Aesthetics for one. The brambles were hideous.
But there is a hard lesson one learns on taking on a large patch of land. Lesson number one: soil on very steep slopes is absurdly dry.
It is about 20 metres long and ten metres high. And so steep in the top section that you need to hold on to something to stop sliding back down the slope.
Lesson number two: bramble roots can stabilise a bank.
Lesson number three: France Telecom will not move telephone poles, even if they are slap bang in the middle of what is about to be a great garden experiment.
So with all these lessons learned, I started planting.
I had always cherished the idea of a spot of mass planted ornamental grasses. But I couldn’t settle on the species. Consulting Darke’s Enclyclopedia of Grasses was a drooling experiment in envy and desire.
I narrowed it down to a few Pennisetums (Fountain grass), a Sporobolis (Prairie Drop Seed), and an Eragrostis (African Love Grass).
Oh, and I had to be able to propagate them easily if I were going to increase my yields. So the Prairie Drop Seed was out as I could only find one supplier of the grass seeds and they were slap in the face expensive.
Here you can see the first mass planting in the dust. But I also thought I might try the pennisetums as well.
I bought the pennisetums plants from a very good plant nursery right at the foot of the Vercors mountains on the other side of the Rhone river.
I needed to find someone who grew them hard: outside and exposed to our winters. That way they could make friends with the inhospitable place I was planting them.
In February one year after I planted this bank I lost the lot.
Our weather turned a bit nasty – down to minus 18C with a strong wind. And the grasses just couldn’t cope. Well they might have were they in an ideal garden setting. But this is dry and difficult already. And of the pannicums and pennisetums and the eragrsotis, only the few eragrostis survived.
So they came out the Survival of the Fittest competition. And I was able to easily sow seed from the first autumn flowering.
Planting isn’t easy. Especially when you have an unhelpful helper who likes to sit on the plants and watch me get cross.
And you have to accept that these titchy little grasses are really going to take a few years to get going.
In the first year of casting the seed it rained and rained. It was bliss. The wildflowers were fantastic. Colourful and stunning.
And it was all downhill from there. The coreposis and the achillea loved the site. But I didn’t get many poppies or cornflowers in the second year. Annual wildflowers will do that.
I have since learned that you need to start from scratch and sow again every spring if you want a good wildflower meadow. And the area needs to be weed free.
Instead I took out all the wildflower remnants and cleared the bottom strip of land. The brambles were creeping back. And I had a few rogue nettles that were taking hold.
My plan was to dot in among the grasses more of the verbena bonariensis that didn’t mind the drought conditions. It was starting to look a bit too blocky and, well, grassy.
I spent ages and ages transplanting verbenas that had self-seeded in the potager and were in the wrong place.
And for one year they did well. But they just didn’t thrive. I doubt more than half a dozen plants have survived.
So for now I’m just going with the sea of grasses which are extraordinary. Drought tolerant to the extreme. When the rainless 2017 summer went on and on, the grasses just bleached a bit whiter, but persisted all year.
It will not be as colourful as the early years when the wildflowers were in their heyday; but sometimes a country garden can benefit for a more natural style of planting. Well, that’s my excuse for failing to grow anything but grasses on this ridiculously inhospitable site.