Peek through the chain link fence. There – an expanse of grass. Perhaps two or three trees, organised in a line or some geometric shape. Over in the corner, a vegetable patch. If you’re lucky, there may be a bed of flowers near the house or down at the end there. That’s the standard garden in our corner of France, even though you’ll find plenty of gorgeous gardens too, in hidden corners.
So different from its typical English cousin. Herbaceous borders in the gardens of stately homes and the average garden of the average semi all owe something to the informal planting and glorious mixed colours of the traditional cottage garden.
Gill and Ken, English friends of ours, have created a wonderful outdoor area around their French home, full of year-round interest with an always-changing canvas of flowers and shrubs . Last Saturday they invited the members of the French gardening group they belong to, Graines des Jardiniers, to look around. Gill (whose garden this really is – Ken is her labourer and gopher) was to have her Chelsea Flower Show moment.
It was one of those grim days we’ve become accustomed to this year: moments of driving rain and whirling gusty winds alternated with sunny intervals. Chilly too, and their guests turned up in winter coats with fur-trimmed hoods. But enthusiasm for the pleasure of sauntering round the garden soon took over. Winding gravelled paths encouraged exploration. Flowers everywhere filled irregular-sized beds and scrambled up hilly banks and round convenient tree trunks. There were seats under pergolas and arbours, on which you could rest whilst admiring the garden itself and the hilly countryside beyond: a pond to discover too.
And for her French guests, Gill had laid on a proper English afternoon tea. Scones with butter and jam (no clotted cream though), rock cakes, ginger cakes, drenched lemon cake and date loaf, all washed down with a ‘nice cup of tea’.
The group, whose members must have gardens very different from the French stereotype, had come with plants to swap and ideas to share. They were keen on Gill’s garden. We were keen on them. We think , like Gill and Ken, that this is a group we’d like to join.