a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

with only the Celandines to tell of hope

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Gardening is not just about weeding and watering and tilling the earth it is about dreaming of the shape of things to come as a consequence of these menial tasks.  Well, I try to convince myself it is.

I had a design for the bottom of the garden, a woodland glade sheltering spring flowers and providing welcome shade in the summer.  Unfortunately, the area had been left to fend for itself for a long time before we took over.  It had not coped very well.  It had been invaded by brambles that choked the growth of most plants, except the ivy, which managed to see off the rest of the plants and was starting to cover the trees.  There was no choice but brute force and the brambles were cut back and the roots dug out but the ivy has not yet been finally defeated.

However, after the removal of the brambles I could see a natural glade appearing at one end although the level of the soil was low at that part.  This was quickly (relatively) remedied by our neighbour who was creating a pond and had nowhere to dump his soil!

Finally my dream of the woodland scene in spring lit by the yellow Winter Aconites was becoming a reality.  Before actually possessing a garden I had been an avid reader of gardening magazines and I had read several articles on Winter Aconites.  They provide a carpet of sunshine in the dark days and are happy to live under the canopy of deciduous trees. Even the Latin name Eranthis hyemalis, meaning winter flower in Greek fitted in with the theme.

There is a beautiful time lapse film by Neil Bromhall on You Tube showing the Winter Aconites pushing through the melting snow.


The bulbs of Winter Aconite can be bought and planted in the spring time.

Only I forgot this crucial stage.

Never the less, this spring my woodland glade was covered in a carpet of yellow Winter Aconites.  They do look beautiful and I had to ask myself if I had really planted them and forgotten about it.  Then I thought about the soil from our neighbour’s garden. Then there was more doubt and searching for close-up photographs of Winter Aconites on the Internet.

I quickly realised that my bright yellow flowers, like large buttercups were not Winter Aconite, the leaves are not similar.  This left me with another problem.  What were they?  My kindly neighbours do not know the name of anything you don’t eat so I could get no help there.

I decided to post an identification request on a French web site http://www.visoflora.com/

I got a rapid reply from a member and could confirm that what I had was Lesser Celandine or Pilewort.

What’s in a name?  But I must admit I was very disappointed. My woodland glade was carpeted with Pilewort, old herbal remedy for haemorrhoids.

It warranted further research.  Ranunculus ficaria , Lesser Celandine in the UK and Fig Buttercup in the States does not get a universally good press.  It is considered an invasive weed in the UK and in some states in the USA.  One suggestion I found was to treat it with a systemic weed killer.

It is not all bad news as it is a native plant in the UK and Europe and provides an early source of pollen for bees just coming out of hibernation. Many people look forward to seeing this bright yellow flower as a sign that spring is on its way.  Good enough reason for me to keep it where it has grown.

It was supposedly William Wordsworth favourite flower and he wrote three poems on the Celandine.  http://www.wordsworth.org.uk/poetry/index.asp?pageid=298

The Celandine has also found its way into English literature, “Throughout the gusty winds of March dust-laden and with only the celandines to tell of hope…”  The Lone Swallow by Henry Williamson.

So I am in good company wishing no harm to my new arrivals.

Another happy ending?

Author: afrenchgarden

Born in Scotland I have lived in England, Iran, USA and Greece. The house and land was bought twelve years ago in fulfilment of the dream of living in France that my Francophile husband nurtured. We had spent frequent holidays in France touring the more northerly parts and enjoying the food, scenery, architecture and of course gardens. However, we felt that to retire in France and enjoy a more clement climate than we currently had in Aberdeen we would need to find somewhere south of the river Loire but not too south to make returning to visit the UK onerous. The year 2000 saw us buying our house and setting it up to receive us and the family on holidays. The garden was more a field and we were helped by my son to remove the fencing that had separated the previous owners’ goats, sheep and chickens. We did inherit some lovely old trees and decided to plant more fruit trees that would survive and mature with the minimum of care until we took up permanent residence. The move took place in 2006 and the love hate relation with the “garden” started. There was so much to do in the house that there was little energy left for the hard tasks in the garden. It was very much a slow process and a steep learning curve. Expenditures have been kept to a minimum. The majority of the plants have been cuttings and I try to gather seeds wherever I can. The fruit trees have all been bought but we have tender hearts and cannot resist the little unloved shrub at a discount price and take it as a matter of honour to nurse it back to health. This year I have launched my Blog hoping to reach out to other gardeners in other countries. My aim is to make a garden for people to enjoy, providing shady and sunny spots with plants that enjoy living in this area with its limestone based subsoil and low rainfall in a warm summer. Exchanging ideas and exploring mutual problems will enrich my experience trying to form my French garden.

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