Friday, 11 April 2014
J is for Jardin
Can you tell anything about a nation from its gardens?
The French like it clipped and orderly. I reckon it's significant that the word for weeding is the same as for cleaning, nettoyage.
Lawns are small and neat. Gravel abounds. In our area, although we are not that far south, there are plenty of palms, yuccas and even the odd banana tree. These, like the camellia bushes and arid little fir trees are plonked on their own in the middle of the grass or the chipped stones. And growing hortensias (hydrangea) would appear to be a local sport.
Fencing is utilitarian. Stiff green grillage like a prison compound, or worse, concrete slabs, are most commonly used for boundaries. Occasionally, you will come across an old house where the original stone walls are still allowed to billow with gentle plants. But in the main, a garden is delineated with a starchy wire fence or wall.
I am no great gardener. But I come from a long line of gardening experts and have grown up with an inherent love of the English country garden.
When we first bought our house here, I imagined a garden I had read about in books. Inspired by the paintings of Helen Allingham (1848 - 1926) and the writings of Gertrude Jekyll (1843 - 1932), I planned drifts of colourful cottage plants, a pond and a small orchard where my hens could scratch and gossip.
But I can't find lupins, delphiniums or hollyhocks in our local garden centre, though I am spoilt for choice in chrysanths and dahlias. I have taken on board the passing comments from friends and neighbours about the untidiness of disorganised flowerbeds.
Instead, I am learning a bit of the French approach to the garden. Our delightful neighbours arrive late on a Friday from their permanent home in Avranches and while Madame sweeps the house and prepares the dinner, Monsieur is out mowing and weeding so that before we have finished breakfast on the Saturday morning their little garden is spick and span.
I am making peace with the gravel that fills two thirds of our plot and have dug neat little circles for the magnolia and the olive tree. I have even planted two varieties of hydrangea. We have hacked back unruly shrubs and plan to get a man in to restore order to the leylandii. We have joined in the cavalcade of cars, trailers and vans to the déchetterie to disgorge our cuttings, clippings and weeds.
I still yearn for a dreamy English cottage garden, but have come to recognise the value in shipshape gardening. It allows more time for sipping coffee in the shade and listening to the birdsong.