Saturday, 27 March 2010

The Enemy

Not a pretty sight these Chafer grubs. They really are one of the most loathsome pests in my garden and the battle to control them is not an easy one. They eat away at the fibrous roots of just about anything, much like weevil larvae, gradually weakening the plant which can ultimately result in death. There's a war on you know.

They seem particularly happy dwelling in pots which is bloody unfortunate as I grow a lot of things in containers. I read somewhere that they prefer soil free compost as there's less competition but I'm not convinced. I make my own compost and layer it every now and then with mole hill soil yet still they reside in it. I've lost loads of plants over the years to these little buggers. I say little, they can measure a good inch in length,probably nearer the size of that Ozzie culinary delight the Witchetty grub.

Streuth, bush tucker these ain't mate.

I've recently had to re-pot two topiaried Cupressocyparis Leylandii as they were showing all the signs of root attack. In fact such was the infestation that one of the trees had started leaning in its tub as the grubs had literally undermined it. As I teased the roots away from the old compost I must have revealed thirty or so, all of which were summarily dispatched avec boot!

Luckily they hadn't eaten the roots to a point beyond return, the trees seem quite happy in their new compost so disaster avoided.

There is chemical treatment, but goodness knows soil insecticides seem lethal and not something I wish to use. I believe there are nematodes but I can't source them here in France so maybe I'll try to find them in the UK.

Luckily they don't seem to be present in the citrus tubs. I've just brought these out of winter storage and they seem healthy as anything, the orange on the right (left is a lemon) is covered in buds so blossom isn't far away, all sans the enemy. On we march.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Hollyhocks, rust and me

I love Hollyhocks. They are hugely popular over here and seed themselves around in so many locations, each 'volunteer' placed with more panache than any gardener can. I need to grow hollyhocks but for me there's always the small problem of rust. I'll say that again, RUST.

I guess it's just a case of rust and me. Last year I planted Malva sylvestris 'Primley blue' which started off doing just fine. Sure enough as time went on the rust crept in. I say crept, rather it engulfed the entire plant and by the end of the summer it was a complete mess.

Still I press on. Late last summer I received a free packet of Alcea rosea nigra seeds with Gardens Illustrated magazine. Sown as per instructions and overwintered in my cold frame, these have become strong little plants sprouting more and more from the base as the temperature continues to climb but then no, wait a minute, brown spots appearing on some of the leaves, RUST!

Determined to have hollyhocks, I've brought a number of Alcea ficifolia, hybrid of the fig leaved hollyhock which is more resistant to rust and insurance should my others badly succumb to the disease. The only trouble with this is that the colours are mixed so I don't know what I'm getting, they flower in shades of yellow through pink to red, so who knows.

Above is the bed where the hollyhocks are being planted out. Incredibly, most of the self sown Verbena bonariensis from last year has green shoots appearing, I really thought this winter's weather would have knocked them out but they're OK, there's a lot to be said about leaving the old stems and foliage in place as it offers protection from the frost. This gives me a head start as any of this years self seeding plants are unlikely to flower before July.

I've decided to grow Hyacinth bean this summer. The teepee in the middle of the border has 'sweetpea' written all over it but it bakes up there and mildew is likely to be a problem so I'm hoping this will be the answer. It may be a bit vigorous for the height of that twiggy structure, it's only two metres tall or so, but it'll just be a case of see what happens, which also applies to the wisdom of pairing it with hollyhocks, they may look good together or not, we'll see.

Finally, seed sowing is underway. I've planted a number of perennials which will flower next year and saves a small fortune growing from seed. Amongst their number are Echinacea 'Pink parasol', Nepeta transcaucasica 'Blue infinity', Verbena hastata 'Pink spires' and others.

The little blue crate has seedlings of annual Cosmos 'Sensation radiance rose' and 'sensation picotee'. The plan is to weave these through the hollyhocks and verbena bonariensis. Incidently, I must mention that the cosmos germinated in two days. No word of a lie, I seem to have quite good results using the plastic covered shelving system pictured, affectionately referred to as HQ!

Sunday, 14 March 2010


I have no luck at all when it comes to terracotta pots. Somehow, and quite how I'm not sure, I manage to break, crack or chip them, no special skill required. Add to that this winter's in excess of fifty frosts and the casualty list is large.

Truth is it leaves me flat. Apart from costing a small fortune, there's seasons of weathered patina which is irreplaceable, at what cost age?

The pot above is being held together with garden wire which you can see under the rim. It seems to work and is definitely preferable to losing it altogether. No, no, I don't want to lose this one. The new growth you can see is a Convolvulus, or more correctly and as sold to me, Convolvulus de Mauritanie which I've overwintered and now have started bringing into the enormously welcome spring sunshine.

That's frost damage above. I stuck it together with the latest wonder glue 'No more drilling' which is a bit similar to the 'No more nails' that I remember back in the UK. It boasts a strength of 100 kilos per centimetre squared. No more falling apart I hope, in fact has anyone a really good suggestion for fixing terracotta? I would be eternally grateful.

Another cracker above supporting an Agave americana and just crying out to be fixed with wire. I think I'll get on to that tomorrow morning.

Waiting to be planted, I'm particularly looking forward to seeing the Chocolate Cosmos this Summer. They should look good in a pot, cracked or not.

Finally, that's Harold. You wouldn't think he's sixteen would you?

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Spring and the weather

Deceptive the March sunshine. It has some power in it now, the sun index starting to curve up, the light bright, further enhanced as it illuminates a still stark landscape together with rapidly increasing daylength, but you know what, it's still bloody cold!

Spring is late, nightly frosts just keep coming and it's holding everything back. It's been the same over a great swathe of Europe this winter and the start to spring. For months our weather has come from the east. At times back in January and February there were cold blasts tracking all the way from Russia. These weather patterns are relatively rare and as a rule we look to the west for our weather, but there's an old saying 'when the wind is in the east 'tis neither fit for man nor beast' and this year it's held true.

Of course like everywhere the landscape here is full of micro climates. These pictures above are of my local village Les Eyzies. Sitting in the Vézère Valley, it's certainly a frost hollow, but being built into limestone cliffs it also becomes very warm during Summer as the heat radiates back from the rocks and frequently records some of the highest temperatures in the Dordogne. Back in August 2003, there were numerous occasions where 40 C. was reached or surpassed and most years there'll be a day or two when the temperature climbs close to that mark.

The Dordogne valley also has its fair share of climatic variations. Many an Autumn morning sees the chateau at Beynac (above) lit up by the early morning sun whilst the village below is shrouded in fog until early afternoon. Frequently this leads to a temperature inversion of up to five degrees with these 'pockets' of climate accounting for the considerable variance in first and last frost dates within the department.

La Roque Gageac's sheltered south facing position has allowed a tropical garden to be developed over the years. It's quite something to climb ever higher through it's narrow streets adorned with bougainvillea and tender palms. Again, the limestone acts as a great big radiator increasing heating degrees and raising night time minima.

Even the spectacular park and gardens at Marqueyssac (They were featured in this months Gardens Illustrated magazine) support microclimate within microclimate. A belvedere elevated just above the cold pooling valley air, its southern flank supports trees such as Montpellier Maples more typical of the Mediterranean whilst to the north Hornbeams and Holm Oaks are more typical.

No matter what the micro climate maybe, this winter has dragged on. Sure enough in terms of absolute minimum temperature it's zone 8, but this years frequency of frost makes it feel harsher. It's forecast -6 tonight, sigh, there's so much waiting to be done, but all is on hold until a change in the weather.

PS Marqueyssac photo was taken back in September '09.