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!

Sunday 30 December 2007

The Lunatic Gardener!

Having just completed my latest article for Brit'mag on lunar planting (gardening according to the phases of the moon) which for anyone interested is in their January/February '08 magazine. To discover more on this subject why not order a copy!

It's a highly interesting and extremely involved subject but one that makes total sense and a method that clearly works - the moon goes through two principal monthly cycles one in relation to the sun and the other to the stars. The moon's gravitational pull controls many things on earth including the tides, rainfall and even the movement of liquids in plants.Lunar planting is timing your garden tasks according to where the moon is in relation to the sun and stars at particular times during the montly cycle - for instance, around the time of the full moon in particular, the moisture content in the soil is at its highest - so the best time to sow seeds for better germination, this is also when we see the highest tides. Another suggestion is to prune your plants as the moon moves through its waning phase (from full moon to new moon) as this is when there is least sap rising. The list is endless - do add any comments or tips you may have on this if you read this article...

An additional good source of reference is Nick Kollerstrom's book "Gardening and Planting by the Moon 2008 - this also includes a lunar calender for 2008 which gives all sorts of helpful hints and tips of what to do on each day of the year!

Thursday 27 December 2007

Planning Ahead for 2008!

As we head towards the new year - a belated Happy Christmas and Happy New Year when it arrives, to anyone reading this!

As one year ends and another one begins I always feel a sense of excitement and anticipation of what lies ahead and start thinking of all the things I'd like to do in the garden in the year ahead.... even if you don't acheive all your goals, it's good to have a plan to work to!

I must admit I feel quite behind with jobs in the garden but all is not lost.... there is still plenty of time to cut back all the dead plant material from perennials, time to prune back shrubs and clear the veggie patch in readiness for another season's growing too - one way of working off the extra calories eaten over the festive period too!

If you visit the site - do leave your comments as it's always nice to see who's visiting and hear about your experiences too... Bonne Annee and watch this space for ideas for your garden during 2008!

Friday 14 December 2007

The freezing weather continues....

I can't remember the last time we had continued frosty weather like this - the chance to get out with the camera has been a lot of fun...

Despite it being icy cold, it really is beautiful and even the cows came to take a look!

Every tiny detail is covered with fine particles of ice - even the catkins weren't exempt- nor each blade of grass.

I just wanted to make the most of the opportunity as you don't see this everyday!
Then to finish off with... frosted oak leaves and cobwebs.

Wednesday 12 December 2007

Cold & Frosty Morning...

Frost arrives in Brittany again - and thought I'd share some of the pictures I took whilst out for my morning walk with Lucy (our black Lab) ....

Tuesday 4 December 2007

Nothing better when you get in from the cold....

but a great bowl of warming PUMPKIN SOUP!

Pumpkins are generally easy to grow and extremely greedy, so make sure you supply them with plenty of good compost or well-rotted-down manure - some people even resort to growing them on their compost heaps! I'm being serious!
This was one of my prized items which I grew this year and it's been put to great use today when I made 2 large batches of Pumpkin soup! Not wanting to waste yet another wet day... The Pumpkin is an extremely versatile vegetable and ideal for soups - you can add all sorts of spices and flavours too. For one of the batches I ground down some of the coriander seeds that I'd saved over the summer. Fresh root ginger is also good, as are bayleaves, cardamon pods, orange zest cinammon, nutmeg and I could carry on - a lot depends on individual taste.
One way to avoid the arduous task of peeling all the rind off is to cut up the pumpkin into segments, scoop out all the seeds etc and roast them, flesh-side up in the oven, with a bit of Olive oil drizzled over the top and some salt and pepper plus any spices - cook at around 200 degrees C for about 40 mins and then the skin can be easily removed leaving the lovely soft flesh of the pumkin ready for the liquidizer. It also has a nice
smokey flavour too.
The other way is simply to peel the hard skin off and cut the flesh into chunks and add to something like chicken stock and a mix of herbs - equally good but quite different in flavour to my other suggestion. If you've got any favorite soup recipes - do post them here in the comments section....
Last but not least do save some of the seeds - wash them and dry them properly and keep them in a dry place ready to plant out next season. You'll be aware that you won't always be able to reproduce plants that are true to type as it depends where the original seed came from in the first place. A lot of the F1 hybrid varieties of seeds will not re-produce... always worth a try though! This is just one of the reasons it's best to buy organic vegetable seeds.

Wednesday 28 November 2007

A passion for gardening!

The rather damp and cold winter weather certainly only manages to draw only the more passionate about gardening outside at this time of year... others preferring the warmth of a nice log fire!! I have to admit as long as it's not tipping it down with rain I'm happy working outside in the cold - particularly on those lovely frosty sunny mornings which we've already seen in Brittany during the last few weeks when temperatures got down as low as -4 degrees!

Earlier this month before the main bout of frosts there was an abundance of late colour in the gardens here - Passion flower at its best and roses too. Passion Flower is a vigourous climber and great for covering over an area of trellis in a sunny position. Be aware though that not all varieties are frost hardy - some are much more tender and require protection at this time of year.
Once your roses have lost their flowers it's a good time to give them a prune before they get damaged by windy winter weather - I tend to prune a bit now and then more in the spring rather than doing it all in one go - I'm aware other people have other schools of thought on this .... so feel free to share your experiences in the comments section! Roses are greedy feeders so a good helping of well rotted down farmyard manure is well recieved at this time of year - placed around the base of the plant - it will also act as a good mulch too.

I try and leave seedheads in the garden as long as possible to allow the birds to benefit - they've loved all the sunflower seeds this year and seem to be eating more than ever from the bird table - perhaps we are in for a really cold winter??
Another good reason is that frosted seedheads help to add interest to your winter garden when nothing much is flowering. Even all those brambles can look attractive when covered in frost! One tip that I've found works wonders when trying to get rid of large areas of brambles before having to dig them up by the roots obviously, is to take some hedge trimmers and cut through the stems as near to the
soil as possible - makes much lighter work of than having to do each stem with secateurs!
We've certainly got our fair share here - the garden had been left abandoned for about 9 years before we arrived so it's been a steep learning curve!

Sunday 11 November 2007

L'Automne est arrivé

Now that we've had some frost, the colours in the garden this month have been fabulous with all the rich hues of orange, red, brown and yellow accentuated with the golden rays of the setting autumn sun. Despite the cold snap earlier this month though, the weather seems unseasonally mild, but I'd better not talk too quickly!

If you're garden is lacking in colour at this time of year, there are many plants to choose from to brighten things up - one of my favorites is Cotinus "Grace" or Smoke Bush which goes a fantastic shade of deep red at this time of year.

Another great plant that has done really well this year have been the Asters - there are many varieties and a good diversity of colours too ranging from deep crimson to purples to pale pink and even white - they come in a variety of heights too so there is usually something there for most gardens.

It's a good idea to keep trimming your grass at this time of year if only to keep the leaves from settling preventing the grass from growing properly. It's best to raise the height of cutting slightly to avoid the grass from being damaged by frost.
Who said that this time of year is a quiet time for gardeners? Everywhere you turn there's things to do! With the dry weather we've been having this past week I took advantage of this and cut down a lot of the dry dead stems of some of my perennials and find that as I have two large patches full of flowers that taking a hedge trimmer to the base of the stems, it's a much easier way to cut them down than with secateurs. It's also a good way to cope with brambles too - so if you've any hints or tips that you find useful - do feel free to share them on here...........Bon courage!

Tuesday 23 October 2007

Hedging your bets...

The time of year has come for tackling those unsightly hedges, which with the prolonged wet weather during the summer have grown more than ever this year. It's worth taking the time to cut them at this time of year - this should see you through to early summer when they will need doing again. The benefits of cutting your hedges twice a year include ending up with a healthier hedge; regular care of your hedge will encourage bushier growth and you'll not end having to cut it back to bare wood because it's got out of shape plus it doesn't become such an arduous task each time!


Starting from scratch....
It's also a great time of year to think about planting a hedge too - local nurseries are full of plants ideal for this task such as Laurel, Photinia, Escallonia, Grisellina, Arbutus, and Eleagnus. Obviously there are many more that you can choose from. If you need advice on planting a hedge, how to go about it, what to plant, planting distances between plants and how to care for your new hedge, or you'd like help with putting one in, don't hesitate to get in touch .... jardinmiranda@wanadoo.fr

Monday 16 July 2007

Attracting wildlife to your garden...

Verbena Bonariensis is fantastically easy to grow, is a prolific self seeder and adds wonderful colour to your garden from early summer right up to when we experience the first frosts in the autumn. As if that's not enough, it's foilage is evergreen and butterflies and other flying insects love this plant! You only need a few plants to start off and a year or two later you'll be giving the seedlings away to your friends.
I planted them in a border amongst giant delphiniums and the combination earlier this year looked stunning - having said that they look equally great on their own and due to their sturdy stems are reasonably self-supporting. They can grow to a good height - mine have reached about 1.5m this year, but with the quantity of rain we've experienced many plants are taller than usual... so don't be put off. Another good thing about them is that despite their height they do not disguise other plants which surround them due to their open stem structure. In my opinion every garden should have some!

Thursday 12 July 2007

Hearty stuff in July...

Despite all the unseasonally wet weather we've had so far this year my lettuces have been left alone by the slugs.... a total miracle! The seedlings which have started to come up seem to have been spared as well. My French Marigolds weren't so lucky! I did happen to notice the signs that a Mistle Thrush had been close by with a number of smashed snail shells left behind as evidence - so I was glad I'd not used slug pellets.

If any of you reading this has had a problem with blight (a fungal disease which is brought on by wet and damp humid weather) this year which have affected your potato crop, the tip is to remove all of the plant above soil level which will help prevent the potatoes themselves being affected. Ensure you burn all the affected foilage so contamination doesn't affect next year's crops or any tomatoes for that matter. Also you're advised not to plant tomato and potato crops in close proximity to help prevent the spread of this fungal disease. You also might like to consider adopting a system of crop rotation which will help avoid crops being infected with the same disease year after year as the spores etc remain in the soil. Bon courage!

Friday 15 June 2007

Greedy feeders...

Having already written about Dahlias, I thought I'd share a photo of some of the tubers which I've potted up and which are now growing on well in the greenhouse. Now that all the cold weather has gone (I hope!) and with the continued rain, now is a great time to plant these greedy feeders into the borders. As they grow on and develop I'll post some more pictures in time. Last year I planted them alongside beautiful tall,yellow, Evening Primroses which worked really well - especially next to the red, "Bishop of Llandaff" Dahlias with their yellow centres. Getting the right balance of plants in a border to work is a real art and takes a lot of patience and learning over time - the aim being that certain plants will really help to highlight characterstics of others that you wouldn't otherwise notice - in the same way that some people bring out the best in others!

Bean re-cycling recently?

Discovering new ways of re-using what would normally end up in the rubbish is always a good thing...something I learnt from friends Gabrielle & Stuart. Have you ever ended up with excess toilet rolls and wondered what to do with them? Well here's the answer - they are perfect for sowing into - particularly for plants that you would sow individually and that benefit from being planted out without having to disturb their roots. No need for any of the expensive root trainers that you can buy now! I've started off with Runner Beans which are now thriving outside having planted them only last week - other seeds to try are any of the bean family which will work well - Haricots, Broad Beans, Peas, and Sweet Peas too. Find a tray and fill with upright toilet rolls so they're packed quite snuggly together, then fill each loo roll with compost and they're ready to sow into. Once the plants are mature enough, no need to discard the toilet roll - put the whole thing in the ground and the toilet roll will compost down nicely!

Saturday 12 May 2007

An abundance of colour...

Dahlias are wonderful plants and can bring prolonged colour to your garden over the summer months. Place the tubers (half covered with compost), in a warm sunny place like a heated greenhouse or windowsill. New shoots should appear in 2-3 weeks and the plants will be ready for potting up into 1 litre pots to grow on until the danger of frosts have subsided. Alternatively, plant the un-sprouted tubers about 10cm deep in the border you’ve chosen to plant them in around 6 weeks before the last frosts.

Before planting stakes should be firstly placed into the ground followed by the tubers. This will prevent spiking the tubers with your stakes. Good to keep in mind when planting anything requiring support – always best to put the support in before the plant – that way you avoid unnecessary damage to the plant. Most ideal are three canes positioned around a tuber or tubers with string between them to form a triangular support to contain and support them within this framework.

Dahlias are greedy feeders, so apply a good helping of general fertilizer. Dahlias will produce more flowers if they are “stopped” once they have reached about 40-50cm tall encouraging the plant to bush out. Pinch out the main growing tip above the top pair of leaves.

Dahlias produce a mass of delicate roots, which are found just under the soil surface. In midsummer it is well worth mulching well, around the base of plants with a layer of well rotted down compost. In full growth they will need a good soaking with water every other day. Water at the base of the plant and never overhead as this will damage the flowers. It is always best adopting a watering programme either early in the morning or late afternoon/early evening. This will help the plant to benefit from most of the water – in the heat of the day a lot will evaporate or cause scorching of the leaves. To prolong flowering, don’t forget to deadhead regularly, by cutting above the next bud down the stem.

Friday 27 April 2007

Spring surprises

The spring garden is an ever-changing scene, with the beginning of warmer days encouraging an abundance of new growth. It’s a great time of year to wander round the garden, discovering your forgotten plants surfacing all over again. I must admit it’s one of my favourite times of year with daffodils, narcissus, camelias and primulas taking centre stage and the ever-changing scenes of new shoots, buds, and blossom. Later this month, you can enjoy the first roses, tulips, clematis and aquilegias starting to appear along with many others.

Sadly though, with the growth of lovely plants comes the perpetual growth of all the weeds too! Everywhere you look in the garden at this time of year, there are all manner of things to be done and there never seems enough time to get it finished.

Dig out perennial weeds, roots and all as soon as you see them appearing. Every piece of the root needs to be taken out as new plants can develop from the smallest section of root left behind. Perennial weeds include dandelion, thistles, bindweed, and couch grass. Regular hand weeding of annual weeds such as hairy bittercress and groundsel will stop them setting seed and creating even more work!

Having cleared a site from weeds consider using one of the many mulches available which help control weeds effectively as well as helping to conserve the moisture in the soil.

Cut back Hydrangeas
If you’ve not done so, now is the time to cut back your Hydrangeas – firstly removing any faded flower-heads which have survived the winter. These also act as a protection to the new buds, so it’s best not to cut them off until the bulk of the cold weather is over to help prevent new growth from getting damaged. On the mophead and lacecap varieties just shorten the stems slightly down to a good pair of leaf buds. Varieties of Hydrangea paniculata require harder pruning – you need to take last season’s growth back by at least half.

Thursday 29 March 2007

Pick of the bunch…

Gladioli come in many varieties and are planted largely for their value as a cut flower. They are grown abundantly in France and can often be found in the vegetable garden grown in neat rows. Each stem lasts around 2 weeks, but if planted over a period of several months their colourful blooms can be enjoyed throughout the summer.

Prepare the planting area with compost or well-rotted manure. Where the soil is particularly heavy, add a few handfuls of grit to aid drainage. Then during March, plant the corms (the bulb-like underground stem) in rows if you require them just for cutting, at a depth of around 15cm. You can also create a more natural style of planting within your borders, by laying the corms out in loose swathes varying their planting depth from 10 – 20cm to help stagger flowering times.

Once they appear, don’t forget to support them – wire support rings are extremely good for this. These can even be put in place immediately after planting to remind you of where the corms are!

Hot Tips for March!

· Sow Sweet Peas early in March.
· Sow perennial flowers such as Hollyhocks, Verbena bonariensis and Lupins in a cold frame.
· Tie in tender new shoots of clematis that are starting to appear now to avoid them getting damaged.
· Remove dead Hydrangea heads left to protect this year’s flower buds.
· Plant Rhubarb crowns and Jerusalem Artichokes.
· Feed currant bushes with a fertilizer high in nitrogen.
· When conditions are suitable, sow crops such as parsnips, leeks, spring onions, peas, lettuces, broad beans and radishes.
· Sow tomato seeds in peat pots in the greenhouse. They will require about 20˚C to germinate. Allow 2 seeds per pot and pinch out the weaker of the two after germination. These will be ready to plant out in about 6 weeks.

Sunday 25 February 2007

Gardening tips for February

  • Time to prune your wisteria – cut back side-shoots on the main stems to two or three buds.
  • Plant out shallots and onions in well-drained, previously manured soil – for heavier soils wait till next month.
  • With spring just around the corner take hardwood cuttings of Honeysuckles, Weigela, deciduous Viburnums, Spirea and Rosa rugosa.
  • Plant bare-rooted trees which are much cheaper than those in pots, so a good chance to save a few euros after Christmas!
  • Clear away dead plant material and seed heads from your borders to make way for imminent new growth.
  • Give the grass a trim during milder spells later this month, taking care not to cut it too short.

Get Chitting!

Now’s the time to buy up your seed potatoes and start them into growth. You are best buying your seed potatoes from a garden centre or via mail order than from a supermarket which have been known to carry viruses. All types will benefit from “chitting”. This is a technique, which encourages the seed potatoes to sprout indoors before planting. Place them on a tray or in old egg boxes with the side with the most eyes pointing upwards in a light, cool and frost free place. After a while you’ll notice new shoots appearing which will then start to grow. When these are 2-3cm in length they are ready for planting. The advantage of chitting is that it gives the potato plants a head start and as a result generally produce much bigger crops than if they were sown straight away.