Jenny’s experimental garden in Bédarieux
General Description: The garden lies below an old hamlet at a height of 200 metres. It is walled on two sides with a small cypress-filled cemetery at the far end. The total area, including house and pool, is 2000 sq. metres. It is flat apart from a raised bed made with soil from the pool construction. The garden was a wilderness when we arrived in 2002, the only signs of cultivation being a few flowering shrubs and roses round the house and some cherry trees and several conifers at the back of the house. Along the drive at the front were several trees and an ancient iron pergola bent out of shape by a magnificent wisteria and a Campsis radicans.
Soil and climate: The soil at the front is largely building rubble but a few barrow loads from the back has allowed bulbs to flourish making a colourful spring showing. The rest of the garden is stony, alkaline clay. The climate is Mediterranean, with frequent winter temperatures of -7°C and the coldest recorded -13°C. Summer temperatures are 30-35°C with a maximum of 40°C. The prevailing wind is the tramontane. The summer drought is usually eased by an occasional storm. Conviction and practicality combine to ensure a waterwise approach as watering depends on one ageing female with a watering can and hose. This restricts watering to the establishment of young plants plus a rather erratic response to cries for mercy.
Plants and Projects: The style of the garden is informal and experimental. Although I always wanted to use locally appropriate plants I knew very little about them, or how they would behave in this garden.
The fun has been in planting one bed at a time and observing how things grow. As a result each bed, despite some duplication, has a slightly different mood as I tried the effect of cacti and other spiky plants or fell in love with grasses.
My favourite plant is often the one I’ve just discovered, but having discovered the delights of taking cuttings, earlier loves such as salvias, cistus and helianthemums are regularly renewed. Gardens are for sitting in, so late summer colour and the view from under the pine tree have been priorities. I’ve learned a lot, in particular the importance of shape and texture as well as colour.
There is also the irony that the advantage of clay soil retaining some moisture in summer becomes a disadvantage for drought tolerant plants in our frosty winters. But that’s gardening!