My French gar­den: sum­mer in Li­mousin

The ar­rival of sum­mer means it’s time to start plant­ing out again, and Kather­ine For­shaw couldn’t be hap­pier about it

Living France - - À LA MAISON -

Hur­rah, les saints de glace have fi­nally passed, and the veg­eta­bles, which by now have been pot­ted sev­eral times in my green­house, can fi­nally be planted out with­out the lo­cals frown­ing upon me!

Les saints de glace falls from 11-13 May, and in France, it is widely be­lieved that these dates can bring the last days of cold and frost. When I first moved here, six years ago now, I didn’t heed the lo­cals’ warn­ings about the pos­si­bil­ity of late frosts and trans­ferred many of my veg­eta­bles to the gar­den in April, as I used to when I lived in Manch­ester. As a re­sult, I lost many of my non-frosthardy veg­etable plants such as cour­gettes and other gourds.

Here in the Parc Na­turel Ré­gional de Mill­e­vaches, our home is at nearly 800m, and cold, frosty morn­ings can con­tinue well into May. When plant­ing out young veg­eta­bles, it’s cer­tainly a good idea to have fleeces to hand.

How­ever, I do al­ways plant out pota­toes in April, and I’ve never had a prob­lem. This year I have cho­sen two French va­ri­eties – ‘Aman­dine’, a first early which I will start har­vest­ing mid-to-late June, and ‘Ratte’, a sec­ond early which will be ready to har­vest from July.

When planted out­side in midMay, you can start to har­vest most veg­eta­bles from July on­wards. My favourite veg­etable to grow has to be sweet­corn. I love the stature it gives to the veg­etable plot and it’s de­li­cious cooked on the bar­be­cue.

In France sweet­corn is mainly grown for animal food, and we rarely see it for sale in the shops. It’s usu­ally ready to har­vest from Au­gust into Septem­ber; to check that yours is ready to eat, care­fully peel back some of the outer leaves and pinch a ker­nel. When ripe and ready to har­vest, the juice will be milky in colour and not clear.

Al­though we’re not guar­an­teed end­less days of heat and sun dur­ing the sum­mer months in Cor­rèze, we cer­tainly do have our fair share of them. Last sum­mer was cer­tainly the hottest and dri­est since we moved here, and we had a heat­wave ( canicule). A wa­ter ban was im­posed, with no wash­ing of cars or wa­ter­ing of gar­dens al­lowed be­tween the hours of 8am and 8pm.

Drought con­di­tions cer­tainly bring a whole new chal­lenge to gar­den­ing. While flow­ers and shrubs tend to be a bit more ro­bust, fruit and veg­eta­bles cer­tainly need their wa­ter. As we’re for­tu­nate enough to have a pe­tite source run­ning through our gar­den, this, along with the old wash house lavoir at the end of the road where I fill my wa­ter­ing can, pro­vides a great source of free wa­ter for our veg­eta­bles and plants. A wa­ter butt would be a great in­vest­ment too! It is best to wa­ter your plants in early evening to en­sure that the wa­ter reaches their roots, rather than just be­ing evap­o­rated away by the sun.

In early July our ma­jes­tic lime tree, Tilia cor­data, is full of bees and the sound that em­anates from it is amaz­ing. Through­out sum­mer a pro­fu­sion of but­ter­flies visit our gar­den; Tor­toise­shell, Pea­cock, Brim­stone, Red Ad­mi­ral and Pur­ple Em­peror to name but a few, but my favourite vis­i­tor has to be the Hum­ming­bird hawk-moth. I love watch­ing them hov­er­ing as they feed from the Ni­co­tiana and Ver­bena bonar­ien­sis I plant each year to at­tract them back.

It’s dur­ing July and Au­gust that my ‘hot’ border comes into its own. It’s called ‘hot’ as I have filled it with a riot of vi­brant red, or­ange and yel­low flow­ers; He­me­ro­cal­lis, Cro­cos­mia, Dahlia, Salvia ‘Royal Bum­ble’ and Tagetes pat­ula.

This border al­ways ben­e­fits from plants bought dur­ing the spring and sum­mer week­ends from lo­cal troc aux plantes and marché aux fleurs. These events are at­tended by lo­cal grow­ers and are great for buy­ing goodqual­ity, well-priced bed­ding plants, an­nu­als and flow­ers for hang­ing bas­kets.

As Au­gust ar­rives, my Gun­nera man­i­cata, by now stand­ing at al­most 6ft tall, dom­i­nates the ‘bog’ bor­ders which run along­side the pe­tite source. Ac­com­pa­nied by Hosta, Astilbe, Iris en­sata, Solomon’s seal and Ber­ge­nia cordi­fo­lia, these leafy bor­ders pro­vide a per­fect cool shel­ter­ing place for frogs wish­ing to es­cape from the sum­mer heat.

As with the other sea­sons, you never know when sum­mer is go­ing to end, but usu­ally it lasts well into Septem­ber, if not Oc­to­ber. Here, the end of sum­mer is not a sad event, as the heat is re­placed by a chill, and the beauty of the Li­mousin coun­try­side once again comes into its own.

We’re not guar­an­teed end­less days of heat but we do have our fair share

Kather­ine For­shaw and her hus­band Paul moved from Manch­ester to Cor­rèze in Li­mousin in 2010. She de­vel­oped a love of gar­den­ing and shares her knowl­edge on her blog, Le Jardin Perdu.

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