Autumn colours

I walk down this little path every day to open the chickens then through the vegetable garden and back up towards the house to open the geese and check the goats. Then I have a cup of tea.

I’ll probably walk down this path four of five times in an average day but the morning stroll is the important one and starting the tour by this path has become a morning ritual. The path is crunchy underfoot with years of discarded mussel and oyster shells and in autumn it rustles with the sound of fallen sweet chestnut and oak leaves.

I’ve lingered a bit more than usual this week on the path – the colours are stunning and it’s interesting to see the shape of the tree trunks emerging from the fallen greenery and the new growth of biennials like the Foxglove, Mullen and Evening primrose. Autumn is a lovely time of the year, especially when you’re ready for winter.

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.

Amazing April light just before the rain

It’s been hot and dry for a couple of weeks and we really need a bit of rain to soak everything I’ve planted over the past month or so. Yesterday evening the sky became dark and with a beautiful light and the wind stopped for just a few minutes before the drops started to fall.

I’ve just checked the water butts and they’ve been topped up overnight. Perfect timing !

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.

Romantic Permaculture and our Spring gardens

Califonian poppiesI’ve been talking a lot recently with my gardener friends about what’s growing. Everyone’s excited now that the earth is warming up and things are coming back to life and it’s time for sowing and repotting and preparing the garden for the best growing season ever.

I’m a bit embarrassed sometimes because I want to share my joy at what’s growing here and although the fruit trees and bushes and the self seeded Parsley and Coriander, the rhubarb and Artichokes and the seedlings are doing well, it’s the flowering plants that give me the most pleasure.

There’s no rule that says a self-sufficient gardener shouldn’t have pretty flowers, wonderful shrubs or glorious climbers, so I’d like to celebrate not only the start of the growing season for the vegetable plot but also for the return of Spring and Summer colour, perfume and beauty in the garden.

As you know if you read this blog regularly, I’m basically a very practical person. As soon as I decide I want to live somewhere, I plan the house, the vegetable garden and the housing for the animals. In permaculture terms I’m ZONING, that is during the design process I’m thinking of walking and carrying things to and from different areas of activity. Things that need to be done regularly like opening the chickens, feeding the pigs and goats and making sure everyone has fresh water need to be near the house to make life easier.

Once that’s done though, there’s time to be more creative, more exuberant and I like to bring the garden together with little walkways full of shrubs, climbers and flowers and on our daily rounds of caring for the veg plot and the animals, we have the chance to walk through a paradise.

I love growing climbers which can be seen from inside the house and examined closer up as we walk on the terrace. This beautiful Chilean Potato Vine is flowering already and it’s fast-growing branches mean that we’ll have shade on the terrace this summer.

I’ve taken about thirty CUTTINGS from this plant and used it to hide the water butts and cover screens and fences in different parts of the garden. The cuttings take easily in water and if you’d like to see how fast it grows then click on THIS link for photos or this one for a SLIDESHOW.

I’ve never been a Rose person. I always thought that they were sickly inbred creatures who needed a lot of attention but few years ago I started a love affair with a Rose.

Lady banks RoseI wanted a fast growing shrub to cover the BANK AT THE BACK of the cellar to keep it cooler in the summer. Our gardener friend Andrew suggested the Lady Banks Rose. I had a look at the qualities of this plant – almost evergreen, thorn-less, fast growing, low maintenance and decided to plant one. It has far exceeded my expectations for the job in hand as well as being one of the joys of the Spring garden.

I’ve taken loads of cuttings from an old cherished Wisteria cutting I brought from the UK and now there are five substantial plants which are in flower at the moment.

We’re lucky to have a lot of wood which we use all the time to make pergolas, sheds, screens and before a shed or pergola is up, I’ve already started getting excited about what I’m going to plant round it.

I make gardens because having beautiful things around to look at and watch changing, to smell and to enjoy – are more important than we think.

Smallholding means that our lives revolve around our land and animals. There are very few opportunities to go out and enjoy new fashions, surprises, culture and beauty, so everything we need to nourish not only our bodies, but also our senses, has to be on site.

All the “gardens” we’ve made here have been from scratch. Many of them, especially at the new house are still very much work in progress. I like the challenge of gardening on a very low budget and I enjoy taking the time to find interesting bits and pieces – some of them become treasures and some are sentimental. Almost all of them have a history or an association with a person or a place.

We’ve 100 acres of land, with valleys and woods and water, so there’s lots of scope for wild areas and experiments with big projects. Huge plants and invasive species can be accommodated with ease and used in settings where they can enjoy freedom to grow to maturity and provide food, shelter and shade for wildlife.

Nature has taken over in some of our gardens because there’s just not enough hours in the day to strim and trim. I used to worry, but now I just look and see what’s happened since the last time I visited.

Magical surroundings can be created with seeds and cuttings and the odd delightful purchase of new plants and I can honestly say that I’ve never regretted planting something beautiful.

Early evening storm brewing in the potager

I’d just transferred plants and repotted and watered everything then I noticed those black clouds looming overhead.

The chickens have gone to bed early, the goats are in the shed, the dogs have gone back up to the house. The atmosphere is just magical and I want to savour it right to the last moment.

There's going to be rain and I've just watered

I hope the rain doesn’t batter the Wisteria too much!

Just before the storm

I hope the rain doesn't batter the Wisteria too much!

Spring garden – West of the house

I’m really pleased with this side of the garden this Spring. After the wallflowers have finished flowering there are some little roses to come and I’ve planted a few Echinacea and Dahlias and some summer annuals. The chickens scratch up the earth so sometimes the annual seeds don’t make it but on the other hand I rarely need to weed.

This time last year this bed was just a mass of Periwinkle which was very pretty in the Spring but looked really worn out in the heat of the summer.

I used the Periwinkle because somebody gave me it when we first started building the house and they said it would cover the ground in “No time”. They were right – it took me ages to dig out all those invasive roots.

Still, it was nice while it lasted but now the new planting is much more rich and colourful all year round and it’s a real pleasure to look out from the kitchen or the terrace and see a more mature setting.

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