Open gar­dens: Dor­dogne

Mem­ber of France’s Open Gar­dens scheme, Frances Pen­gelly re­veals what works in her two-acre gar­den in the south-west

Living France - - Á La Maison -

We live in a lit­tle vil­lage in Dor­dogne in south-west France where lime­stone is abun­dant and the soil is al­ka­line. Our gar­den is ap­prox­i­mately two acres and was only rough ground when we started to build it 12 years ago. Seven glo­ri­ous aca­cia trees stand in a row in one half of the gar­den; this is where my herb gar­den is si­t­u­ated with all its an­gel­ica. Wil­lows, pines, a med­lar, fruit trees and win­ter-flow­er­ing shrubs all thrive in the poor-ish soil. I am es­pe­cially keen on win­ter-flow­er­ing shrubs of which I have a Daphne odora, win­ter-flow­er­ing hon­ey­suckle, weep­ing pear with its sil­ver leaves, many types of jas­mine, a col­lec­tion of dif­fer­ent coloured Chaenome­les and two tree pe­onies, as well as many crab ap­ples, Forsythia and a mi­mosa.

We have three ponds which are full of a va­ri­ety of gold­fish. Th­ese are sur­rounded by beds of var­i­ous shrubs, pop­pies, bulbs and Euphor­bia, their yel­lowy-green flow­ers tak­ing us well into early sum­mer.

Irises are one of my favourites – they grow in the main beds, and I have made a tiny iris gar­den in the pretty well area. Iris pseu­da­corus, the em­blem of France, cou­pled with Hon­esty grow along the mar­gins of the ponds, to­gether with Prim­ula pul­veru­lenta. All the plants grow ri­otously in their own space; it’s mar­vel­lous.

Wildlife is en­cour­aged into the gar­den by the ban­tams, hens and fan­tail doves that all live in a small sec­ondary gar­den con­tain­ing an old well, clois­tered against a 13th­cen­tury church, which stands on the edge of our prop­erty. Col­lared doves sit in the al­mond trees, the oc­ca­sional rat is seen run­ning for cover and our lit­tle owls sit in the wil­low tree in the ban­tam run. We have the oc­ca­sional squir­rel and some­times hares visit us. The lily ponds act as an at­trac­tion to large drag­on­flies, frogs, toads and lo­cal cats who like fish­ing for gold­fish. The bees and but­ter­flies are busy here too, but alas, there are fewer than in past years.

The gar­den is at its best in spring and I can eas­ily deal with it then. Sum­mer is lovely, but it is by then be­gin­ning to show the strain of heat, and wa­ter­ing has to start. Au­tumn is lovely, but flow­ers are sparse. From the end of Septem­ber un­til No­vem­ber we have a re­mark­able grow­ing win­dow. This is true work­ing time for me, and I spend my time tak­ing cut­tings and mov­ing plants to better po­si­tions. Win­ter some­times has lovely sunny days fol­lowed by very frosty nights. The con­ti­nent of Europe can be un­bear­ably cold and tem­per­a­tures can be as low as -14ºC. It is not easy gar­den­ing here with very hot sum­mers and very cold win­ters. Last year we had no rain from June un­til late Septem­ber.

I got in­volved with Open Gar­dens after a ca­sual re­mark by a friend prompted me to call the lo­cal Open Gar­dens co­or­di­na­tor, who made it quite clear we were very wel­come. We opened two years ago and have had a good num­ber of peo­ple.

My favourite thing about my gar­den is the fact it is my cre­ation and I have al­ways wanted to cre­ate a gar­den in France. open­gar­

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