Next steps: Garden

This is what we are doing today. We are roughing in the electricity and pouring the concrete foundation for the newly refurbished gates. Jacques, the sneaky little delinquent, has run away twice now. If third time is the charm, next time might be when the nice lady with the sweet pit bull does not find him and bring him back. Then what will I do? So quick, get that gate back!

But let’s face it, this sort of thing is boring. So I am thinking about what to do with the garden.

This is the house I bought. What a mess, eh, but the front garden had trees and a nice sense of enclosure. Those pom pom bushes had to go and I am no fan of circular drives, so when the guys asked I said sure, take out the bushes. As rabid fans remember, those beautiful chestnut trees were rotted inside. We cut them down before they could fall over, something that was just about to happen.

This is my house now. Ooh, ah. It has been re-crepi’ed, at massive, painful expense. No, jet-washing would not be enough. I know, we tried it. Since we were draining my bank account anyway, we added the terrace to the left. We trimmed the yew to the right, not to pom-pom status but just to lift it. Somehow the feeling is lighter and grander, plus I can hang a nice little bamboo wind chime in the branches. But the garden, oh how sad. Two years of chopping things down and parking all over it has not been healthy for the garden. It is time to make amends — and add amendments.

The back garden is in a similar situation, though not as bad. On balance it is actually in slightly better shape than it was. We pulled out some fences. We started mowing the grass, which is always brown at this time of year. So now I get to go back to the cheap thrills part of any project, design.

Mini-rant: paper and pencil are cheap. Deciding what to do when guys are standing around on the clock, then finding out that whatever you want to do has a three-week lead time to order parts, way expensive, especially in France, where three weeks can easily stretch to six. If you are a DIY type, it’s less expensive but no less frustrating. Do a schematic design; on a small job, a sketch with notes on the back of an envelope is often enough. Develop your schematic design, including choosing all finish materials, even if they are as close and convenient as Leroy Merlin. Then start construction.

Okay, I’m over it.

It’s certain that we will have to scrape the surface of the soil. We have trees like this one that have grown back from cut-down stubs. We have walls that were covered in something totally inappropriate and have to be refinished. We have ankle-twisting grooves from where heavy equipment was driven around in horrible muddy winter weather. We have fist-sized rocks covering one huge area. This was once a working farm and porcherie, so they didn’t really worry about how most of the back garden looked. Fair enough but now that most of the land has been sold off we might as well make things nice.

A friend of a friend, Rebecca Heard, did a schematic plan for the garden early on, before the house even had wiring. Bless her, she kept saying, “Isn’t it a bit early for this?” In a way she was right but her plan has been the touchstone for all my thinking since then. When I said I hated hedges she put them in anyway. As she pointed out, hedges are cheap. I could see right off that they are a great way to shape outdoor rooms. Now that I am researching windbreaks I can see that if you want to get out of the wind, a hedge is your friend. So maybe some hedges will come back.

I don’t know where I will land, in terms of design. That’s the great thing about design. Anything is possible. The better you are at analyzing what you have and visualizing what could be, the happier you will be with the result. Assuming you get there, of course.

7 thoughts on “Next steps: Garden

  1. I rather like pom-pom bushes.
    You Have a big garden. One thing to keep in mind is how much you want to work (or pay a gardener to do). We went with low-maintenance, low-water perrennials, which, as one person commented, are banal. But they let us do other things with our lives than upkeep. At the same time, a former porcherie ought to have some awesomely fertile soil for a garden.


    1. Well, you are right about the fertility of the soil. Things grow here like crazy.

      I am learning to love lawns. In California we didn’t do lawns, so my eye is not attuned to them. The good news is that you can run that tractor mower — yes, I have one — over that puppy and you are good to go. The bad news is that my gardener never wants to get off the thing. He wants to trim all the trees to accommodate it. The weeping willows doesn’t weep any more? So what? You can’t pick the fruit any more because you can’t reach it? Who cares? Leave it for the birds!

      People swear that hedges are easy care. I guess they are but they get thin. The trick with hedges is to hand-trim them, which takes time, patience and skill. I’m new to gardening but not so new that I haven’t already mangled a bush or two. I can assure you that the skill requirement is no joke. I may try to shape space with bushes that don’t need trimming. It’s not very French, so I may back away from that idea. We shall see.

      I actually like weeding. Surprisingly little work creates a huge impact. But it is a big yard and I do have other things to do. I’ll be looking for ground covers and all that keep the weeds down.

      I am looking at low-growing rugosa roses. They are pretty. They tolerate a lot of neglect and don’t need deadheading. They are said to keep the weeds down. I have planted some ornamental sage, a favorite from California. They do well with little care and keep the weeds out.

      There are so many variables. While I sort it out, I guess I can just keep running the mower.

      As I mentioned I am very much in the design phase. Landscape is a whole different beast and the climate here is sufficiently different from California that I have the whole plant choice learning curve as well.


    1. Yeah, it looks fine until you get up close. Probably, given the cost of doing it right and the absolute functional pointlessness of the job, I’ll never get around to it. Maybe I’ll just grow things on that wall. Full sun, all day: it has to be good for espaliers.


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