“Everyone seems to enjoy the garden, finding something of interest; the plants, designs or even the history”
My husband and I came to France to make a garden. We were looking for a spacious house and enough land for a goodsized garden, all in a tranquil setting. We found it in the north-west of Mayenne, an area where temperatures are not too extreme and the countryside consists of rolling hills.
The traditional granite stone house, gîte and outbuildings were surrounded by nearly one hectare of grazing land; a perfect blank canvas for us to create the garden of our dreams. The house and gîte were fully renovated which meant that we could concentrate on the garden.
In September 2007 we moved in and during the first winter we prepared the ground for a 20m² potager. The turf had to be removed and the slope levelled (which we dug manually) and then the raised beds marked out to my design. This area was later enclosed by walls which gave the opportunity to grow trained fruit trees. We do not grow vast quantities of one vegetable, but instead have small quantities of a wide variety of produce.
Our farming neighbour continued to graze his cows on the remaining land and each time we wanted to create more garden, he helped us move the fences. Gradually we created different garden areas, a small orchard filled with daffodils in the spring, an ornamental herb garden next to the house, a back garden with lawns, flower beds and wonderful views of the countryside beyond. We also created a small topiary garden, some autumn and winter borders and finally, in 2016, we took over the last remaining field area and started an arboretum.
The site had an unexpected hidden history; the clue is in its name La Bayette, a derivation of l’abbayette, meaning a small abbey. We were informed that it had a history dating back to 997 when the abbey welcomed pilgrims on their way to Mont St-Michel.
The development of the garden continues, with two more areas waiting for the creation. We have tried to combine traditional and contemporary design and include unusual plants, shrubs and trees.
The soil is acidic and we have greatly enjoyed growing some of the things that like acid soil. Rhododendrons, azaleas and hydrangeas thrive, although the soil is a sandy loam and rather free draining. Compost and shredded prunings add bulk to the soil. Water drains into water butts and we also use well water during periods of drought, which seem more frequent every year.
After the house roof was renovated, we recycled the roof tiles as a weed suppressant mulch in the topiary garden, much to the amusement of our neighbours.
The orchard is bounded by a mixed wild hedge and the garden is almost completely organic. With a very wide range of plants, shrubs and trees, flowering over an extended time through the year, there now seems to be a much greater number of birds, bees, butterflies and wildlife than 10 years ago when we first arrived, which is hugely encouraging.
We decided to try our first garden open day last September and chose to do it through Open Gardens which is run on similar lines to the Yellow Book scheme in Britain. We were provided with everything we needed, including advice on getting ready, road signs, advertising posters and leaflets which all helped to make the day a success.
Everyone who comes seems to enjoy the garden, finding something of interest; either the plants, the designs or even the history.
Joining Open Gardens was an excellent idea. We enjoy our garden, give others the opportunity to enjoy it and the money raised helps other people through the various charities it supports. The benefits ripple outwards from our garden; we could not ask for a more satisfying result from our efforts. opengardens.eu
Above: Raised beds in the enclosed potager
Below: Flowers thrive in Shirley’s garden in the summer