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Catriona’s garden, Le Jardin des Rossignols, near Gignac in the Hérault valley

General Description: My ten year old garden is approximately 3000sq metres of old vineyard land in the Hérault valley near Gignac, about 3 miles from where I actually live. We inherited several varieties of fruit trees, and six rather decrepit vines. The Canal de Gignac runs beside the land, providing us with water from March to October and the garden has wonderful uninterrupted views across the vineyards and the valley. It is planted in an essentially wild, “prairie/garrigue” style.

Soil and climate: The soil is heavy vineyard clay, alkaline with a ph of 8.7. The land is sloping and exposed, with few trees but around the cabane a few Cypress leylandii and firs act as a wind break.

The springs are warm with some good rainy spells in March and April. The summers are hot and dry but we have a cool breeze from the mountains behind St Guilhem-le-Desert. Winter months are cold at night with temperatures as low as -8°C but daytime temperatures can rise to 18°C.

Now the garden has become more established, watering is becoming less needed, and I hardly water throughout the summer months, unless new planting is suffering. This I do by hand, with a very basic hose spraying system using re cycled piping we found on the land when we arrived.

We now see that the planting using the “Filippi” method of leaving plants to find water with their roots as much as possible has worked over time. I do minimal mulching due the large expanse of garden beds. In the early years weeding out the vineyard “thugs” took much time, but close planting and growing plants that thrive on 8.7ph has brought this chore nearly to an end!

Plants and Projects: Between the fruit trees, we have planted every year daffodils, tulips and crocuses. We circled the fruit trees with lavender, rosemary, box, hemerocallis, wild irises, bulbs and Lychnis coronaria.

There are now three 15m long planted borders running down the slopes of the terrain with small paths dividing the beds. We planted as much as possible hardy perennials which thrive on alkaline soil, little summer watering and a lot of sun as there is very little shade in the garden. Grasses have done well, especially the stipas, with inter-planting of irises, hemerocallis, achilleas, penstemons, gaura, alliums, verbena and even aquilegias. Surprisingly, we were successful with lilies and roses planted amongst the perennials which have taken time to get established but now flower well in the early summer. There is a lot of self seeding which has helped fill the gaps.

We planted 25 olive trees of different varieties and recently under-planted swathes of Stipa tenuissima and S. gigantea (I am a great admirer of Piet Oudolf’s prairie planting). Around the greenhouses and cabane, where the Cypress leylandii and pine hedges give shelter and shade, are a lot of plants in pots. Hostas and favourites that abhor our alkaline soil thrive here, although this does mean watering almost daily from the canal close by.

To see more photographs of the garden on our web site, click on the link below.

Visits: I am happy to receive visitors at any time of year, although the garden starts to take off from late March and looks its best in May and June. Even during July and August the wild garden with its grasses and dried alliums can look wonderful, the lavender, cistus and phlomis attracting an array of insects and butterflies.

Please email to make an appointment and to receive details of how to find the garden. I prefer afternoon visits. Je parle couramment le français.

Email: Catriona McLean