Friday, 30 September
“What about the garden?” my husband David began asking two years ago, not long after the renovation of the inside of our Perche house got underway. As regular readers know, it has been a refrain ever since.
For more recent readers, and since I have trouble keeping track myself, here’s a recap:
We bought Deux Champs in 2019, thus reuniting a 1ha/2.5acre house and garden with 20ha/50 acres of fields. Fences and hedges that had grown into trees closed around the garden. The thuja that lined the lane had grown into monsters and blocked the view of the orchard and fields beyond. The courtyard still looked much like the farmyard it had been 30 years earlier.
Fortunately, we quickly found garden guru Claire. With the help of Estéban and Yohann, she wasted no time in freeing the garden from its vegetal prison. Hedges were thinned or plessées.
Field maples were pollarded and replanted (fyi, you horticulturists out there, even full grown trees can be dug up and moved) beyond the garden's former confines. The thuja were summarily chopped down and turned into firewood and wood chips. Earth was turned and a couple of new trees and beds were planted, but that was about it.
Okay, I admit that's already quite a lot, but work was very far from done, and as long as the house renovation continued (and continued), there was no point taking on the full job. Every day heavy vehicles rolled over the ground, and the court/farmyard when not a parking lot was depressingly littered with cement mixers and debris.
In my last garden update, the house had finally reached a stage where the ground could be landscaped. But by now late July, it was too hot and dry to plant and everyone was going on holiday, so the earth was left to languish in its desolate brownness.
It was super depressing and didn’t get any better when a big storm in August caused an explosion of weeds to emerge on the bare earth and in the existing beds. David and I did our weeding best, but we were no match for nature unbound.
Hope, however, returned in the early days of September, when Team Claire moved into action. She and Samuel mowed, ripped and raked...
...and replaced the intruders with much prettier specimens...
A large shipment of plants arrived...
The Team grew. Claire got her daughter Jessie in on the act…
As I write, there's still much to do - including the sowing of the lawn - but many of the 1100 tiny plants are already taking root in their new home, surrounded by wood chips to keep water in and weeds out (mauvaises herbes are clever bastards, Claire says, and need much dissuasion).
With climate change, the front of the house now gets relentless, blistering sun in the summer and is therefore of Mediterranean inspiration. "It'll give all year round interest and smells," says Claire. Lots of rosemary and thyme and lavender; cistus, santolinas, helichrysum and phillyrea, plus drought resistant grasses and small trees that can take the heat. Out back is more "prairie style planting to link with the meadow, ornamental grasses and windbreak. Miscanthus sinensis graziella (love that name), panicum northwind, asters, willows and sages...that kind of stuff."
It is inspiring and reassuring to watch Team Claire work together and impose order on chaos; really, it's as much about the people as it is the planting, especially when the world beyond the garden feels so fractious and beyond the individual's control.
And David finally has the answer to what-about-the-garden.
Time for me to stop writing about the planting and start helping get the new arrivals into the ground. But first, a big thank you to Team Claire.