Gar­den­ing through­out the hot sum­mers and bit­terly cold win­ters of Cor­rèze proved chal­leng­ing for Jan Col­bridge, but she has turned it to her ad­van­tage

Living France - - À La Maison -

Here in Cor­rèze in cen­tral France we have ex­cep­tion­ally hot sum­mers and of­ten deadly cold win­ters with alarm­ingly late and early frosts which ap­pear unan­nounced and which can re­sult in mounds of black­ened veg­e­ta­tion.

The in­creas­ingly hot sum­mers are also a prob­lem for a gar­den which al­ways has many young plants, so mulching and pro­vid­ing shade are es­sen­tial, as are us­ing ap­pro­pri­ate plants and get­ting them off to a good start with sound plant­ing tech­niques and af­ter­care.

We didn’t re­alise the cli­matic haz­ards when we set up and built a small busi­ness grow­ing or­ganic veg­eta­bles, some fruit and also plants, all of which we sold from home and on lo­cal mar­kets.

Un­for­tu­nately an in­va­sion of mole crick­ets one year put paid to nearly all our veg­etable crops – plums and ap­ples failed due to early frost and I was so dis­heart­ened that I de­cided to spend more time on the plant side of the busi­ness. This also had the ad­van­tage of be­ing less tir­ing phys­i­cally and less open to at­tacks by beasts or bugs.

Re­al­is­ing that try­ing to sell plants that are not too well known here re­quired some sort of display, we set about build­ing raised beds to de­ter the mole crick­ets and plant­ing ex­am­ples of our peren­ni­als. This is how the gar­den started and it has just gone on and on. Ponds were dug among the fruit trees, non-pro­duc­tive vines dug up and the poles used for climb­ing roses, and any­thing and ev­ery­thing was re­cy­cled to cre­ate benches, shel­ters and even sculp­tures.

Our near­est neigh­bour is about 300 metres away but we can­not see them for the trees which also shel­ter deer, bad­gers, foxes and a fan­tas­tic va­ri­ety of birds. My first gar­den was in ru­ral Nor­folk and tiny in com­par­i­son with what we have here, which gives huge scope for cre­ativ­ity.

We have re­quested that the lo­cal hunters do not use the part of our land which is next to the house and gar­den, and hope to be­come a refuge for the Ligue pour la Pro­tec­tion des Oiseaux (French equiv­a­lent of RSPB).

The de­ci­sion to open the gar­den to the pub­lic came about four years ago af­ter a trip to Roscoff on what hap­pened to be the week­end of the Ren­dez-vous aux jardins at the be­gin­ning of June. One gar­den we vis­ited was so lack­ing in plants that I thought ‘Well if they can do it so can we’ and so in 2014 we opened for the first time with an en­try fee of €2.50 which we do­nated to the As­so­ci­a­tion SOS Vi­o­lences Con­ju­gales in Brive.

Last year a vis­i­tor men­tioned Open Gardens and I was de­lighted to chat about the ben­e­fits of open­ing your gar­den to the pub­lic to the pres­i­dent of the scheme, Mick Moat. I love peo­ple com­ing to the gar­den be­cause there is some­thing so sat­is­fy­ing about chat­ting to kin­dred spir­its about your favourite sub­ject – we can all learn so much and make new friends at the same time. open­gar­

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