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
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. jardin-perdu.com