It started in Cornwall at 5am on 1st June 2013, making favours on the day of Chris and Liz’s wedding.
Moving South in July to the Gers, a department in the Midi-Pyrenees, to work on our first French potager:
Moving on to La fleur enchantée, Marie-Jo Portet’s herb and perennial cut flower nursery near Auch. At this time of year, after the sale of plug plants for potagers, on sale are a wide range of different Basils and other herbs.
Bouquets of bright flowers attract customers to her market stall.
Zinnia, beware, can leave your arms permanently scarred! Wear long sleeves to keep the flowers and stalks away from your skin.
Assembling rustic bouquets of Coreopsis, Cosmos, Helichrysum, Wild Carrot and Cornflowers.
Getting ready for market the next day: finding the right labels for the selection of plants packed in to the van.
The market stall set up in Auch, one of 3 markets Marie-Jo does each week during summer. It takes the whole day before each market to prepare the flower bouquets and pots, and it’s an early start on the day. Which leaves very little time off for a nursery owner once the gardens, 3 polytunnels, shade tunnel and nursery beds have been looked after. We were very impressed with this small, dynamic nursery.
Find Marie-Jo’s stalls in Auch on Thursdays (by the river) and Saturdays (in the old town) and Mauvezin as well as plant fairs.
August in Paris: We fitted in this small project while visiting friends and gardens, a small front garden make-over of ornamental grasses and herbaceous perennials. (See our blog on Paris for Patrick Blanc green walls and other Paris gardens.)
After August in Paris, we stayed in the Hautes-Pyrenees to help with a family potager in the early mornings and then on the walls of strawbale house when it was too hot to work outside. A family trying out Permaculture principles and practices, here is their polytunnel:
The very first layer of plaster is called ‘barbotine’, a simple mix of finely sieved clay and lots of water that is rubbed in to the strawbale walls. The thicker layers of plaster, measured in buckets, cling on to this. It is a mix of:
- Clay x 8 – riddled to remove the larger stones
- Black sand x 3
- Straw x 5
- Lawn cuttings x 5 – when you run out, get mowing the lawn!
- Water x 2
- Fermented corn juice x 1
The corn juice glued the whole mix together, which had to be left for at least a few days under a tarpaulin. It was ‘fragrant’ to say the least! The final layer of clay, sand, straw and water also contained flour glue; this acts to seal in the smell and waterproof the thicker layers of plaster underneath.
Potager on a rocky slope: After the difficult job of harvesting the potatoes, where we had to dig out the dry whole area with a pickaxe to try to find them, we suggested trying out deep trenches for next year’s crop. We dug out and filled trenches with well-rotted horse manure (made on site) and home-made compost, then covered them with spare straw bought in for the house-building.
September 2013: Having traveled across the bottom of France, we headed up to the Minervois area, north of Carcassone to work at the specialist Mediterranean plant nursery, La petite pepiniere at Caunes-Minervois www.lapetitepepiniere.com One of our jobs was to take out this very large Phlomis – not a quick job! – and return some of the oldest demonstration beds to easier-to-maintain wild lawn.
Learning Mediterranean plants here with Gill Pound: taking cuttings of Hertia cheirifolia (formerly named Othonopsis).
Visiting Olivier and Clara Filippi’s nursery and demonstration garden in Meze. Looking at the softer of the lawn alternatives here, which are being trialled to find good mixes to replace irrigated lawns. This alongside Gill’s nursery is a perfect classroom for us to learn exactly what we’re here for: how to garden in the harsh climate (the extremes of the summer heat, the winter cold, the winds and the flash floods) of the Mediterranean.
And back to Gill’s:
December 2013 and January 2014 in the stunningly beautiful countryside of the Cevennes: taking out a neglected garden of all sorts and putting in our first ‘terrasse végétale’ – a garden of rocks and drought-resistant ground cover plants.
Weeds: Potentilla recta (pink woody roots), Rubia peregrina (thin yellow roots and sharp foliage).
Helping out a friend who is experimenting with ornamental grasses on old olive terraces.
February 2014: A few days at Catriona McLean’s lovely garden, Jardin des Rossignols, near Beziers www.jardindesrossignols.com Catriona also sells specialist horticultural tools and pots.
March 2014 and our second visit to this stunning garden in Montpellier. This time we helped to make a ‘terrasse végétale’ path planted with Thymus ciliatus and Achillea odorata. The olive tree will be circled with Santolina rosmarinifolia, with Rosmarinus ‘Tuscan Blue’ and R. ‘Spice Islands’, and Lavendula x chaytorae ‘Richard Gray’.
The owner of this stunning garden, Chantal Guiraud, is the Mediterranean Garden Society’s Seed Co-ordinator. See the page on her Seed Exchange here: http://www.mediterraneangardensociety.org/seedlist.html Here is a pair of stockings to capture the soon-to-be exploding seeds of a Euphorbia!
We have joined the Mediterranean Garden Society so have started attending the programme of activities organised by the Languedoc branch. The latest event was a soil workshop held at the specialist bulb nursery, Bulb’Argence http://www.bulbargence.com/fr/accueil-bulbargence-bulbe-a-fleur-d-espece-botanique.php near Arles in the Camargue.
March 2014: We’ve finally made it to Provence on our journey towards Menton and the Italian border. Here we’re carefully removing dead leaves from inside Box parterres and pruning a stunningly intricate courtyard garden.
Another potager, this large plot is on a windy plain of fruit trees and vineyards under the Mont Ventoux.