Gardening in France | Jardins Ouverts

Gardening in France | Jardins Ouverts


Steve Jarratt discovers how Julie and Jason Agha brought elements of traditional British gardens to their Limousin home

Clockwise from top : British-style borders and beds; the overgrown plot before work started; “the biggest rockery in the Limousin” hides the pool; strawberries now grow in the old bathroom suite

Julie and Jason Agha moved to south-central France in the summer of 2012, and took up residence in a small hamlet of two houses called Le Sage, outside the village of Champsac in the Haute-Vienne département of the Limousin. Their new home had been empty for three years and consequently the garden was completely overgrown.
“It was only when we cut the long grass, weeds and overhanging trees that we found little walls and old stone paths,” Julie says. “We then knew there was the potential to add and create a beautiful garden which would be in keeping with the character of the house.”
In Britain, the couple had a traditional garden with lawns and borders full of plants, and their new French home allowed them to recreate the same style, but on a much larger scale, adding a vegetable plot, fruit trees and bushes.
“When we arrived in France I came with a few garden pots that had various ground covering plants in them,” Says Julie “I’ve basically split them several times around the garden and rockery, adding bought or donated plants from cuttings out of friends’ gardens.”
However, Julie confirms that they “aren’t really garden experts”, explaining, “If we know a plant that we like we’ll use it, and if it grows, it grows, and if it doesn’t we’ll replace it with something else. We’ve used this method throughout all of our gardens and it seems to work.”
The Aghas’ new garden design includes a free-standing swimming pool? but they didn’t just want it sat in the middle of the lawn, dominating the view. Instead, they decided to make the top of the pool level with the ground.
“We then built the biggest rockery in the Limousin to conceal the pool from view,”  Julie says. “The rockery was made using the soil from the excavation and the rocks came from the floors of our two barns.”
Once the pool area was completed, the rest of the garden “just naturally fell into place.” They utilised existing features, including the original bathroom suite from the house, which is now used for strawberries, and there’s a boules court plus the traditionally French lavoire (washing place) and well.
“We haven’t really done anything different from our British gardens,” she says, “other than the pool and a vegetable plot.”
Julie has good news for any British gardeners who are thinking of moving to France. “The garden centres here in the Limousin seem to now be on par with those in Britain.”
However, she notes that, like their British counterparts, the Limousin’s garden centres are also now branching out and selling a range of household items and gifts.
“I suppose that’s just business,” she comments. “We try to find non-commercial nurseries or buy our plants at the local fêtes, which are much better value for money and help to support local people.”
When it comes to buying property in France, Julie has a firm opinion and some sage advice for those with green fingers.
“Too many people decided to buy large plots of land just because they can,” she says. “That’s their decision but, inevitably, it requires a tremendous amount of work, money and time which most people don’t have, and therefore the gardens aren’t tended as they should be.
“So in gardening terms if you’re doing it all yourself, bigger doesn’t always mean better.”
Julie recommends that, once the layout and planting are finished, you stay on top of maintenance chores.
“That reduces the amount of time that you’ll need to work on the garden,” she says, “and allows you to enjoy the fruits of your labour rather than having to ‘blitz’ your garden, which is very hard work and should be avoided.”
She also suggest that gardening for a morning or an afternoon, rather than full days, is the best way. “We know from experience that it can be very wearing and there are lots of other activities that you could be doing to enjoy your life here in France. It’s about striking the right balance so that you get to enjoy both.”
The Aghas’ home is part of the Jardins Ouverts scheme, which sees private gardens open to the public across France during the Summer months to raise money for charities.
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