Six on Saturday, life in lockdown, volunteers, and self seeders

Somehow, during lockdown, I’ve been completely unable to write a blog post. I don’t really know why. Perhaps one reason is that for me to retain my sanity in these strange days, these days when I should have been building my new non-working life, I’m focusing all my efforts on the here and now, counting the blessings I have, enjoying where I am. Perhaps writing a blog post in my style demands too much introspection, more than I’m currently comfortable with.

We none of us know what our future holds and for some any future at all is far from  guaranteed. I’m trying so hard not to wish I was elsewhere or that things were different. To some extent that means I’m avoiding thinking about our beautiful French home and am deliberately pushing active thoughts from my mind. It is there of course all the time, bubbling away underneath. Joys, concerns, memories, anxieties, all fighting for their moment in the limelight.

Consciously remembering the serenity prayer helps. If we can’t change a situation we do our very best to accept it. But if a situation needs to be changed, and can be, then we do.

One anxiety we are being saved from is any worry that the garden is being unloved and turning to jungle. It is neither. It is being both loved and very well looked after, by far the best setup we’ve ever had in the four years we’ve owned the house. We are incredibly fortunate and thankful to have found such outstandingly good people, who are skilled, knowledgeable, and committed.

Here is my “Six on Saturday”, photos sent in the last couple of days, each with a brief explanation and story attached.

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Foxgloves. Digitalis. I love them and encourage them to self seed in all my gardens. So I was especially pleased to see this photo indicating that we are now well on the way to achieving that in France. These are on the west side of the covered terrace. I shall ask A to shake the seeds around when the flowers finish to spread the love. We also have a good supply in the Sussex garden, descendants (as in France) from those in the Surrey family garden.

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Sisyrinchiam striatum fall into the same category as the digitalis, very welcome volunteers (self seeders), also in all my gardens. Those in the Sussex garden are just beginning to open their flowers. These in this photo are in the same bed as the digitalis on the west side of the covered terrace and are descendants of some I bought from Parham House and Gardens near us in Sussex a couple of years ago. Again, the seeds will be very welcome spread around the garden. We know to weed out any excess or any in unwelcome places.

I guess one of the reasons that these volunteers in the French garden fill me with so much joy is that they are evidence that the garden is becoming more mature, regenerating itself with its own life and ecosystem. The joy is not confined to things that we’ve planted ourselves.

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Now here’s a thing … these half barrels are broken and need to be replaced. They are in the front of the house which faces south where temperatures in summer soar very high indeed. So the environment is harsh and watering can inevitably be intermittent. For that reason, last summer, I planted these scented leaf pelargoniums and an Aloysia citrodora (lemon verbena) into the barrel, plants that I hoped would withstand the conditions. I love the smell of the lemon verbena. Not only did they survive the heatwave of last summer (for which the French word is canicule – don’t know why but I love that word) but they’ve also survived the winter too and you can see they are thriving. Evidence of them being watered would point towards one clue (thanks A!). And perhaps it’s comforting to see a random empty pot sitting there, a sign of an active and living garden. To the right of the barrel is a self-sown verbena bonariensis, another favourite volunteer. This is a descendant of one I bought at Eymet market in our first summer and another plant I must have in all my gardens. It is a wonderful plant and always makes me think of the late Christopher Lloyd, Fergus Garrett, and Great Dixter, not a bad thought association to have!

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This glorious azalea was planted in a lovely old stone sink when we bought the house and I moved it into a new flower bed out in the middle of the front garden partly to fill a gap and partly because I wanted the stone sink (subsequently joined by a few modern reproductions bought from Crocus) to be planted with succulents. The azalea shouldn’t have done well in full sun in a neutral (verging towards a smidgeon of alkaline) soil. But it has. Let us hope we can see these beautiful flowers in real life next spring.

AF66F8B2-9043-4881-ACBA-1BF0964EFEE5Tradescantia are a relatively unremarkable herbaceous plant, but I love them. They are good doers and, whilst the rare and extraordinary are always of great interest, good doers are as welcome as volunteers in my gardens. Our planting strategy has been to start with trees and shrubs and gradually infill with herbaceous as some upper and middle storey shade develops. This was bought as a very small plant at Jardiland in Bergerac. I’ve tended to buy one of many different varieties, with the objective of being able to lift, divide and replant, thus eventually fill the space with plants at a lower cost and ensuring that my plantaholic tendencies are fed. Seeing this tradescantia doing well gladdens my heart. There’s a rather lovely red potentilla just in shot behind it.

43007FFE-A0E9-48FC-9679-3B08E35D5CFAAnd finally this Albizia julibrissin was a complete impulse buy last summer, in mid July in the height of the canicule when temperatures rose to 40 degrees. We had just arrived for our big summer visit, soon to be joined by the children and grandchildren, the highlight of our year. Last year was special because the new pool had been finished just a few days before we arrived. The area around the pool looked bleak and desolate, new topsoil deposited around the terracing still remaining bare. In our determination to make the garden look as lovely as possible for the visit we took our trailer to Jardiland and bought dozens of plants to plant around the pool. You can just see them in the background, lavenders, sages, cistuses, teucriums, all plants that would survive and maybe thrive in an open, hot, sunny situation. They were all planted in that 40 degree heat of July and should have died. However, thanks to persistent watering they not only survived but established and are now thriving. The Albizia was in the garden centre, in full flower, looking magnificent … and it spoke my name loudly. I had no idea where I was going to site it, and the weather was harsh, so I potted it up into one of the large pots we have from the trees we bought a couple of years ago, and it stayed on the terrace for a few weeks until the heat subsided and I could decide where to plant it. It will eventually grow quite tall, and will provide some late afternoon shade in the position I eventually chose for it. A big square hole was dug and I used our own beautiful home made compost when planting. Thankfully it survived and will be an asset for years to come. It has also given me ideas for a new flowerbed … which should have been created by now … Next year …

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading more of the story of the development of our French garden, using this Six on Saturday theme. Please do sign up to follow my blog via email to make sure you don’t miss new posts. Have a great bank holiday weekend. And, as we all say to each other now, stay safe and well.

9 thoughts on “Six on Saturday, life in lockdown, volunteers, and self seeders

  1. Oh my! It is that time already. It will not be Saturday for another six hours here. Albizia julibrissin is an interesting choice. It should be more popular here than it is, but has a bad reputation of being invasive. It is not really invasive here though. It is however, resilient to the long dry summers if watered only occasionally. It can survive even without watering, although is not as pretty. There is only one at work. No one knows how it got there. I suspect it grew from seed. I saw it growing wild where it was politely naturalized in Oklahoma.

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      1. I thought it was particularly useful for buildings with multiple floors. Several lived at the old City Hall of San Jose, and shaded the patio out front. The upper floors looked out over the broad but only slightly mounding canopy, which looked like a hilly lawn from above.

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      2. Old buildings are too pretty to obscure. The old San Jose City Hall, which is only old now that a newer one replaced it, is of the sort of modern architecture (for 1959) that benefits from trees and significant landscape features. It does not matter if parts of it are obscured, because there are a few floors of the same above and elsewhere. It really is an appealing building from that time. It is unfortunate that it is not appreciated more.

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  2. You have saved me a twitter question. We saw Sisyrinchiam striatum at a school locally alongside the Damiola Taylor memory. Well I think it was that plant.

    I thought that would be good in Spain and in Somerset. We too are extremely lucky with the help we have both in Cómpeta and in Pitcombe. I was worried that we would be visiting jungles but the gardens are being well looked after in our absence. There will be the things we need to do as well when we get back but we are lucky.

    We will both be back to the new adventures. This is a temporary blip in the road ahead.

    As long as you and Roger are will then that’s all that matters.
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