my garden q&a

by Sharon Santoni

Last week, on Instagram I invited people to ask me questions about my garden …. and they did! YAY! So here today is a Q&A about my garden, and how I like to take care of it

1. how much help do you have?

This is the question I am asked the most often, and the answer is pretty simple. I don’t have that much help, because it’s not really needed. The garden is carefully designed to keep maintenance down to a minumum. I have a very lovely gardener who comes about three times a month (as in every week but sometimes he forgets) for half a day. He is my guy for doing the really heavy stuff that I find difficult to handle. Besides that, my husband prunes the roses because he says I don’t know how, and that works for me!

2. how do we maintain the garden?

Kind of following on from the first question. In the potager we use the no dig system, meaning that we NEVER dig or disturb the soil, and therefore get no weeds. More and more, we are using the same system throughout the garden. Mulching heavily twice a year, and disturbing the soil as little as possible.

My mentor for the no-dig method is Charles Dowding, you should check out his YouTube channel.

3. how did I design the layout?

Any garden is a work in progress, and that is what keeps it fun and fresh. Over the twenty plus years that we have been here, it has evolved enormously, as our tastes change, and also as we like to use the space differently. When the kids were growing up, it would have been difficult to have large flower beds in the center of the garden where they liked to kick a ball or ride ponies.

When the big lawn in front of the house was no longer needed I created the four parterres in the center, and filled them on a blue and white theme.

4. Do you have a problem with deers?

dod digging in garden

No, thank goodness! The property is surrounded by an old stone wall, so no deers get in…. but what we lack in deer, we make up for in moles ! UGH! If I could start my raised beds in the vegetable garden again, I would have laid chicken wire on the ground before building up the height, simply to stop the moles burying into the beds and damaging roots. In the meantime Ghetto does his best to track them down!

5. How do you grow your dahlias, and do you lift them each winter?

I lift some of the dahlias, if I want to divide them, or if they are particularly beautiful and I want to be sure not to lose them during the winter. The others are labelled and left in the ground. This year I want a big dahlia bed in the driveway, and I’ll be starting them off in pots, then putting them into place once the other plants have done their stuff.

6. How do you choose which plants to use and which are your favourites?

I like my garden to look quite wild and romantic, so I go for generous plants that self seed, and tumble over each other. My British genes are dominant here, and the garden is very typically english in the choice of plants. Roses, peonies, delphiniums, self seeding Nigella and foxgloves, and of course the dahlias for the fall.

7. Which weather zone are you in ?

I’m not sure that we have the same weather zones as North America, if that is your question. We have a continental climate here. In the winter the sun rises at 8am, and sets at 5, but in the summer it is light from 6am to 10pm, which I love. We have a fairly mild winter, a pleasantly warm summer and lots of rain which is why Normandy is so green!

8. How did you create your wattle fencing in the kitchen garden?

wattle fencing

This is deceptively easy to do. First of all be sure to use the right wood. My first attempt was with hazelnut which only lasted a couple of years. We now use chestnut, and I am promised they will last 7-8 years before needing to be replaced.

Mark out your shapes, and lines. Measure out equal distances for the upright poles, which need to be hammered about 60 cm into the ground, and however tall you want the beds to be. Start weaving the branches in and out, being sure that each branch is woven in the opposite direction to the one beneath. I found it best to work around the squares, placing branches on each side as I went around. We currently have about 9 branches high on all sides. It would be nice to go higher for comfort working, but don’t forget it takes a lot of earth to fill those spaces.

9 What do you do about slugs? or other insects?

We are very lucky not to have a slug problem here. Now and again I find a small caterpillar colony, and try to get rid of that without pesticides. Last year a swarm of ladybugs completely cleansed my artichokes of some troublesome blackfly.

We have been visited by the dreaded moth that can eat Box bushes overnight. We are very vigilant on that front, and use hormone traps to control the problem. Then cross our fingers.

10. Do you water the garden a lot?

lupins growing in garden

I’m not going to lie. When you want a garden to look pretty for photos, it is hard not to water at all. We catch rain water from the big barn roof and use that as much as possible, but now and again, in the height of summer we have to use a sprinkler in the evening, once the heat has subsided.

11. Do you grow from seed?

seedlings in a spring garden at My French Country Home by Sharon Santoni

Started this last year for the first time and loved it. It is quite a lot of work, but I love that it gave me plants that I would never have been able to buy locally. A particular variety of zinnia, or an especially tall cosmos. Definitely worth the effort. I only have a tiny greenhouse, but am hoping that next year I’ll be in something bigger.

12. How do you manage to plant for all seasons?

daffodils in a spring garden at My French Country Home by Sharon Santoni

This, to my mind, is the most difficult thing to achieve in the garden, particularly in a bed that is seen alot. The border along our driveway is obviously people’s first impression of the garden. I have worked this planting sequence that seems to provide colour from March to the first frosts end October:

daffodils and tulips – peonies – roses and delphiniums – sedum, bears britches and dahlia.

For the parterre in the centre of the garden, we start off with tulips in black and white, then the self seeded nigella, jacob’s ladder and aquilegia. When these die back I plant a lot of white cosmos that i grow from seed, and they finish the season along with the standard roses and swaying stems of the pale blue salvia uglinosa.

13. What would you advise someone starting their first garden?

magnolia in flower in front of house with daffodils

Don’t be afraid of failure; have fun; accept that creating your garden will be trial and error. Take note of what works well, and what doesn’t, then start over the next year.


Lora Lrech March 7, 2021 - 11:42 pm

Can you post pictures of your greenhouse and talk about the logistics of keeping one?

Sharon Santoni March 8, 2021 - 10:22 am

HI Lora, For the moment I only have a very small lean to greenhouse, so I’m not able to do that, but hopefully by the end of the year I’ll have a proper greenhouse, and then don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of pictures! 🙂

Susanne S March 8, 2021 - 11:29 am

Thank you very much Sharon for taking the time to share with us.
Your home, your garden, your life looks simply divine to me. It is so wonderful to look at all the photos and to read how you do it.
With friendly greetings from Bavaria, Germany… where I do not have garden beds. I have a historical courtyard with a corner in the garden, where most of my plants have to live in pots.

GL Gardener March 8, 2021 - 12:16 am

I have so much enjoyed the photos you have shared showing your fabulous gardens. You must have wonderful soil. Your garden seems so lush. I have deer and moles. However, let me tell you, the moles will climb over the sides of my beds and get in them-I have seen them do it. I do have chicken wire lining the bottoms which I thought would keep them out. But alas they have outsmarted me. My helper is my cat-he does catch some. He has to be careful as they do bite. You have some of the same flowers I do. I hope to get a green house this summer.

Sharon Santoni March 8, 2021 - 10:23 am

Thank you for this! These moles are little devils for sure! It’s not that they eat the plants, they just cut through the roots when they dig their tunnels. And I didn’t know that they bite! I actually caught one by hand last summer, never thought it would turn around and bite me!!

GL Gardener March 8, 2021 - 12:25 am

What is the name of the flower in the photo immediately following question 7 please. I am not familiar with it.

Sharon Santoni March 8, 2021 - 10:25 am

It is Ammi Majus, that I grew from seed. It didn’t get as big as I had expected, but it is a lovely shape and colour.

BB March 8, 2021 - 1:37 pm

Beautiful…my Gordon is still buried under two feet of snow. Your pictures are beautiful I’m dreaming of getting out into mine. I bought a new bunch of peonies I’m anxious to plant and I also want to get some dahlias to add to my cutting Garden and Scatter many more wildflower seeds. Last year I started gardening and smaller beds and it’s a whole lot easier and much less weeds thank you so much keep gardening

Evangeline March 8, 2021 - 12:43 am

I never tire of looking at any of your gardens. Their is always inspiration, joy and perhaps, a tad of envy, of all things gardening you share.

Joan Macfadyen March 8, 2021 - 2:31 am

Wow what a beautiful garden. I love my garden also and know what it’s like keeping it lush and beautiful all the time. You and your Husband must be so proud of what you have achieved. Thank you for showing us all. Kindest regards Joan…… from Australia. Xx

Christine Thiessen March 8, 2021 - 3:19 am

I too, never tire looking at your garden pictures and imagining myself wandering from flower to flower in complete bliss! Normandy is such a beautiful place.
Thank you for sharing with us.
From the Beautiful Missouri Ozarks, USA

Sel Runn March 8, 2021 - 4:34 am

enjoyable visuals & reading.. Enjoying the city by the bay, Beautiful San Francisco Ca.

Kay March 8, 2021 - 6:45 am

I miss my garden very very much now I live in a apartment.
My financial situation does not permit me to have the joy of a garden but I love Seeing and living in your garden that you share with us all.
Thank you for sharing

Diane Barratt March 8, 2021 - 10:05 am

I love your garden but how would it be different if it were a second home and not a permanent one?

AFn March 8, 2021 - 3:59 pm

Your garden is a dream. I can’t imagine how you maintain such a large space and have such a beautiful variety, as you do, in addition to running your blog. Incredible. I have a very small garden in Arizona. I try to keep it as English as you can here. I have fig vines
on walls and in pots supported by rods. The rest of the yard is mostly roses. The extreme heat is making it more and more difficult. I grew up with peony’s, iris, Lilly of the valley, and flowering bushes of different varieties. Miss all of that variety. Wish I
could do dahlias. So enjoy all the pictures of your lovely garden. Thank you so much Sharon.

Nancy March 8, 2021 - 5:33 pm

Your garden is amazing!!!!!!
What is the name of the climbing rose you show in your photos? So lively….

Linda Cobb March 8, 2021 - 11:18 pm Reply
Lorrie March 8, 2021 - 11:26 pm

What a beautiful garden, Sharon. I especially like the way you have planned for flowers for each season in your driveway. I’m going to be working on getting four-seasons of blooms in mine beginning this spring.

Nettie March 9, 2021 - 1:14 am

Beautiful garden Sharon! Thanks so much for sharing!

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Miranda March 11, 2021 - 5:20 pm

Hi Sharon, could you give me the link to a supplier for the chestnut « whips ». I’m only round the corner from you and need to get some for my own potager. Did you have your delivered?
I’ve also used hazelnut but it didn’t last at all.
Beautiful garden, and happy you have someone to do the heavy work for you. À bientôt Miranda

sharon santoni March 11, 2021 - 10:58 pm

Hi Miranda. I used a supplier called Cyril Dupré. He’s in the department 87. I bought 500 ‘gaulettes’ and they were delivered by a transporter. Hope that helps.

Miranda March 13, 2021 - 9:07 am

Thanks so much Sharon. It’s great also to have the correct name for ordering! Have a great weekend.

Nika April 30, 2021 - 7:05 pm

And, if you add to this that there are more than 60 thousand types of pests — this sounds threatening. However, there are no less ways, methods and means to combat them

Charly Wiliamse July 8, 2021 - 1:22 am

I have thought so many times of entering the blogging world as I love reading them. I think I finally have the courage to give it a try. Thank you so much for all of the ideas!

Katelin September 19, 2021 - 8:11 pm

Hi! Working on the garden requires tremendous effort. But I think it’s incredibly interesting, and the result is worth it! I really like your result, I’m just starting work on the project of the future garden. In this case, the ideal assistant was garden design software. This is the best tool to recreate a detailed rendering of your plans!

George August 30, 2022 - 11:47 am

You have a beautiful garden, I like it very much. I also do gardening and the most common problem is falling tree branches. therefore, do not forget about your trees and seek help from the special services To cut them off. I usually use this company and they always do a good job. I advise you to contact them.


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