The last days of Summer. The beginning of Autumn?

September (and sometimes October) can be one of the absolute best times of year here. The holiday season finishes, the beaches empty, people go back to work or school and… the weather is generally marvelous!

This year proves it again. Almost unbroken sunshine until today – which is why I’m writing this rather than doing whatever outside. The garden in particular and the wider countryside in general will enjoy today’s rain. It’s been very dry. And although I’ve been watering the real priorities – newly planted shrubs and stuff in pots – everything is thirsty.

There have been mushrooms: Millers, Saffron Milk caps, a few ceps and a beautiful Cauliflower fungus. But the main season has probably been waiting for this rain before it gets going properly.

The butterflies have continued to impress me, but there’s still time for some late special appearances so I’m not posting pictures of any just yet. Instead, more garden loveliness and a little bit of out and about:

Tigridia pavonia. The flowers only last a day and I think they’re amazing to look at rather than beautiful. I’ve got the (edible) bulbs in a pot sunk in the soil to keep the voles away. I might not want to eat them but I’m sure they would.

Venidium ‘Zulu Prince’. From seed this year. I’ll be growing them again. A bit of an untidy, sprawling plant that needs a lot of dead-heading, but it’s been flowering since June. Well worth it.

This poppy was self-sown and I left it to flower despite it being inconveniently placed amongst my onions. I’m glad I did as the yellow stamens are quite unusual and very pretty. The bees seem to prefer this poppy to others in the same patch with inky black stamens. The yellow attracts them perhaps?

Cyclamen hederifolium with more flowers than I remember before. These have seeded themselves (helped a bit by me) around the garden from one initial corm (sadly voled this year – one of many casualties.) They enjoy a summer dormancy so don’t seem to care about the drought, and come bouncing back – flowers first, leaves later with their ivy-like markings; hence the ‘hederifolium’.

Asters and Sunflowers lasted well as cut flowers…

The wonderful and huge Cauliflower fungus (Sparassis crispa). At the foot of an enormous pine tree in Huelgoat Forest. Some of it got eaten and some of it got dried and jarred for later.

Wild rocket in flower at the coast.

Sea holly (Eryngium maritima) in flower. The first time I’ve seen it growing in the wild.

Shells from Beg Douar cove near Plestin. The ‘sand’ is made of tiny fragments of crushed shell – like Porthcurno beach in Cornwall.

A new favourite place to explore. The Gorge de Toul Goulic. Not that far away, so I’m not sure how I didn’t know about it before? A rocky chaos and meandering paths through steep sided beech and oak forest…. and a stream that was gurgling gently as it appeared and then disappeared underneath the boulders. I’m looking forward to seeing it after heavy rain when I imagine it will feel and look completely different.

Buddleias and Butterflies…

I wasn’t as rigorous as I should have been with the pruning of my various Buddleia bushes this Spring. I had done a cursory cutting back in the winter, just so that branches were shorter and less liable to damage by the wind. But, as the winter was mild, (and I was still in London in late February when I would normally have done it). Arriving back, the shrubs were in full leaf and I didn’t have the heart to cut all of that growth off…

Result being that most of my Buddleias have almost finished flowering, when they really should just be starting. They are such an invaluable late Summer food plant for so many Butterflies, and having them almost guarantees sightings of most of my garden’s regulars, that I’m hoping that they’ll still find reasons to visit. I’m deadheading constantly, hoping that I can encourage a later flush of flowers.

So, here are some of my Buddleia bushes, and an assortment of this Summer’s butterflies:

Buddleia davidii ‘Royal Red’. Obviously not ‘red’, rather a wonderful, intense violet/magenta. Not as vigorous or hardy as the bog standard ones, but very special.

Buddleia davidii ‘Dark Knight’. So purple that in some light it assumes a velvety blackness… Again, not as vigorous here as the more common colours, and I’ve had more trouble striking cuttings from this one, (I have got some in a pot from last autumn which seem to have made it.)

By complete contrast. Buddleia weyeriana. Sunny yellow, globes of flowers. A vigorous thug of a plant. Easy to grow and easy to propagate. Mine came originally from a neighbouring allotment in Walthamstow and was one of the first things planted when I started turning my corner of a field into a garden…

And, having said how much butterflies love Buddleia, not a single one of these beauties were photographed on it!

Comma on Bracken.

Purple Hairstreak on Bramble.

Silver-washed Fritillary on Knapweed.

Brown Argus on Sow Thistle.

Map butterfly on dried grass.

Swallowtail on Verbena bonariensis.

So much to show… not all of it good!

It’s been a while and I have oodles of wonderfulness from the garden and beyond, and a few horror stories to balance things out. So this is Part One of a few posts to bring me back up to date.

It was a very hot and dry June and July. Although we didn’t have the absolute nightmare temperatures that the rest of France (and Europe generally) suffered; Brittany was almost the only green – normal – patch on the map during the recent heatwave. But the maximums were still in the 30’s… not normal for here. This place is renowned for its cool, damp and rain whilst the rest of France burns…! Consequently the garden has suffered. Despite the layers of mulch, I think that plants that are just not used to searing heat don’t know what to do when it’s that hot – just like me really. I clung to the shade and wilted the moment the sun beat down on me!

So…what’s been good?

Verbascums and Verbena bonariensis with Bronze Fennel everywhere else just beginning to flower.

Salvia ‘Amistad’ with some Black Eyed Susan (Thunbergia alata) starting to climb through it. The Salvia is one of the plants I brought back with me from London recently. I’m hoping I’ll be able to overwinter it successfully. I’m going to take cuttings soon to improve my chances.

The Pink Pelargoniums starting to fill out and flower more – the French Marigolds in front of them taking an age to get going…

Looking out to the garden from the house. I’d forgotten it looked this good in July – writing as I am in mid August and wondering where the flowers have all gone.

‘Carouby de Mausanne’ mange-tout peas. Something that the voles haven’t discovered yet – they normally prefer to wait for the peas to be nice and fat before they scoff the lot. Whereas with these I pick them when the pods are still nice and flat.

Welcome rain…and unwelcome consequences

Watched this one journey across the window pane this morning. Nothing for it to eat on the glass, so I left it to get on with it. Its many other friends and relations were not so lucky… A mixture of picking and squashing, or the blue pellets of death for them. I’m don’t use the pellets indiscriminately, but I’ve lost too many plants over the years when I was trying to be ‘kind’ to slugs and snails. So now I’m merciless if they’re in the garden.

But the past few days of rain has been good for the garden. Now for some sun and warmth to give everything a lovely spurt of growth!

These are all general views of various parts of the garden, and roadside planting:

Middle patch newly planted…
End of the garden. Dad’s Hebe cutting to the left.
Roadside after rain.
Close to house – semi circle border.
Onions in foreground, broad beans and main crop potatoes behind (and some lovely chives)
Late evening, looking out…


The ‘perfect’ May weather continues.

If only there hadn’t been that little cold snap this would be even more amazing. And if there could be one overnight downpour it would be even better… Look at that. Never really happy with what I’ve got!

But the butterflies know better than me. They’re not complaining.

A male Orange Tip ( Anthocharis cardamines) loving the Hesperis matronalis.

Perhaps the same male roosting on an unopened Campanula persificolia

My first ever photo, and only third ever sighting of a Green Hairstreak. I’d first seen it in North Devon on the Coast Path in a damp valley at Heddon’s Mouth. Then, the second time on a track not too far away from here. I’m thrilled to have added this species to the ‘seen in my garden’ list. And, similarly, this unassuming, unremarkable next one:

A Mallow Skipper (Carcharodus Alceae). New to me and helpfully identified by contributors to UK Butterflies forum. A butterfly not found in the UK however.

And neither is this one… My favourite European Swallowtail (Papilio machaon). A female, egg laying on this year’s tender leaves of Bronze Fennel.

Balanou…best bits today. Quite a few rhododendrons

Who would ever think that such deep crimson buds would open and fade quickly to such a delicate peachy, pale loveliness. Somewhere, I am sure, I will have noted it’s name. It’s the first I planted. And it’s huge now. Not as many flowers this year as last, but they are beautiful.

A chance planting of Hesperis matronalis alba with this deep red rhododendron. It works!

Not a favourite colour. But this is the only rhododendron cutting that I’ve successfully rooted. And this year is its very first flower. The cutting was taken at Begard in 2012. Seven years of waiting. A very good reason to pay more for a good sized rhododendron plant!

I love this Iris. I’d like more. But the voles won’t let me!

Spring salad: Rocket, Land Cress, Magentaspreen, chicory, and the first few leaves of ‘Marvel of four seasons’ lettuce.

Asparagus and Artichoke. Spring luxuries.

A view out over the garden from the house. Late evening.

Perfect Plestin

Sometimes familiarity means you just stop ‘seeing’ something that’s so right. I think that had happened with Plestin. So many other lovely places – with their rocks, their colours, their dunes… But the grass isn’t always greener. And today, with magical May sunshine, clear light and beautiful blue skies, Plestin suddenly re-instated itself as the perfect place.

This last one needs its explanation. Bad photo but – Sea Slug and Sea Lettuce. Perfect. And next time, back to the garden where the lettuce (and slugs) will also be found!

Frost, rain and other Spring things…

Well it was cold. Météo France had a little article saying that it was the coldest May temperatures for forty years. I don’t know about that. However my maximum/minimum thermometer in the depths of the barn showed -1 degrees.

What I know is that emerging oak leaves are shrivelled, some of my lilies have collapsed. My chestnut tree’s just expanding new leaves have had it. Ditto my figs. Potatoes that were under the strewn hay were still frosted – but thankfully not badly. My Caramel tree gave off its inimitable toffee scent that let me know that it had been got! New growth on various Camellias is blackened. But the garden has experienced worse. And it will recover. Especially as since the frosts there has been gentle, persistent rain. If the sun remembers to come out tomorrow and warm everything up this will have been a minor blip!

And it was not as bad as I’d feared, and some things – because of the seemingly late season, were not affected at all.

Fingers crossed for tonight (and tomorrow night.)

It’s still a week before the ‘Saints Glaces’, or as I affectionately know them as – the Icy Saints. ‘Affectionately’ in the same sense that I have affection for voles. But tonight and tomorrow night are forecast to be -1/0 degrees. Here it is normally a degree or two below the forecast.

The garden, as a result, has been strewn with old hay, net curtains, debris netting, and cardboard. I’ve had to accept that I can’t cover it all, so I’ve prioritised: potatoes, figs, strawberries, dahlias, fuchsias and Acers. Some stuff in pots, and all my tender seedlings have been moved into either the basement or the barn…

I was fairly upbeat as I came in after a full day out there today. I hope I’m not going to be posting tales of woe after this weekend. Here are some photos of thing looking ok before the frost!

Potatoes all hay-ed up for the frost.

The bank wall; base soil levelled and awaiting manure and seeds…

This Iris (no idea of its name unfortunately), came originally from a clump on my second allotment. I mean that I inherited it when I took over the plot – I never planted it there. I dug some bits up, stuck them in and now it’s all over the place. This is the first flower of this year. Not quite unfolded.

Viburnum opulus ‘Snowball’. I’ve a fair few Viburnums now. I’m a sucker for their perfume (although this one doesn’t have any), and despite the fact that their flowers are quite quickly over – and the leaves afterwards aren’t that exciting – I always look forward to them. For years now I’ve been trying to replace my favourite. I bought it in the 80’s from Woolworth’s in the Walworth Rd. when I lived at the Elephant. In those days I didn’t pay too much attention to names/cultivars.

It grew happily in a tub and was eventually planted out when we moved to Walthamstow in ‘92, where it continued to delight. Unfortunately it got cut down – not by me! – and I’ve been searching for it ever since. I might (finally) have found it this year at Porte de Carhaix nursery. The plant I chose had just a single flowering head, but the perfume and the form look right… Obviously I’ll update next year!

I’m tempted to despair, but I’m resisting.

My mood oscillates regularly between optimism and despondency . I look around on a good moment and think ‘lovely’. Five minutes later it’s ‘Oh, this is shit’. There is so much that needs doing, and by the time I’ve done a little bit of it and stand back to have a look… it needs doing again. Or something else does. That’s not a moan as such. That’s what Gardening is…

But now I’m going to moan. The Gooseberry Sawfly larvae have arrived again. Anyone who has followed this blog, will know that – alongside the voles, but obviously to a much lesser degree – these insects are one of the banes of my gardening life. Ridiculous really, as I don’t even like gooseberries that much. And if they all descended on just one bush and stripped it of all its leaves and burgeoning berries, I’d shrug and say ‘no matter, plenty to go round’. But they don’t. They would happily defoliate every single bush – leaving me to look at ugly, leafless sticks until next year. That’s not on. So I’ve been transformed into a twice daily caterpillar crusher/ Sawfly squasher.

I used to don rubber gloves to do the squishing, and felt kind of icky doing it. I’ve got over that. Now the gloves are off. I just rub my fingers on the grass before moving on to the next offenders.

And the voles… what can I say?

I hate them.

The 100 odd peas that I’d sown so neatly at equidistant spacing should’ve been showing by now; ditto the parsnips, the beetroot, the carrots. I have five pea plants.

I put my trowel in the row where I’d sown them, and this happened:

I planted out twenty broad bean seedlings; turned my back for five minutes and two of them had been upended out of the ground…and, of course, the parsnips, carrots and beetroot seeds have all gone and I’ve re-sown.

It’s a battlefield out there. And I’m not sure that I’m winning.