Before shots

step garden to redoOf course I had to shove a picture of Artur as the lead image. There is no way I would look at Before Shots of a garden project without seeing the After ones as well. So this way you might even read beyond this first paragraph just because he is more photogenic than weeds.

But there is no after as I haven’t finished. I’m poised like a coiled spring to travel back to France tomorrow and on Tuesday the fun begins.

The snow will have melted, it is forbidden to rain as I have booked Nicolas for two and possibly three days of work. We need clear sunny weather, no wind and not so cold that we can’t feel our hands working the soil.

The projects? Landscaping work. Which in our case means rock work. Oh no. I’m losing you. Better shove another picture of the cat in at this stage. arturguardingshed


There are two areas I want to get done this week: replant the step garden in front of the house.

And in a frighteningly clever moment of synchronicity – fix the steps beside the potager.

A two step process. (I’ve drunk too much tea.)

The step garden is simple. I need to get out all the plants – the grown from seed eragrostis, the gaura and the verbena bonariensis – and replace them with lavender.

2015 lavenderI have a slight pang about this as the plants did really well the first year the little narrow bed was created.  But last year’s drought showed just how mangy this soil is.  And how my neglect meant that the plants survived. But didn’t thrive.

Besides. I feel the house needs a bit of symmetry.  When you face the building from below you get the magnificent lavender bank to the left.  And to the right…. a scruffy mess.

A quick visual reminder of the lavender bank in early summer. Now who wouldn’t like that on the other side of the granite walls?

So I bit the bullet. Well, painfully typed in the numbers of the credit card, and did a Filippi plant order.

This is like shopping for groceries at Harrods.  The plant nursery is heaven for those of us who create gardens when drought conditions prevail.  The plants are all root and very little top. Brilliantly bred and nurtured. And expensive.

I hope to show you next week when the shipment comes in.  I have ordered 10 lavender Nizzas (lavandula x intermedia Nizza) which is similar to this grey one you see in the picture. It’s not flashy, but it is a big beast and I need to cover a lot of ground.

I also ordered 20 thymes (Elspeth) for the steps in the potager. And you will be proud of me for not ordering any phlomis.  Such restraint.  Have a look on their website http://www.japhlomis and see the Phlomis Marina and tell me how good I am. (I copied a shot here for the lazy, or those who don’t want to lose a few hours of their day perusing their catalogue.)

thyme verticalPhlomis envy.  I will try and grow the plants from seed and take it slowly. If they cope in the conditions over this year, then I might get a variety that will be tough to take the cold.

I have some phlomis already in the terrace bank. I just divided it in fact. It took three years to flower and of course the flowers are yellow.

But I do like to let them die and cut them for decorations. They are whizz in a dried flower arrangement. And you can’t see they were muddy yellow in colour in their prime. file dried flowers

There are some hidden in this giant flower arrangement by the front door.

Filippi have an incredible knowledge of Mediterranean plants and give you the coping strategies for each plant: how long they cope without water, how cold they can get before they die, along with all the usual stuff. It’s invaluable.  And it also means that if the Phlomis Marina can only go down to minus 12C then there is a good chance it will curl up its crispy leaves and die the first winter here. Despite it not going below minus 5C so far.

I just know I will kill it. And these plants are an investment. Not to mention the eye watering shipping charges.  You can buy 15 normal lavenders fom an unremarkable garden centre for the price of that alone.  But these are worth it.

overgrown thymeAnd they will be the first things you see when you start the garden tour. So fingers crossed it all goes well.

The steps leading down to the potager are made of crazy paving. Yech.  So I have been distracting the eye by planting thymes down one side of the edge for years. And goodness what is that plant called on the other. It will come to me.


But thymes need hard pruning after flowering. If not they get floppy and ridiculously overgrown. A sort of green bread dough you have left to rise too long.

I blame the distraction a few years ago when we had the floods. But really. This is poor horticulture. And of course it is too late to cut back hard and hope they sprout again.  They aren’t like sage which can look better in weeks.  I cut back hard to see what would happen. And yep, nothing. It looks dreadful.stepsbeforevertical

Out they go.

I won’t get rid of them of course. I’ll try them out on the tricky shade garden bank, just in case. But in their place might go a double row of new thymes.

How? There is barely a few inches of soil as it is. Ah, I have plans. Or should I say, I Have Plans.

See the curving bed to the left of the steps. It’s a tricky thing. Quite unnecessary but I have never bothered with it much. Save planting a great philadelphis (mock orange), euphorbia, some echinops and a few roses.  But frankly you can’t tell. There are brambles everywhere.

And who worries about this tricky corner when there is a giant vegetable bed just a few feet away?  So I am going to leave it to Nicolas to make suggestions. Everything out. And soil added I think. We have heaps in the pile at the parking area. And plenty of rocks for a new mini wall.

steps beforeHe doesn’t know that yet. I keep slipping that horrid surprise on him when he asks what diabolical plan I have today.  He vowed he was retired from wall building now that he is over 40. It kills the back. But these aren’t real walls I whine, just little things. Mere fripperies of stone. Honest.

And it will be at this stage I get the death stare. The one I usually get from Artur. But then I can usually win him round as he loves all the designs he has made in this monstrous garden over the years.   And it’s true; rock walls really frame a garden bed.

Yep. It will be the Death Stare. Can’t wait.

And just to give us some encouragement; here are the thymes at their glorious height in 2013.