Having a nursery business in France, we have had many enquiries from people moving here to live permanently and one of the most common issues is the different size of garden. In the UK they had a small back garden with an even smaller front garden and suddenly they have an acre of garden. Help! What to do?
Before you make any big decisions – essentially, before you start spending money – you need to work out what you want. If you want a vegetable garden, where will that be? Do you want all year round colour? If so, from where will you see it? If you have vast tracts of land would a meadow work? And then there’s wildlife to consider.
Remember – large gardens need a lot of work to maintain, especially in spring when you can almost see the grass grow in front of your eyes! Do you want one that costs a lot, both in time and money to keep looking good or would a wilder garden that gives colour and is easier to maintain be better for you?
Throughout France there are many landscape designers, who advertise. Before engaging them, ask to see their qualifications and if possible visit some of their finished work. Their services can be expensive, so you need to be sure of what you’re paying for.
Many French gardens have old orchards, with trees that have not been pruned in years. Do not be in too much of a hurry to use them as fire wood. Instead, start slowly and examine each tree, looking for dead wood, disease and mistletoe.
Once you have done this, cut all this away from the tree. If the trees are close together, you need to prune the branches to create an ‘air’ passage between them, by pruning the branches, ideally two metres distance, to allow circulation of air around your trees. This stops disease going from tree to tree and enables the fruit to form, with the help of air, sun and rain. It also makes picking easier.
This will do as a start as this will enable you to identify the trees that are producing the best fruit, and those which need to be cut out next autumn, when we will continue with the pruning on the trees you want to keep.
At our nursery we stock a range of English fruit trees, especially the Bramley cooking apple. These can be grown in most parts of France and will produce a decent cooking apple.
The Bramley apple is usually a large and green apple at maturity, but here in the Charente-Maritime we have found that the fruit skin turns pink, but this has no effect on the taste. However, we do advise picking the fruit a little earlier than one would in England, especially as you travel south from the Channel.
If you are not gardening organically and have not already sprayed for leaf curl, which affects peach, cherry and sometimes, apples, you really need to do it when they start to show signs of budding. Time is short so use Dithane soluble powder, and spray when the breeze has dropped. Do please wear gloves and protective glasses. SAFETY IS A PRIORITY.
Fruit, such as pears, if left on the trees throughout late July and August, will cook on the trees. So pick your fruit when fairly hard, and store in a cool barn or cellar.
French gardeners, or the vast majority, still plant by the moon, using a Gardeners Almanac. It’s in French, but it does have pictures and lists all the vegetable names, in French, plus information on when to plant and when to harvest. You can usually find the almanac in any good garden centre. Whilst there, see if they have the lists for all the many varieties of potatoes. English varieties, may grow well in the north of France, but further south they are not very successful.
By Mike Curtis, An English Nursery in France; 00 33 (0)5 46 33 66 17