“I loved my new tractor – I’d sit all day on it to cut back encroaching meadows, or make walkways to hunt for wild orchids or flowers”
We moved to France on a hot day in June 2007. Our house was a new-build conversion of a farmhouse and barns situated at the end of a ‘petit chemin’. Our view of the local bastide village on the horizon was uninterrupted across typical agricultural farmland growing mainly sunflowers and animal maize. We felt that it was all our ‘garden’– extending well beyond our personal property (13 to 14 acres). We couldn’t believe our luck with such a lovely location.
On arrival, the pool wire fence was planted with several struggling ivy plants; bordered by a screen of young Photinia bushes. Nowadays, the pool is cocooned in ‘green’ privacy and vibrant colours of midnight velvet blue buddleias grown as ‘standards’, masses of flame-coloured Campsis bells, evergreen cream honeysuckles, climbing roses and, of course, constant buzzing of busy bees or scuttling of blue-green lizards.
The single garden bed at the front, the shrubberies and pool hedges were already planted with young hardy ‘ arbustes’: Forsythia, Abelia, Cotoneaster, Viburnum, Spiraea, Elaeagnus and Ceanothus. The trees, again suited to the landscape, were European oaks, maple oaks, sycamores, Acers, beeches, Prunus, a magnificent ruby Cercis siliquastrum (Judas trees are very popular in this area) and a single huge pine. My first garden task was to sculpt out a huge dome-shaped Cotoneaster tree to lift and open it into an umbrella shape.
We had to wait until harvest time to identify the orchard’s produce. The 18 young fruit trees had been a little neglected. With careful nurturing, the following harvest produced a glut of peaches, apricots, Reine Claude plums, pruneaux, red cherries, beautiful crisp apples and quince.
I loved my new tractor – ‘El Toro’! I’d sit all day on it to cut back encroaching meadows, or make walkways to hunt for wild orchids or flowers. This year the meadows have been returned to their original flora of wild orchids, oxeye daisies, wild garlic, sage, meadowsweet… and ragwort! Sewing wild flowers on bare patches in the fields always failed. But self-seeded poppies on gravel paths or in the cultivated borders never did; they flourished.
I brought Englishness into my French garden by planting English bluebells, to blend with stinking hellebores, wild violets, Aquilegia and cowslips in the woods, adding crocuses, then hundreds of tulips: black, sorbets, pinks and parrot-tipped for the sun.
Finally, I introduced my love of roses – they grow well in France especially in our ground of stony clay – starting with one rose bed in the centre of a threadbare lawn in the vain effort to oust the dandelions. Eventually six garden beds were created, by pickaxe, and planted according to soil or location. The stones/boulders removed were used as part of the garden design. When too stony, the ground embraced olives, heathers, twisted willows from cuttings, ‘Blue Sapphire’, bay trees, rosemary, lilies, Lagerstroemia, that suited a Mediterranean life. We have lots of bee-loving lavenders, Abelia and Viburnum growing beneath windows to warn off curious biting mosquitoes.
To stop westerly winds from flattening ‘delicates’ in the garden, I planted a hedge of laurels bordering the woods and inter-planted it with rescued wild cherry saplings to give a walled-in effect to the lawn. Very English! Eventually I counted over 130 roses with many cuttings from autumn prunings stuck into the ground nearby, ‘taking’ and blooming within two years, but only successful if left undisturbed in the shade for a year. Over the last 10 years my grand garden developed as plants and cuttings thrived. It wasn’t an instant garden over night; it was joyfully slow.
When it comes to gardening my mottos are: variety over quantity; perfume over perfection; personal planting over precision planting; nature is always blended with nurture, and most planting is based on a trial and error principle. Joyfully, my garden works for me, and for the hundreds of guests who have experienced it.
With lots of help from friends and the Open Gardens scheme, I opened my garden in June 2016. After a year’s break I plan to do so again this year. My garden is more than a garden; it has helped me through difficult times and brought back the reality of life’s pleasures. opengardens.eu
Above: A border of flowers provides a wall of privacy around the family pool
Below left: Sandra loves the view of the surrounding farmland
Below right: An ideal spot for dinner alfresco