Open gardens: Dordogne
Member of France’s Open Gardens scheme, Frances Pengelly reveals what works in her two-acre garden in the south-west
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. opengardens.eu