Tuesday, 27 February 2018 08:49

Ma Mimosa - Here I Go Again !

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Gardening Diary 27nd February 2018

Back in February 2012 we were subject to three very cold days, even colder than the current chilly weather that has swept the country from the east. Like many other gardeners in this region, we lost our mimosa tree that was estimated to be around 20 years old. Within days the flowers had dissapeared and the thinner branches turned black. Gardeners should live in a spirit of hope, so I left the tree for a year to see if it really had gone. Indeed something was still alive and the following spring new shoots of this very recognisable tree started to appear from the gravel covered surroundings having emerged from the root system. Actually so may appeared that it became a bit of a nuisance removing them, but one eventually appeared close to the dead trunk of the original tree. I protected this with a wire cage and let it develop in the coming years. With a bit of simple pruning of the main stem, we now have a 250 cm tree with a trunk diameter of about 3 cm.

And this year it has produced flowers for the first time !  Just hoping that two nights at - 7 oC don't put us back another six years!

 Taylor Trainingen

Inspiratie Pakhuis




Tuesday, 05 August 2014 20:13

Potato Harvest Time

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 Gardening Diary 5th August 2014

On a hot and sunny afternoon I spent a most pleasurable couple of hours lifting more of this year's crop of potatoes. This is one of the most rewarding tasks in the gardening year, and it is always a wonder to raise a forkful of good-sized tubers. As in previous years, around ten percent had been nibbled from the outside by those rather unpleasant red-headed grubs, but the joy of finding the rest with perfect size and shape far outweighs any slight concerns about any losses. This year I planted two types of potato – a few King Edwards for the first time, and the red skinned “Rosabella” that I harvested today,

The Rosabella yield was good with many good and even-sized tubers, having shallow eyes and smooth skin. Our first boiling of these was a little disappointing, since they fell apart at the point of being ready. Reading the literature suggests that these are recommended more for frying, salads and purée, so we will be trying that next time.

The gardening literature frequently recommends planting potatoes in newly created beds as a way of improving the soil. I'm not convinced that has anything to do with the plants, but a real benefit results from the thorough digging that usually happens in the quest to retrieve the whole harvest. If the rain holds off, I will be lifting more potatoes tomorrow.

Monday, 25 November 2013 08:45

Yorkshire Roots

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Gardening Diary 23rd November 2013

Coming from Yorkshire I'm blessed or cursed with those genes that control needless over-expenditure. Thus I'm inclined to shop around looking for the “best” deal – not always the wisest thing to do. Today we went to buy a shrub to replace one that gave up the ghost in a short run of hedge.

Back in 2007 I planted out eight common or cherry laurel (prunus laurocerasus caucasica) to form a short dividing hedge at the top of the garden. Three years later, only five had survived so I replaced the dead ones with new bushes. These were rather cheap at €4.50 each from the local supermarket, but unfortunately the leaves were a lighter colour than the originals. One of the replacement plants subsequently died so I needed to plug that gap, and now is a good time to be planting (St Catherine's day).

We are fortunate to have an excellent pépinière in Corme Royal,about five minutes from home. Although it's not the cheapest source of plants, it is excellently maintained and well-stocked with a huge range of plants. There I found lots of potted laurel bushes, in a range of sizes. Unfortunately the smallest was priced at € 11.90, which I was genetically programmed to consider too expensive. Thus a trip to “Secrets du Jardin” was called for. That pépinière is the opposite of our first port of call, and much further away. The enthusiastic owner has loads of plants but they are displayed in a rather “relaxed” fashion on a higgledy-piggledy site. We asked for a “laurier caucase” and were lead up a windy hillside until the gentleman eventually found a few. Selecting the largest (none were very big) we made our way back to the entrance, and found that we were being charged € 12. By now it was too late to back out, but I muttered all the way home that we should have bought the bush that we had seen two hours earlier and saved a 50 km round trip.

I've now planted this new arrival, and find that this too has lighter coloured leaves. I'm not best pleased with a hedge that apparently has two types of laurel since it will always look as if the more yellow leaves are a sign of a stressed plant. It will however still form a screen, and in years to come I might be able to replace the lighter bushes using hardwood cuttings that I've now taken.

Friday, 22 November 2013 16:52

Eternal Pampas Grass

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Gardening Diary 21st November 2013

A sunny but cold early winter's day required jobs that involved continuous movement. I started my afternoon's gardening session by cutting off the blackened top-growth of some dahlias. This is such a sure sign that we've now experienced a night frost that I didn't need to consult my max-min thermometer. As last year, I've chosen to leave the dahlia tubers in the ground over winter. I hardly noticed any difference in performance and it's a lot less work than lifting, drying and storing them. I'm just hoping that my good friend Hamish isn't reading this from a snow-bound Canadian lake-house. He wants me to lift and divide every year, and whilst I know that this should produce larger blooms, at present I have other activities to fill my gardening time.

The winds of recent days have now almost stripped the lime tree opposite of its leaves. Many of these collected in a wet heap on our terrace, so I cleared and bagged them to generate my 2015 leaf mold. I moved the bags to a quiet corner of the “woodland walk” and retrieved those of 2011. The contents had reduced to a nice consistency mold, although one that contained the leaves of an old pampas grass had not. It's nearly 8 years since I cut down that unloved pampas grass, and still it haunts me !

Thursday, 21 November 2013 08:27

Planting garlic

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Gardening Diary 20th November 2013

A complicated year has kept me away from the garden other than for essential maintenance such as grass-mowing and some weed control. That's all behind us now and this afternoon I worked in the potager with the feeling that normal life is resuming. Moving sheets of cardboard from Swedish flat-packs that have covered most of the vegetable beds since the spring revealed clean, weed-free earth. I dug over a bed and discovered in the process lots of worm activity, and good consistency loam.

My task for the day was to plant next year's garlic. Usually I've done this in mid-October, so I'm hoping that the four week delay will not affect the crop significantly. The garlic bulbs that I lifted back in June were by far the best and biggest that I've ever achieved. I think this was a result of very wet spring weather, so if next year looks dry I'll be watering this bed regularly.

The cloves that I planted today were simply taken from last year's bulbs which are storing well in the garage. I planted around 25 super-large cloves (see photo) from four of the six giant garlic that I'd grown for the first time last year. In addition I planted four rows of Messidrome and added some Growmore fertilizer to the whole bed.

Although this might not seem the most exciting of news, for me it marks a return to real gardening, and I hope more Garden Diary entries.

Saturday, 10 August 2013 08:14

Herbert the Hedgehog

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Gardening Diary 9th August 2013

In the middle of the afternoon I spotted a small hedgehog snuffling through the grass in the main garden. This daytime appearance is unusual for such a nocturnal animal, and could be a result of the relatively dry weather that we have experienced for that past six weeks. One of the main food sources of the hedgehog is worms, and at present these are hiding deep down in the soil.

Hedgehogs are seen by scientists as an indicator species, with their presence indicating a healthy landscape with lots of insects. Useful to the gardener they devour slugs and other pests, but of course we would prefer to keep the worms. Unfortunately hedgehogs are also a disappearing species. In the UK the population has reportedly declined from around 30 million in the 1950's to maybe only 1 million at present. The reasons are probably several, including the usual culprits pesticides and mechanical cultivation devices. The increasing population of natural predators such as foxes and badgers is also cited as a probable reason. In addition, increased use of solid fences and decking in gardens is thought to restrict the territories of hedgehogs foraging for food.

We are hoping that today's visitor will choose to stay with us, and that Herbert find sufficient shelter and food in the wilder areas of our garden.

Wednesday, 03 July 2013 07:09

A Decorative and Useful Herb

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Gardening Diary 3rd July 2013

We are fortunate to have enough space to be able to cultivate a sizeable area dedicated to herbs. As well as being both welcome in the kitchen and a perfumed delight on warm summer evenings, herbs can be very decorative. Indeed we have lots of rosemary and sage also growing in the mixed beds around the garden just for their attractive flowers and leaves. At present, our herb garden is looking especially colourful. Tall stems of flowering dill emerge from a mass of green marjoram leaves which are in turn surrounded by a border of blue flowering sage.

The biggest floral impact comes, however, from a large patch of chamomile. This plant was introduced to the garden a few years ago, and because I bought from a brocante I've never really known for sure that it was a true chamomile. Following a bit of research I now know that we have German chamomile (Matricaria recutita). The other plant that's also known as chamomile is Chamaemelum nobile or Roman chamomile. The latter, which is sometimes called Russian chamomile or English chamomile, is a ground-covering perennial whereas our German chamomile is an annual that grows to about 40 cm. The confusion probably arises since both plants have daisy-like flowers, and both find similar herbal applications.

Today's mass of flowers would not look about of place in the flower beds, and seems to come from about three good-sized plants. German chamomile freely self-seeds, and indeed some sources consider it to be rather invasive. The aromatic leaves are however easily identified, so it shouldn't be difficult to control. Our self-seeded plants seem to prosper at a spacing of about 80 cm, so in future years I'll be looking to thin out any new clumps that appear.

Chamomile has been used for centuries to make a relaxing tea, that also has a plethora for claims for medicinal efficacy. Now that the flowers are so abundant, I'm going to try snipping them and drying on a mesh screen. The dried flowers are then apparently used to make this “wonder drink” that is supposed to aid both digestion and sleep. I'll report back if I notice a difference.

Monday, 01 July 2013 12:37

Ouche - a Lot of Garden

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Garden Diary July 1st 2013

During the week, I made a visit to see a local garden with the Saintes AVF “Atelier de Jardinage” group. The garden called “Jardin de l 'Ouche” is located close to Cognac and owned by M. Jacques Léoty. He is a very enthusiastic private gardener who is now retired from his non-horticultural career and must spend most of his time (and possibly income) on his magnificent creation. Perfectly located in the rolling hills of Cognac vineyard country, the 20 000 m2 plot is divided into three areas, all with a challenging sloping aspect but magnificent panoramic views that extend for tens of kilometres.

M. Léoty started this garden in 2002 when he purchased the first plot of former agricultural land. He claims that the soil had been so intensively worked and saturated with herbicides and insecticides that it was initially to all intents and purposes “dead”. There were no insects, worms, or evidence of active micro-organisms and it took a few years before reverting to a less hostile growing medium.

Over the years he expanded the area by purchasing more land, and planted over 1000 trees. There lies his true passion and he displayed a detailed knowledge of the characteristics and origin of most of the specimens. He also has an impressive collection of shrubs, with more varieties of Viburnum than I thought existed. He sources plants mostly from professional growers, and increasingly from his own cuttings and divisions. For the latter he has built an impressive “laboratory” which would be the envy of any serious gardener. The mixed beds and borders are recognisably of the “English Garden” style, and contain complementary groups of herbaceous perennials, roses, shrubs and annuals.

M. Létoy's philosophy is to only grow plants that will prosper in the local soil and climatic conditions. It was thus rather reassuring to spot there very many of the plants that I've introduced to our own garden. Not unexpectedly he doesn't use any chemicals or fertilizers, and recycles all his grass cuttings and weeds. What is very surprising is the fact that this charming Frenchman gardens alone. A garden of 20 000 m2 with dozens of beds to tend on sloping terrain is quite some challenge. On the day of our visit the grass looked perfect after a recent mowing, and there were hardly any weeds visible – though in fairness all attention was directed to the wonderful plants. I've been gardening for a similar number of years, on a plot that's a mere sixth the area, and there's never been a time when it has looked as well-maintained as his. I half-expected to turn a corner and discover a shed with six resident gardeners taking a pineau break.

The Jardin de l'Ouche has been awarded the prize « Jardin en devenir » (Developing Garden) by the Société nationale d'horticulture de France (SNHF), and is open to visit by appointment.

Thursday, 27 June 2013 07:13

The Dahlia News

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Gardening Diary 26th June 2013

Encouraged by my reclamation of the rose garden after one day's weeding, I today tackled the neighbouring dahlia bed. This island bed is square with a thick border of blue fescue grass surrounding a developing Elaeagnus x ebbingei bush. Between these I've been growing dahlia for the past few seasons. This winter I didn't lift and store the tubers in the autumn for the first time. In common with the rest of the garden, this area had become overgrown with weeds during the first half of the year, and was looking really miserable.

Removing the weeds turned out to be less daunting that I had anticipated. If you leave them to develop long enough, the strongest start to dominate and crowd out the smaller unwanted plants. It's important of course that they don't also choke your precious “wanted” plants, but this time I was lucky. Much of the covering was clover, and I found that removing each hefty plant from the base cleared a significant area in one pull. Most came out easily and if any broke to leave the root in the ground, I consoled myself that these provided nitrogen-rich nodules to improve the soil.

Clearing the bed revealed that some ten dahlia plants had survived the winter and were developing into sturdy plants. In previous years, newly emerging shoots of dahlia have been eaten by rabbits, but I guess that this time they hid successfully amongst the other vegetation.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013 11:54

High Rainfall not all bad news

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Gardening Diary 25th June 2013

Another warm and sunny day was a good opportunity to lift and dry the remaining garlic in the potager. And what a success they have been this season ! Earlier this month I had harvested the six huge bulbs that I grew from an unknown species bought at a local brocante, plus a couple of “regular” for comparison. Today's crop comprised some 60 very good-sized bulbs of the “Messidrome” variety of white garlic. These were planted out on November 11th and were from 60+ calibre bulbs.

The excellent result seems a bonus since I have hardly performed any maintenance on the bed so far this year. Thus there was plenty of weed-growth around the stems when I eventually got round to harvesting – something that's traditionally frowned upon with such shallow-rooted vegetables. I can only attribute this success to the vast amount of rainfall in the first half of the year, enhanced perhaps by the well-cultivated condition of the potager bed.

Today I trimmed the roots, and left the bulbs to dry a little in the sunshine. I'll be stringing them for storage within the next days and hoping that we've enough to see us through until next summer.

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