When we think of the word ‘renovation’ we tend to think of houses and buildings, but it can equally be applied to gardens. For those of us in the northern hemisphere it’s late spring and the whole show has moved outdoors. So I thought I would feature a garden renovation which is quite remarkable and is a complete transformation from a sea of earth and weeds to a series of spaces overflowing with roses and an enormous variety of plants.
Let me introduce you to Adrian and Penny who live close to the historic town of Pons in South West France. They have created a cottage garden which is awash with colour; a froth of bloom that floats and shimmers above all else. There are a series of ‘rooms’ which together make up the most magical space. But it wasn’t always like this. When they bought the house, not only did it need completely renovating but it was also sitting in just under an acre of weeds and rubble; it looked more like a field than a garden. There were a couple of trees, some iris, a vast amount of bare soil and not a lot else. But they saw the potential and in 2008 they got to work, creating their garden. They bought some plants locally, while others they were given by friends. Many were cuttings from gardens of helpful locals and several even came with them from London and their old abode.
This was not a case of sitting down with a landscape gardener and discussing what they wanted to achieve. Nor was it a case of them calling in the gardeners to dig, plant and create. No, this was something they did all by themselves; they planted every square inch, every plant has had its position carefully planned, this is the result of pure hard work over several years and a great deal of passion.
However, what I find most interesting is this is something we can all relate to. It is an enormous makeover but one we can imagine doing ourselves and that’s what makes it such fun. That’s why I wanted to share it, because it is so full of ideas and inspiration.
Amongst all the other plants, roses have become a firm favourite. They have about 28 roses in the garden including amongst others Shropshire Lad, Harlow Car, Lady Emma Hamilton, Alnwick Rose, Margaret, Mama Mia, Claire Austin, Crocus Rose, William Shakespeare, Darcey Bussell, Mme Alfred Carriere, Teasing Georgia, and Peter Pan. Penny knows them all. She tends to buy roses with names that mean something to her which maybe helps her memorise them so well, I was certainly impressed! Below is the Guajard rose, a beautiful red with silvery white undersides.
The St Swithun rose climbs all over a pergola in the front garden.
Below is a nearly thornless rose called Kathleen Harrop which Penny grew herself from a simple cutting.
The horse chestnut in the front garden was killed by their first builder. Back in 2008 it was very much alive, but whilst they were still in London the builder emptied the barn of debris in preparation to start work inside. He put all the rubbish under the Chestnut tree and then set fire to it. Not only did it burn everything in sight it also burnt the roots of the tree and it has never recovered. The builder needless to say did not keep his job for long.
The 90 foot barn was more than they needed for storage and so they only renovated two thirds of it and left the remainder untouched. A perfect rectangle framed on three sides by old stone walls. It was Adrian’s idea to turn it into a Mediterranean-style area complete with grapevines and olive trees. It’s in complete contrast to the rest of the garden and is a real sun-trap. However with the addition of shade-sails and sun-loungers it is extremely comfortable and I could happily laze away an afternoon with a good book here in complete peace and tranquility. As their home is also a Chambres d’Hotes (bed and breakfast) of some luxury I might add, this is definitely a favourite spot for many of their guests.
The rose Constant Gardener now rambles over the small barn door
Another of my favourite spots is the wild garden, purposefully left for the birds and insects with just a small mown area for the table and chairs. It’s another favourite place to sit and drink a morning coffee while watching nature at work. The rhododendron is a Cunninghams White; it has pretty pink buds which turn into lacy white flowers. Next to it is an azalea which they bought many years ago in Reims during a visit to France. They took it back home with them to London and when they moved to France it came with them. Finally here it has come out of it’s pot and found a permanent home in the garden.
They say that first impressions are the most important. Arriving here the plot was once an eyesore but now the first thing one sees is the large yellow rambling rose Albéric Barbier, whose yellow buds open to double, fragrant, creamy white flowers, held in small
clusters. It is an extremely vigorous, almost evergreen rambler.
At the back of the property they planted numerous fruit trees to accompany the fig which was already here; they have apples, peaches and soft fruit canes. It is purposefully kept a little untamed again, which encourages the insects and bees that do so much good in the garden.
However the first job back here was to create a screen which they successfully did with a specialist hedging rose called Wild Edric.
Finally, the latest addition; (not Molly, she’s been with them since they moved to France) is this tin bucket of sorts picked up at a Brocante a couple of weeks ago. It is a grape-picking bucket. It would have had leather straps at the back to go around the shoulders and another at the bottom to go around the waist. Grape pickers would wear these on their backs and throw the grapes over their shoulders into the bucket.
I really hope you have enjoyed seeing a little of Adrian and Penny’s garden and that it has given you some inspiration, whether your garden is big or small or even just a balcony; plants bring everything to life and plants make us happy. They are good for our health, good for the soul and good for the environment.