I obviously hope you enjoy browsing through the postings on here - do feel free to leave comments as it's always good to see who's visiting and to hear about other people's experiences - after all you never stop learning do you?

If you've any gardening questions or you live in Brittany and are looking for some gardening help - be it design work, planting or general gardening or you simply would like some advice, please don't hesitate to CONTACT ME or call me on 0033 661 77 23 89 (from UK) or 0661 77 23 89 (from France).

Happy gardening!

Monday, 3 March 2014

Spring time has finally arrived in Brittany...

Better late than never!  I love this time of year with all the Hellebores out - seeing the sunlight shining through their delicate petals... so beautiful.  It's very easy getting bogged down with all dreadful weather we've had (and we have!) but good to start seeing some colour returning to the garden after our so called winter - I think I can count up the frosty mornings we've had on one hand which is very unusual for Brittany.

I've had the Hellebores in the garden now for the last 6 years and am now starting to get some really interesting varieties coming through -  such intricate markings on the petals!  They're great for areas of mixed sun and shade or even in light woodland and are prolific self seeders too... I tend to remove the large leaves from the previous year's growth - this allows the blooms more space to grow straight and taller and gives a much better display.


These are a one of the many clumps we have of the double flowered Primula which was in the garden here before we arrived.

One of my favorites for scent at this time of year - Daphne odora "Aureomarginata" - a very small plant we bought on our honeymoon - now nearly 10 years ago!

This is another wonderful plant for fragrance - Lonicera fragrantissima - producing beautiful blooms on bear stems to begin with. This has been in flower since January and provides essential nectar to an bees that area around early in the year - a must for any garden.

My final picture is of the flowers of Hellebore foetidus - again the bees love this early flowering plant - it's evergreen and so quickly fills empty spaces in the herbaceous border and is like other Hellebores a prolific self seeders - great to be able to share with friends and neighbours alike.

I hope you've enjoyed a quick tour of all that is flowering in our garden here in Brittany and hope to be able to share some more as the months unfold... have a great week!

Saturday, 1 March 2014

The dying art of good letter writing....

"Companion planting" is a term I often come across - a method of organic gardening where you plant certain plants together to enable them to flourish by protecting each other from unnecessary pests.  I think there should be a similar term "Companion Gardeners" as this would best describe the beautiful friendship I discovered that existed between Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd in the book "Dear Friend and Gardener".

Lloyd and Chatto, two of Britain's best known and loved gardeners, share their extraordinary passion and experience of gardening as well as life in general through their regular letter writing to each other during the final decade of the 20th Century. They are also clearly a great source of encouragement and support to each other.

Their correspondence represents many aspects of their lives, often sharing their recommendations to one another of plant varieties, their successes (and failures) in the vegetable garden and the different recipes they'd enjoyed experimenting with when using their home grown produce.  It is difficult to list all the extensive range of topics of their exchanges, but it certainly makes for insightful reading!

This book goes way beyond most normal gardening books In that you really feel a part of their lives in the broadest sense.  One subject that is never absent in a "garden-centred" book is that of the British weather which comes up time and time again - never enough rain when you need it and too much at other times - nothing much changes does it!?

It was funny to read Lloyd's early reference to the then-unknown Sarah Raven: "Sarah is keen on plants and gardens and intends doing some volunteer work here quite soon" - looking at how her career as a gardener has developed since then is amazing.  There is also a great description early on in the book of the six day trip taken by Lloyd and Pip, his student gardener at the time to visit gardens and nurseries.  One of their experiences was taking in the discovery of  Snakeshead Fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris) in their native habitat in the exotic location of.... just south of Reading, Berkshire!  They really are stunning plants but a real bonus I'm sure when seen growing in the wild.

This book is an absolute delight as well as a mine of information offering a small window into the lives of these two inspiring people. And of course as emails have replaced letter-writing in the years since, one wonders whether such books will continue to exist in the future! It is also a book that can easily be read in small bite-sized chunks which is ideal for most of us with ever-hectic lives. This new illustrated hardback edition also contains an introduction by Fergus Garrett, Head Gardener at Great Dixter.  If you're looking for an inspirational read or a gift for a gardening friend, you should look no further.

To order a copy of Dear Friend and Gardener for £16 including p&p* (RRP £20), telephone 01903 828503 or email mailorders@lbsltd.co.uk
, and quote the offer code APG16.

Alternatively, send a cheque made payable to:
Littlehampton Book Services Mail Order Department,
Littlehampton Book Services,
PO Box 4264,
Worthing, West Sussex
BN13 3RB.

Please quote the offer code
 and include your name and address details.

*UK only - Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.


Sunday, 1 September 2013

Amazing what you find when foraging...

hedgesIt was whilst foraging on the Internet for books when I discovered a complete gem!  It's an absolute must for anyone who has a love of the countryside and who enjoys the excitement of discovering wild food sources.  It's also fabulous if if you want to gain a deeper understanding of the many health benefits that come from plants which are growing wild, even as close as your own front door!  "The Hedgerow Handbook" has been beautifully researched and written by Adele Nozedar.  
It is full of suggestions on how to use plants that in some cases would be easy to overlook - such as  Water Mint -an infusion of this simple plant can be great for settling an upset stomach and relieving symptoms of colds and flu.  Haw berries (from  Hawthorn) - they are full of Vitamin C, so why not try the Haw Syrup recipe for warding off winter colds?  If you're a keen gardener you'll be all too familiar with Ground Elder - after reading this book you can discover a delicious recipe for Ground Elder Pancakes so at least you can put this menacing weed to good use!
I certainly couldn't leave out a mention for the gorgeous illustrations in this book.  It is full of stunning botanical drawings and watercolour paintings by illustrator Lizzie Harper.  For anyone unfamiliar with the plants mentioned in this book, would find them easy to recognise due to the excellent quality of Lizzie's artwork.
It's not often I get moved by opening a new book but this one certainly had that effect - a high quality book in every sense and I hope this review might just encourage you to go and discover it for yourself.  It would make a beautiful present for a  friend; I've just bought this for my best friend who recently celebrated her 50th Birthday and she was thrilled to receive this; it reminded her of all the camping holidays we went on when we were younger when gathering up things from the hedgerows to have for our supper!
This book is available on Amazon ... click on the link to order your copy!
Foraging in the hedgerows for wild food is not only a wonderful escape from the business of everyday life that consumes us all but it never ceases to amaze me as to how much natural and nutritious food sources can be discovered in your average hedge (for free!).  
Only today I've been out gathering up a number of kilos of brambles... the wafts of bramble and apple coming up the stairs as I type are wonderful and very reminiscent of my own childhood. 
Whilst I noticed the large quantities of rose hips which are around this year, so with a bit of time they'll ripen up and I will look forward to making some rose hip syrup - you'll find a recipe for this too in the Hedgerow Handbook.

The Sloes are also in abundance this year - found in Blackthorn bushes.  If you've never made Sloe Gin before, you can find a recipe for this along with another for Steamy Sloe Gin, Caramelised Apple and Sloe Pudding - sounds fantastic for a cold autumn evening in front of the fire!

Be inspired and get outside to discover the hedgerows for yourself!  Not only full of food waiting to be foraged but the hedgerows themselves provide an abundance of habitats for wildlife.

Many thanks Adele for writing such a fantastic book and to Lizzie for her fabulous illustrations!

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Blue Tit babies in abundance!

I just had to share these rather cute pictures taken this morning from our bedroom window... we have a wild garden bursting with plant life - there is some formality about the planting but lots of informality too!  Beyond the main garden is about half an acre of woodland - mainly Oak trees and Hazel with a stream running along the bottom.  This is great for attracting all variety of wildlife.

This is one of my favorite photos... this little chap doesn't look too happy that Mum or Dad has flown off!  Looks like the parent made a hasty departure!

We started off as I posted a week or two ago now losing two families of Blue and Great Tits from the nest boxes - down to hungry Great Spotted Woodpeckers but since then there has been an abundance of fledged Blue Tits in particular (also some Great Tit babies)... they've been getting quite bold now coming as far as the dead Fennel stems from last year and waiting there till Mum comes back with beakfuls of fat ball from the bird table!

They aren't the only birds feeding from the feeders and bird table - we've had Blackbirds, Robins, Sparrows, Gold Finches, Green Finch and even Magpies coming to feed which I've never in 10 years seen at this time of year... food must be a bit short!

The other v. exciting news is that I've discovered two other regular visitors to our garden recently - a pair of hedgehogs which are the first ones in 3 years... watch this space.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Bees & Blooms in Brittany...

Some good news this end is that there have been numerous fledged Blue Tits, Great Tits and Long Tailed Tits appearing this week which has kind of made up for the horrors of my previous posting. I found some off-cuts from decking squares which seem to have made ideal material for re-cladding my nest boxes with - judging by the difficulty I had banging in the nails! I'm hoping that this should deter the Woodpeckers in the future... time will tell I guess.

It was great to see such glorious weather return here at the weekend and all the bees were out in abundance... and many flowers coming into bloom which have stayed in bud for much longer this year than previously due to the colder start... not sure they need much introducing... so hope you enjoy the photos I've taken, and hoping that good weather is with you also wherever you are in the world when you read this..
An interesting observation this end is the distinct lack of butterflies at the moment - we've quite a number of the Speckled Wood and the little Blue butterflies but not a great deal else... have other people found this too?
Whilst watching Chelsea Flower this year I learnt something new which I'd never noticed before... Chris Beardshaw talking about the name of Columbine given to Aqualegia (that bit I did know) but that Columbine infact means dove... if you look at the top of an Aqualegia flower it is like five doves all coming together - quite beautiful!  This is easier to see in some forms of this flower than others.
The bees infact take the nectar from the top of the flower as opposed to going inside as with others...


I'm not going to profess to be an expert on bees but much enjoyed the variety of bees that I photographed on the various clumps of Chives we have in the veg garden!  If anyone can tell me more about the species of bees shown here I'd be very appreciative!

What I've tried to show in these photos of the plants in our own garden is the variety that can be grown that really benefit not only bees but insects too!
This was a Foxglove which I grew from seed - bought from Nicky's Seeds - it's taken a couple of years to come into flower from sowing but worth the wait!

The Geranium Phaeum varieties we have in our garden are fantastic for bees - especially with their open blooms offering easy access to pollen.

These wonderful Wood Poppies - Stylophorum diphyllum are great for the honey bees - notice the heavily laden pollen sac on this one!

The poppies are also a real favorite for the honey bees - this variety "Patty's Plum" is a beautiful colour!

An interesting observation here in Brittany is the distinct lack of butterflies at the moment - we've quite a number of the Speckled Wood and the little Blue butterflies but not a great deal else... have other people found this too?    Enjoy the rest of the week... lots to do outside this week before we get thunderstorms forecast on Thursday and over the weekend :-(