“Ev­ery­one seems to en­joy the gar­den, find­ing some­thing of in­ter­est; the plants, de­signs or even the his­tory”

Living France - - À La Maison -

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

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