Open gar­dens: Lot-et-Garonne

Mem­ber of France’s Open Gar­dens scheme, John Massey shares what grows best in his south-west gar­den

Living France - - À LA MAISON -

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. open­gar­

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