Half way between Bordeaux and Bergerac near the Dordogne river lies a tiny hamlet of nine houses. For much of the spring, summer and autumn, these properties enjoy lengthy days of sunshine and regular showers of rain. The soil is a highly fertile clay and large quantities of sandstone lie just below the surface. However, despite the effort required to work the soil, the results are quick and impressive as plants enjoy such a long growing season.
This garden belongs to my parents who retired to the Dordogne in 2006. The recently renovated house came with a large field with a few trees and some very rough grass. As their retirement project, they set about turning the field into a garden, equipped with swimming pool for the grandchildren, orchard and the elusive ‘pelouse anglaise’ (verdant English, or rather Scottish, lawn).
I worked on the design largely from Edinburgh and, not having seen the garden, had to rely on my father’s measurements and endless photographs. By the time of my first visit, the framework for the garden was complete and I was pleasantly surprised by my parents’ hard work and at how everything was falling into place. Six years on, most of the borders are planted up and maturing nicely. The grasses around the pool help to soften its sharp lines and the climbers on the pergola provide the much needed shade. And the ‘pelouse anglaise’ is on its way, despite the scepticism of the French neighbours and a drought in 2011 which caused much suffering (for the garden as well as its owners).
Designing this garden so far from Scotland and from my usual ‘comfort zone’ has involved a steep learning curve. French clay soil is not the same as Scottish clay soil. Plants may grow very quickly in the French climate but they also flower very quickly in the heat and so keeping the colour going throughout such a long growing season is challenging. However, the speed with which the field has been transformed into a garden and the impressive productivity of the garden (apricots, peaches, greengages, walnuts, figs, tomatoes, raspberries, strawberries and others) has ensured that my future review visits will be made on a very regular basis.