Could you create the Perfect Garden?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The  St Swithun rose climbs all over a pergola in the front garden.

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Below is a nearly thornless rose called Kathleen Harrop which Penny grew herself from a simple cutting.

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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.

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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.

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The rose Constant Gardener now rambles over the small barn door

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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.

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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.

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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.

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However the first job back here was to create a screen which they successfully did with a specialist hedging rose called Wild Edric.

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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.

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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.

You can find out more about staying here by visiting my previous post about their home “Running the Perfect Chambres d’hotes” or you can click on the link here to take you directly to their website.

 

65 thoughts on “Could you create the Perfect Garden?

    • Totally in agreement, I like a garden where a weed can happily go unnoticed! This is such an English cottage garden, perhaps that’s why I love it so much, it reminds me of home! But I just think it goes to show what can be achieved and the importance of creating different areas which makes everything so much more interesting. Enjoy the rain! Susan x

      • It’s biblical isn’t it? It’s actually stopped here now but last night we had both dogs cowering under the bed all night. I feel as though I’ve been run over by an articulated lorry…

      • I wish the weather could just decide what to do. We didn’t actually have the storm last night, despite being under an orange warning. But I know an hour inland it was horrendous! We just had some rain and today it is really windy and quite chilly again. The sun even managed to make a very brief appearance just now! I hope this is not the sign of things to come for the summer! Susan x

  • Horse chestnut is one of my most favorite trees, such a shame. A favorite phrase of mine is if the garden is finished that just means the gardener is dead!

    • We have a huge horse chestnut in our garden, the flowers are quite incredible at this time of year and their petals cover the ground like pink confetti. I love your phrase, it is so so true, every week I find something new to do in the garden, endless projects on the go, both physically and in my mind, there’s always much to do! Have a lovely Sunday, Susan X

  • Wow, lots and lots of work and it turned out so beautiful. I wish I had some good spots for roses especially climbing ones. I just love them. Their baby looks just like Miss Bailey. We have such a large yard and lots to take care of and will probably be out in it today cutting the grass now that the rain is gone.

    • Hi Kim, Hopefully this has given you some inspiration for a Sunday of gardening! Our rain has not gone away, after such a gorgeous hot and sunny day yesterday and one where I mowed and we gardened all afternoon, today the skies are grey and everything is wet, not a lot of outside activity for us at the moment I’m afraid! Susan X

  • I thought I recognised the property! Pretty sure that last time you wrote about it I exclaimed ‘wow’. And again…

    • Hi Catherine, indeed every time I visit I say wow, it is just awash with flowers, not an inch to spare and it’s absolute heaven just to sit there and sip a glass of wine and relax. I am so impressed with all they have done. Whenever I come home from a visit I always find myself working twice as hard in our own garden! Susan x

      • Hi Catherine, just emailed! No December is not the best time to garden when you are close to the Alps!!! However, you can always plan, walk around and decide what to do, it’s actually the most important part so maybe you can plant next year! They say gardens take many years to evolve! Susan x

  • Oh my goodness! It is an utterly stunning transformation. I am the worst gardener and can no longer do it due to back problems but am in such envy of people who have such a touch.

    • Hi Nadia, sorry to hear of your back trouble. This garden inspires me so much every time I visit and I can wander around it for hours, it is just beautiful. The sun has finally come out here after a morning of rain, hope you enjoy the rest of the weekend, Susan x

      • Thanks. I have had it for 3 years already and am still struggling to accept that there are just certain things I can no longer do.

      • Oh how horrid, my sister has struggled with a bad back for years too. I hope you have a good chiropractor, I know of a fabulous one but she is based much further south sadly. Susan x

  • How stunning. I love how they have managed to bring in plants they already had, and this is really inspirational, just ahead of the Bank Holiday, when many of us will spend the entire weekend working outside. There really is no substitute for hard work and devotion. Thanks for sharing this lovely post. Hoping I can find somewhere to put Wild Edric now!

    • Hi, Isn’t Wild Edric stunning, there are actually two of them and they have made the most perfect screen. Just visiting their home does the same for me, I have to get out in our own garden and work away, filling the gaps, it is so inspiring and it really does go to show what can be achieved on a relatively small budget but with much dedication. Enjoy the bank holiday weekend next week, I hope the good old British weather plays ball! Susan x

  • I love flowers so very much. And to tell you the truth, I’m jealous of those who have the property to cultivate such beauty and who have green thumbs.
    Before my life changes of divorce and losing my home, I planted flowers on each side of my home. It was the closest to gardening I had ever come to. On one side, the sunny side of the house, I grew the most beautiful and lush peonies, my favorite flower. On the shady side of the house I grew Annabelle hydrangea. Then I lost my home and the flowers that went with it.
    These days, I’m all about growing red geraniums in pots on my desk. It’s the best I can do. But in a few weeks I’ll be back in Theoule-sur-Mer where I can enjoy the sights of some truly beautiful flowers adorning the Cote d’Azur!

    • Hi Catherine, it’s so sad you lost your garden, but I am so happy you are at least growing geraniums on your desk, my favourite of summer flowers, they just invoke memories of warmth and heat and sun and Provence to me, a place I do love. Lucky you going there in a few weeks,I am sure you will have the best of times and one day you will have your garden again. Have a lovely Sunday, Bisous Susan

    • Sometimes our life does change and we start a new journey, I hope yours is good. You have your dog and your geraniums….you have a good start on your little garden and your life. Best of wishes come true for you.

      • Very true words, we never know what direction our life will take us in, but positive thinking is always a great start and you sound as if you are being truly positive.

  • They must be so proud of their lovely gardens- so much more meaningful as they have done each bit with their own hands!
    The close-ups of the roses………..ahhhhh……………reminding me of the passion and pride of my own mother’s roses.
    So charming….thank you for sharing and well done Penny & Adrian!

    • I agree, quite rightly they are proud and I am so happy to be able to share their hard work with lots of people. I love going there and just wandering around, it’s a very calming peaceful place to be. Susan x

    • Thank you so much for your lovely comments – and I am glad we have revived a memory of your own mother’s roses – it was my mother who gave me the Wild Edric roses to plant at the back of the house as our house warming gift. I can’t help but think of her when I glance them from the window. Penny

      • Penny, I had no idea your Mother gave you the Wild Edric roses, you never mentioned that! How lovely, they are so prolific, I hope you have taken photos to show her. Xxx

  • Such a lovely garden, I enjoyed taking the tour seeing all the different sitting out areas of your friends garden. I know only too well all the hard work that goes into creating a garden , When we bought the property which is now our home with a holiday gite, it was a tiny farm house with a tree growing through the roof and a dilapidated barn with 200 Christmas pine trees from tiny to huge trees all in lines on the land. That was the hard part getting rid of those trees, then getting some goodness back into the soil. . Congratulations to Adrian & Penny in creating such a lovely garden.I’ll pop over and have a look at their ‘Chambres d’hotes’ maybe next time we are down that way we can book in.

    • Hi Barbara, do indeed go and stay with them, it is extremely comfortable and their food is fantastic! They are the perfect hosts and you won’t be disappointed. Your property sounds as though it took a huge amount of hard work and vision, how many years did it take you to get it all into a habitable state? I thought we had a lot of work, but we just had what now appears to be minor renovations, largely cosmetic and a very old established garden that had just been neglected. What you have done and what Penny and Adrian have done is so so much harder, creating something out of nothing and enriching the soil. Enjoy the rest of sunday, rain or shine! Susan x

  • Thank you so much Susan……Garden post are a really treat for me. Seeing some private gardens where the owners do the the real gardening is much more meaningful than seeing a garden where the owners hand someone a huge cheque and say build me a garden…..a garden needs the personality of its owner.

    Ali xx

  • I so agree with you Ali, you can feel the passion in this garden when you walk around it, The personalities of Penny and Adrian are evident everywhere, this, in part, is what makes it so special. Anyone, if they have the means, can have a garden made for them, but this has been a labour of love. It always inspires me to do more in our garden whenever I visit! I feel inspired all over again! Hope you are having a lovely weekend, Susan x

  • thank you for sharing this wonderful garden with us, I loved seeing a “real” garden. I am off into my little garden now. Thank you for the wonderful start to the day this has given, a lovely post to wake up to.

    • Hi Jane, Thank you, I love looking around other peoples gardens, I always get so much inspiration and it makes me want to do so much in my own so I can quite understand you wanting to get out into your garden. Hope you have a lovely day and achieve lots! Susan x

  • Ah, wonderful garden. My mum used to grow roses too, but sadly we have too much salt air here, and our conditions are more acceptable to sea kale and other dune loving plants. Great visit, though, thank you as ever.

    • Hi Phil, growing up we always had wonderful roses at home, the rose garden is something I will always remember and their fragrant scent. Hope you are eating your sea kale, I’m rather envious as I love it! Enjoy your Sunday, Susan x

  • Just the description of all these beautiful landscapes makes me tired. I don’t garden anymore, since last summer and my latest bout with poison ivy. I always have to go to the doctor to get steroids in order to recover from it. I would surely love to lounge in the garden though. Beautiful.

    • Hi Paulita, gosh it sounds as if you are extremely allergic to poison ivy, poor you. I am very happy to say it is not something we get in France. There is really nothing very nasty in the gardens here. The thing I hated most in Florida were fire ants, I am so happy not to have fire ants and so are the children. It took us at least a year to feel comfortable walking and running on grass barefoot again! Susan x

  • Oh how we can empathise with Penny and Adrian! They’ve done a wonderful job and we know just how hard it must have been. Our much smaller garden was no good for 21st century living or for grandchildren or those of us in the more mature years!! So we dug it up, moved tons of soil, lowered the patio and made it wider, put in a henhouse, an arbour, a chestnut arch and wonky picket fence, an oak shed (proudly made by Clive!) and planted little box bushes all around the 4 borders. Oh, and laid victorian rope edging around the winding path and then covered that in gravel!! Now we are making a wildlife pond and have to plant all the borders!! But – I have just bought our first climbing rose for the arbour – A Shropshire Lad – such a pretty rose and pleased to see that P & A have chosen this one as well! Wisteria ‘Amethyst’ should arrive tomorrow from Sarah Raven and we’re off to David Austin ( you MUST visit!) in mid June to get Gertrude Jekyll and some other roses! Can’t wait for our garden to reach the maturity of P & A’s!! Thank you for the post and I shall keep their B & B details handy for when we come to France! have a good week.

      • Penny, one day maybe we should try and get away together and visit the David Austin garden as Marian is lucky enough to be doing in June, totally jealous!!!

    • Hi Marian, your garden sounds absolutely delightful and you have done so much, how ironic that you have the Shropshire Lad too. Tomorrow sounds like it will be a great day with the wisteria arriving, I’m afraid to say I have no idea what the name of ours is, we have two, one purple and one white, both old and established although the flowers are all over now. I can imagine a trip to David Austin would be incredible, I understand many believe it to be the most beautiful rose garden in the world, I am quite envious, do let me know what it’s like please. I am sure you will be watching Chelsea this coming week, glad we have English TV, I shall be switching between that and tennis at the French Open! It will be a hard choice for me!!! Have a lovely week. Susan x

  • What an amazing transformation! The garden is so beautiful and I loved the pictures, especially the roses! It makes me long for the day I have a home of my own with a garden to “renovate!”

    • It is such an incredible transformation isn’t it. Be careful what you wish for, gardens take up so much time!!! Our eldest daughter who is 19 and currently home from University said to me only yesterday “you must love this garden, imagine how much free time you would have if you lived in a town without so much garden!” She is of course quite right, but I do love the garden and so do all the family and if I didn’t have the garden I’d have to go to a gym!!! Susan x

  • What a beautiful garden. I am so impressed with their vision — being able to see all those future roses in such an unprepossessing site. Separate “rooms” for sitting and for birds and bees is brilliant, too — the bees need all the help they can get these days.

    • Hi Emm, Their vision was certainly incredible, but so is their passion and dedication. My late Mother in law, a passionate gardener, always said a “garden needs rooms” and I so agree. Being able to move from one place to another makes a garden feel bigger and creates so much more interest and a wild garden is wonderful on so many levels, for the bees and the insects and the birds but also for us to be able to enjoy nature so close at hand. For me a wild garden is a vital part of a garden if there is enough room and it is possible. Susan x

  • Quel beau jardin ! Adrian et Penny ont réalisé un impressionnant travail. Le résultat est vraiment superbe ! Moi aussi je préfère les jardins à l’ anglaise, plus proches de la nature que ceux ” à la française “qui veulent soumettre, dominer cette dernière.J’ avais lu le précédent topic sur les chambres d’ hôtes de Penny et Adrian,et de revoir cette propriété devenue si belle après tout ce travail, c’ est impressionnant et remarquable. Merci Susan de nous faire partager ces vies de personnes passionnées avec votre enthousiasme et votre talent d’ écriture. Sans rien dire des photos magnifiques…justes parfaites pour illuminer ce dimanche si gris et pluvieux.A vous lire bientôt./ What a beautiful garden! Adrian and Penny have achieved an impressive work.It is really magnificent! Me too, I do prefer english garden, closer to the Nature , rather than french counterpart which want to submit and dominate the latter.I have read the previous topic about Penny and Adrian’ s Bed and Breakfast , so to see again this property which become so beautiful after all this work, It’ s impressive and remarkable! Thank you , Susan, to share with us these lives of passionnate people with enthusiasm and your talent writing. Not to say for the magnificent photos…just perfect to bright up a sunday so grey and so rainy.Has to read to you soon. Philippe

    • Hi Philippe, I have to admit I do prefer the slightly less formal style of garden and I do think keeping some areas wild and planting meadow flowers is so much better for the insects and bees, which in turn is in fact better for us. After all, what are weeds to some people are not to others, are they not just flowers and plants that are in the wrong place? As I have far too little time to spend hours and hours in the garden (sadly) I am afraid my French garden is now something of a mix between French and English, but the juxtapostion of the two seems to work quite well! Susan x

    • Hi Lily, perhaps they were just in the wrong place or suffered from lack of water. Do try again! Last year I planted two climbing roses, one became suffocated by the wisteria and died completely. The other in a totally different place has thrived and this year is three or four times the size already with lots of buds and deep orange flowers, so it proves it is worth persisting and your children will love it when they can pick you a couple of buds as a present! Susan x

    • You are so very right, “act in haste, repent at leisure” springs to mind. I think you have to live with a garden through all four seasons before making any decisions at all then slowly one can decide what needs changing, what needs adding and what needs taking away. Gardens grow with us, I think that is part of their fascination. Susan x

  • I love a great transformation story, whether it’s about a person, a house, a garden! AND, I can relate to this. My husband and I as well, we single handedly changed a plain little brick cottage in a more affordable middle class neighborhood of our beautiful city, and now, it is the most enchanting house in the area. Not only did we do all three gardens by ourselves, but my husband also added some woodwork to the house that makes it a true French or Tudor style home. We just came in from gardening and enjoying 19 years of mature growth finally looking as we dreamed. LOVELY share! Anita

  • Hi Anita, Wow, it sounds fabulous, how wonderful to be able to look back at 19 years of hard work and feel so satisfied. Of course, as you well know, gardening is an ongoing project, a garden is never finished, there is always much to do. But it sounds as if you are down to maintenance work now rather than new work. I have so many plans and projects in my head, I seem to be forever saying, “when we have done this, then we’ll have more time and we can just weed and mow and look after things” but then I think of something else to do, another idea forms and so it goes on! Enjoy the rest of your weekend, Susan x

  • What a beautiful garden. I have a sign up in my courtyard, which reminds me of my beautiful mother-in-law, who so loved the garden:

    “The kiss of the sun for pardon
    The song of the birds for mirth
    One is nearer God’s heart in the garden
    Than anywhere else on earth.”

    What a gift-to share such a joyful place with their guests, and their friends.

  • Oh what a dreM to stay the night and daytime in this spit. The less groomed areas duch a gift to bees and others flying through. To have started many if these besutiful roses from cuttings, N ultimate staisfCtjon. Again, These moments most pleasNt. ThNk you so much!

    • Hi Mary, it is a dream garden, I could happily stay a few hours with a good book relaxing in the Mediterranean garden and then a few more just wandering around and looking, taking it all in. It’s not huge but there is so much to see and that makes it feel so much larger. One of my favourite all time gardens for sure. Susan x

  • Lovely post. I just moved to a new home this year and fortunately have many beautiful plants in the garden. The pictures in this post have inspired me to add more roses and daisies for next summer. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Hi, welcome to the blog and thank you for taking the time to comment, always much appreciated! So happy to have inspired you. Every time I visit their garden I feel the same way, I come back home and want to do more in our garden. Gardens and plants give us so much pleasure enjoy your new home and garden. Susan x

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