18,000 years ago, the cave at Lascaux, in southwestern France, was visited by a group of prehistoric hunters who set about creating their masterpieces. With pieces of iron oxide, manganese oxide, charcoal and kaolin, and using the cave walls as their canvas, they painted their subterranean cathedral.
In earthy shades of reds, browns and yellows, nearly one thousand animal figures – horses, aurochs, bison and red deer – clamber, jump and charge across the walls of the underground gallery. The story of how the cave entrance was discovered in 1940, in a country ravaged by war, by an 18 year old boy and his dog, seems almost as much a fairy tale as the idea of prehistoric man, clutching his...
Last spring, I decided it was time to give my little courtyard a make-over, by potting up three matching containers. My challenge was to choose plants which would provide interest all year round and continue to look good the following year. It was hard work restraining myself over the cold months but, eventually, in early spring, I allowed myself to indulge in my favourite pastime at the garden centre!
Buying plants earlier in the year means that the plants are small – and I did have to take some on faith that they were going to survive and grow more than the one flimsy leaf they came home with – but they are usually cheaper, so you can get a...
Silver-leaved plants often cope well with hot, dry summers. Their silvery, often hairy, foliage reflects the sun’s heat and helps the plant to conserve water. Silver-leaved plants can be attractive focal points in the garden, but they work well with other colours too, making them useful highlight plants in any colour scheme.
Many traditionally Mediterranean plants are silver, of course, such as the glorious olive tree, silvery-grey leaves dancing against deep blue skies and evocative of sun-drenched Mediterranean landscapes. Some, in the list below, though not traditionally from this region, would suit a Mediterranean garden border, due to their tolerance for sun and limited rainfall.
1. Convolvulus cneorum
A small evergreen shrub, 60cm tall. The elegant white flowers...
Hazy lavender, silvery foliage, aromatic herbs – these are the first plants to spring to mind when I think about a Mediterranean garden. But it’s not just the right selection of plants that will conjure up that holiday feeling. It’s the whole caboodle – the laid-back, make the most of the outdoor space, relaxed ambience of a week in Provence – I want to recreate!
For gardeners dealing with the real thing, Mediterranean climates can be problematic – trying to keep a collection of plants alive when every drop of water is precious. Fortunately, many typical Mediterranean plants are drought-tolerant and are often able to cope with nutrient-poor soil. With our increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, growing more drought-tolerant plants in...
In the summer, you can smell the herbs on the air as you head south towards Provence, but our visit at Easter was a tad too early for that. The morning and evening air was chilly, but by mid-morning the sun was hot enough to cast off cardigans and enjoy an alfresco café noisette.
Not too early though for the vines to be in full leaf or for red pelargoniums to be flowering brightly in window boxes at wooden-shuttered windows.
Scented Jasminum officinale – summer jasmine – was already clambering over stone walls and above blue-painted windows in St Rémy de Provence.
I’ve admired the flower displays on French roundabouts before, but here the road islands have a distinctly Provençal...
Sometimes we don’t know what we want until we see it in someone else’s garden!
In all these internet searches every month, what gardeners are looking for is a little inspiration. Pinterest is great for sharing ideas. Try scrolling through some images to see which ones you instinctively fall in love with and start collecting your favourite pictures on your own board.
For thousands of gardening ideas, click here to follow the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner on Pinterest.
Even with a glorious mood board of beautiful images to inspire, though, it’s not always easy to transfer these ideas to our own garden borders. Here are some ideas for creating the garden of your dreams.
Our main garden is an elongated, right-angled triangle, bordered by a wild hedge edging a country lane. When we first moved in, the entire garden was laid to lawn and could be viewed in all its triangular, tapering glory! Pythagoras might have been delighted with the opportunity to experiment with the properties of our triangle. We were more perplexed by the dilemma of how to make a triangle look more like a rectangle!
In our vast expanse of grassness, we were also keen to add interest by creating pathways and hidden areas, as well as planting up flower borders to soften the boundaries.
With leaden skies and the days getting shorter and colder, it was time to inject a splash of colour on our front door step!
1. Skimmia, heuchera and winter pansies
A trip to the local garden centre is a great pick-me-up at any time of year, but on a chilly November day it was a heart-warming experience! Fairy lights twinkled and deliciously cute, fluffy rabbits waved from their glittery warrens as I passed through the Christmas grotto and out into the plant sales area. Of course, there wasn’t the huge array of colourful flowers you’d find at other times of the year. Still, there was plenty of choice for garden lovers hoping to cheer up their winter flower beds –...
There are some things the French seem to do effortlessly. Crème de cassis and white wine. Raspberry tarts. Shabby chic. The careless and uncontrived juxtaposition of faded elegance and modern buildings.
And what is it about the French and flowers? Their streets are a blaze of carefully designed colour and a visit to a public park feels like an outing to the botanical gardens.
Grasses and sedges add movement and airiness to the designs. In a park near the railway station, fluffy lagurus ovatus contrasts with statuesque canna leaves.
The pretty, delicate Gaura lindheimeri adds a light touch to many of the flowerbeds. I want to whip out my camera and analyse the plant combinations.
Cottage gardens are all about abundance of planting and random drifts of colour. Ground covering plants weave through the planting, spilling over border edges and stitching everything together. In the same way, scattering the seeds of annuals amongst the permanent planting will plug any gaps and contribute to the random charm of the design.
Annuals are plants which germinate, flower and set seed all in one year. They die after flowering, but many will helpfully self-seed leaving a...