Friday, 27 February 2009


It's a beautiful thing.

My friends the moles love to weave their labyrinthine magic sous-terre in my neighbouring farmer's field. Their relentless subterranean hunt for worms and other Invertebrae inevitably results in the creation of little hillocks of top quality, sieved and aerated weed free loam.

This is good stuff. Whenever I need some quality topsoil my pulse quickens as I look across the field to the lunar landscape created as a result of the antics of these wee beasties.

Armed with shovel and wheel barrow, I've spent the last couple of mornings to and 'fro-ing' across the bridge over the little river to this rich pasture shovelling and transporting mole hill soil.

I'm never happier. The weather last couple of days has been just perfect, temperatures in the mid teens, unbroken sunshine and barely a breath of wind. I feel so earthy (literally), I mean this is proper 'green' stuff, n'est ce pas?

Now while I'm thinking about it, I should point out that potentially this soil could be quite fertile. Jean-luc, the farmer and one of life's nice people keeps some 30 bullocks on his land. Big animals with big appetites creating big manure. All this inevitably works it's way back into the ground so it's my assumption that this is quite rich loam.

That aside and on a more serious note, it seems you'll do well to take note of what an animal is fed and where manure is sourced. I say this simply because of the recent contaminated manure scare in the UK. Some UK pasture land has been treated with aminopyralid, a selective, hormone type herbicide which when subsequently grazed has left chemical traces in some 'farmyard' manure. Needless to say, the green fingered and the good have applied this manure with gusto which sadly has resulted in damaged and distorted crop growth both to vegetables and ornamentals. Recently the Pesticide Safety Directory after consultation with the Food Standards Agency have given assurance that where there is a harvestable crop produce is safe to eat. Yum, yum (NOT)!

So back to my 'loaming roving' and I guess I've shipped back about 30 barrows of the stuff and duly scattered it around where needed. I've been a bit frugal on the annuals bed as I don't want the ground to be too nourished. I mean, ever wondered why your Cosmos grew to 12 feet with abundant lush growth yet the seed packet stated maximum height 4 feet? I'll keep a a decent pile of it back to mix with leaf mulch and compost to create a potting medium. Yep, I did say a potting medium. I might even call it 'Le Banquet no. 3' or similar, John Innes has been doing it for decades.

Finally, here's a great pic of a Mole courtesy of Wikipedia

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Happiness is Pig shaped

See that fella there, he's a happy soul.

He has acres in which to run around, shelter whenever he needs it, good quality natural feed , lots of buddies and more mud than you can shake a stick at. A true free ranger.

My friends Marlene and Gary raise pigs to the highest welfare standards. Their farm, Le Sechoir (translates as The Dryer, it's short for a tobacco drying barn) is a perfect environment which together with high level pig husbandry makes for happy animals. They rear a number of breeds including some older and relatively rare English such as Tamworth and Gloucester Old Spot .

The 'free range' equivalent in France is 'Label Rouge', an internationally respected accreditation which vigorously inspects quality, taste and welfare. It originated as a grassroots movement in the 1960's as a reaction against ever increasing intensive poultry farming methods. Led by farmers from the regions of the Landes and the Perigord , it was a speciality movement which grew and grew as French consumers demanded the taste of traditionally raised farm chicken. The accreditation now covers all meat.

Located in a little village called Campagne just a few miles from Les Eyzies, Le Sechoir sits opposite a beautiful 15th century chateau which together with its 12th century chapel gives the best view a farmer could wish for. As the old estate agent mantra goes, location, location, location.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Pergola Planning

I've spent some time over the weekend improving the structure of my Pergola and drawing up a plan for the under planting.

The frame needed firming up so I've added some cross pieces in the top corners at the entrances together with down pieces along its length to give some extra strength to the rail that runs at waist level. This extra bit of structure also gives me something more onto which I can train the roses when they eventually get to height which I guess is going to take three years or so.

As before, I made these extra pieces from old tomato poles which I screwed onto the main frame and then bound the joints with rope to hide the screws and give it a rustic feel.

Now building the pergola was the easy bit. The underplanting, that's a different story. I must have changed my mind 50 times or more. It's not that I can't 'see it' it's just I suffer from 'Oh yeah, and I could put some of that in as well' syndrome. I used to be indecisive, now I'm not so sure.
So anyway, logical approach, I've drawn a plan and kept it simple.

Et Voila, this really has helped me. Ok, it's not set in stone (please click to enlarge the pic) and guess what, I'm thinking 'Oh yeah I could put some of that in as well' but I'm pretty close to a final decision.

In effect I'm actually using four plants, hardy Geranium, Stipa, Nepeta and lots of Gladiolus Byzantinus which sends up beautiful magenta flowers in late spring, early summer. Not shown, and just remembered now is that I've got twenty bulbs of Liatris spicata or Gay Feather as it's commonly known. Hmmm, they'd look nice popping up in groups through some of the catmint.

So there it is, any suggestions, criticism or comments very thankfully received.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

The Garden Décoratif

Do you decorate your garden?

I have a weakness for garden ornaments. They bring another dimension to the whole feel about a place, just gelling things together.

This stone bust sits snug in a window recess ready to welcome guests if I'm not around.

I guess he's pretty formal, very classical but the reality is that in no way is the garden or Le Banquet formal. Sure there are elements of formality, clipped box for example, but the bust is a nod in the direction of humour.

Some years ago I found this terracotta urn in a salvage yard near Oxford, England. I think its beautiful. Very Italianesque (or should that be Italianate) and its aged really well.

Quite how old it is I don't know. It probably qualifies as second hand rather than antique but that's neither here nor there, it looks great.

Even better with an Asparagus fern.

It seems that the whole garden antiques sector has grown in recent years. Millers publish a guide dedicated to it. In the relatively short time that I've lived in this corner of France I've seen more and more garden statuary and structure appearing for sale.

Pictured is a French 'Gloriette'. An iron structure ideal for planting climbers up. Imagine a variegated ivy clothing it or perhaps a climbing rose such as 'Pierre de Ronsard'.

I've seen this kind of structure looking simply stunning sitting in a gravel garden.

This one was for sale at a salvage place just down the road from here. The price tag was a couple of thousand euros!

Oh well, I can dream on....

Monday, 2 February 2009

Growing Colour

I like the packaging for these seeds, there's a minimal thing going on. It seems seed suppliers the world over are creating increasingly beautiful packages, veritable works of art in fact so it seems a shame to tear them open when really they should be framed.

This year I've bought seeds from Thompson and Morgan, Sarah Raven and Vilmorin. I've purchased Cosmos 'Tetra de Versailles and 'Purity', Amaranthus, Nasturtium 'Empress of India' various Nicotiana, Cleome, Cobaea (the cup and saucer plant) plus many, many more. Altogether too many as I treat over ordering as an unavoidable hazard.

This is my first order from Sarah Raven's Kitchen and Garden. Sarah Raven has been one of the key presenters on the BBC's Gardeners' World programme and runs a cookery and gardening school at Perch Hill farm in East Sussex, England. Furthermore, Sarah is a celebrated writer and penn'd my favourite gardening book, The Bold and Brilliant Garden which also features stunning photography by Jonathan Buckley.

So it's all systems go over the coming weeks as I start sowing under glass and playing the usual cat 'n' mouse game with the weather, covering the cold frames when frost is forecast, ventilating when the mercury shoots up, you all know the score!

Finally and just for good measure here's a photo of another impulse buy. Is there no cure?

These Lilies will look beautiful on the terrace growing in a terracotta pot.