With Gill Storey

Since January most of my articles have dealt with the how and when of gardening, but now I want to look at why we have a garden and what we hope to achieve with it.

In a recent TV series, Alan Titchmarsh’s Garden Secrets, Alan Titchmarsh considered the purposes of garden design, and in one programme he concentrated on the great garden at Sissinghurst. Here the garden developed as a reflection of how the owners lived – not in one single house, but in various buildings spread over the property.

Just as each building had a separate purpose, so did each zone of the garden – for example the famous white garden was conceived as a place to spend moonlit evenings, when the white/grey planting gained in mystery and drama.

Here in the South of France we must think of our gardens in the same way, as places to live in, with different purposes at different seasons. We need to break a garden up into zones and define the purpose of each zone – the entrance, a shady courtyard, a lawn surrounded by flowers, the pool and its surrounds, a kitchen garden (or herb patch) near the barbecue.

Our region has hot sunny summers and sharp cold winters, with the various winds like the Marin, the Tramontane and the Cers playing a greater role in our lives than the winds in the British Isles, and so any plans must prioritise shelter from these winds.

Gardening in December in South of FranceA wall, a hedge or split cane fencing attached to a wire fence may turn an exposed and uncomfortable corner into a pleasant nook and provide a better environment for choice plants or pots. “Looking at” the garden rather than” living in it” may be the key to some areas – we look at an entrance rather than live in it, and the planting should reflect this.

It can be a display of colour or shapes with shrubs and bedding, or large plants like grasses can provide privacy for an overlooked area – grasses also multiply rapidly. Trees should give shade, but not too much, and a dappled light is best, and provides colour, height and sculptural shapes to a garden – if trees also provide fruit, so much the better.

Walls can be clad with trellis or wires and climbing plants or trained trees. Then they will reflect less light and glare and bring the boundaries into the garden.

Even how we pave areas can affect the way we use them. Gravel on top of a weed proof membrane is cheap and easy to lay, but gravel may not be welcome next to a swimming pool, where the pebbles will inevitably get into the water and are not very kind to the feet. Here a better choice is non-slip paving slabs. Coloured bricks and slabs may fight a daring planting scheme but can give interest to a dull access way.

I have seen near us different ways of bringing the indoors outdoors. One large balcony has tables, chairs, loungers, window boxes and tubs with prolific tomatoes. The next house has glassed-in the balcony to provide a winter garden, and the panels slide back in summer to let the planting breathe. Another has surrounded a ground level dining area with a little paling to give an illusion of privacy and prevent their small children from making a break for it. Yet another has created a garden planted with a small lawn and useful herbs between two wings of their house

One needs to look at a garden, break it up into zones and define the purpose of each zone. If you want indoor/outdoor living you need a permanent eating area, a cooking zone, intelligent storage, sunlight and shade. Once these have been considered the design generally falls into place.

Flower Garden

1. Tidy plant pots and apply a top dressing. There are little pellets called Argiles which will keep down weeds and conserve water in the summer months.
2. Mulch the beds with compost or bought products like bark to protect the soil.
3. Bring tender plants indoors.
4. Put large pots on feet and wrap them with bubble wrap if they will not move easily indoors.
5. Bring in your Christmas bulbs and put your poinsettia in the garage to bring them on slowly.
6. Make sure your house plants have enough light.
7. Sow alpine seeds now.
8. Plant pelargonium seeds indoors
9. Pinch out the tips of the sweet peas shown earlier in the autumn, to produce more flowers.
10. Thin out your iris if they have flowered badly last year (gone blind), replant small portions of the roots (rhizomes) and use the rest to fill in awkward gaps

Vegetable Garden

1. Harvest parsnips, leeks winter cabbage, sprouts and root vegetables. Blanch and freeze the green vegetables. The roots may be stored in packing cases filled with sand, or cleansed, blanched and frozen already cut into usable pieces.
2. Clear away any remaining debris and cover ground with polythene sheeting to prevent weed growth.
3. Spread compost as mulch over the ground and let the worms and weather do the work of incorporating it into the soil.
4. Prune apples and pears to open their centres to light and air. Also prune currants, and gooseberries.
5. When the locals start to do it, prune any vines.
6. Plant new fruit trees and bushes. The apricot “Rouge de Roussillon” is very much prized by the locals with its reddish flesh and later ripening. It and other fruit trees have just come into the garden centres. Be sure to provide stays against wind rock.
7. Spray fruit trees with Bordeaux mixture (bouillie bordelaise) and sulphur if you have not done it already.
8. Earth up Brussels sprout stems to protect them against wind rock.

END NOTE

I have been looking at gardening books to give me ideas for next year and to put on my Amazon wish list. There are plenty of English language books on the Mediterranean garden, as well as excellent descriptions of famous gardens in the south of France. The Mediterranean Garden Society offers English and German advice and information as well as access to Mediterranean gardens and has world wide branches. Membership sub for 2015 is €40 (€ 30 in Greece where it is published) and offers a quarterly magazine, the opportunity to join excursions and find fellow gardeners in your locality if there is a branch, join in the Seed Exchange and order up to 15 packets of seeds per year free of charge.

Sadly, in France there is nothing like the National Garden Scheme where people throw open their sternly inspected gardens in aid of charity, but the MGS does enable visits, and probably your French friends will appreciate sharing these visits.

REMEMBER TO FEED THE BIRDS and to order your book on gardening by the phases of the moon for the New Year.

© Gill Storey 2010

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