a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

Some winners and losers of the dry summer

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I’m going back into September here and the garden is dry.  Just as I was hoping to get a bit more out of the vegetable garden, I encounter our hottest, driest summer.

I was so concerned that there would be nothing left to flower even outside the garden for the bees that I chucked down loads of Cosmos and Cosmos sulphureus seeds in the vegetable garden as I felt I could keep them watered.  They were just seeds that I had gathered last year from the garden so I had plenty.

My attempt at growing chick peas was a failure but I did discover that you could eat them raw from the pod like green peas.

The Borlotti beans produced very little and the parsley refused to grow.

This is my sole butternut production.  I shall be dependent on my neighbour Annie for her pumpkins in the winter.

There have been notable successes.  The aubergines did well, as did the courgettes.

And these delicious little cucumbers kept producing all summer.

In summary the vegetables performed poorly but our pear trees produced more fruit this year although the apple trees produced hardly any apples.

The Comice pears above were very good but I think our Conference pears beat them on flavour.

The tomatoes survived as I watered them and they produced enough to eat in salad and make coulis to freeze.  The little Sungold did well on the wigwam we made.  The leeks and Brussel sprouts are planted for the winter but everything needs to be tidied and sorted for next season.

I think the bees probably think I should just stick to planting flowers.

The senna plants that I have grown from seed are doing well.  Whether they will survive the winter remains to be seen.

I watered late in the evening and by that time the senna had closed their leaves and gone to sleep which I find a very endearing trait.

I have noticed less leaf cutter bees in the garden this year.  They are such pretty bees with their abdomens bright yellow and full of pollen.  I have had no leaf cutters nesting in my bee houses either this year despite providing fresh bamboo tubes and drilled holes.  I do not know if the dry weather could affect them adversely.  I’d be interested in anyone else’s experience.

We will have to wait until next spring to see how a lot of the plants have survived.  I do choose drought tolerant plants.  There are some good surprises, like many shrubs such as fuschia will just look totally miserable yet survive.  Others have been disappointing and I will not plant anymore Tithonia rotundifolia which I thought was drought tolerant but does not grow well from seed unless it is well watered.

I am going to try to grow from seed, Tithonia diversifolia, which is a big brute of a plant and is supposed to be drought tolerant.  It is a perennial and I may live to regret it but it looked quite stunning when I saw it.

There were plenty of opportunities for tea and coffee in the garden, in the shade, and we shared these moments with the various garden visitors.  This bee seems to have recognised her stolen honey in the dregs of my lemon balm and mint tea.  She just cannot work out how it got there.

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.

18 thoughts on “Some winners and losers of the dry summer

  1. I had similar difficulties here in Alabama (deep south US) although I did get a bumper crop of pumpkins and rattlesnake green beans! Everything else failed miserably. I love your bees and that pollen is a beautiful sight. Q: What do you use your Senna for? We have a variety that grows wild here, but ours is poisonous so I only allow it to grow out behind the barn or on the hill of our storm shelter.

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    • Lack of rain is so difficult to deal with. We are still feeling our way with the best things to grow in the garden after thirteen years of starting it. I find pumpkins the perfect vegetable for winter as you can do so much with it. One of my last year Butternut squash lasted good for a whole year. The Senna is not for eating. I collected it from a beautiful bush with yellow flowers that the bees loved. I think it was Popcorn Senna but I am not familiar with this plant. I collected the seeds in southern Spain which has a milder climate than us. I will replant them in the autumn and cover the roots with straw. Amelia

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  2. Hello Amelia,
    Your pears look stunning and obviously like the heat you’ve had this year – they fail miserably with us most years in our damp climate.
    Many of your flowers look lovely and I too like the leaf cutter bees. I’m unfamiliar with Senna – is it a shrub or tree?
    best wishes
    Julian

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    • I think it is Senna didymobotrya or popcorn senna. It is a beautiful bush with yellow flowers that the bees love. I collected the seeds in Spain so it is just an experiment. I have grown two Abutilon pictum from seed and they die away each winter but come up again in the summer. I am hoping the Senna will do the same. I do not want any sort of “tender” plant in the garden that needs special care – but I do get tempted by some flowers. Amelia

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  3. Your garden did well, despite the heat Amelia. Our summer was extremely dry too with practically no rainfall in May, June and July. It wasn’t until early August that we had a little. I am surprised your Tithonia struggled. Mine was fine but I did sow it in small pots first. I planted it out when very small in May and more or less left it. It hardly grew at all until the middle of July and has flowered nonstop since! I also had leafcutter bees early in summer. They liked my lemon verbena and the Hypericum in the herb bed were shredded. But then they disappeared, so perhaps the heat was too much for them and they retreated to the woods. I found a lot of bees and wasps were seeking shade in the foliage of my plants when it was so hot. Tithonia diversifolia sounds interesting. I hope to grow the yellow T. rotundifolia next summer. I am telling everyone I predict next summer will be a washout… 😜 – our trees would love a wet year, so I can hope! Good luck with the Senna. I tried it once but we had devastating permafrost for about three weeks the following winter so that was that!

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    • Interesting about the Tithonia. I had mine going well in pots before I planted them out but the best only vegetated and the rest disappeared, Perhaps this year the heat kept the leafcutters out of the garden, as you had seen them earlier in the year. At least now we are getting a lot of rain. I am sure it is enough to give the trees a good drink before they lose their colours and go to sleep. Amelia

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  4. I had the same experience, loads of pears but very few apples this year.

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  5. Our pear tree did well this year but some of the other fruit trees did less well like some newish blackcurrants. As for the leafcutters, do you do anything about cleaning out the tubes?

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  6. My first thought on seeing less of the leaf cutters the previous year was parasites in the tubes but Kourosh built a completely new house with tubes and holes that they did not use but were taken by the Osmia. I feel that in Nature their choices of holes will be far from clean and cleaning out debris will be part of their instinct. I am not sure that there are many insect parasite eggs that would survive over a year without a host. So random unused holes might self-clean over time. I am hoping that something goes in there and cleans out any organic matter left after the bees depart and you get a mini ecosystem working. Who knows? Amelia

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  7. Are pears considered to be French in France? My main pear happens to be the ‘Anjou’. Others here are Australian, Canadian and American. Nonetheless, people tend to think of them as French. I don’t mind, as long as they aren’t English.

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    • How fascinating! I had to check on Wiki and it is reckoned that pears originated in China but have been cultivated in Europe since at least the time of the Romans. I would say the that the French regard their pear trees as French. The varieties ‘Beurré Hardy’, ‘Doyenné du Comice’, ‘Williams’and ‘Conférence’ are the most popular in this region, I think. There is also a lot of interest in the old varieties of apples and pears from keen amateur gardeners. I still find most French people more interested in growing something you can eat rather than purely decorative, which is all to their honneur. Amelia

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      • When I grew citrus trees, the grapefruits were my favorite. There were only a few cultivars, and all were Californian. I found it amusing that the earliest grapefruits were popularized as ornamentals in greenhouses in France. They are not as pretty as other citrus are.

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        • It is very popular to grow citrus fruits in pots in the garden in this area. Mostly they are lemon trees that are kept. They are brought inside, with love, in the winter and kept often in a spare bedroom or a room that is rarely used. The pots are often large and you often see them sitting on home-made wooden wheelbarrows outside in summer ready to be wheeled inside. My neighbour gets kilos of lemons from her large potted lemon tree. I have never heard of any one keeping grapefruit, though. Amelia

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          • Grapefruit needs warmth for the flavor to develop. They produce plenty of fruit in cool climates, but it lacks flavor. Not only do they like warm summers, but they also like very mild winters, like we get here. Oranges likewise prefer a bit of warmth to develop sweetness. Lemons happen to be the least demanding of warmth. ‘Meyer’ lemon is a hybrid of a lemon and an orange, so needs warmth to develop its distinctive flavor, but is adequately sour even if flavor is lacking. I really do not like citrus in containers, but I know that it can be done even here.

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            • So perhaps it is not such a bad idea to grow lemons. if you want to have a citrus fruit in a pot here. I find the flavours of the container grown lemons acceptable but I am not a lemon connaisseur :).

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              • Lemons and some limes are probably the easiest of the common citrus to grow in containers, although kumquats and calamondins are reasonably easy too. (Traditional ‘Mexican’ and similar limes like warmth. ‘Bearss’ lime has a mild flavor, and does not need so much warmth.) Oranges and grapefruits, as well as mandarin oranges, are prettier, but not as reliable in containers. ‘Meyer’ lemon was our all time most popular cultivar when I grew citrus. Ironically, it was my least favorite. I think that only calamondins are better in containers; but calamondins will not do you any good if you have no use for them. Anyway, ‘Meyer’ lemon is remarkably productive, and although it produces most of the fruit in season, some of the fruit ripens late enough to be left on the tree through much of the year. Because it is related to orange, it has such rich flavor that you would not likely notice if the flavor was subdued. It is not as acidic as more traditional lemons, but I have never heard a complaint that it is not sufficiently acidic. The growth is quite docile and shrubby (which is one characteristic that I dislike about it). The shrubby growth is easier to train than the more vigorous growth of other lemons.
                Unfortunately, I do not know what cultivars are available in your region; and what is popular here may not be available there.
                Incidentally, I sort of think that kumquats and calamondins are nice potted citrus, just because they are pretty. I grew an ‘Nagami’ kumquat in a pot at home just because I did not want to cut a hole in the concrete. The fruit was no good, but it sure looked pretty. The trees are rather shrubby, with small leaves, so are naturally more ornamental than other citrus (although ‘Meyer’ lemon with fruit on it sure is pretty too.) Calamondin is similar to kumquat, although a different genus. (Kumquat is the only of the citrus group that is not really a species of ‘Citrus’. It is ‘Fortunella’.) Calamondin fruit looks like tiny Mandarin orange fruit. Each one is about the size of a grape, and contains a few seeds. Although an excellent ornamental citrus, not many people like the very tart fruit. I happen to prefer it to kumquat. It is very popular in the Filipino Community here.

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