planting for the seasons in my french country garden

by Sharon Santoni

house and garden at my french country home

A couple of years ago we created new flower beds in front of our house, first bordering the terrace and then the parterres centre stage,  and I was pleased to be able to ask for advice and ideas from my amazing and knowledgeable readers.  You can see their suggestions here and here.    I’m sometimes asked about how to maintain garden interest through the seasons , and while I don’t claim to be an expert, I’m happy to share what works here in Normandy.

The beds are now three to four years on and the plants have matured, and although it is far from perfect, I thought you’d like to see how we’ve worked out some seasonal interest and what has worked best.   The framework remains during the whole year of the house in the background, draped in wisteria, and the deep beds either side of the terrace and then the four parterres.   The hero plants are always supported by smaller space fillers such as Jacob’s ladder, Cerinthus, herbs such as sage, thyme and rosemary and small clumps of variegated lamium.

house and garden at my french country home

The main structure of the garden shows up clearly in the winter, when the leaves are absent.  Roses are present on the house facade, in the terrace beds and also centre to each of the parterres where I planted the weeping rose White Dorothy.

house and garden at my french country home

The first thing to happen in the garden are the daffodils, planted in the lawn, and still in flower when the magnolia stellata come into bloom either side of the terrace steps.

house and garden at my french country home

We are still in Spring and it is the time for the wisteria to bloom, while white tulips and the tall white alliums appear in the parterres, followed closely by the blue Nigella, tall stately irises,  the blue Jacobs ladder and the white peonies.

house and garden at my french country home

Summer gets into full swing now and my favourite flowers come into play, namely the roses and the foxgloves.   I love the way that foxgloves are slightly unruly, and follow their own rules, often popping up in unexpected places but not performing where I intended.

house and garden at my french country home

The roses are still going strong when the big white annabel hydrangeas open up and take center stage for over a month.  In fact they should last through to the autumn, but last year my hydrangeas were burnt by the sunshine despite watering.

house and garden at my french country home

My final stars are of course the dahlias, with the café au lait still a firm favourite.  They arrive accompanied by japanese anemones and some small, carefully contained michaelmas daisies.

house and garden at my french country home

As we work our way through the fall, the garden looks more relaxed, or should I say dishevelled, but I don’t mind, I love this season when the flowers are giving us their last parting blooms.

house and garden at my french country home

Back to winter and the time for rest and reflection.  A good mulch on the garden, and the taking of a few notes on what to move or divide for the next year.  Gardeners like nothing more than sharing and hearing what works in other parts of the world.   If you have designed your garden to give all year interest, I’d love to hear which plants work best for you.

 

22 comments

Rebecca March 22, 2017 - 5:18 pm

Wonderful photos of your home and garden through the seasons. Please let me know if you plan to have some available as prints for purchase. Thank you.

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Kate Dickerson March 22, 2017 - 5:36 pm

Your home and garden are lovely at all times of year, Sharon. What a joy to come home to, even if you’ve just gone to the grocery store!

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Our French Oasis March 22, 2017 - 5:37 pm

This has just made me long for summer! Spring is really sprouting here, hedgerows are slowly turning a very delicate green and blackthorn is in flower along every road, but the trees are still not in full leaf. Your garden is as always an inspiration. Here in the Charente Maritime I love the lavender and rosemary in the beds which remain green all year round and flower early and our two huge Magnolia Grandiflora which being evergreen look fabulous when everything else around have lost their leaves.

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david terry March 22, 2017 - 5:53 pm

Well, Miss Sharon….Thank you for the lovely, inspiring pictures (including the first shots I’ve seen of the actual back of your house; next we know, you’ll be giddily showing us photographs of your actual & very-real husband and children).

That said?….you post made me think of Henry Mitchell (the wonderful, acerbic, wise gardening columnist for “The Washington Post” for 20-some-odd years). His columns were collected in three volumes (published by Mariner Books and readily available on Amazon these days).

Here are a few quotations from his books. Call them to mind when the going gets tough in the garden (and yours, not entirely by the way, looks splendid):

“Nature does not hesitate to interfere with me. So I do not hesitate to tamper with it”

“All who see it say, “Well, you have favorable conditions here. Everything grows for you.” Everything grows for everybody. Everything dies for everybody, too.”

“There are no green thumbs or black thumbs. There are only gardeners and non-gardeners. Gardeners are the ones who ruin after ruin get on with the high defiance of nature herself, creating, in the very face of her chaos and tornado, the bower of roses and the pride of irises. It sounds very well to garden a ‘natural way’. You may see the natural way in any desert, any swamp, any leech-filled laurel hell. Defiance, on the other hand, is what makes gardeners.”

“Gardening is a long road, with many detours and way stations, and here we all are at one point or another. It’s not a question of superior or inferior taste, merely a question of which detour we are on at the moment. Getting there (as they say) is not important; the wandering about in the wilderness or in the olive groves or in the bayous is the whole point.”

“Now the gardener is the one who has seen everything ruined so many times that (even as his pain increases with each loss) he comprehends – truly knows – that where there was a garden once, it can be again, or where there never was, there yet can be a garden.”

“The sooner the gardener loses certain kinds of innocence the better, and there is no better place to begin than with the weather.”

“Your garden will reveal yourself.”

Best as always,
David Terry (who has recently re-named this 220 year old house “Entropy Acre”, for obvious reasons)
http://www.davidteryart.com

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Taste of France March 22, 2017 - 7:03 pm

I am near Carcassonne in the south, so the summers are hot and dry. Everything we plant is with an eye to resisting drought (even though we nearly had a flood a few weeks ago). Lots of lavender, palm trees, oleander and plus some annuals in pots and roses on the north side of the house. I tried bougainvillea several years ago, but a record-cold winter killed it; I should try again. Some neighbors have it, and it’s so colorful–and drought-resistant.

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Colleen Taylor March 22, 2017 - 7:41 pm

All such gorgeous photos & your flowers as always are divine Sharon. It’s the dessert here so it’s always a challenge & it depends what time of the year it is. Right now I do have an abundance of bright red geraniums, one of my favorite colors. Their time is near the end when the heat of the summer hits. My bougainvilleas are drop dead gorgeous though. I don’t think they’ve ever been better.

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Cheryl Stanton March 22, 2017 - 8:40 pm

Beautiful!

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Tina March 22, 2017 - 8:47 pm

Your garden is quite lovely, I drool over your pictures, I am grateful you take so many. Our daffodils just came up last week, so excited about Spring this year. Winter here was quite long this year. Thank you for sharing!

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Roxane Lacroix March 22, 2017 - 9:56 pm

I’m anxiously waiting for Spring! Last week it was 13″ of snow, so I flew off to Florida, but not much was in full bloom, although the fresh color of green was welcome to my winter-weary eyes. Back today with lots of snow still left to melt…and 6 straight days of snow on the way! Your photos bring hope and encouragement that sooner or later, spring will arrive and I will be planning and planting once again. I especially love the 5th photo down, with that blue evening light that lingers and entices you to walk through the garden, brushing your hands over the blossoms to release their scent in the warm air. Thank you for sharing your beautiful home and gardens!

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Bronwyn Lee-Coward March 22, 2017 - 10:07 pm

I see what you mean about your Wisteria. You have it growing on metal supports which are attached to the house. I have Wisteria in the garden and train it into balls. I could send a photo through if you would like to see it. The fragrance that seeps into the house from your Wisteria must be absolutely stunning.

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Wendi Yates March 23, 2017 - 5:01 am

I am starting again. I have just moved and the hardest part was leaving the garden that I created and tended for the past 8 years…I loved it. I managed to bring a few of the plants that brought me such joy – Guernsey Cream Clematis, another clematis that I forget the name but it has delicate purple flowers, smaller than the Jackmani, Cappuccino daylily and some others that I have forgotten but they will remind me in the spring when they start to make their appearance..I hope! There is the excitement of being able to create again and that is what I am focusing on…but once in a while, I have to say, my heart yearns again for “the garden I left behind”

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Darina March 23, 2017 - 6:27 am

Your garden is beautiful!

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Hazel lavelle March 23, 2017 - 10:20 am

Thanks Sharon. For letting us see your garden through the seasons , I love to see my garden emerging ” plants popping there little heads up to say hello again . I live in the the hills near saddleworth Manchester where the growing season is a little later . So I wait with anticipation for things to appear

Thanks again Hazel x

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Anna March 23, 2017 - 10:30 am

We bought a home in the Loire-et-Cher, not far from Blois. No garden, but two painting areas…a sun deck, and a patio. All will be container plantings. Not sure where to begin, but begin I will! Love your home. I wanted to live in either Normandy (my first choice) or Brittany, but my husband…….didn’t want the rain and wind.

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Patricia Cowan March 23, 2017 - 4:59 pm

You’ve done a beautiful “bit of work” here to focus on your garden and home as a graceful combination of color and style…it all works well together. For over 25 years I have designed such landscapes, always keeping in mind the home and site all the while creating year round bloom and interest. Takes time but worth it in every season. Love your photos!

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Ros short March 23, 2017 - 11:58 pm

Hi Sharon your garden is an inspiration for us all . How about a book based on the months of the year in your garden with photos of the time ,recipes , interior views ,brocante collections, little vignettes of life in Normandy I have one an Australian lady published of her home in Bowral & it’s one of my favourite books , one to pick up & explore & dream & inspire best Ros

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david terry March 25, 2017 - 1:25 pm

Oh, I know what you mean, Ros…..I have many, many books in this house (I took four degrees in literature and linguistics before scooting entirely out of the professional field in my early forties), but I have only about 8or so books that I refer to as my “Dreaming books”……..the ones I keep at hand and take down (however many times I’ve previously read them over the past years)when I simply know that I need something to perk-up my imagination, get me planning (and,more importantly, DOING), and generally leave me feeling far more inspired than when I woke up. I’m single, and I work at home. Unexpectedly enough, my “dreaming books” (which are as full of pictures as they are of text)are a real lifeline…..reminding me of what I could do today and want to be doing tomorrow (whether it’s the garden, the house, my own art, etcetera).

Yes, I agree that Sharon should write the sort of book you’ve just described. I’d buy it in a flash.

sincerely,

david terry
http://www.davidterryart.com

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david terry March 25, 2017 - 1:34 pm

P.S. PERFECT EXAMPLE of a “dreaming book”?……Elizabeth Mincilli’s wonderful “Restoring a House in Italy”. It’s beautiful, of course…..but it’s also extremely & interestingly PRACTICAL (her husband’s a well-known architect, and Minchilli knows her stuff). Most importantly, it’s not the sort of book which one can’t read without thinking “Well, the things I would do if I, also, had a million dollars to blow on some re-decorating job”. It’s quite inspirational, if fact…AND useful (I wish there were a way to emphasize a word without resorting to shift-caps, but here we are…)

“Joie de Vivre: Simple French Style for Everyday Living” (one of my favrotie go-to gifts for friends during the past few years) is much the same sort of book.

Both books make admirable things (to speak broadly) seem achievable, bit by bit and day by day…..

sincerely,

david terry

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[…] ~Sharon Santoni walks readers through her yard and garden and how she plants for the seasons in north…. The pictures alone are worth checking out even if you don’t have your own garden. […]

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D. A. Wolf March 28, 2017 - 5:36 pm

Your gardens look just scrumptious. I have such admiration for those with a green thumb; my mother was one who achieved gorgeous results even in the extremes of a New England climate. Unfortunately I don’t seem to have a green thumb, but it doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate those who do, so much so that I can’t wait for spring to roll in and settle, so that I can attend a local garden show. Soon…

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Anna December 27, 2019 - 8:54 pm

You have a very large territory. It seems to me that you spend a lot of time and effort to put it all in order. In fact, I recently also brought my garden and plantation in order, I had to spend a lot of money on new fertilizers. https://www.gardenology.eu/ also spent more than two weeks. But my widow’s garden is smaller than yours

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