A bit of motivation to get on with things

There’s nothing better for getting over anger and sadness than getting on with things. Around us there’s the sound of birds, frogs, toads, lambs and chicks – all celebrating their existence.

The endless optimism of the singing birds in the trees lifts our spirits and encourages us to get on with making our space more welcoming and attractive. I find physical work profoundly energising and the exercise helps us get rid of stress and prepares us to live as warriors and not as victims.

March 2006 This rose should cover the whole top half of the slope in about four yearsWhen I need a bit of encouragement to get on and do things, I have a look at some of the old photographs I’ve taken of the garden and wander around taking shots of the same views now. This one is a good example of the back of our house about a year after I planted the rose in the photo. It’s now more than six metres high, winding into the young oak tree which shades the back of the terrace and it’s covered in little yellow flowers around the time of my birthday in April.

People often give me plants for my birthday and I plant them in this spot which has become my “Birthday Garden”. It’s starting to look good and does a great job of keeping our cellar cool in the summer.

The brambles and ferns are still present but I’ve left them for the time being to provide shade and I’ve cleared and mulched a space for a few more birthday shrubs planted this year which should eventually grow to about a metre.

Unless you have an unlimited budget, filling a space with plants takes time. I like the gradual process of using sentimental plants which you can nurture to maturity. They give an enormous amount of pleasure, not just to me but also to the person who gave them to me.

The self-seeded lettuce is ready to eat and the no-dig seed bed is ready to plant !

Self seeded lettuce ready to pickOur neighbour Robert gave me these lettuces and told me to let some self seed and I’d have early lettuce.
The commercial winter varieties I planted just haven’t grown at all but these ones been through frost, snow, hailstones and torrential rain and they’ve come up smiling and taste wonderful!

Alongside them is some Italian Parsley which is coming on well, and there was Coriander but it’s disappeared after a morning frost on Saturday. Behind, is my replacement patch of wild strawberries which has always grown there and I use it to re-plant where I think the strawberries will grow well or just to give away to friends.

Next to that bed is another cage that Fabrice put up for me yesterday. I normally just cover newly planted seeds with wire tents to protect them from the chickens but this little area was just asking to be cordoned off so he’s driven four or five posts in and put a chicken wire round and made me a little gate.

The ground in this little spot was used for pumpkins last year and was really well mulched – once when the pumpkins were planted and again just before the winter really started. The mulch has rotted down and the resulting earth is just beautiful, dark and crumbly and totally weed free thanks to the chickens.

I can’t wait to finish off the top of the new cage and start sowing seeds in that patch of earth but after our terrible experience of foot rot which spread through our flock of sheep and goats like wildfire I’ve had a very bad back.

After a visit to a chiropractor who seems to have cracked me all back into place, I have been ordered to do nothing for a while – which is very easy at the moment because I can hardly move ! I should be very careful over the next week or so as my back heals, so I’ll have time to devote to this rather neglected blog.

Season’s Greetings !

Winter has really set in here in the Dordogne. We’ve had a few days of snow and some very low temperatures, then a week or so of constant rain and with the coming of the depths of winter some very dark afternoons – and no solar power.

Today – Christmas Day – it’s a really beautiful sunny day and a reminder that at this time of the year, the passage from darkness to light begins !

Yuletide greetings to you all.

Seed saving and two of my favourite annual climbers

Seeds of the annual climber Cardiospermum halicacabum or Love in a Puff or Balloon VineThis is exactly the right time to collect seeds from your favourite plants from your own or other people’s gardens. That’s what I’ve been doing a lot of this week.

Aren’t these big seeds with a little heart really sweet? They’re from a lovely annual climber with an interesting name, Cardiospermum halicacabum (Sometimes called Love in a Puff or Balloon Vine).

I got my original seeds a couple of years ago from some friends who run Rose Cottage Plants. I planted four which did really well and since then I’ve gathered the best seeds to give away, to plant and to save.

climber Cardiospermum halicacabum or Love in a Puff or Balloon VineThe plant climbs to about two metres, gives a light feathery shade and the tiny white flowers produce green seed cages. I grow them in various spots around the garden especially where a dark background can show them off to their best advantage. It’s classed as a noxious weed in some parts of the United States of America but here in France the plant self seeds rarely and is very easy to keep under control.

As well as being pretty, this plant’s useful because it’s leaves are edible and I often nip off a few to add to salads and use them to decorate dishes – in the hope that the more varied our diet is, the better our bodies will be able to look after themselves. Here are some of the medicinal uses of the plant.

The whole plant is diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, emmenagogue, laxative, refrigerant, rubefacient, stomachic and sudorific. It is used in the treatment of rheumatism, nervous diseases, stiffness of the limbs and snakebite. The leaves are rubefacient, they are applied as a poultice in the treatment of rheumatism. A tea made from them is used in the treatment of itchy skin. Salted leaves are used as a poultice on swellings. The leaf juice has been used as a treatment for earache. The root is diaphoretic, diuretic, emmenagogue, laxative and rubefacient. It is occasionally used in the treatment of rheumatism, lumbago and nervous diseases.

For more information on growing and using this plant see the Plants For A Future database.

Cheeky little Black-eyed Susan seedsAnother climbing plant which has a fascinating, cheeky little seed is the Black Eyed Susan (Thunbergia alata). It’s normally grown as an annual in northern climes but it’s a perennial native to tropical Africa where it can grow up to 20 feet.

With regular watering, the plant grows very fast in France. If it’s well supported it can climb up to two metres and one plant can easily cover a square metre, so it’s useful for quick cover. It flowers from June until the first frosts and I’ve used it for an effective screen to hide the water butts in front of our chicken shed.

The Thunbergia is also available in white and the beautiful Blushing Susie – a lovely pinky/orange colour but I’ve found that the yellow is much more vigorous and produces flowers more profusely and for much longer than the white and orange varieties.

There’s a lot more information about this plant in THIS African plant site. Where I got this information :

Medicinally it is used for skin problems, cellulitis, back and joint pains, eye inflammation, piles and rectal cancer. Gall sickness and some ear problems in cattle are also treated with this plant.

NB. Some people can get contact dermatitis from it.

Click HERE if you’d like to see a slideshow of the Black Eyed Susan growing on the screen throughout the year.

That fallen tree is finally off the chicken shed roof, the Star Jasmine is in flower and we made a screen to hide the water butts

We had help to move the tree – some surprise visitors turned up who give us a hand. No damage was done and the Star Jasmine is absolutely in it’s prime for this photograph – one of my favourites this week.
The walk down to the shed smells amazing, the Honeysuckle is still in flower and this Jasmine is throwing out a perfume which is heavenly.

We’ve also been making a new plot behind the chicken shed because I’ve run out of planting space. We mulched here last year, then again a few weeks ago, and I’ve planted courgettes and pumpkins and now after the rain the chickens are weeding and cleaning up the bugs from the soil, which has never been dug over.

Screen made from Chestnut regrowths hiding the water buttsAll I ever do to make a new garden is clear the big roots like brambles and young trees, then I cover the whole area with a thick mulch. If any weeds do make it through the mulch, they’re easy to pull up and the annuals weeds die because they don’t get light.

Shaping a garden with chestnut cut on siteI wanted to break this part of the veg plot up a bit to make the access easier and to make it prettier, so Fabrice helped me to make a screen to hide the water butts, the metal sides of the chicken shed and the compost heap. We started it on Wednesday, but then had an amazing storm with loads of rain, which filled up the three water buts in less than an hour! So we sheltered in the chicken shed and cleaned out all the nesting boxes and tidied it up. I finished the screen yesterday and planted it up with rooted cuttings and they should cover it in no time.

Fabrice cut a little step from a tree root, making it easy for us and the dogs to use the path, rather than walking on the spaces between the veg (Soon there won’t be any!) and the layout goes with the natural flow of how we use the garden.
I’ll have to put up a few more sticks and wool to create a “psychological barrier” encouraging us to use the path, but I’ll wait and see where we walk naturally to get from one part of the garden to another, then follow that shape and finally plant a hedge of permanent shrubs which will grow high enough to do the job just before the sticks and wool have rotted.

Screen almost covered by Potato climber planted 4th June 2007Here’s an update on how the screen’s coming along 2 months later. The Potato climber is now taking over – so much so that I might transplant it to somewhere where it can romp away and let the Clematis and Jasmine (the little green plant in the left corner) take over.

Lady Banks rose (Rosa banksiae lutea) in flower

Rosa banksiae lutea, rose, climbing rose, hardworkinghippy, BourrouI know this is not really supposed to be a gardening blog, but one of the most important things in my life is growing things and I have to show you what this rose (planted only four years ago) looks like when it’s in full bloom.

The idea for planting the rose on this bank was Andrew’s, a friend of Fabrice’s, who is a professional gardener in the UK and visits us regularly. I was looking for this rose for ages, then finally Yan (The spice man) sourced it for me from Issigeac Market.

The rose doesn’t have much perfume, and only blooms once a year, but that’s compensated for by it’s lovely shiny, almost evergreen leaves, spreading habit and thornless stems. The Lady Banks rose is usually very long-lived. There’s a white one in Arizona which was Planted in 1885 with cuttings from a”Lady Banksia Rose” that had been sent from Scotland, the tree was first declared the “world’s largest” in the late 1930’s and has only continued to grow since then.

The canopy of this bush-cum-tree now covers nearly 5,000 feet of space and is elevated from the ground by a series of wooden and steel supports. You can see a video of the rose in this link here :  the largest Rose in the world  It has a spread of 740m², and a trunk circumference of over 4m.

If you click on the photograph, you’ll see more pics of our rose’s development.

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