Gardening tips brought back from holiday

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When I get back from holiday, I go straight out into the garden to see what has come out. At this time of year, though, it can be disappointing. Most plants seem either flattened by storms or bleached by drought – or both. My dahlias are beginning to sing their song, but the rich autumn opera of late September is barely a whisper.

So it’s a question of looking forward or back. What gardening tips did I bring back from the holidays which I could use next year in the garden? Some are like those bottles of local wine – so delicious when drunk by the beach, but they don’t travel.

Why don’t my potagers look like French ones?

But we went to Northern France, where gardening is almost English in its approach. Yet deliciously French in its execution. Oh, the potagers of France are so beautiful, and you can see them in almost every village. I suppose it’s not surprising - as they invented the word. Seeing orange dahlias next to ruby chard made me resolve to either put chard in my dahlia beds or dahlias into my raised vegetable beds. Artichokes are left to bloom, creating sculptural shapes above frothy carrots. And you can still see the occasional beautifully-made scarecrow.

I love this combination of orange dahlia and ruby chard, grown with carrots, cabbage, artichokes and  beans. The bed is bordered with stepover apples.

I love this combination of orange dahlia and ruby chard, grown with carrots, cabbage, artichokes and  beans. The bed is bordered with stepover apples.

Repetition works well

Armed with our trusty copy of Normandie Parcs & Jardins  , we visited  Parc du Bois de Moutiers, the only Lutyens and Jekyll house and garden combination in France. The garden is a wonderful example of classic structure and planting – paths, vistas, ponds, seating areas are all harmonious. What I took away from this garden was the impact of repetition. Hydrangeas are massed in one bed, not sitting surrounded by other plants. Even if your middle-sized garden is on the small side, this would work well, as hydrangeas grow well in shade and their flowers look good even when they are drying out. Northern France is big on hydrangeas – they are everywhere.

Hydrangeas at the Parc du Bois de Moutiers – several different types massed in one bed.

Hydrangeas as the Parc du Bois de Moutiers – several different types massed in one bed.

Think big

The other thing that worked very well in this garden was the size of the terraces. I think this would translate well into the average middle-sized garden, too. Splashing out on an extra-large terrace would not only cut your mowing time, but it can offer a sense of space and grandeur. Even if you don’t have a Lutyens house as a backdrop. It would be worth making sure that the stone was good quality, though – a huge acreage of concrete slabs might create the industrial look. Not in a good way.

Generous stone terraces at the Bois de Moutiers – and you don’t have to have small terraces just because your house or garden is small.

Generous stone terraces at the Bois de Moutiers – and you don’t have to have small terraces just because your house or garden is small.

And think small…

Most of the gardens we visited had little collections displayed in a very French way. It’s the equivalent of having ornaments on a table or shelf, but outside. Here this collection of birds’ nests and oyster shells was on a shelf in the outhouse where we paid our entry fee for Le Parc et Verger Les Pres. It wasn’t for sale – it was just there, looking pretty. I’d like to do a few collections of found objects in my garden. But with all the weeding that has sprung up since we went away – it’ll just have to be another dream for the time being.

If you live in the South of England, there’s still time to pop across the Channel to enjoy a few Normandy gardens.

Do you have any gardening ideas from your holidays? 

Thanks for reading,