My French gar­den: win­ter in Li­mousin

For Kather­ine For­shaw, the win­ter months in the gar­den are spent tidying, tam­ing and re­plen­ish­ing the soil in readi­ness for the next grow­ing year

Living France - - À La Maison -

Since the first frosts and snow of win­ter can ar­rive in Li­mousin any time from the end of Oc­to­ber on­wards, my motto for win­ter gar­den­ing is ‘al­ways be pre­pared’. As we head to­wards the end of the year, I make sure that gar­den fleeces have been bought and that I keep a keen eye on the météo fore­casts.

With win­ter night-time tem­per­a­tures reg­u­larly dip­ping to­wards -8ºC, of­ten ac­com­pa­nied by freez­ing northerly winds which blow across the fields into our gar­den, I have tried to avoid in­clud­ing too many ten­der shrubs in my bor­ders. In­stead, I have opted for more frost-hardy va­ri­eties such as Pyra­can­tha an­gus­ti­fo­lia ‘Sa­phyr Red’, Cor­nus alba ‘Sibir­ica’ and Physo­car­pus op­uli­folius ‘Di­able d’Or’.

That said, my heart of­ten wins over my head, and al­though I know it’s ask­ing for trou­ble I have been tempted to in­clude a few non-hardy shrubs in my gar­den. So far these have sur­vived, but I have to en­sure that the fleeces come out and are care­fully wrapped around these plants as soon as the weather is fore­cast to dip into the mi­nus fig­ures for a few con­sec­u­tive nights. The more ten­der shrubs I have planted in my gar­den in­clude Fat­sia japon­ica, Gun­nera man­i­cata and Camel­lia, though I only cover the lat­ter in very cold years.

As win­ter ap­proaches the flow­er­ing pe­riod for most plants comes to an end, but rather than dead­head­ing these last blooms I pre­fer to leave them to form seed heads. To me, the seed heads add in­ter­est and stature to the gar­den dur­ing the coldest months; they look beau­ti­ful tinged with frost or skit­tered with snow. They also pro­vide much-needed food for birds dur­ing the win­ter months that par­tic­u­larly en­joy feed­ing from the seed heads of my Rud­beckia fulgida, Echi­nacea pur­purea, Mis­cant­hus sinen­sis ‘Ze­bri­nus’, Aster frikar­tii ‘Mönch’, and Zin­nia.

Look­ing after wildlife dur­ing the win­ter months is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant as many food sources are hi­ber­nat­ing and grubs are buried deep in the hard frost or snow-cov­ered ground. While seed heads left on plants help, I also make sure we have plenty of bird food and that our pe­tite source is run­ning freely so they have water. Hav­ing a huge holly bush in the front gar­den laden with lovely red berries is a bonus.

For me the win­ter months in the gar­den are mainly spent tidying, tam­ing and re­plen­ish­ing the soil in readi­ness for the next grow­ing year. Be­fore the first frosts ar­rive we make our an­nual pil­grim­age to the lo­cal rid­ing sta­bles in search of well-aged fu­mier de cheval (horse ma­nure) for the veg­etable gar­den. Dug into the soil dur­ing the early win­ter months, the horse ma­nure will help to re­plen­ish the nu­tri­ents used by the veg­eta­bles the sea­son be­fore.

My favourite win­ter days are those when the sky is blue, the sun is shin­ing, yet frost rests on the ground. The white-tinged Li­mousin coun­try­side looks beau­ti­ful and the tem­per­a­ture is ideal for tack­ling those dreaded jobs such as cut­ting back and pulling up bram­bles. Black­berry bushes are our big­gest bug­bear. Al­though great for for­ag­ing from in early Septem­ber, they grow at a rate of knots and of­ten creep into our gar­den from the edges of the field. There’s no easy way of keep­ing them un­der con­trol; it’s just a case of cut­ting them back and try­ing to pull up their vig­or­ous roots. It’s the perfect job to keep you warm on a win­ter’s day!

We have lived here for more than six years now and have ex­pe­ri­enced a few white Christ­mases, but it is dur­ing Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary that snow is most likely to cover the gar­den for weeks on end. At times the snow will reach your knees and on days like this there’s lit­tle else you can do other than think about gar­den­ing projects for the year ahead. So, on days like this I sit in front of the crackling wood­burner, a glass of wine to hand, seed pack­ets and seed cat­a­logues scat­tered around me and make my plans for the next grow­ing year. Par­fait!

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.

Snow can ar­rive in Li­mousin any time from the end of Oc­to­ber

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