ if you are in Haute-Normandie. The house is now open for visits guided by family members, and the gardens are open as well.

When we went in late summer 1990, Rosa chinenis ‘Mutabilis’ was flowering magnificently, and I was smitten for ever. Below, are 2 photographs from 1990, which show the Rose placed to front a woodland garden area, and it can be clearly seen mid-right in the second photograph showing the broad allee running down from the house. I remember seeing the then Mme Mallet in wellies in the front garden of the house, and I asked her for the name of the rose, and also for any plant nurseries she would personally recommend. She helped me with both with real interest.

Rosa chinensis 'Mutabilis' fronting a woodland planting (centre) Le Bois es Moutiers 1990
Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’ fronting a woodland planting (centre): Le Bois des Moutiers 1990
Rosa chinensis 'Mutabilis'  (mid right) and the allee leading back up the house: Le Bois des Moutiers 1990
Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’ (mid right) and the allee leading back up the house: Le Bois des Moutiers 1990

Here are 2 other views of the house and garden from that visit. In the first, I can be seen bottom-left in a large flowery t-shirt walking towards the house. It is a fantastic example of an Arts and Crafts house with many original pieces of furniture still in place that were specially designed for the house and Guillaume Mallet. In the second photograph, a very young looking Andy can be seen in front of a view of the house and the enormous Lutyens pergola.

Le Bois des Moutiers 1990: Me in a flowery t-shirt and the front of the house
Le Bois des Moutiers 1990: Me in a flowery t-shirt and the front of the house
Le Bois des Moutiers 1990: a young looking Andy in front of the house and the Lutyens pergola
Le Bois des Moutiers 1990: a young looking Andy in front of the house and the Lutyens pergola

And whilst you are there, you can see the stunning Braque stained glass windows in the little church and chapel at Varengeville, and if you are in the mood for another garden, the late Princess Greta Sturdza‘s garden (which is on my list) can be seen at Le Vasterival. If you want to make a visit, the website includes all the information about the various ways of organising a visit but all are by appointment, so need to be arranged in advance. Princess Sturdza was a breeder of hydrangea, amongst other things, and I have just bought Hydrangea paniculata ‘Great Star’ which was discovered and bred by her. Got to make a trip to Normandy….

When Shitty Bank isn’t so shitty….

The site of Shitty Bank 2003
The site of Shitty Bank 2003

This is the site of Shitty Bank when we first saw it in 2003.  There is no bank, and it’s not that…bad! Dried out as a result of a huge heatwave that hit France for a month in August 2003, but otherwise fine.  This is was where we decided to put the swimming pool that we built 3 years later, mainly because it was flat, a bit screened by a big hedge from our really nice neighbours, and it was a sun-trap.  So in it went, and with it came a massive heap of spoil, rubbish soil with huge river stones in it, and not much else.

What to do? Well, I had recently read Beth Chatto’s great book about gravel gardening…a new subject to me having previously gardened in Scotland. And so, emboldened by her experiment in gardening with what she’d got, an old carpark space, I decided to do the same with our bank of spoil. An old friend came to visit, laughed, and promptly christened it ‘Shitty Bank’. The name stuck.

Lessons learnt:

– if, like me, your ground is poor and stoney, it will take a couple of years for plants to get their feet down and really take off. So patience really is a virtue.

– don’t bother with ‘small and interesting’ plants…go for rough, tough stuff that will see off all the bindweed and other weeds, or at least sit on them. The ‘small and interesting’ things just get lost in the bigger things and don’t make it. I love Nepeta tuberosa, and did have a good clump which I grew from seed, but rain and other plants pushed it out, and now I have it in a kinder place.

– do plant beautiful and tolerant plants. Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’ loves it. She started as a one-foot weakling and is now 3m high x 4m spread.  A few years ago, we had quite a wet summer and the bindweed was growing to serious strangulation point.  So, in the winter, we crawled underneath and anchored black tarpaulin material as tightly as we could around the underneath of the rose.  This has been quite effective and reduced the bindweed by about 80%. With us, this rose is in bloom for easily 10 months of the year.

Rosa chinensis 'Mutabilis' changes from deep pink to peach to yellow as the flowers age..
Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’ changes from yellow to peach to deep pink as the flowers age..

– another toughie, which is now a small tree, is Vitex agnus castus, which has fabulous purple blossom in late summer.

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Vitex agnus castus flowering amongst Eryngium agavifolium

– and I wouldn’t be without, though it doesn’t last long, I love the way the colour in the flowers fills up like a cartoon blush, and it does happily colonise everywhere….Echinops sphaerocephalus ‘Arctic Glow’.

Echinops sphaerocephalus 'Arctic Glow'
Echinops sphaerocephalus ‘Arctic Glow’

And, although like everything else in the garden, there is constant change as plants, and me, change our minds about each other, and each year brings new weather challenges, Shitty Bank does a good job and I have learnt that it survives pretty well now with one really good tidy-up of bramble, bindweed and their pals each year. And now, the plants are big enough to fend for themselves.

Small footnote: I grew my Nepeta tuberosa from seed from Derry Watkins at Special Plants, near Bath, back in 2005.  She is a fount of wisdom, and her brochure is a torture to read- you could choose everything.  Her seed is always good.  If she was down the road from me, I would be penniless.

Early Shitty Bank: Rosa sanguinea, Phlomis purpurea (pink), Stachys byzantina,  yellow Asphodeline lutea, Euphorbia characias wulfenii
Early Shitty Bank: Rosa sanguinea, Armeria maritima Dusseldorf Pride  (pink), Stachys byzantina, yellow Asphodeline lute, Euphorbia characias wulfenii