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
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. jardin-perdu.com
Snow can arrive in Limousin any time from the end of October