Six on Saturday 3rd August 2019

I’ve long enjoyed “Six on Saturday” posts from my oh-so-better fellow bloggers. And I’ve resolved to join them on several occasions, but have always been thwarted by it not being Saturday or not having appropriate photos to include.

I must be in a blogging kind of mood today as I remembered to dash outside a couple of hours ago and take a few photos. And it is still Saturday. So here goes …


Or is it mandevilla? I’m never sure whether they are different names for the same plant or different plants. They are great for pots here in our French life. We have one either side of the back door (which is actually at the side of the house opening onto the covered terrace). Their glossy leaves twine upwards and they are generous with their pretty flowers, never seeming to complain about anything. Perfect.



We love the bright colours of cosmos flowers. Whereas in the UK they can be shy to flower here they get going without delay. These are self-sown volunteers from last summer’s extensive area of annuals which temporarily provided a cover crop for what has since become the exotic garden. They are very welcome and perhaps this second generation will lead on to a third in time.


This is very much a signature plant in this part of France. Most self-respecting gardens have at least one and they are frequently used as street trees where they are often carefully pruned to create an amazing lacework of branches that look attractive in winter when bare and leafless. This is currently our only example, given to us as a present by our keen gardener friend Judith. I expect we will acquire more as they flower in high summer and come in several different, equally vibrant, colours. I love the glossy balls which look as though they should be seedheads but are in fact the unopened buds.


Campsis radicans

Another signature plant in this area, it is grown in a number of different ways. A vigorous climber, it is often used (as in our garden) growing up telegraph poles in a highly effective disguise. Sometimes you will see it scrambling over a wall, trellis or fence, and some people train it into a kind of tree-shape. We inherited one with the house, and I planted two more last year. Ours has been very well behaved, although some people describe it as a thug. We love the pop of colour.



We have to watch this carefully. If we turned our back it could take over. But it is loved by insects and has an extraordinary charm. I shall cut this down when the flowers begin to go over to prevent it from seeding around, and to encourage a second flush of the wonderful bronze fern-like foliage down at ground level.


Aralia Elata

I think this is Golden Umbrella (from memory without checking my lists). It was rather an investment (aka expensive) but is doing well in the exotic garden, unlike some other plants which have not enjoyed the intense heat and drought of the earlier part of the summer when we weren’t here to intervene with a hosepipe. When I looked at it the other day the flowers were absolutely alive with tiny hover flies, but today all was quiet. I hope it continues to thrive as it will make a wonderful higher-storey accent plant for the exotic garden.


Arundo Donax variegata

This is one of the many plants that I’ve been introduced to by Great Dixter. I tried to buy one from their nursery when there on a day’s course a few years ago but they didn’t have variegata in stock at the time. I took the plain version away but it failed to thrive in our cold, dry Surrey garden. Since starting our French life we have seen it in many locations here, frequently out-running it’s allotted position. So I won’t be planting that one. But we thought we would try the variegated version even though it is less hardy and we can get some low night-time temperatures with considerable frost in the depths of winter. If we lose it we lose it. At least we will have tried. And I think you’ll agree it is a very handsome plant indeed, currently very happy and thriving.

And, yes, I realise that’s Seven on Saturday not Six. It could just as easily have been 8 or 10. Perhaps you’ll forgive me?!


Market day in Sainte-Foy-la-Grande

We’ve heard many people describe the Saturday market in Ste Foy as the biggest and best in the region. Today was the day when we decided to go and see for ourselves. We’ve driven around the town a few times en route for other places but never stopped. Parking, in true French (small town at least) fashion, was easy. We were late arrivals (characteristic of the Brits I’m sorry to say) so all the shady spots were long since taken by French drivers, but we were just a short walk to the old town/centre where we (correctly) assumed the market would be.

There’s a life and bustle about French markets that is hard to beat. This one was very busy indeed.

The first thing that caught my eye was this plant in a large tub. I’ve put the photo out on Twitter but as I write this I still don’t know what it is. It was verbena bonariensis like in its growth form, but with a flower rather clover-like.



A short walk further on we looked through an old doorway, propped open, to see this lushly-planted courtyard. Fortunately the child in the pushchair is obscured by the balloons s/he is holding and the parents had briefly stepped back inside so I felt I could sneak a photo.


Old towns often have these hidden gems if one keeps one’s eyes open. We stopped for coffee (black and strong) and some people-watching.


And then I raised my eyes above the chairs in front of me and saw a much better-framed picture.


After quickly nipping over to Steve, the excellent English butcher (“A Flavour to Savour”) who has a regular stall here and at Eymet market, for some of his wonderful sausages, we walked down to the river, the Dordogne, where it was quiet and peaceful.

Looking east we saw one of the river beaches the French are so good at creating.


And looking down into the river itself, quite low after the dry summer, I was fascinated by the patterns in the water. Rather Monet-esque don’t you think?


We retraced our steps back through the market, this time looking at the old buildings.

Many of the buildings in the town had iron balconies, but I didn’t photograph any this time. Next time.

This doorway intrigued us, looking as though it had been constructed from materials much more ancient. Roman perhaps?

We made more purchases than just English sausages: small, fine green beans (always better in the market than from the supermarket), and a kilo each of dark cherries and mirabelles, both destined for jam to join the apricot jam made a couple of weeks ago from fruit our neighbour kindly gave us.

Then it was home for a lunch of thinly-sliced differently-coloured tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella. After an evening out at Levignac Night Market yesterday (and a bit of a sore throat too) a gentle, slow and quiet afternoon now feels just right.

I’ll write about Night Markets another time.

If you know what that plant is please let me know?



The Garden Museum Literary Festival – a long weekend in Norfolk Part 1

A blissful midsummer’s weekend celebrating the best in garden writing

I can’t remember when I first heard about the Garden Museum.  I’ve been to a few of their wonderful events over the years, have supported Christopher Woodward’s sterling fund-raising efforts for development, and have become rather fond of the organisation and everything it stands for. One day, when I was clearly in the mood to treat myself, I received an invitation to become a Lifetime Friend and my cheque was in the post by return. I was well and truly on board.

I noticed reports of the first Literary Festival, held at the home of Tom and Sue Stuart-Smith (Tom Stuart-Smith being a legendary garden designer) and it was with a little trepidation that we signed up for the second Garden Museum Literary Festival the following year, not knowing quite what to expect and hoping we wouldn’t feel out of place. It was a wondrous event, in the magnificent surroundings of the private gardens at Petworth House, well organised, under warm sunshine, and attended by interesting people who were also warm  and friendly. We immediately fell in love with the concept and decided this would be an event that we would always prioritise. In October 2016 the Festival was held at  Hatfield House  just after they had closed to the public for the year so we had the place to ourselves. In 2017 we went to Boughton House  in Northamptonshire and although we missed 2018 (at the Museum itself in London, the date was announced too late for our diaries to include it) we were determined that we would do everything we could to be present in 2019.

The venue was the magnificent Houghton Hall in north Norfolk, the home of the Marquess and Marchioness of Cholmondeley, our gracious hosts.

We decided to make a long weekend of it and booked a lovely room at The Hoste in Burnham Market, a hotel I’ve often read about and was delighted to have an opportunity to try out. All this was organised as soon as the date was announced and we’ve been looking forward to it for months.

Several hundred Literary Festivals are held in the UK, apparently, so what is it about the Garden Museum Literary Festival that makes it so special? It is one of the few, or perhaps the only one, that travels to a different venue each year. Numbers are limited (I think to a maximum of 200-250 people per day). And everyone books for an entire day, or for both days; its not possible to just attend one talk. So there are no crowds milling around, just a real sense of being amongst a favoured and chosen few like-minded people at a very special private event. We’ve met some  lovely people and enjoyed many great conversations. Everyone who’s there has one major topic in common: gardens, plants, gardening (and probably a love of culture too). So its a very civilised event indeed. We love it.

There are always at least two talks on at any given time, sometimes three, so there is always a sense of frustration that one can’t be in more than one place at a time. You have to turn down the opportunity to go to something wonderful, in favour of something even more wonderful. Tough choices!

This is what we did on Friday:

Arne Maynard : Gardens to be Gardened
As inspirational as always, Arne’s warmth and generosity shines through as he speaks. I was privileged to spend a day with him and a few others at his home in Monmouthshire three years ago, and it was great to be reminded of his approach.

Tim Richardson: Sculpture in the Garden and George Carter: Objects in the Garden
Two speakers with differing styles and approaches in this session but both informative, thought-provoking and entertaining.

A tour of the Walled Garden with Dimitrisz Sopisz, the new Head Gardener at Houghton Hall

A showing of the film Five Seasons : The Gardens of Piet Oudolf
This session was put on at the last minute in place of a previously advertised talk for which the speaker was unable to attend. We were thrilled because I’d tried to find a location to see the film but there had been nowhere within striking distance of us. So this was a huge bonus.

Peter Parker : Latin in the Garden
Peter started off his talk in the Marquee (there is always a marquee or two at the Festival!) and we soon went out into the Walled Garden for most of it. Some rather nifty earpieces were provided for this (and also for the Head Gardener tours) so it was easy to hear the speaker very well even in the great outdoors. This thoughtful touch was appreciated by many of us.

Lunch for some of us was a delicious pre-booked buffet in the Old Kitchen. Other Festival-goers picnicked outside in the grounds in the glorious sunshine that pervaded throughout the Festival.

On Saturday we started off with:

Caroline Donald  (the Sunday Times Gardening Editor) in conversation with Sam McKnight (celebrity hairdresser) and Jo Thompson (award winning garden designer) about their ongoing creative collaboration.

Then Luciano Giubbilei : Sulptures and Inspiration from Art. After Luciano sat down my husband turned to me and said “the man’s an artist”. We were enthralled by all he showed us and shared with us and bowled over by pictures of the recent project photographed on the home page of his website.

A house tour followed. Wow, what a place! As a break from words here’s some interior photos:

Victoria Fritz had the challenging (but extremely entertaining) task of keeping Robin Lane Fox on track and just this side of policitically correct acceptability in a wide-ranging conversation

And finally, we heard Shane Connolly  talk on Rediscovering the Meaning of Flowers.

By making the (very difficult) choices we did we missed hearing talks by Julian and Isabel Bannerman, Carol Woolton, Dr Catherine Horwood, Hugh St Clair, Lalage Snow, Lisa Chaney, Non Morris, Raffaella Barker, Richard Mabel, Lady Rose Cecil, Sir Roy Strong, Tim Marlow in conversation with The Marquess of Cholmondeley, Tom Williamson, and Viktor Wynd on a wide variety of topics.

A final “everyone getting together” occasion on the West Front Steps of the Hall saw Christopher Woodward thank our hosts for their generous hospitality, and our hosts thank the Festival for coming!

We then walked around some of the wonderful landscaped park in front of the Hall, looking at some of the Henry Moore sculptures which are currently on display, and finally left this most magical of events in such wonderful surroundings to return to our hotel.

Here’s a few of the sculptures in the grounds

I cannot recommend the Garden Museum Literary Festival highly enough. Our one plea is that the date is announced as early as possible (preferably at least six months ahead) as many people who want to take part have very complicated diaries. If you want to attend book as soon as you can; the 2019 Festival was sold out.

During our long weekend we also visited East Ruston Old Vicarage, and Pensthorpe Nature Reserve, and I will write about these in Parts 2 and 3, as well as show you some photos of the Walled Garden at Houghton Hall in Part 4 of a Long Weekend in Norfolk.


A fortnight in April: cool, damp, and much progress

We set off from Sussex with a car packed to the gunwales with the usual random collection of items, this time mainly plants.


Our drive to Portsmouth is quick and straightforward (apart from the 11 roundabouts around Chichester) and we were smoothly on to the ferry.


where we quickly dumped our small bag in the cabin and went straight to the restaurant for dinner. Brittany Ferries put on an interesting selection of cold buffet for starters, followed by an OK main course and pudding. The wine list offers very good value. Eating dinner at a table near a window, watching Portsmouth Harbour gradually disappear, is a good way to pass a couple of hours until early bedtime.


Sleeping in a 2foot wide cabin berth isn’t easy, and dawn comes with some relief. On this occasion it was also particularly beautiful as we arrived at St Malo.


Soon after arrival we received a delivery of garden furniture from Sustainable Furniture in the UK, via a highly-recommended transport company working between UK and France, Safe Hands Haulage. I’ve been wanting to instal a tree seat around the walnut tree ever since the first summer when we discovered what beautiful shade exists in that spot in the hottest part of the summer.


And we also now have a few more garden benches to distribute around, not to give the “care home” experience but to provide coffee- and wine-stop opportunities during busy days.

We enjoyed a relaxing country walk with some friends and their dogs in nearby woodland, walking along ancient chemins, through small settlements, and alongside fields.


I saw the first banksia rose at close up. It wasn’t a particularly exciting specimen but made me more determined to ensure we plant one at some point, somewhere in the garden. They really are quite exquisite.

And a clump of lily of the valley was still looking good, despite growing in a wholly unsuitable place from where it will be moved on my next visit I hope. At the moment it is across the entrance to the new exotic garden; it will be moved to live under hedging.


Traditionally, French people give each other posies of lily of the valley (muguet) on 1st May. Ours, being in a sunny spot, will be well and truly over by 1st May.

The irises we inherited are looking good. These also need some attention, both to move them into more suitable positions and to divide and separate congested old clumps.


French gardens are frequently full of the most wonderful varieties of bearded iris.

The roses on the front of the house are opening up.


The red rose is a beautiful strong form, packed full with petals. Unfortunately it has absolutely no perfume whatsoever (and I have a sensitive nose). The pale pink rose on the old tobacco barn (which forms a covered terrace at the side of the house) is perfumed. The virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) on the right side of the house is now growing back after it was completely cut away when the new shutters were fitted. We thought we wanted to get rid of it but it had other ideas and determinedly grew back; we are pleased with the result! This is a post with “warts and all” and the front step (originally the base for a lean-to porch many years ago) needs some attention. Its on the list …


As we arrived at the house and stopped at the entrance to open the gates there was a distinct sense of “ah, its becoming a garden”. Rather exciting. The planting in the front garden (originally mown grass punctuated randomly by many old and decaying poplars) is intended to eventually create a woodland feel, with upper storey trees, middle-storey shrubs, and all underplanted with small shrubs, bulbs and herbaceous.

The hedge we planted the winter before last is beginning to establish.


It is a mixed hedge of plants that are ornamental and/or have some edible characteristics. Our intention is to keep it only loosely clipped so that it billows and has some form of its own, as a link to the countryside around.

The shrubs and trees we planted last winter are also establishing well. Here are some:

A Gingko Biloba


A Crataegus Laevigata Pauls Scarlet


An Amelanchier Lamarckii


And a Cornus Controversa Variegata


Is it normal for the leaves to be rather droopy on these?

And then some of the shrubs and trees we inherited are also looking just fine.


Solanum alba growing up over a corner of the covered terrace (formerly tobacco barn), a chaenomeles, a very fragrant white lilac, the medlar and kaki trees; all good.


The rose garden is coming on with most if not all of the roses having started to put on weight. I spent a lot of time weeding this area as I want to try and ensure that any last remains of couch grass or other pernicious weeds are removed before it really gets going. The paths are currently very messy, but keeping them regularly strimmed will soon get them into shape. These photos don’t really do it justice to be honest.

And then there are some extremely “warts and all” areas to be found, including the grass/weeds prolifically growing along the boundary with the adjacent field, a large pile of weeds already grassing over (needs to be moved quickly!!), a carefully planted (last year) line of oleanders which have caught the winter weather rather badly, the ever present pile of twigs and branches which blow down from the large plane trees, weeds (always weeds), the driveway being washed away by a heavy deluge of rain, a flight of steps that doesn’t exist yet, a large pile of topsoil that needs a digger to deal with it, and a bonfire that needs a chain-saw before it can complete its life as a bonfire.


The pond is also a very warts and all area. We inherited it and have grown fond of the concept of having a pond (and the goldfish who continue to grace us with their presence despite absolutely no attention at all), but it definitely needs some redesign. It needs to be bigger for a start. And we need to get rid of the horsetail. Having had an allotment for several years we grew to hate horsetail. Although this is an ornamental version it shows too many similarities to the allotment variety and needs to be eliminated before it spreads its wings too far. It has already shown some signs of wanting to creep …


The old animal trough is currently supporting some self-sown aquilegias, some rooted offshoots of rosemary shoved into it by me, and some weeds. The well is next to the trough and is on our list of items to tackle as soon as we can. I feel nervous about not knowing how safe it is, and want to redo it such that there is a proper safe wall around it and a grille over the top. France (and perhaps other countries too?) has well specialists, I don’t remember their name … This area will be one of the final areas of the garden to be developed, as it is the access route for heavy machinery which is still needed to finish off the pool work and the new roof (starting within the next week or two).

A fleeting highlight is the Phacelia Tanacetifolia, self-seeded from last year’s annual flower sowing in the top soil scraped off from the car park area. Its growing in a place we don’t want to be wild (there’s actually a baby hornbeam hedge under there) but decided to enjoy it this year. Hopefully it will pop up again somewhere else next year.


Bees and other pollinators love it, and it has very good vase life with a fragrance that will fill a room. French farmers often grow it as a winter cover/green manure crop or along field margins. We notice more of that kind of agricultural planting in France than we do in the UK.

And then the journey home to Sussex, driving through quiet roads north to Caen for an overnight ferry back to Portsmouth. Through the Charente and into the Loire area we saw great swathes of these flowers growing by the side of the motorway. We were able to stop at one of the many road side stops, aires, (many of which just have a parking area and an – always clean – loo) and get a close up view.


I wasn’t sure what they were so posted the photos up in a Facebook group focusing on European wildflowers. It turns out they are Asphodelus, possibly alba although I think myself more likely cerasiferus. I didn’t think to get close up to test whether they have any perfume. Wikipedia is, as always these days, helpful on the topic.

After a quick dinner at an aire with a petrol station and a restaurant we reached Caen, navigated past a few sad yet hopeful people looking for (almost certainly illegal) transport across the Channel, and on to our ferry for a surprisingly good night’s sleep. The crossing was shared with some (distinctly middle-aged looking) French bikers, queuing up for the ferry at Caen before departure and then, coincidentally, parked just in front of us on arrival at Portsmouth.


And so resumed our Sussex life, for the time being, until our next visit.

Edit: a well specialist is a puisatier (thanks to Helen for the reminder)


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In a vase on Monday

i hope I’m not committing a dreadful faux pas with this post.

Karen Gimson at The Bramble Garden, a blog I follow, posts #IAVOM, a record of a vase of flowers, each week. I like the idea and have decided to try and do the same (assuming – and hoping – I’m not called to task for plagiarism). I hope it’s a social media movement I’m joining and not Karen’s personal theme that I’m hijacking.

Hopefully someone will put me straight if needs be.

Here is my Monday vase for this week.


Frankly it’s not particularly interesting, consisting only of some supermarket tulips and four stems of pittosporum from the tiny Sussex garden. But it’s a start and I rather like the black stems of the foliage. Here’s a close up of the flowers.


In my defence I was on a cross channel ferry all last night, arriving at Portsmouth at dawn.

I’ll tell you about my recent trip to the French house next time I post.


Edit: I’ve discovered I’ve not committed a faux pas, but have joined a community! I still don’t fully understand the concept of memes or hosting memes, but gather I must (and am happy to) acknowledge Cathy at https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/ who is the host of the #IAVOM meme.