OPEN GAR­DENS: Fin­istère

Bryan Carrick ex­plains why he and his wife Jackie de­cided to move to Brit­tany to de­velop the gar­den of their dreams

Living France - - A LA MANSION -

In 2012 we left be­hind our Nor­folk home and gar­den where we had lived for 20 years for a new life in Brit­tany, a part of France we loved vis­it­ing. We were a lit­tle sad to leave the gar­den, but it could not be im­proved fur­ther with­out dig­ging it up and start­ing again. So, we made the de­ci­sion to move to France, down­size the house but up­grade the gar­den.

Four months af­ter ar­riv­ing in Brit­tany we moved into our Fin­istère prop­erty in the Monts d’Ar­rée hills in the small Bre­ton vil­lage of St-Cadou. The house, built in 1906, is a small pic­turesque Bre­ton longère, but the land of­fered with it (1.2ha) was enough space to ful­fil our dreams of a big gar­den and a small ar­bore­tum.

Hav­ing lived in the dri­est part of the UK for many years and then mov­ing to, per­haps, the wettest part of France was one of the first things that re­quired our at­ten­tion – well, apart form the su­per­sized slugs in the gar­den – as it re­quired a some­what dif­fer­ent ap­proach.

Our gar­den is di­vided into three main ar­eas: the main gar­den, a pro­duc­tion area (fruit and veg) and a bon­sai dis­play area. All three ar­eas are north-fac­ing on a gen­tle slope, but are well pro­tected by a for­est on two sides and trees on the third side. The cli­mate here is gen­er­ally mild, al­beit very damp and wet in win­ter and spring, with very few frosts. Sum­mers are warm and can be hot at times, while au­tumns are cooler and damp. This al­lows us to grow plants that would not have sur­vived in Nor­folk. The ba­sic struc­ture and hard land­scap­ing were the first jobs to set the tone of a park­land-style gar­den. Trees that spent many years in pots in the UK were re­leased from their con­stric­tive pris­ons and dug in. Lots of ‘spec­i­men’ trees and shrubs were or­dered and planted to give them time to ‘get their feet in’.

The pro­duc­tion area needed more thought be­cause of the slope. Four raised beds were built into the slope to give rel­a­tively back­ache-free gar­den­ing. Th­ese beds al­low us to con­trol the overzeal­ous slugs to some de­gree, but the slugs do ham­per what we can grow. Nonethe­less, onions, gar­lic, peas, car­rots, squash and mangetout are grown with some suc­cess.

The ma­jor­ity of the grass is cut high, but very short grass paths are cut to me­an­der through and help guide you around the gar­den. By keep­ing the grass long, it takes the pres­sure off hav­ing to keep cut­ting it if wet, which is not rec­om­mended on the slope, even with a trac­tor. This all makes for an interesting and vis­ual pic­ture, par­tic­u­larly when ad­mir­ing the many aza­leas, hy­drangeas and spec­i­men trees now grow­ing in the gar­den.

In spring, the long grass ar­eas have nat­u­ralised daf­fodils that take cen­tre stage af­ter the cro­cuses have put on their dis­play in the short grass. In other ar­eas, blue­bells, both nat­u­ral and planted, fin­ish off the spring­time of­fer­ings. Noth­ing is wasted in the gar­den and all the earth spoil from dig­ging has been turned into a large round raised iris bed with a wind fea­ture de­pict­ing swal­lows.

Af­ter four years we felt ready to con­sider open­ing our gar­den, as this gives us fo­cus and pushes us to keep mak­ing im­prove­ments. We joined the Jardins Ou­verts scheme, and our gar­den was opened through­out the sum­mer of 2016. Win­ter projects are now very much on our minds which we hope will in­clude a slate quarry gar­den, plant­ing of 2,000 daf­fodil bulbs, and a labur­num walk­way.

Open­ing our gar­den again has been a dream come true for both of us. open­gar­

“Open­ing our gar­den gives us fo­cus and pushes us to keep mak­ing im­prove­ments”

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