First Monday in February 2021

The equivalent post in January took us for a walk around the garden. This post is going to be more of a roundup of what’s been going on since. We’ve had quite a lot of wintry weather, a mix of hard overnight frosts, ferocious wind, and torrential rain. We are currently living through a period when the temperatures are mild (in the teens) but the sun is very shy and the rain is prolific. The ground is completely saturated and there is flooding all around.

So there’s not much walking around the garden going on. But nothing stays still in nature so there is lots to share with you.

Firstly, on a sad note, R arrived on 18th December and was able to stay until the 30th January when he had to return to the UK for a variety of reasons. Fortunately he was still allowed to travel, although border closures have subsequently tightened up. We had spent six wonderful weeks together and it was hard to say goodbye and watch him drive away. In these Covid times we don’t know when we will next be together. We will prepare for the worst, but hope for the best and remain agile so we can move fast when the opportunity arises. Our lives are best together.

In the early part of the month we still enjoyed a fair amount of sunshine. The five large plane trees at the entrance cast some amazing long shadows in the afternoon.

As always, compost assumes an importance in our lives. Farmer Gilles not far from us runs an amazing compost making operation, and is open for just 90 minutes every Saturday morning for people to have their own trailers filled by his large machine. We’ve now managed four trailer loads, just one a week as there’s insufficient time to get there and back more than once. Its great stuff, very light and easy to spread. I’ve no idea how nutritious it is but it is great for soil conditioning and mulching. So far I have spread three loads on the four beds of the rose garden, and the fourth is waiting. Top right above is a truckload of composted manure we had delivered last week from a different source. It is currently extremely wet, too wet to move or spread, but it looks promising and I hope to have some more loads delivered before long, especially for our new kitchen garden. Our soil is quite sticky and dense so the more organic matter we add the happier we are.

Earlier in the month, in the frosty days, a few fruits remained on the kaki. But the birds continued assiduously with their task and they have now all gone. They were always such a beacon of colour in a sometimes monochrome landscape.

I was thrilled to notice these flowers on the Ribes speciosum planted on the north-west corner of the barn. It is very spiky and uncomfortable to work round but so pretty. I first saw this plant at NT Nymans in Sussex (well worth a visit if you’ve never been) and am so pleased that it has established well here. We need to secure it to some supports on the wall at some point as its not a plant to allow to sprawl all over other things.

This is a particularly floriferous hellebore, planted underneath some white stemmed birches. I’m not quite sure why we didn’t get a closeup of a flower … Just gorgeous.

Frost on rose and hornbeam leaves

Frost on a flower of Musa basjoo, the (root) hardy banana. These are monocarpic, so once a stem has flowered & fruited it will die back. But we enjoy the fruit as long as we can as it is quite spectacular. The fruit is not edible but ornamental. Each year we’ve owned the house the banana leaves have been browned (technical term: fried) by the frost. Last year’s incredibly mild winter was the exception but we have had a number of frosty nights this month so the foliage is now all completely brown and crispy. We will leave it on, looking rather sad, for a few more weeks as it protects the stems from being damaged by frost. We don’t otherwise protect the stems here. Somehow the very high summer temperatures seem to ripen plants in such a way that they survive lower winter temperatures than they would in more northerly latitudes.

I popped out to a garden centre a couple of weeks ago and bought two Acacia dealbata (commonly known as mimosa) trees. They are currently still on the covered terrace where we can enjoy the flowers and where they are protected somewhat from the worst of the weather. I also have no idea where I’m going to plant them. But at least I have them. The perfume is exquisite. They’re not the hardiest of trees, but there are a number of quite mature specimens around us so I am hopeful that ours will thrive here.

Another tree with exquisitely scented flowers is the Eriobotrya japonica (commonly known as loquat). I’m pleased with how this has settled so far. Again, there are some quite large mature specimens around us so we are hopeful that this will continue to grow and provide a good upper storey in the exotic garden.

A plant which is almost ubiquitous in French gardens is the hardy hibiscus, often a dirty pink/lavender or white. Many very interesting new cultivars are now becoming available and a trial was running at RHS Wisley which we enjoyed looking at a while ago, all plants supplied by a French nursery. Most of the hibiscus here in the garden, and around us, are of the Distinctly Bogstandicus variety and not my favourites. We usually cut them down after the flowers drop. But serendipity this year led to me not yet having done so and the seedheads are really quite beautiful. I hope I’m not going to regret having left them on, with hundreds of seedlings to weed out at a later stage. I would like to add more of the new cultivars to the garden in due course.

We are fortunate to be on reasonably high ground so the house is unlikely to flood, but there’s a huge amount of water around. These pictures were taken a couple of weeks ago but today many people are posting pictures on social media of flooding much worse than this. It does seem that this winter is particularly wet. Whether that’s part of the usual cycle, or evidence of climate change, or an aberration, only history will be able to fully determine.

More frosty shots. I’ve deliberately not cut back frosted foliage on the hedychium, ensete, or cannas (bottom left above), leaving it to protect the crowns of the plant. The ensete (Abyssinian red banana) is not at all hardy, and was bought 18 months ago for seasonal summer bedding. Against all the odds it survived last winter. I shall be interested to see what happens this year as we’ve had a lot more frost. I don’t expect it to survive. But it will be great if it does.

Last week as we walked around the garden at the end of one sunny and mild afternoon we stopped beside the one remaining area of builders’ rubble that still exists and saw this Western Whip Snake just basking in the sunshine. It wasn’t presenting any threat to anyone and we marvelled at how beautiful it is. We have many buzzards around us so it may not have a long life ahead of it. But for a few moments we shared the same world.

As the year rolled over to 2021, I had an urge to sow some seeds. It was far too soon to sow most seeds, and I don’t have a greenhouse (yet?!) to keep seedlings in good light. But I looked through my stash and pulled out some seeds of Coronaria lychnis alba plucked from the plants and given to us by the elderly owner of a Jardin Remarquable we visited in July. To my joy and slight amazement germination on the kitchen window cill was rapid and prolific. Very quickly however they began to show signs of etiolating so I put the tray outside under the covered terrace. Since then we’ve had some low overnight temperatures but the plant is hardy and the tiny seedlings are hanging on. This is a big garden, and I need a very large number of plants to fill all the areas that I want to plant, so all free plants are going to be very gratefully welcomed. I’ve subsequently sown some Escholtzia californica Ivory Dreams, Lychnis flos-cuculi, Echium vulgare blue bedder, all three freebies from garden magazines. I also extracted the brilliant red seeds from a magnificent cone-like seedhead of a magnolia grandiflora and sowed those. And I’ve sown some perennial sweet pea seeds harvested from a plant in our tiny Sussex garden. Who knows how any of these will do. Its definitely worth a punt! And it gives me a sense of looking forward which is so important at the moment.

I have now completed the task of pruning all the roses with the help of R who went up the ladder to do the large climber on the front of the house. Previously I’ve always searched for outward facing buds … etc, etc. Recently I spotted a video from the David Austin Roses’ head gardener and he advised a much quicker method and this was also reinforced by watching one of the charming videos that Michael (Mr) Marriott and Rosie Irving are putting onto Instagram. If you haven’t come across them do go and have a look. They are great fun.

Some considerable tree planting has been completed. But that deserves a blog post all of its own. And we’ve had two new flowerbeds and three beds dug in a new kitchen garden where we’ve also erected two pergolas one of which will support a couple of kiwi plants and the other will support a couple of dessert grapes.

This is the first year that I will have been here at the French house through the whole of winter and I’m learning so much by observing how the weather moves and how the garden reacts. Yes, we’ve always visited throughout the year so we have experienced winter days here. But not whole weeks and months. I decided before R left that I would keep a daily diary of what I do in his absence. Its partly to encourage me and partly to keep a record to learn from as to the optimum time to complete various garden tasks. It will be interesting in months and years to come to be able to look back.

I’m going to do my best to keep this “first Monday of …” posting up as its a useful discipline and summary. I hope you’ve enjoyed this round up of our lives and our French garden on the first Monday of February 2021. We need all the light we can bring into our lives and those of us who love plants, gardens, and the wonders of nature are especially blessed.

10 thoughts on “First Monday in February 2021

  1. Ribes speciosum is native nearby here, both in Santa Clara County and in Monterey County; but it never looks as good as it does in gardens elsewhere. It is actually not appealing at all locally. I work with a bit of it in our unrefined landscapes.
    Acacia dealbata is a terribly invasive weed here, but I so enjoy the bloom. Not many appreciate the fragrance.


      1. It is also interesting that so many species that are chaparral plants, which I would not expect to do well in most part of Europe, are as popular as they are there.


  2. It was good to read this Sharon! I am certainly not a Gardener but I am full of admiration for the way you are going about your mammoth project. I wish you every future success. Brian H.


  3. Interestingly we have a couple of loquats on the bank at the back of the house but never get to enjoy the scent as it’s not an area we go to very often. The leaves are spectacular with I always think disappointing but plentiful flowers. Not my favourite fruit tho !
    We have two large mimosas on the bank on the access road which will cutting back after flowering this year. I pick armfuls of the stuff for the house ~ our neighbours say it always starts their hay fever. Last year I thought there was a fire on the bank. It was swathes of pollen being blown by the wind.
    I glossed over the snake pick. I have a huge fear and thing about snakes!
    I love Rosie and Michael’s videos. I’m hoping to catch up with them when we stay with Lou Archer later this year. I found the rose video really helpful.
    Blogs are like buses. You wait for ages and they then come all together!
    Keep busy. The time will pass quickly before Roger returns.


    1. Let us profoundly hope so … I asked the RHS for advice on what to grow here, as we started our adventure, and received a fabulously long and detailed response. Good old RHS. THe nub of it was “you’re very fortunate as you are in the northern edge of what will grow further south and the southern edge of what is happier further north”. We are so blessed with the huge variety of what we can grow. I have high hopes for more now I’m going to be spending so much more time here.
      How wonderful to have a plan to meet up with Mr Marriott and Rosie! X


  4. Great read and looking forward to these regular updates. Sounds like you are very organised. I’ll definitely be asking about the compost when we finally get back. Trying to be ever optimistic about when that might be. Stay warm. X


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