Thursday, October 26, 2017

Fall Frenzy

Our garden is a busy place in autumn. A spell of dry, warm weather is being cooperative allowing my speeding about trying to do this and that at the same time. Les grues (cranes) have not yet started their directly overhead, honking migration to North Africa. Once they do that, then there's about a two week grace period before the cold arrives. One of many tasks is spading the nine annual beds so as to prepare for the sowing of engrais vert (green manure). This horticultural practice was started for the first time last autumn. The results have been nothing short of amazing. Though compost and leaf mould have been incorporated into the soil since our moving here eight years ago, it was only after just one seasonal planting of white mustard that the earth finally reached the holy grail status of friable texture. It is the extensive root system of this fast-growing group of plants which works like a hidden plough, finely breaking up the soil as they grow.

Centre bed is planted with left-over mustard seed and hose is kept nearby for the necessary sprinkling; the bed behind is in process of being spaded

This season, blue tansy (Phacelia tanacetifolia) will be the dominant crop cover since it belongs to a family that contains no plants that are used in agriculture so it makes rotation (prevents plant disease) easier in our potager. Since it needs darkness to germinate, the soil is shallowly turned over once the seed is scattered. A light hammering with the back side of a spade over the bed then follows. The finishing touch is a gentle watering.

Their flowers are loved by bees, but when used as a green manure, it's best to cut down the plants before blooming because of pronounced re-seeding

The raking and piling-up of fallen leaves have begun in earnest. There's still some crunchy drifts in a few corners of our garden, but that task mostly is done. However the major amassing will occur in a couple weeks as the leaves in a nearby oak copse have started falling. The Calm One and I will be scooting down there several times weekly in our Zoe (Renault electric car) whose surprisingly roomy boot accommodates two sizeable leaf bags. As the heap grows, more bird netting is rolled out to prevent scattering by the wind; the netting edges are secured by surplus terracotta roofing tiles. Oak leaves break down fast enough that by early spring there will be plenty of mulch for the veggie beds. That mulch will decompose completely into moisture-retentive leaf mould as the summer unfolds.

The bird baths will be maintained throughout the winter

Ivy climbing up pillars, fences, and walls have gotten their last haircut as has the laurel hedge before the winter. Not to mention the lawn.


To elongate the existing laurel hedge, a number of cuttings were taken this past spring. They were trimmed (stem shortened, leaves reduced in number then cut in half), the bottom of their stems dusted with rooting hormone, potted up, and tucked into small, tabletop greenhouses. Only a small percentage are showing new leaves so they will stay in their little plastic homes throughout the winter. Once they all show new growth, they will be planted in a nursery bed. Eventually they will join the mature ones in the hedge.  The snipped-off runners of the strawberry plants were planted in small pots about six weeks ago and are now ready to be transplanted in a bed.

See the pale, small, new laurel leaf in the bottom centre? Too cute!

My love for tulips is a recent and very guilty pleasure. My flower preference is for perennials like daylilies, dahlias, asters, etc., and inexpensive, grown-from-seed annuals like zinnias and cosmos. Tulips unfortunately except for the botanical species, often do not put on a good repeat show. And they are like potato chips. How, you may ask? You can't just eat one chip, and you can't just plant one tulip. You must have dozens and dozens and dozen to get that punch of colour that only many glowing tulips of different types can provide throughout spring.

Dirac the Cat has assured me that this avalanche of tulip bulbs is a necessity and not an indulgence

Autumn is not only the time to buy and plant flowering bulbs like daffodils and tulips, but also to pop into a nursery bed, some young, easily shipped, and therefore inexpensive, evergreens like these two adorable Lawson's cypress 'Ellwoodii'.

They will be planted in their permanent location next fall so they can grow into their tall selves

These zinnias are still going strong but when they do succumb to the cold, a major part of the tulips will be planted in their place.


Eight years ago, this same pot of mums brightened up our Grenoble balcony overlooking the foothills of the Alps for ten years. Yup, that's right, this perennial in a pot has been going for eighteen years. I do give it liquid fertiliser faithfully a couple of times each year. But still. What a champ!

I am very attached to this baby

A large pot of echeveria and heather adorns our entrance steps.


À la prochaine!