February was a month of two halves. The rain continued during the first part with 82 centimetres of rain falling in this area between the 1st and the 10th February. That’s a lot. Since the big rains stopped we’ve hardly had a drop and, believe it or not, I’m now looking anxiously at the forecast for some! Hopefully we will get some in a few days but in the meantime I’m going to have to get the hosepipes out to use in one or two areas of new planting.
I walk round the garden frequently, looking to see what has changed, what is newly flowering/sprouting, what might be of concern. This is a time of year when changes are daily. Here are some of the things I recorded on Monday’s walk.
First and foremost, the orchids are now gaining ground. They’re not especially rare in this part of the world, but are nonetheless very welcome and to be celebrated. This is the first time I’ve been here for any length of time in spring so I’m experimenting with leaving a few areas unmown for a while to allow more orchids to flower. We have previously recorded pyramid orchids, bee orchids, and lizard orchids. I wonder if we will see any others? I will definitely report back.
I first became aware what an amelanchier flower looked like at an NGS garden in Sussex. Of course I was aware of the plant (it being a favourite of garden designers and often featuring at RHS Chelsea); I just didn’t know what it looked like. This is a terrible picture (it is hard to take good photos when the sun shines so brightly you can’t see the screen) but it gives an idea of how pretty they are as the flowerbuds develop and open.
Several of the fruit trees in the new orchard are already flowering.
The buds on others which flower later are breaking.
Two new flowerbeds have been dug and manured ready for planting, on the left in front of the house and on the right between the covered terrace and the pool. The new bed in the front will contain some shrubs with a particular focus on berries, and the bed near the covered terrace will be mixed and include some plants already in the bed opposite it (out of shot) alongside the west wall of the barn.
We are still enjoying the hellebores. We now have about a dozen clumps planted and just love them. I’m hoping they will self seed and spread.
Sophora japonica has suddenly burst into life. I wasn’t sure how well this was doing but I think it is telling me that it is happy.
The first flower is unfurling on Zantedeschia aethiopica. They really are spectacular and grow all around here. This clump is now well established and set some seeds last year which I plan to pot up and bring on for planting elsewhere. This is growing in the dampest part of the garden, conditions it likes.
Cardamine pratensis has suddenly appeared from nowhere on the roundabout. I just love this flower and it has a significance for us that I wrote about in one of my earliest blog posts.
On the left is a particularly plump Arum italicum. This grows rampantly everywhere. Initially its a welcome novelty; very soon it becomes unwelcome. As this clump is so verdant it has a brief stay of reprise. On the right is Ficaria verna, (lesser celandine). We had a zero tolerance policy for this in our Surrey garden; here it is welcome. Very soon after flowering the leaves die back to nothing and with the amount of space we have we can afford to let it be. When the sun shines on the flowers they sparkle with an irridescence which is magical.
Suffering from the same “screen in the sunshine” photo problems but nevertheless shared as I was so struck by how the emerging leaves of this Liriodendron point unmistakeably to the adult form they will soon adopt. We are so fortunate to have the space to plant a number of beautiful specimen trees.
Moles have been going mad. Of course we like moles and they are welcome to live very happily … on the outside of our fence. We would prefer them not to be in our garden as the damage they do is immense. Don’t tell me how fine the soil of a molehill is; I would prefer it to remain underground! These are just a drop in the current ocean of molehills. Grrrr!!
Sticking with the “not so happy” theme for a moment, this euphorbia appears to be on its last legs. There are many seedlings around it, pointing to the cause of its demise; the flowerheads weren’t cut off as they turned to seed last summer, hence it has decided that it has completed its life cycle. It needs to come out. I’ve potted up about 20 or so of the seedlings and will distribute them around the garden for a new generation.
Irises have started to flower. My intention is to add to our collection with a number of different colours, but not this year. In the meantime we will just have to put up with this one repeating all over the place.
I rather like this Sorbaria sorbifolia. As well as the pretty colours of the new foliage the flowers are pretty and a magnet for pollinating insects. It does have a tendency to sucker. I don’t want it to just spread indefinitely so I shall cut the suckers out, and perhaps pot some up for planting in specific situations elsewhere in the garden.
We’ve continued to enjoy some of our perfumed trees and shrubs; (clockwise) Lonicera fragrantissima, Sarcococca confusa, and two pictures of Eriobotrya japonica (loquat).
Its been a month for spring bulbs. The garden still has very few but we intend autumn 2021 to be a season of bulb planting. I did get some tulip bulbs into one bed during November which are now emerging from the soil.
And I also planted a couple of hundred Crocus tommasinianus … sadly this is the only evidence. Mice or voles decided they would be a very tasty snack. Another grrrrr.
In the early part of the month there were some dramatic skies while the weather was still stormy.
And we’ve experienced some stunning sunrises as the weather began to improve.
I’ve done a huge amount of shredding, disposing of sticks and branches brought down from the mature trees during the stormy weather (the planes at the entrance, some ash trees, and a small-leaved lime), and some shrubs that needed attention including a Solanum jasminoides alba that had more than outgrown its alloted space and has been replaced by a Trachelospermum jasminoides more suited to the position. We decided a while back that we would stop having bonfires, for several reasons not least that they are banned! Most things that can’t be immediately composted can be shredded for the compost heap. And what is too woody to be shredded can be cut up and stacked for use in the woodburners. As a last resort we can load up the car and take stuff to the dechetterie (tip) but with careful management that’s a surprisingly occasional requirement.
The month has not been without drama. One Sunday morning a couple of weeks ago I opened the curtains and spotted something that shouldn’t have been there, a car on its side in the field opposite. At that point nobody was to be seen so I quickly threw on some clothes and ran down the drive, not knowing what I might find. Before I reached the gates I was very pleased to see the pompiers (the first responders in France) arrive. Shortly thereafter a very chastened looking young man appeared driven by a very cross looking woman, closely followed by the gendarmes. I had to leave at that point as I was due at church where I was singing in the choir (Faure’s Cantique de Jean Racine, sublime …) so I never did find out the end of the story or any explanation.
But the morning’s drama hadn’t finished as half way to church I came across “Route barree”. This was the reason; completely impassable. A quick turn round and detour got me to church part way through the rehearsal but fortunately before the service started. The heavy rains of recent weeks are undoubtedly the cause of this road collapse. The Faure was wonderful.
Over the Christmas period we decided to make a start on creating a kitchen garden. We’ve started with three beds two 5m x 2m and one 8m x 2m. The turf has been taken off (stacked underneath the black plastic to rot down) and I am having a delivery of manure (a second lorry load – the first is now distributed) on Saturday which I will spread on each bed. I will then top that with a layer of our own compost mixed with compost that I get by the trailer load from Farmer Gilles. We won’t grow a huge variety, at least in this first year, concentrating on getting the soil into good heart and well managed. The two pergolas have been installed to grow dessert grapes up one and kiwi up the other. In the foreground is a mulberry bush which we held hands and danced and sang round before R had to leave at the end of January. It is Morus nigra (not alba), whose fruit are the best variety for eating. Since I took this picture I’ve planted two mimosa trees (Acacia dealbata), one at either end of the right hand side to soften any sense that this is just a functional allotment.
I’ve set some seed potatoes to chit in the barn: three varieties, Belle de Fontenay, Bintje, and Ratte. There are far more than we need but they were sold in packs of 25. I’ve also got some seeds for Potimarron (a tasty pumpkin), courgettes, broad beans (which I’ve already sown in modules) and white and rainbow chard. I’ve bought two rhubarb plants for planting when the beds have been manured & composted, and am likely to buy a few seedlings in the markets to fill in any gaps.
I’ve potted up some dahlia tubers and a few divisions and self-sowers from the garden, and sown a few flower seeds (lupins above just showing the first true leaves). We don’t have a greenhouse … yet … so I’m using the window cill, the barn, or the covered terrace depending on the temperature requirements.
One of the things I just love about plants and gardens is that there is always a sense of looking ahead, a sense that “all this shall pass” and “all will be well” and we need that sense of hope more than ever during these times.
May you find hope and joy in gardens too, whether its your own or one you visit. Thank you for sharing my first Monday in March roundup.