Northern light

So here I am, back in the North ! 🙂 I haven’t written anything in English for a while, except a little song (to which I haven’t found the tune), but feel it is the language for this lighthearted blogpost.

I love the North of England. Its landscape of hills and moors is beauty and light, no matter what ignorant people say. Northern light, yes, and therefore whiter, thinner, sharper, dearer. Nothing to do with that irresistible Mediterranean wave which either knocks you down straight or doesn’t even bother to do so as it just goes through you, body and soul, leaving you on a shore beyond the known world, somewhere between life and afterlife. Up here, it pierces between two clouds (or armies of them), accurate and determined as the tip of a pencil, redraws everything around you, awakens your mind, sharpens your sense of being in a precise place, at a precise time, in charge of a precise task. Light of a chilly texture, carrying memories of long winters and pale everlasting summers, in tune with the people’s temperament – those I have met often seemed to be trying, by working long and hard, to resist an acquaintance with despair or an urge to fight.

When I was teaching in Kent, I met too many 18 year old boys who had never been anywhere North of Oxfordshire and imagined Birmingham as the gate of Hell. I found that shocking and either hilarious or sad.

My in-laws’ house, like all the houses in the neighbourhood, has very large windows, trying to catch that light. Inside, the walls are white. On beautiful days, it is a bit like sailing in a cloud. On rainy days (and boy can it rain in Lancashire !), it feels like being in a boat struggling through a storm – therefore, a sense of adventure (at least for people who are only passing by, like me, knowing they will soon retreat to some Southern shelter).

The highlight is the garden. Beau-papa tends to the plants and Belle-maman feeds and counts birds, hedgehogs, butterflies. Here I have met my dreamed England of the RHS and the RSPB (Royal Horticultural Society, Royal Society for Protection of Birds). I used to love stones, cities, marble-made memories, mineral landscapes. England opened my eyes and senses to the living world, and changed my life.

Here are some of the garden residents. Hope you enjoy them.



May, beginning of June.

Many things happened over the last few months, but that might be the subject of another blogpost. We’ll see.

Today, finally, a bit of sun in this dreary island (I mean, what a weather. In France (Lyon), not only did I not wear fleece jackets, I didn’t even own one. Here have the joy of owning several of these oh-so-elegant garments and of wearing one – in June.).

I am very happy with my garden. I know it’s small and all that, but it’s colourful. Actually, I am proud.

The shady bed near the house, without and with sun. I need to do something about the Osakazuki maple, its leaves are not the right colour (what happened to the chlorophyll?).

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My first Allium Schubertii flower, not fully opened yet. Worth the wait. 🙂

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Hosta June, still my favourite. (I also have Fire and Ice, Canadian Blue, Touch of class, Clifford’s Stingray. I have dumped White Feathers which was a weak thing, not even able to withstand watering).

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The Choisiya was good this year.


Lupins, finally ! For some reason, I have struggled with lupins over my few years of gardening. This year, it’s worked. Happy!

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Irises, hihihihi, including my first bearded iris ever. Isn’t it good to be a beginner? First time wonder in every corner !

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Creeping phlox on rusty bike.


Beau-papa’s aquilegia.


Cutting the diseased Aucuba Japonica back freed a bit of space for a little border where I planted my little lavender, a new Verbena Bonariensis, an Anemone Sylvestris, a Dianthus and a few Mimulus to fill the holes whilst the other are still small. Also, one leftover Mimulus in a pot.

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In the sunny borders, I can admire the paeonies. So, they weren’t what it said on the box (Sarah Bernhardt), and I don’t know what variety these flowers belong to, but in the end, I am glad they are what they are. They look Chinese, delicate and elegant.

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The sunny bed (on a cloudy day) and a close up on the Geum Totally Tangerine.

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I can’t wait to see this Eryngium Neptune’s Gold flower !

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What will this Sedum snake-like flowers look like ? (And Sedum spathulifolium purpureum in flower).

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At the back of the sunny border, in a corner : Silene Druett’s variegated, in flower, Liatris Spicata (one of those plants I tried to get rid of in vain), Lewisia I-don’t-remember-what, some seld-seeded thyme, a Gerbera offered by a pupil and therefore called Hana’s mum’s Gerbera, an Anemone de Caen (I have no idea how it ended up there), Sedum Lime Zinger, a Pulsatilla Vulgaris, a potted lemon scented thyme… Life could – can – be a lot worse. 🙂


About a little garden’s destiny

It feels good starting to work again in the garden. Some hard pruning, some repotting, some cleaning (and some slug pellets scattering, alas). And the hot questions which keep me awake in the early hours…
Will the blue hydrangea stay blue this year ?
Will the snake-head fritillaries survive the imposition of a gorgeous Candy Love Hellebore in their midst ?
Will the very young Ceanothus recover from the violent attack which almost tore it from its roots (the culprit, I suspect, might be one of the neighbour’s cats) ?
And the rhododendron which was given to me last year by a visiting Japanese professor, the leaves of which are unfortunately spotted with brown marks, how will it fare ? (Visions of Himalayan slopes in my terraced house…)

Always ahead of myself, I pay little attention to the daffodils and hyacinths preparing their buds, and imagine the glory of my five types of alliums balancing their purple and silver spheres in the breeze. I keep inspecting the branches of the five Japanese maples (wet feet they got this winter, alas), thinking that this Spring will be the first time I witness their leafing out.

The garden is the reason I wouldn’t want to move away too soon (nothing of the sort planned yet). I did so many little changes and, in such a limited space, planted so many creatures I would like to see growing and maturing. In how many years will the eight snowdrops create one of those white drifts that make woods an enchanted place ? Would the tiny Acer Shirawasanum Aureum really grow to be a large tree crowned in shimmering gold ?

Funny feeling : people come and go, and gardens… Would the next owners hate my alliums and my thistles and replace them with roses, as I replaced the grass and ferns by flowering plants ? Would they think three hydrangeas are over-the-top in a small garden ? Would they care for the ivy I am fighting all year round ? And what will I do if I go back to live in one of those French flats where gardens are only a distant thought ? It is true, isn’t it, that the gardener plants his heart in the soil for which he cares. I don’t think I will ever be the city girl I was before coming to England, not any more.

July buds

July is now here, believe it or not.

Here are the renoncules.



Pretty glamorous, aren’t they ?

Now, my husband’s favourite : the Japanese spiraea. A bit too voluminous to my taste (wait till this Autumn, you’ll get a Tory-style cut), but the bumble bees are all over it.



The alliums took their time, but they are quite spectacular now. I mean, the alliums Christophii, as the Caeruleum are still waiting for God knows what.


Now to the bits I like : things I did not expect, or about which I had given up hope, but which don’t hold a grudge and still go their patient way, like the poppy :


or the anemones de Caen,


or the liatris spicata.


As expected, Sainsbury’s can’t really be trusted on the colour of the plants they sell. You may remember I went there and purchased some yellow flowering plants for my son. Well, here is the lupin :


Even the worst kind of sophist featuring in The Apprentice wouldn’t convince my son this flower is yellow. (I find it funny some people are ashamed to admit they watch the Jeremy Kyle Show, but not The Apprentice. I think the kind of stuff you see in the latter programme is more damaging to the idea of a worthy humankind.)

Lovely weeds : I must admit the plant which has actually given me most satisfaction wasn’t planted by me, nor by anybody. It is the Herb Robert, yes, that invasive weed, which builds such wonderfully light architectural structures of red, pink and green, dotted with dainty little flowers that bees love so much.I have let it grow along the border of a flower bed. Shame my camera is not able to capture its beauty.


Other unexpected beauty, legacy of my father-in-law’s meadow flower mix of last year.


And, finally, some expected vandalism by birds, who have eaten all the red strawberries. Well, I accept it will happen until I can get a net.


Bon appetit, little birds, this feast won’t last forever ! (I say little, but my garden is actually inhabited by fat blackbirds who think it is their space and keep looking at me with a reprobatory stare).

Slugs and snails and puppy dogs’tails

So. Slugs and snails. Well, there’s not much to say, really. I think I am losing the battle.

I tried the nasty pellets, but wasn’t too happy about it. I am not super green, etc, but if you can avoid using nasty stuff, why not try ?

So I purchased copper tape for the pots and some “large” copper rings for the delphiniums and other plants which are in the ground.  Copper deters slugs and snails as it produces a slight electric shock when in contact with their mucus.

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Then, I read that 90% of slugs live underground – what would stop them from creeping inside the ring from underneath ? I had to find something else.

I discovered nematodes. They are microscopic parasitic worms and some of them will infest slugs. They come as a fine powder that you mix with water and apply to your soil with a watering can. The worms can provide you with up to 6 weeks of protection (which could well mean one week). Nevertheless, I felt super clever, super green, one step ahead of the molluscs. I followed the instructions as well as I could. I would no longer stay awake at night worrying about slugs !

And then, I discovered that most of my plants are eaten by snails. Big snails. And nematodes don’t work on them.

Things got worse when I found one enormous snail hiding under one of the blue hydrangea’s leaves. The blue (now turning pink because of our hard water) hydrangea is in a pot on which copper tape has been applied. (Yes, I know, I bought a plant that was forced, it is evil, etc.)


And another big snail on the delphinium which is in the middle of a copper ring (this is direct provocation, right ?), with no leaves overhanging or forming a bridge which the pest could use to sail inside the ring. Right. OK. Stay calm. Maybe, I need to clean the copper on which the rain has splattered some earth.

Anyway, I resorted to ecoterrorism again, using blue pellets. I try to use them sparingly, but still, not very satisfying. What I feel, is that I could probably get in control of slugs and snails if I was consistent and determined. But I am lazy and easily discouraged. Oh well.

I also found loads of aphids on the red climbing rose today. And I am wondering whether I should spray them, fearing that they might infest other plants, or leave them be (the climbing rose is far from the house), hoping for ladybirds to visit my garden. The truth is, I should wear some gloves, be brave, and crush them. But that is disgusting. I think I might actually hate aphids more than cockroaches. Anybody who has read Les Fourmis by Bernard Werber understands me. OK, it is not good literature, but is entertaining, and made me consider ants (and aphids) differently.

On a rather better note, I noticed that some shoots are coming from the Anémones de Caen little “bulbs” I planted some time ago, thinking they would never work as they like good drainage, and I have clay. OK, shoots don’t mean I will get any flowers, but it is still good news. Better than my lilies of the valley, which never showed up. 🙂 Let’s not sin against Hope.

And hopeful I certainly am, for I have planted a 50 p climbing rose from Poundland today. I don’t expect much of it, but I like to give everything its chance (providing they are not pests) (or weeds).

The Japanese maples have arrived.

Arrivée des érables. Rien que leur nom est un enchantement – ce « a long », trainant, qui s’allonge comme branche sous la brise.

Depuis quelques jours, je m’inquiétais de ne pas avoir assez de place pour les planter, je me reprochais d’avoir eu les yeux plus gros que le ventre, comme d’habitude. Je me disais, tant pis, j’en renverrai un. Je prenais conscience que planter des arbres dans un jardin n’est pas un geste anodin – il ne s’agit plus de jonquilles ou d’iris !


Concrètement, c’est un investissement en espace et en argent. Si on le met en terre, ce qui me paraît préférable, il faut prévoir large, l’imaginer dans la splendeur des décennies à venir, déployant sa canopée à des mètres à la ronde et un réseau de racines plus étendu encore. Pour moi qui ai un tout petit jardin, l’achat de cinq érables, je le reconnais, relève de la folie douce ou de la mégalomanie la plus stupide, c’est selon. Ah, mais, pour ma défense, ce sont des érables du Japon, acer palmatum. Leur croissance est lente, et ils se prêtent à la taille, puisqu’on peut faire de certaines de leurs variétés des bonsaïs. Cela dit, tailler un érable de manière à respecter sa grâce naturelle est un art que je ne suis pas sûre de maîtriser à l’avenir.


Surtout, l’arrivée de ces arbres me fait m’interroger sur ma relation à cette maison. Nous y vivons depuis deux ans, ma fille est née dans le salon (littéralement), mon fils va faire sa rentrée dans l’école du quartier. Mais, rien à faire, je ne me sens pas enracinée ici. Est-ce parce que ce n’est pas mon pays ? Je ne crois pas. Apres avoir vécu quatre ans en Angleterre, je prévois que rentrer en France me sera difficile. On s’habitue à un autre mode de pensée, de nouveaux codes sociaux… enfin, ce serait le sujet d’un autre post. Pour revenir à nos moutons, je voudrais pouvoir emmener mes arbres avec moi quand je partirai. Ca tombe bien, les érables du Japon peuvent vivre heureux dans de grands pots, si l’on ne rechigne pas à les soigner – les arroser, les rempoter, tailler leurs branches et (rarement) leurs racines. Pourtant, quand je les regarde, dans leurs pots, ca me démange, j’ai une envie viscérale de les mettre en terre. L’art du bonsaï n’est pas pour moi, j’aime que les êtres vivants prennent leurs aises (sauf les humains dans ma maison qui ont intérêt à quitter leurs chaussures… bref…). Et puis je me sens mesquine – quoi ? Pourquoi ne pas les laisser aux prochains occupants de la maison ? C’est quoi cette cupidité, cette possessivité ? Et qui me dit que j’aurai un jardin dans mon prochain logement ?


Je songeais hier, dans mon post, à la construction du jardin idéal (tiens, je me sens très facteur Cheval, en ce moment) et à la manière de composer avec le cadre dont j’ai hérité. Je ne suis pas près d’y parvenir. Après avoir planté en un joyeux fouillis mes tulipes, mes alliums, les rosiers nains offerts ou récupérés d’autres membres de la famille qui ne voulaient pas les jeter, etc… VLAN ! Voici que je fiche en plein milieu de tout ça un arbre qui ne souffre pas le désordre et symbolise à lui seul la grâce et l’harmonie.

Le voilà, debout au milieu du parterre, entre les tulipes échevelées. Il conjure dans la dentelle de ses feuilles et le ploiement caractéristique de ses branches des visions de jardins japonais – perfection immobile, évidence qui réduit au silence.

Et tout autour, mes semis à demi levés, mes pots de pensées en fin de parcours, tout ce brouhaha et ce remue-ménage…

C’est bon, tout ça devra lever le camp, tout est à recommencer.

Introduction to my little garden and a discovery for me.

Hello again. Well, this blogging business was first suggested to me by my husband, amused by my newly found passion for growing things and fighting slugs and snails (a battle which I am losing). So, a gardening blog this will be, most of the time. It could be entitled : “The ignorant and hopeful gardener”. I apologise right away for this long and boring post.

I live in a little terraced house and my north-facing (alas) garden is very small. When we moved in two years ago, it was a lovely low maintenance garden, with established shrubs, lots of ivy covering (and supporting) the fence, ferns and grasses. Some plants forming the hedge might have been chosen to deter burglars, like the firethorn or a big climbing red rose with fierce claws. As for (visible or noticeable) flowering, the neighbour’s magnificent wisteria was covering the shed’s roof, fighing for space with the exuberant honeysuckle (a true Miyazaki monster, see picture). There is a forsythia, the aforementioned climbing rose, two hebes, a potentilla fructicosa (or so I believe). ImageImage

ImageI did not touch a thing in this garden… until recently. The only thing I did was to try to rescue a miniature rose from M&S which was a gift. I planted it in a random place in the flower bed in front of my house. My in-laws, who are probably the best in the world, came to help and mowed the garden, pruned the shrubs, kept the ivy in check. I, meanwhile, had my pirate daughter and tried to survive.

Last autumn, my father-in-law took me to the garden centre (we are one of those people without a car) and I just thought : I want more colours and more flowers. So I bought bulbs. Daffs, Irises, tulips Angelique, alliums, crocuses, fritillaries. And an hellebore. Planted them more or less randomly. Now it is Spring and I have had a nice display – I mean flowers and colours. I have been buying mixes from various high street shops to enhance my collection with peonies, renunculas, anemones (which won’t work in my clay), agapanthus, aquilegias, lilies, acidantheras, bleeding hearts. Most of them have not flowered yet.

Now here is the thought : I believed I wanted a cottage style garden, informal and flowery, like most of my neighbours’ plots. And only by planting did I realise it was not going to work. Indeed, I have inherited a relatively formal setting where there is limited space available for planting. With young children, I can’t sacrifice the lawn yet. And I have neither the means nor the time to change the whole layout. So, I can’t change the whole thing, and I don’t see it working as a cottage garden. I want something else, which would work as a whole, a beautiful ensemble. All this, with me being a complete beginner and an impatient ignorant.

I realise now that what makes this apprentissage so interesting is the emergence of an intellectual, if not conceptual, process in the way I envisage the garden, its cultivation and my approach to it. My father-in-law had drawn my attention to the fact that gardening is not at all a communion with nature of some sort, as we are constantly fighting bugs and weeds, diseases and what we perceive as ugly shapes. But it isn’t either an physical outdoor activity which will give your tired mind a desired rest. No. I slowly realise that my garden is like the sheets of paper where, some years ago, I had to answer a question and lay down a dissertation (in three parts and nine subsections – yes French schools). How to achieve that harmonious and meaningful composition ? The flowers are individually pretty, but together? Moreover, just as in an essay, where the teacher is trying to determine whether you can think on your own and form an opinion which is not just borrowed from some famous book, you want your garden to say something relevant and personnal.

Now all this is obvious for anybody who has any gardening experience. For me, it is a discovery and I must say I am a bit disappointed. I thought that planting anything, waiting and then witnessing its awakening and the unfolding of its mysterious beauty would be a simple and unshaded joy. Now things have to be grown not for themselves, but as elements of a abstract plan, colourful reflections on an immaterial dream (I know, dreams are immaterial, right?). As a result, I’ll always be disappointed, even if my skills were great.

That’s not even mentioning my “coup de sang” for the Japanese maples (which should arrive tomorrow… please). Japanese maples are like a dream. That, as well as my losing battle against molluscs, will have to be treated another time. Again, apologies for this long post.