Bormes-Les-Mimosas, Provence, France

This little town is perched above the Mediterranean coast to the east of Toulon. It is a garden in early spring when the widely planted mimosas are all in flower. I visited in mid February 2017 with friends who know the south of France well.

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One of the many beautiful blowsy acacia trees

The town is pretty with all the blossom, the cypresses, palms and pines at that time of year. Most are in private gardens but there are municipal spaces and a garden which surrounds the town hall – the Mairie. They have a collection of mimosas – and I use the term in the most general sense to cover genera such as Acacia and Albizia as well as Mimosa – and some other subtropical trees.

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The Mairie in its garden

Here I spotted Acacia baileyana purpurea, a very attractive tree which survives much further north in my London garden, albeit in a reasonably sheltered south-facing site. It flowers usually in January, but it is nothing like the more spectacular green-leaved varieties. Its attraction is its lovely grey foliage which is purple when young.

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Acacia baileyana purpurea in London

The garden also included a flowering eucalyptus, which for me is not a common site.

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A flowering eucalyptus – any suggestions for the species?

And in among the pretty little houses of the village area you will find other exotic plants including fruiting citrus trees and climbers.

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In short, Bormes-les-Mimosas is a lovely place to go in the middle of winter when the sun is weak and other gardens may be unappealing.

The Baobab

Baobab trees with their huge barrel shaped trunks and wizened bark are synonymous with Africa. They are widespread in tropical, arid and sandy habitats and provide important for food and materials for many tribes.

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A digitata with leaves in Sri Lanka

The tree above is one planted in Mannar, Sri Lanka, by Arab traders back in 1477. It is small relative to many African examples, being only 7.5m high with a circumference of 19.5m. In Africa they can reach up to 25m high and 45m in circumference.

Close up, the bark really does look like the skin of an elephant.

Baobab’s are members of the genus Adansonia. A digitata  above is the most widespread species but there are nine in all. They inhabit arid, sandy and tropical environments. Like other trees in the Bombacaceae family, such as balsa wood, the silk floss tree, kapok and Bombax species, their remarkable barrel shaped or inflated trunks are adapted for water storage.

2014-09-04 13.56.13I managed to grow this seedling from seeds bought in Paris (see  photo). Note that it has entire leaves, not palmate leaves like a mature tree. The seeds look a bit like rough brown aniseed balls, about half a centimetre in diametre. To get them to germinate you have to soak them in boiling water for fifteen minutes, plant them and then wait – often many months. I got one germination out of five seeds, and the seedling did not survive many months on a London window sill.

450px-Adansonia_grandidieri04Perhaps this is the tree I would most like to see, Grandidier’s baobab – Adansonia grandidieri –which is only found in Madagascar. Surely it is one of the botanical wonders of the world.

What a wonderful flora that island has. I’d love to go there and see it!

 

More work needed on Hackney’s Breaker’s Yard

Just opened a month ago, the National Trust’s Breaker’s Yard garden still needs a bit of work to give it polish. Tyre planters remain unplanted and more than a few corners look untidy.

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Unplanted

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And untidy

Although the theme is interesting and novel, the details need attention. For example, the public gates to the street remain closed and only those brave enough to walk through Sutton House (without paying an entrance fee) can gain free access.

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Gates to the street remain locked

None of the plant containers, which include not only tyres but trolleys and metal troughs, is a show stopper.

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Plantings not spectacular

The main space is dominated by two vehicles – the caravan-like The Grange and a 1980s ice-cream van. These are perhaps a little old and tarnished. Is the Breaker’s Yard just a resting place for two old artworks on their way to dereliction?

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The Grange and a 1980s ice-cream van

One point that needs attention are the custom-built gates, which allow toy cars of the matchbox size, to be bolted in for ornament. But there is just too few of them to be interesting  And visitors might also like to be made aware that Sutton House is less than a mile away from where the factory that made Matchbox toys once stood.

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Just too few Matchbox cars

Another thing is the irrigation system, which includes water tanks and an unfinished channel which runs the length of the garden. It finally empties its flow into the Tudor house’s well. Exactly what this achieves – perhaps rainwater recycling or aquifer recharge – remains a mystery.

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Empties into the Tudor well

There are some interesting things to be seen at the garden, but a few of them are in Sutton House’s long standing front garden and over the fence in a neighbouring garden, which includes vegetable plots, beehives and espaliered fruit trees. The Breaker’s Yard is as yet only a minor addition to Hackney’s growing gardening tradition.

Scotney Castle in late summer

Scotney Castle has been fully in the hands of the National Trust for only a few years since the death of its last owner Betty Hussey in 2006. She lived in the large Victorian mansion at the top of the hill overlooking the valley of the river Bewl at Lamberhurst, near Tunbridge Wells in Kent. One of her predecessors built the house in 1837, having decided that the medieval and Georgian moated castle at the bottom of the valley was too damp and unhealthy.

The Victorian house is open to the public and it looks comfortable and old fashioned inside.

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The house, built 1837

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The study

But perhaps its greatest interest is the view across the valley and down to the old castle, which the family decided to turn into a picturesque ruin once their new mansion was completed.

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The view from the house to the castle

The Hussey family came to Scotney in the 1770s having made their money in the early industrial revolution in Worcestershire. The estate has chestnut coppice woodland, partly used for charcoal production, and a history of hop growing.

The grounds of the castle in late summer lack the flowers of the rhododendrons which dominate much of the garden between tne old castle and the house. But the beauty of the estate is also in the landscape and the waters of the moat which are bursting with life, including pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata), purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) and gipsywort (Lycopus europaeus).

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Pontederia cordata

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Lythrum salicaria

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Lycopus europaeus

There is an old quarry where the stone for the castle was extracted, now well planted up and apparently containing a dinosaur footprint.

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The old quarry

There is also the vestige of a medieval lane where once monks walked to a nearby abbey and peasants hearded pigs into the woods to find acorns and beech nuts.

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A medieval road?

Of interest to gardeners though is the National Trust’s efforts to revive the large walled garden of the Victorian house. It is remarkably tidy and, in late summer, is full of various varieties of runner beans, pumpkins, courgettes, brassicas and dahlias for picking. Some of the last are fine varieties with good long stems for flower arranging including, Mary Evelyn, Arabian Nights and Pink Princess.

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Pumpkin ‘Jack of All Trades’

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Brassicas and the glasshouses in the walled garden

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Dahlia ‘Mary Evelyn’

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Dahlia ‘Arabian Nights’

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 Dahlia ‘Pink Princess’

The very strange South African plant in the Apocynaceae called Gomphocarpus physocarpus also grows in the garden. It has small delicate white flowers and large prickly fruits like hairy balls up to 8cm in diameter. It adds a fascinating element to any flower arrangement.

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Flowers

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And fruit of Gomphocarpus physocarpus, also known as the balloon plant

Hackney’s new off-beat National Trust garden

Next to Sutton House – the oldest house in east London, built 1535 – was a scuzzy yard where old cars rotted amid the rubbish and weedy sycamores. That was pretty typical of odd corners and backyards in suburban Hackney in the 1980s.

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The way things were

But things are changing. This site is now becoming a wonderland of vehicle sculptures and plants to keep kids entertained.

The Breaker’s Yard will be a garden next to the Tudor brickwork of the house and is due to open at 1pm on 12 August 2014. It has been designed by Daniel Lobb, an established garden planner. The entrance will be marked by special gates, made with hundreds of old toy cars donated by local celebrities. There will be pots of plants made from old tractor tyres and a watercourse running though the length of the garden, then disappearing down an old well.

The garden also contains Daniel’s 1998 remarkable sculpture The Grange, which resembles a two-storey caravan on the outside and a mini-stately home on the inside.

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Daniel Lobb’s The Grange 
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Inside The Grange

Also in the garden is a 1980s ice-cream van, decorated by Sir Peter Blake’s daughter Rose, which will act as a playful shop and provide refreshments.

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Rose’s 80s ice-cream van

The educational charity The House of Fairy Tales is to engage school children and families in the garden. Their entertainment is due to be supported by a network of “creative artists” – so let’s see what they come up with!

Of course, Sutton House has a very Hackney history. Although it started as a grand house known as the “Bryck Place”, built of brick when most places were wattle and daub, it has been through the mill over the years. It was built by Sir Ralph Sadlier, who was King Henry VIII’s ambassador to Scotland at one point and a colleague of Sir Thomas Cromwell. Besides Tudor courtiers it has housed Huguenot silk weavers, a brewery, the local church institute and squatters. All are represented in what you see in the house today, from linen-fold oak panelling to squatter’s murals. Now the garden will represent a car scrapyard of the late twentieth century!

What’s not so well known is that the soil under the site will have suffered from contamination by engine oil, brake fluid, battery acid and old asbestos brake pads. Therefore the design seals off the soil and uses imported compost to support the plants.

I look forward to seeing the plants in place. But the garden in any event represents and achievement of the National Trust, the mayor of London’s Pocket Parks project, the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts and the waste company Biffa, which have all contributed cash and organisation to the Breaker’s Yard project.

Sutton House as the backdrop to the Breaker’s Yard

Three days away from NGS garden opening!

Thu 5 June

What occurs to me close to my National Garden Scheme open day is how does the kind of frantic gardening I am doing differ from housework? Not a lot! I am doing everything I can to make every bit of the garden look as pretty as possible and to make sure there is a maximum of colour and not a single leaf out of place. I am out with the dustpan and brush sweeping up the mess and picking off every leaf that is looking dead or discoloured. In particular I’m deadheading the roses – tickling them to see whether they are about to drop petals all over the place.

What to do next? Complete the planting of those plants that should be in the borders or should be repotted into good pots. That is my first priority. I have been so busy that my lunch has been delayed to 3pm. I am sorting out the plants that are going to be for sale and those I am going to keep or plant in the borders.

I had to sort out a wild hop that was threatening my garden from the neighbour’s garden. To do it I had to stand on top of the garden wall and carefully extract it from my little mountain ash and clematis. My neighbours need a decent gardener. I would charge only £25 an hour!

The hop – for which BM is really to blame, having imported one from the Cambridgeshire hedgerows – has provided a lot of raw material for making compost, and I am trying to keep as much of such material as possible rather than give it to the council in the brown bin. I realise now that I need as much compost as I can muster. My soil needs improvement and I intend to use compost made on the allotment in the garden next year.

The miniature border

Fri 6 June

Two days to go until garden opening. A very fine day, but with the prospect of heavy showers on Saturday. Quite a lot of to-ing and fro-ing with V, who had no house keys and I only got round to doing something in the garden in mid-afternoon: attending to a border. People talk about lovely deep herbaceous borders maybe 10 or 15 feet deep. Well I have a miniature version. Two inches, which runs alongside the six-foot stone flag path between the front gate and the door steps.

Why bother? – you might reasonably ask. Well, it happens to be the sunniest place in the entire garden. South-west facing with an open outlook, protected only from the street by the open railings of the gate.

What plants can go in such a tiny border? Well plenty. At present a miniature copper-leaved weedy Oxalis with yellow flowers, varied little sempervivums of red and green with varying hairiness. And earlier in the year we have had Iris reticulata, Tulipa bakeri, Crocus tommasinianus purpureus and to come in the autumn Crocus autumnale. Of course all the usual things to do – clearing out dead material, removing surplus stones and soil, and weeding out some plants that can’t possibly continue there. Besides the usual, this also turns out to be a great seed bed for a 12ft Echium pininiana once nearby.

Then down at the allotment, I am there to collect some plants in pots which I’m planning to sell. This includes blackcurrant bushes, Schizostylis coccineus, dahlias etc. Then I am picking strawberries (Is the straw helpful?). Redcurrants also to be picked. I have three bushes of the same variety Jonkeer van Tets. But one seems to ripen well before the other two and has a paler leaf, so maybe a labelling error.

Many pressing maintenance issues for which there is little time at present – raised beds falling apart, carpeting paths and cement work needed on the shed foundation. But instead some watering for the seedlings. I’m hoping that the forecast showers will materialise for the potatoes and broad beads which always welcome more water.