San­dra Evans

“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”

Living France - - À La Maison - Open Gar­dens mem­ber, Lot-et-Garonne

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

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