Since putting own roots in the village of Puycelsi in the Tarn, garden designer Helen Medlycott has embraced the French way of life. Here she reveals her ambitious plan to diversify and grow tea…
There’s nothing I like more than the ritual of making a lovely pot of tea – preferably having previously baked a scrumptious cake – then sitting in the garden with friends, drinking and eating.
For many years tea has been something I’ve genuinely loved. At my grandparents’ house on Sundays, tea was delivered without fail on Grandpa’s silver trolley complete with milk in a china jug and teatime treats. In the earlier years a cake that Grandma had made was served and always loose tea was used in the pot, but as they got older, Grandpa succumbed to the modern teabag and this was quite a revelation to me, because this was the man who had grown tea in Ceylon and later in Tamil Nadu in South India. This was the man to whom the etiquette of tea and its making was paramount.
In the months leading up to our move to the Tarn, I toyed with the idea of growing my own tea, just for fun really. I worked for three years with the brilliant Graham Gough at Marchant’s Hardy Plants, and luckily for me, he was also a tea enthusiast. Graham would sometime surprise me on a cold and damp morning in the potting shed at morning break, with a creamy first flush Darjeeling or an autumn flush Assam from the North, which would be savoured with muddy hands around a warm earthenware cup. Heaven.
Last week, I made the decision to go for it. I’m not one for sitting still for long, but the weather recently on the top of our hill in January had been quite oppressive, like sitting in a small prison of cloud through which the sun’s rays just can’t break. When the shards of light did finally hit the ground in the garden it felt like a mild eureka moment for me. It was like the proverbial bolt of lightning up my backside and off I went – and tea was my beef that week.
I now have 30 plants of Camellia sinensis ‘Assamica’ due to arrive from the Tregothnan Estate in Cornwall – only the best plants, please. We’ve tilled the earth, built the deer-proof fence and I await them with bated breath with Grandpa and Grandma firmly in mind. The walls might not yet be complete at Pech Long, and we might still be dressed from head to toe in wool in a bid to stay warm, but at least we’ll be able to enjoy a fine cuppa that we can proudly say we grew ourselves!
Watch this space for progress as to how our plants fare down here in the Tarn, and please feel free to come and have a look and share a pot with us. Visitors are always welcome!
Helen is a garden designer and writer who moved to the south west of France with her family. To find out more about their house and its progress, visit www.pech-long.com
Caring for Camellia Sinensis
The key to growing tea is rainfall and humidity, especially during the months when the plants flower which, depending on the cultivar, can be up to three times per year. In dryer months, mist heads can be used to wet the leaves. C.sinensis has a very long taproot which finds water deep in the soil so it’s the leaves above ground which are in need of moisture throughout the year. For younger plants, protection from frost is a wise idea and this can be done easily using horticultural fleece; ideally leaving some air between the plant and the fleece itself, not wrapping plants too tightly.