This is a time when friends and family enjoy your garden and, hopefully, you too will have time to relax and reap the rewards of your hard work.
A life without a garden is no life, at least not for me. Well that was how it was for us in 2005 when we decided to retire and move to France permanently. After a hunt, we found our perfect place in March 2006; an old stone house, barely modernised, at the top of a hill in a hectare of ground, and surrounded by oak woods. This was our base for creating what some kind friends now describe as ”a little piece of Paradise”, our 5700m2 garden with a variety of different ‘rooms’.
Firstly, I had created gardens before but never outside the UK and I had not really done my research about the challenges of the climate in SW France, with its hot dry summers and cold wet winters. We found ourselves literally between a rock and a hard place with very little soil, huge rocks just under the surface and lots of mature trees taking light and moisture.
So let’s fast forward 13 years and share our some of our experiences and the lessons we have learned, particularly when it comes to creating a summer garden that can be shared with our friends, the bees.
By Sue Sargeant, passionate gardener, novice writer
July and August can be the driest months of the year so choose drought tolerant plants such as Sedums, Cistus, Verbena Bonariensis, Rudbeckia, Cleome, Lavender and Mediterranean herbs such as Rosemary and Sage. More tender plants may be used to give a tropical feel to your garden such as Banana, and Canna but these will need winter protection.
A Pyracantha hedge, a bed of Cerinthe Major Purpurascens or a Lavendar border are loved by bees as, generally speaking, are flowers with a bright yellow centre. Sweet Alyssum has a strong scent, reminiscent of honey which is perhaps why the bees are so attracted to it.
As a nation, the French have a tradition of planting their pots with Geraniums on the 1st of May. These plants will provide vibrant colour to your gardens well into the Autumn. The annual versions, pelargoniums, can also be used in hanging baskets along with Begonias and Lobelia. Sadly, the blue free-falling flowers of Lobelia may not last the course but they can be quickly replaced with Lantana and Million Bells, both of which love the heat.
No garden is complete without the wonderful perfume of a Rose. The French roses tend to settle into our gardens very well but if, like me, you love English Roses then do seek the advice of the growers so that you choose the most suitable varieties for your garden. I have found that the pale shades cope much better in strong sunlight.
As important as watering when the sun has gone down, otherwise the water droplets will heat and scorch the flowers, is the need to mulch your flower beds with home-made compost, leaves and dry grass cuttings to keep the sun from drying out the soil. The best time to do this is after rainfall or watering. Making your own compost is the cheapest option but your local déchètterie makes compost on a grand scale and is usually free to collect.
If you want a constant display of flowers, you will need to dead head and cut back plants and shrubs after flowering. Some of them, such as Petunias (unless they are the milliflora variety) will not renew their flowers unless you do so. In addition, give your plants a hand by moving some pots into the shade to give the plants some respite from the midday sun. This is particularly important if you are away from home from a while.
We are all used to seeing brown lawns at this time of year. The fault is often in the cutting so, to give it a chance in the heat, it is best to avoid cutting the grass too short leading up to the Summer months. Using the mulching facility on your lawnmower will help to protect the grass.
It doesn’t all have to be watering and dead-heading though. You can create low maintenance areas with drought tolerant plants such as Sedums, Euphorbia and Verbena Bonariensis.
Our climate provides many months of the year where we almost live outside and, for this very reason, a cool shady corner of the garden in those mid-summer months is a life saver. Sitting under the trees surrounded by multi-coloured planted pots and even hanging baskets can be glorious.
Help and advice is often available at the local Mairie who should be able to put you in touch with local Gardening Associations. If you are creating a rockery or shady area, don’t forget that local quarries have great landscaping materials and can be much cheaper than garden centres.
If you like surfing the net, online-shopping is a great way to buy your bulbs, plants and garden sundries. Many suppliers in the UK and the Netherlands deliver to France. You could save money on delivery charges by buying in bulk with friends and neighbours or with your local Gardening group members.
Let’s keep our bees happy with these plants that provide a succession of flowers and help with pollination. Bees see colours very well so choose and are very attracted to shades of purple, violet, yellow, white and blue.
If you need help with your garden, you will find a comprehensive list of landscape gardeners, tree surgeons, ground excavation and garden services and equipment throughout Gironde, Dordogne, Lot et Garonne, Lot, Gers, Tarn et Garonne and north Haute Garonne in our business directory pages. Search by region under Home and Garden and Building External Works.
Images: Shutterstock and Sue Sargeant
First published in July/August 2018 issue of The Local Buzz