Showing posts with label gardening. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gardening. Show all posts

Sunday, April 25, 2010

First peony at Gamone

Not only is it the first peony; it's in fact the first flower in the garden of rose and peony bushes that I prepared last autumn. It's a Chinese species, Paeonia suffruticosa (tree peony), called Adzuma Nishiki. I was reassured (in a silly way) that the flower and the plant correspond exactly to information in the superb album on peonies that Christine gave me as a Christmas gift:

Semi-double peony. Rose-pink, pale at the tips of the petals, darker and deeper towards the center. The petals get smaller and smaller at the base. White pistil and stigma. Dark green foliage with purple flares.

It would have been strange indeed if my alleged Adzuma Nishiki had emerged say, looking like a rosy geranium! Still, an exotic plant such as a peony is surrounded by an aura of Oriental mystery, and it comes as a surprise to discover that you can unwrap it from its plastic bag [display my Christmas article entitled Planting peonies], bury the sweet-smelling mass of nondescript roots in the earth, and then discover, exactly four months later, that the resulting plant corresponds precisely to what was written in the book. Like my hero Richard Dawkins, faced with the wonders of the world, I've remained essentially an awestruck child.

POST-SCRIPTUM: If I note down the date of flowering of every one of the 9 peonies and 22 roses that I planted last year, then I'll be able to look forward to welcoming them back individually, in future years, like the return of so many Prodigal Daughters.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Garden ready

Over the last week, I planted perennial flowers in the empty spaces between the roses and peonies in my future garden. So, I'm hoping that everything's ready to bloom soon.

I also installed a pair of water tanks of 500 liters each. That's a total capacity of a cubic meter.

I figured out that a cubic meter of water should represent a reasonable irrigation of the future garden by watering cans, in summer (when the spring will have ceased to flow), for roughly a month… depending on the weather. This enabled me to make an interesting observation. Even today, by which time the level of my spring pool up above the house has dropped considerably, it took no more than a few hours to fill the two plastic tanks by means of the narrow hose that comes down from the spring. In other words, the quantity of water that could be obtained from my spring in the course of a year is at least a thousand times greater than what my future garden might require. Even if I were to capture some of this water in an artificial pool up behind the house (which I intend to do before next winter and spring), it's inevitable that most of my spring water will overflow from this future pool and end up trickling down, wasted, into Gamone Creek.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Planting peonies

Near Crest, a half-hour drive to the south of Choranche, a reputed nursery named Rivière specializes in peonies (pivoines in French).

[Click the photo to visit their website.]

At this time of the year, bare-roots peonies can be purchased for planting. You have to order them by phone or Internet, indicating the precise varieties that you want, and there's a delay of a few days before the packages are ready. I ordered eight different peonies: four tree plants and four herbaceous plants.

Each plant is packaged individually in a sealed cellophane bag crammed with natural moss. This packaging enabled me to wait for the snow to melt at Gamone before starting to plant the peonies. Finally, I carried out the planting last Tuesday morning, in unpleasant cold and muddy conditions. But the pleasure of opening up each package and taking care of the precious plants compensated for the discomfort. Here's an unopened package:

When you slit open the cellophane, the contents emit a wonderful aroma of damp moss and wood.

Once the moss is shaken off, the moist bare peoney roots have such a delightful wine-hued aspect and vegetal aroma that you might feel like eating them. (Well, that's what I felt.)

I'll wait until spring before describing exactly what I've now planted at Gamone in the way of roses and peonies.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pergola finished

I've finished the construction of my rose pergola. The final tasks consisted of reinforcing the four corners with diagonal struts, to make the structure as rigid as possible, and installing a "roof" composed of a network of steel cables. The result is a sturdy graceful structure, which is already supporting six healthy young rose bushes (no flowers now, of course): Albertine, Blush Rambler, Madame Alfred Carrière, Chevy Chase, Lykkefund and Paul Transom.

At the same time, I decided to remove the bird house from the top of the pergola and erect it in a more secluded corner of my garden.

Those dangling balls are bird food (mixture of fat and seeds) sold at the local supermarket. On the tiled roof, to hold water, there's a rectangular earthenware bowl that once contained a bonsai fig tree given to me Natacha and Alain. I finally "liberated" this tree by planting it in my garden, where it's now a meter high and growing happily alongside another fig tree given to me by the same friends.

I am now awaiting the feast of St Catherine, on 25 November, to plant a few dozen rose bushes in my future garden.

Catherine of Alexandria, who was allegedly martyred in the year 307 on the torture device that we designate today as a Saint-Catherine's wheel, was not herself a gardener. But her feast has become a time-honored rendezvous for French gardeners, simply because it happens to fall at the right horticultural moment of the year for planting bushes and fruit trees. In fact, Catherine has had her time cut out through her roles as the patron saint of barbers, cart-builders, rope-makers, drapers, school pupils and students, wool-spinners, millers, notaries, wet-nurses, orators, philosophers, plumbers, potters, preachers, knife-sharpeners, tailors, theologians, wood-turners and marriageable spinsters. Sadly, the Catholic Church appears to have doubts concerning her earthly existence. If ever the Church were to proclaim officially that Catherine is merely a figment of the imagination of pious pilgrims in the Sinai Desert, then I consider that we adulators should rapidly reinvent this absolutely necessary lady, totally and wholeheartedly, so that her non-existence would be no more than a fleeting instant of non-time.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Bird house at Gamone

At this time of the year, little birds start dropping in at Gamone. Their lovely French name, mésanges, is pronounced in the same way as the expression meaning "my angels". In English, unfortunately, they're called blue tits, which evokes—in my crude Aussie imagination—the predicament of a topless female who has been standing out in the icy cold. Since I rarely get close enough to such birds to take photos of them, I'm obliged to use images of blue tits that I found on the net:

Yesterday afternoon, the weather at Gamone was splendid. When my ex-neighbor Bob called in to pick up his mail, he was intrigued to find me crouched on the lawn, surrounded by power tools, building a bird house. I explained to him that these tiny birds make a great effort in flying over considerable distances to reach Gamone. So, it's normal that I should go to a little trouble to make their stay here as comfortable as possible. (I got the impression that Bob thought I had been drinking.) Here's the result, installed firmly on top of my rose pergola:

The central element of the bird house is a wooden drawer that was probably part of an ancient agricultural device at Gamone. The roof uses ancient tiles from the old police station at Grenoble, which were purchased long ago by Marcel Gauthier for the house at Gamone.

Notice that the rose bushes I planted recently have reached the top of the pergola... which still needs to be reinforced by cross bars at each of the four corners. As Bob said, when he found me building a bird house: "It would appear, William, that you've run out of things to do at Gamone." I hardly need to say that this is not the case.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I love butterflies

When I happened to complain recently about grubs that are eating my rose leaves, Christine reacted on the phone as if I might be a psychopath who's declaring war on innocent butterflies. A wise employee in a horticultural shop also concluded rhetorically: "You're not talking about massive destruction of your rose bushes. You're merely losing a few leaves from time to time. Why worry?"

Consequently, in a flash of light, like what happened to Saint Paul on the road to Damascus, I decided to change my evil ways. Now, when I come upon a lost grub, I lead it back to a nice supply of rose leaves.

The Dalai Lama would love the new me like he loves grubs.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Pergola in place

My pergola is upright, painted dark green, and the six rose bushes have been planted. One of these days, I'll place small diagonal struts at each of the upper corners of the frame, to make it perfectly rigid.

Between the central arch of the pergola and the walnut trees in the background, you can just distinguish the form of a plum tree, which is covered at present in tiny but tasty fruit.

My next major task will consist of installing wooden borders around all the eight flower beds.

On the left-hand side of the above photo, to the left of the steps, you can see that my bay laurel tree—which I had recently cut back to a few bare stumps—is once again covered in thick foliage. There's no doubt about it, certain kinds of vegetation like to be pruned and cleaned up.

In a corner of the garden, an old stone trough (which can no longer hold water) is filled with sage plants, grown from shoots that Tineke gave me, not long ago.

In the lower left-hand corner of the above photo, a lizard has crept into the picture. His skin is the same color as the dry moss on the wall. Here he is in closeup:

I admire their ability to move over vertical surfaces, more smoothly and rapidly than the most expert human rock-climbers. I've always thought that these tiny animals belong here, truly, alongside the cliffs of Choranche. They make me feel humble, like a mere recent visitor.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Future rose pergola

This morning, when my ex-neighbor Bob dropped in to pick up his mail, he was a little surprised to discover that a curious wooden structure had popped up almost overnight in the garden zone in front of my house.

I explained to Bob that it's an old Australian custom dating back to the days when our ancestors arrived in the Antipodes as convicts: "It was considered politically correct that every respectable homestead should have its own personal gallows." I then went on to explain, a little more seriously, that I was quite proud to have erected, single-handed, this first perfectly-adjusted section of my future rose pergola. Incidentally, apart from the two vertical posts and the horizontal bar at the top, all the other pieces of timber in this photo are temporary struts and props, to keep the structure rigid and in perfect shape. This temporary timber—including the four shorter posts against which the structure is leaning—will be removed once the entire pergola is in place, with its six posts set in concrete.

When I see how some of my old rose bushes are thriving in the limestone soil of Gamone, I'm impatient to finish my pergola and plant the roses I recently purchased.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Garden under construction

Work is continuing on my future garden at Gamone, as seen here:

One of the eight symmetrical 2m x 2m plots is more or less finished. The planks are rough and cheap Douglas Fir, protected by a creosote product. They're partly sunk into the ground. I've placed a lavender plant in the middle of each plot, and sown assorted flowers around it. In the finished plot, I've planted thyme and sage, surrounded by fragments of maritime pine bark to stop weeds. In the photo, you can also see several elements of the future rose pergola, ready to be placed in an upright position in holes that will be filled with concrete. And here are some of my future rose trees, ready to be planted as soon as the pergola is erected:

They are ancient varieties: Albertine, Blush Rambler, Madame Alfred Carrière, Chevy Chase, Lykkefund and Paul Transom. To purchase them last week, my friends Tineke and Serge drove me down to a fabulous rose garden called Berty in Ardèche:

I've always had a few simple roses at Gamone:

A few days ago, I noticed that some of the rose trees I planted behind the house are now in bloom:

In the future garden in front of the house, I should be able to take care of my roses. I'm looking forward to being able to sit and read in my pergola, one of these days, in a haze of exotic fragrance. But there's still a lot of ground work to do before then.

Reptile combat

Yesterday afternoon, when I spotted this motionless combat between a snake and a lizard in my garden, I couldn't quite distinguish the contours of the two reptiles, whose hues are similar.

When taking this photo with a long-focal lens, I was leaning over the stone wall in front of my house, whereas the reptiles were located three meters below me. It was late afternoon, and there wasn't much light at the place where the combat was taking place. The yellow cylindrical object that crosses the photo horizontally is a garden hose, exactly 2 cm in diameter. So, the snake and the lizard are quite small creatures. I tiptoed down into the garden, to get a closer look.

Here, we are looking directly at the snake's head and right eye. The snake has turned the lizard over (the yellow zone is the victim's throat), and is pinning it down at the level of the lizard's front "armpits", preventing it from scrambling away. At the instant I took this photo, I did not know whether the snake had already killed the lizard. In fact, the lizard was very much alive, because I now see that the snake had probably not yet got around to planting its tiny fangs in the lizard.

Since the scene was still totally motionless, I decided to get some action by nudging the garden hose. The snake immediately wriggled away from the lizard, which promptly scampered up the stone wall to safety. Having been brought up in rural environment in Australia where the golden rule consists of killing any serpent you encounter, I took a swing or two at the snake with a garden fork. I remember thinking that it was quite unacceptable that the snake should attack one of the nice little lizards that I love to watch when they're basking in the sun. Then, all of a sudden, before delivering a fatal blow, I said to myself: "The poor little snake needs to eat. First, I've deprived him of his meal. And now, I'm trying to kill him." What dastardly behavior on my behalf! Like Abraham hearing God tell him that he should spare the life of Isaac, I held my arm back, and watched the serpent wiggle into the weeds. Back in his hole on the slopes, I can imagine the little snake telling his family that there's a psychopathic protector of lizards up in the garden at Gamone...

And what kind of a snake was it? I've often joked about the criterion for distinguishing between a venomous viper and a harmless grass or water snake, because the experts tell us that you simply have to look the reptile in the eyes and examine the shape of its pupils. Easier said than done... unless you've got a long-focal lens and Photoshop. The pupil of a viper is a vertical slit, whereas that of a non-venomous reptile is round. Here's a closeup view of the eye of the harmless little fellow that I chased away from my garden:

If ever he's brave enough to drop by again, I'll seek forgiveness for my brutality by helping him to catch a lizard.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Future garden layout

My recent article entitled Spring renaissance [display] included a photo of the freshly-plowed rectangle in front of my house: a future garden of flowers and herbs. Here's an updated photo of this rectangle:


Between the two photos, separated by a fortnight, there are three subtle differences:

• On the left, I've removed the vegetation that grew against the old stone wall below the windows of my house. This was a mixture of archaic grape plants (of no great value) and recently-planted honeysuckle/jasmine vines.

• Following the intervention of Pierrot Faure and his tractor, the soil—comprising bulky clods of earth and grassy tufts—was not yet of homogeneous garden quality. I spent yesterday reworking the earth with a powerful Husqvarna garden tiller.

• In the modified layout, surrounding the future pergola (whose location is not indicated explicitly in the new photo), each of the two garden squares will be composed of four 2m x 2m plots. This means that my future garden will have a very symmetric look: a rough hybrid of familiar entities described as a medieval garden, a clergyman's garden, or simply a geometric so-called French garden. To clarify matters, I intend to name it simply a William's garden.

As for my dog Sophia, who has contributed to my gardening efforts by using the loose soil to bury remnants of the skull and horns of her old companion Gavroche, her layout is constantly beautiful.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tiny jewel

I was happy to find this ladybird in my garden this morning. In the domain of superstitions, these tiny beetles called coccinellids are thought to be good omens. Since ladybirds are predators of garden pests such as aphids, I'm hoping that this little creature will soon find a mate of the opposite sex and produce a big family of baby ladybirds to protect my rose bushes.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Enchanting vegetation

The day after my arrival in Brittany, Christine took me to a magnificent 42-acre botanic garden near Tréguier named Kerdalo, created during the final decades of the 20th century by a Russian nobleman, Peter Wolkonsy [1907-1997].

Peter became a specialist in dendrology, the science of trees, and his domain can be considered, first and foremost, as a celebration of great trees of many kinds.

A tiny stream enters the upper edge of the property, and its waters have been channeled into a series of pools of differing shapes and sizes.

The largest pool is in fact a small lake surrounded by giant tropical plants, masses of hydrangeas, reeds and rushes.

In the middle of the domain, a square array of splendid flower beds corresponds to what might be described as a "clergyman's garden".

Often, the pools are bordered by fountains and fanciful constructions.

On one edge of this tiny square pool covered in greenery, there's an Italian grotto whose walls are adorned by frescoes.

In certain places, there's an air of giantism, with roses climbing into the branches of huge trees.

When Peter Wolkonsy discovered the property, around 1965, the splendid residence was little more than an old farm house.

The far end of the domain slopes down into a magnificent estuary, with Tréguier across the waters.

Since the death of Peter, the domain has been evolving under the guidance of his daughter Isabelle and her English husband Timothy Vaughan, who's an expert horticulturist.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Busy Sunday

Every year, I watch the TV coverage of the Grand Prix de Monaco. I'm not exactly a fan of automobile racing, which can be quite boring on TV, but the legendary Monaco event is inevitably exciting.

For me, there's also an element of nostalgia. Shortly after my arrival in France in 1962, an Australian friend drove me down to watch the race. At that time, tourists could wander around the circuit at ease to find a vantage point. I recall that we spent most of the race at the famous Mirabeau hairpin. These days, of course, the famous race is a gigantic event that paralyzes road circulation on the French Riviera.

As if car racing wasn't enough to draw a crowd on the shores of the Mediterranean, the red carpet of the 60th Cannes Film Festival will be rolled up this evening after the announcement of winners.

Finally, for those who love to spend hours in front of their TV [on a par, I suppose, with spending hours in front of a computer screen], there's the French Open in Paris, which starts this afternoon.

At a personal level, to put the events of this busy Sunday in their proper perspective, I should point out that the Monaco supershow on my wide flat TV will be relegated to the status of a background blur and noise. I don't intend to spend time at Cannes, and the ball is out at Roland Garros. In fact, if it's sunny this afternoon, I plan to build a fence around the patch of Batavia lettuces I planted yesterday.

The future enclosure [of the sheep fence style] will protect my lettuces from Gavroche the billy-goat. But what about snails, which are presently thriving just a meter away from my lettuce patch?

My ex-neighbor Bob, who dropped in yesterday to pick up his mail, is an experienced vegetable gardener. He made an interesting suggestion: "Grow your lettuces to feed your snails. Then collect these lettuce-fed Burgundy snails from time to time. They're far more tasty than lettuce." Bob's right. A few years ago, I used to prepare regularly a stock of Gamone's excellent Burgundy snails, but the dry summer of 2004 seemed to eliminate them. I see now, at exactly the same time I'm planting lettuces, that the snails appear to be back in force. Gastronomical days ahead...