OPEN GARDENS: Finistère
Bryan Carrick explains why he and his wife Jackie decided to move to Brittany to develop the garden of their dreams
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. opengardens.eu
“Opening our garden gives us focus and pushes us to keep making improvements”