OPEN GAR­DENS: Creuse

Tim Hewett found the space he was look­ing for to de­sign and build a gar­den in ru­ral Li­mousin, and moved there with wife Sarah in 2014

Living France - - À La Maison - Email us at ed­i­to­rial@liv­ingfrance.com

Three years ago we de­cided to up sticks from Kent and, after a pe­riod of search­ing, found the per­fect prop­erty in Creuse, a less well known but stun­ningly beau­ti­ful ru­ral part of cen­tral France. From my point of view, the two acres of land – two fields with barbed wire fence and full of bram­bles, sor­rel and bindweed – was the game-changer.

I had re­tired from work­ing in Lon­don as a ship­ping man­ager for a Ja­panese multi­na­tional com­pany in the mid-90s, and re­turned to univer­sity to take a de­gree in gar­den de­sign. I had been teach­ing hor­ti­cul­ture and build­ing gar­dens for clients since 2001, and felt that, com­ing up to my 60th, and com­plet­ing my third (suc­cess­ful) ad­ven­ture with chemo­ther­apy, I needed the free­dom to cre­ate my own space while still phys­i­cally able. It was not pos­si­ble to do this in the UK so we re­signed from the 15-acre gar­den we were run­ning at the time and packed the car.

The cli­mate in Creuse dif­fers from the mild cli­mate of Kent, and more de­fined sea­sons, a huge daily fluc­tu­a­tion in tem­per­a­tures and be­ing some 350 me­tres above sea level has meant that all our work has been a learn­ing process. For the sec­ond sum­mer in suc­ces­sion, tem­per­a­tures have reg­u­larly been in the mid-30s with no rain from early June un­til late Septem­ber, and our first frosts ar­rived in Oc­to­ber.

The gar­den is split into two main ar­eas – for­mal and in­for­mal – and so far we have planted some 50 trees, 450 hedg­ing plants, pur­ple beech, box, privet and Lon­icera ni­tida, around 2,500 peren­ni­als and over 1,000 bulbs. All of our plant­ings are or­na­men­tal, and in­clude a 32-me­tre long herba­ceous bor­der, a parterre, spring gar­den with mag­no­lias and over 300 tulips, to­gether with ar­eas for maples and bud­dleia and, for next year we will have a prairie plant­ing.

Most of our plants are grown from cut­tings or seed. For in­stance we were given a branch of the hedg­ing Lon­icera by one of our French neigh­bours, but the sec­ond tranche of 150 cut­tings are not grow­ing well in the poly­tun­nel.

How­ever, we do find plants much more ex­pen­sive in France. This also holds true for ma­chin­ery and equip­ment which can be much more ex­pen­sive here.

We first be­came in­volved with the Open Gar­dens scheme only six months into con­struc­tion of the gar­den. Although we felt we were not ready, the or­gan­is­ers per­suaded us that peo­ple would be in­ter­ested in the de­sign, pro­fes­sional con­struc­tion tech­niques and de­vel­op­ment over time. They have proved cor­rect, although ev­ery open day is hard work. The days them­selves are en­joy­able and busy: meet­ing new peo­ple, demon­strat­ing and ex­plain­ing what we are do­ing and why, and at the end of the day we en­joy a cup of tea to­gether.

We have thor­oughly en­joyed our time so far in la belle France, and are look­ing for­ward to wel­com­ing vis­i­tors again this year. We will be open on four of­fi­cial days dur­ing 2017, but will al­ways wel­come vis­i­tors on other days... with a lit­tle pre-warn­ing though please. open­gar­dens.eu

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