Open gardens: Lot-et-Garonne
Member of France’s Open Gardens scheme, John Massey shares what grows best in his south-west garden
Imoved here from England in April 2005, just short of two years after my retirement, at the age of 66. The first task was to make the house, ‘Pardissous’, habitable, which took the first six months. During this period I surveyed the plot and drew an outline plan. This defined the position of the swimming pool, which was installed during the same period.
Outside the house was a small area of grass and beyond this a field planted with wheat, which had to be harvested before any work on the garden could commence. The ‘hard landscaping’ and planting of trees and hedges began, only to be interrupted by the discovery of buried walls, and pieces of old pottery and tiles. An expert investigated and declared them to be Roman, and stopped all work in the surrounding area. The excavation identified the building found as a workshop, and further investigation resulted in the discovery of a villa. All this took two years. However, work in other areas was able to continue.
Finally, after 10 years the garden was finished, keeping very close to my initial plan. In principle it is an English garden in terms of style, although the planting has been modified to take account of local conditions, particularly the hot, dry summers. There are areas of lawn with herbaceous borders, a white garden, a water garden, a vegetable garden and a pool area with a summer kitchen, all divided by hedges of Elaeagnus, laurel, Photinia, and Viburnum ‘Lucidum’. The garden is situated on a plateau, and these hedges function as a windbreak, protecting it from heavy winds. I have always been keen on the Viburnum family of shrubs, which I have found grow well here given soil preparation, and sufficient watering until established. I have examples of x bodnantense, x burkwoodii, carlesii, davidii, opulus, plicatum ‘Lanarth’, and ‘Mariesii’. Plus also the wayfarer tree, lantana, and tinus, which grows particularly well here with no watering, and forms a wonderful evergreen hedge. The flowers and perfume of the Viburnums are wonderful, especially burkwoodii and carlesii. Another favourite is Cornus florida, ‘Eddie’s White Wonder’. I found several young trees at a local nursery, and really should not have bought them as they don’t like the dry summers. However, as I had always admired this small tree, I took the plunge, and have never regretted it. The large white bracts (which look like flowers) are stunning in April, and the leaves in shades of orange and red are a real show in autumn. They are fine as long as they get enough water in summer.
Plants I have found most suitable for local conditions are Acanthus, Achillea, Arbutus unedo, Bignonia, Buddleia, Buxus, Ceanothus (although I lost several plants when the temperature dropped to minus 16°C a few years ago), Choisya, Cistus, Convolvulus cneorum, Cotinus, Dianthus, Euphorbia, Gaura, Hypericum, iris, lavender, Nepeta, Nerium (oleander), Phlomis, Pittosporum, Punica granatum (pomegranate), Salvia, Santolina, Sedum, Stachys, Teucrium and Vitex.
A garden without water is not complete in my opinion. I have three formal pools in line at different levels, with a small waterfall between them. Water is pumped from the lower pool to a pressure filter in a small building at the top, from which it flows back via the other two pools.
I am a member of two garden societies, one in St-Nicolas-de-la-Grave (La Salicaire), and the other being the Lauzerte Gardening Club. With their programme of meetings, garden visits and plant fairs, they are not only a good source of information, but enable you to meet other gardeners in your area, both French and English.
I joined the Open Garden scheme in 2015, opening my own garden several times since, and also persuading others to join as local organisers. The visitors and helpers are mainly British, as they are familiar with the UK scheme. My garden is part of my daily life and gives me great joy, and is something I love to share with friends and other keen gardeners. opengardens.eu