Black thumb gardening tips

This is how my house looks, these days. The house is basically done. The garden is basically a wreck. I have a long way to go — okay, an expensive way to go — to be able to grade, pull up stumps and replace topsoil, all of which are needed to make this place the garden spot it so thoroughly deserves to be. However I have staked out a few spots where I am planting anyway. So far things are not going too badly. Mind you, I started from not being able to grow rosemary just outside my kitchen door. The bar was set pretty low. So, bearing in mind that my idea of incredible results (“they’re still alive!”) may not be yours, let me show you what I found.

Garden centers here in Vendee have boxes of seeds “for difficult terrain.” Of all the seeds in the couple of boxes I have scattered around, these are the ones that reliably sprout. I think we are looking a nicotiana — the pink one — black-eyed Susans — the yellow one — and I don’t know, some orange thing.

Of the bunch, the orange thing is the best. It self-seeds, even before it stops blooming. Pretty soon it might take over this whole planter, which will suit me just fine.

Mr. France — if that ever gets shortened to MF you’ll know the relationship is over — is rooting for the hollyhocks. He thinks the house needs tall plants. I can see his point. They self-seed too, and are even out there breaking through the gravel and fighting with the concrete.

I even have a few actual garden plants that are doing well. I went through the David Austin rose catalog and found a few where they basically dared you to kill them. Even I can’t do it. Give them some water and they’re good to go. Of all things I have what look to be yellow crocuses coming up now, in September. I know the weather has been crazy, but still.

Once upon a time I thought I’d plant hydrangeas at the house. They’re pretty tall. My grandmother hated hers and still couldn’t kill them. There are new varieties and a couple of nearby nurseries that specialize in them. I’m a little nervous about being any more intentional about this garden, though. The accidental, super-low expectations strategy has worked pretty well. Maybe I should stick with what works.

32 thoughts on “Black thumb gardening tips

  1. Meet this lady who I’ve only just met. Lovely house in Wiltshire (England) and large garden that she is taming. She seems to actually know what she is on about and I am sure if you get to know her she will help and advise. She has a Garden Link-up going on too which means that you could post this piece and lots of others would give advice. In the end I am sure you can preserve some of the money you don’t have but I don’t have the skills to advise (love the remark ‘and some orange things’ – that is my sort of plant knowledge!!)

    1. Wow. That is a seriously cute blog. I don’t know that my inbox can handle that much cute but I’m sure I’ll be sneaking back for the gardening tips. Thanks!

      1. Isn’t she lovely? I just follow her via wordpress and check the reader – then i can choose whether I I need intravenous cute or not 😉

  2. There are lots of species of crocus, so you could well have some autumn flowering species coming up. Hydrangeas should prove to be unkillable in France, so go for them if you like them. Irises of different sorts too. Lilac. Look at what’s growing in your neighbours’ gardens.

    Don’t plant box because although it will grow easily, now that box tree moth is in France it will be hopeless. Don’t plant things like evening primrose either because they will self seed too willingly. Night-scented tobacco and hollyhocks are great for self-seeding without getting too dominant. Also red valerian and honesty.

    1. Oh, please don’t get me started on the neighbors’ gardens. From what I’ve seen, they like paving. Seriously, instead of doing lotissements, the commune should do attractive low-rise condos with plenty of covered parking and a nice playground.

    2. Oh, oops, I guess I did mean to be snarky but not just that. I wanted to add that my rental house has just about everything you list, all of it well-established and beautiful. In fact I have been thinking of lifting the irises to bring at least some of them over here. Trouble is, I don’t know where I’d put them until the hardscaping is done. I suppose I should get a bid for the hardscaping, so I’d at least know how much I have to save up. Thanks for the suggestions. They all sound great.

  3. Lynn

    Gorgeous flowers. Opting for the less planned approach seems to be producing colorful results. Unplanned also delivers pleasant surprises!.

    And the house looks lovely!



    1. Yeah, not like when you guys were here. Come on back. I’ll pour us a glass of something. We can wander around and whine about color and proportion and who knows what all. It might take a few glasses.

  4. `They`re still alive`about sums up my attitude to gardening…Leo will nurse plants into survival and even into thriving happily, but I prefer those that want to live where I want to put them.
    I looked at the gardening link…once.

    1. Yep, busted. I don’t mind hugging my trees. Pruning is a whole other thing. I plan to keep it simple and hire the hard stuff done.

  5. David Austin roses – yes, you get a gold star for choosing them. Hollyhocks for height, they come in a vast array of colours, self-seed and grow like weeds, so well done there, too. And hydrangeas need wet (they also flourish like weeds in brittany, where my house is) and only need cutting back hard every couple of years, so also a good choice. I think your thumb is greening after all.

    1. No, the thumbs are black. The change is that I know my limits and am willing to live within them. Back in Los Angeles, where I had a tiny little house — before they were a thing — on a badly eroded hillside, I learned that I love to plant stuff but after that, it had better take care of itself. Come to think of it, daylilies did quite well. I might try those here. They are splashy — that house can take splashy, no question. They have some height, though not like hollyhocks. They come back year after year. In the right place, they could be a good choice.

      It was in Los Angeles that I learned that roses don’t have to be touchy little things. I found a nursery that specialized in old roses. I got a few and they all did well. My favorite was Mme. Alfred Carrière. My climbers are white with just a hint of pink, like Mme. Al, but I have them against a wall, to deter burglars, so I actually had to train them. I have a couple of corners, though, that are out of the way but not out of sight. Maybe Mme. Al will find a place here, too. I’ll hope David Austin carries them or, knowing them, an improved variety. The difference between his stuff and the roses in the local garden center is night and day.

        1. Oh it’s beautiful. The thorns explain why David Austin shows it very carefully trained. It’s a perfect “property line” plant.

      1. Mme Alfred is a sturdy beast. I had it in a miserable corner in my first garden in France and it spread and flowered like nobodies` business, making the corner a delight.
        Needless to say the person who bought the place promptly cut it down as being untidy.

  6. It’s amazing what plants you discover when necessity forces you to leave the garden alone. Like you, we have just completed a long, stressful and expensive renovation and have little funds left for gardening. However, our hollyhock seeds (liberally scattered by BH) have all taken, ditto the agapanthus and what funds we had were invested in lavender, salvias & nepeta – all drought-tolerant and providing long-lasting summer colour. Happy to give you some more hollyhock seeds or seedlings if you wish – we are not far from you (near Melle)
    Hydrangeas will struggle unless you have acidic soil – you are more likely to have calcaire/limestone. The yellow crocuses coming up might be colchicums – a sort of autumn crocus.
    The Domaine de Pere Autumn Plant Fair is on 14/15 October, and if you will be in Paris then there is one not far from Paris, here is the link:
    Your house looks so beautiful and you must be delighted with the result even if you are exhausted (and broke). Keep the faith, it IS worth it……

    1. Thank you. That all sounds great. It also sounds like I have my plant list, as I will never be more than a casual gardener and everyone has more or less the same sort list of easy plants. That simplifies things. As for getting together, yes, let’s do that. I’m about to abandon the house to the current crop of workers — the perimeter wall is being recapped — but will likely return in October. I love that little antiques store on the main square in Melle so I would not at all mind a drive out there. Email me at bizzyella-at-gmail-dot-com and we’ll set something up.

  7. To me, you cannot go wrong with hollyhocks and roses. They are some of the most romantic plants I can imagine. The fact that they take care of themselves is just a bonus. Add some rosemary and lavender plus some box or yew for winter and it’s done. How’s that for an instant approach!

    1. Excellent! Now all I need is dirt where that concrete and gravel are. Oh, and a renovated garage, so the workers don’t kill everything when they get around to it. Details, details. It will be fine.

  8. It’s coming along. Hollyhocks look great when they fill in. Lots of color.
    We planted a row of Trachycarpus palms, which now are big and give our place a very on-vacation feel. And opposite them is a row of pink oleander, which required watering for the first three years but now, like the palms, needs nothing. Autopilot gardening. We have a neglected spot in the back where I want to plant a bunch of bee- and butterfly-friendly flowering bushes or something. Something that will be on autopilot eventually. I will keep watching this space to see how you do and what I should copy. Though not the same climate. Hot and dry here.

    1. Yeah, I was just thinking, I grew up in Los Angeles. To me palms are all about drought. There will be trees here but I need a wind break. I’m trying to decide between plane trees and yews. At the moment yews have the edge because they are evergreen. Sometimes the north wind hits this place like you cannot believe and I have read that with the melting of the ice caps and the breakdown of the jet stream, things will only get worse. I’m surprised that no one has mentioned sage. I have plenty of sage here. The bees love it, as do hummingbirds. I think I have hummingbirds. It’s okay with drought. It’s pretty. I think it would be okay with palms. If you plant some, let me know.

  9. Lynn, just to let you know that Super-U are running a plant fair this week (22 September) and there are some real bargains, for example 3 very healthy lavender plants for €5.80, which is what you would normally pay for one. Please don’t bother making the trip to buy them in the Melle branch as I shall probably have bought all the stock! There is also a plant fair at The Abbey in Celles sur Belle this coming Sunday 24th September. By the way, I hope Jacques is better….

    1. Wow. I’m in Saint Malo today. Maybe there is a Super-U close by. That sounds great. Jacques is fine. We switched him to bottled water, cut back on the treats and run him around on the beach. He loves it. He still has the rust color. I read that this can be due to a yeast infection. Maybe the salt water helps knock it back. We’ll have to get to the bottom of it but for now, he’s fine.

  10. You’ve got a nice start to your garden!! Salvias are wonderful, come in many different colours and only need cutting back (very hard) at the end of the winter – I garden in Languedoc, and mine never get watered or anything beyond the chop. I also have some of your “orange” plants, which are called gaillardia or indian blanket. The thrive wonderfully, also without any water. If you get a chance, Chaumont in the Loire has a garden festival each year – the show gardens there are a real inspiration! And for roses, have a look at Meilland – their Pierre de Ronsard rose is absolutely gorgeous! Good luck with it all!!

    1. Thank you! Of course right now the wind is blowing at something like 120km an hour out there, but when things settle down, I’ll have to take a look at the salvias. If anything is left, I’ll cut them back. In California there is no winter, really, not like here, so we don’t do winter pruning. It’s new for me, but definitely a skill worth picking up. I’ll look for the garden festival, thanks. I get lots of plants and ideas from them. And mmm….. more roses……

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