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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.