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
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