Monday, 16 September 2013

Brittany Observed (or parts of it)



Quintissentially France
I have just returned from ten days in Brittany – wonderful weather and over 700 miles of touring, door to door. Camera and journal / sketchbook allowed me to document what I saw; whilst visiting local markets encouraging us to eat “fresh and local’ which was a continual joy. 

A typical French market stall
Whilst my husband concentrated mostly on photographing locations, I was continually on the lookout for scenery and plants, and inspiration to adapt in the garden when back home (our garden is at present undergoing a facelift whenever we have the time to be out there, which isn’t as often as we would wish). 

One of my favourite shrubs - and it grows well here, too
Hydrangeas flourished everywhere – I love the way the colours change between bud-opening, full flower and fading to ‘artificial’ status, bleached and beautiful even in a harsh winter. Definitely on my list of ‘must grow more’ for they need little attention.

Veg patch in Brittany
I have written previously about the use of the camera in documenting places visited, as a reference point for interpreting in one’s own plot. It was fascinating to be outside one’s comfort zone, observing what constitutes a garden overseas. Even the tiniest of plots was used to grow food. There were so many instances where I would have liked to stop and take photos, but couldn’t. Blocks of vegetables made the best use of space, even though in some instances the produce was spaced between very wide paths; strip-growing, as Joy Larcom advocated.

Deliciously fresh veg in the market ...
... and fruit, too
Such a diversity of produce in village market stalls. Parking was easy and on the whole, the market ‘squares’ were in fact ‘triangular’, or a series of ‘places’ (pronounced ‘plass’ as in ‘ass’). I haven’t shown the charcuterie or seafood as this is a gardening blog, but that were there, too. We ate well.

Clever use of ridged-planting
Northern Brittany is a cider-producing area; small orchards as you can still see in Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. It is also the area of market-gardens – the produce is spectacular and must no doubt benefit from being a few degrees warmer than even Cornwall, and with less traffic comes less pollution. Fascinating to see how the broccoli is earthed up (presumably to prevent wind-rock), but hard to photograph without trespassing. Ditto with globe artichokes.

Spare ground is cultivated with flowers
The French love their flowers and every village and town makes use of even the verges to grow wild-varieties and cottage garden annuals. Perfect for encouraging pollinating insect; and what a change from our own boring roadsides where such wildlings as survive the vehicle fumes are cut before they come into bloom.

Hedgerows incorporate a huge variety of species
Hedgerows were immaculate and a mix of many species, depending on which part of Brittany we were travelling through. Oak, aspen, hazel, sallow, gorse, broom, whitebeam, spindleberry, wild cherry, and the edible Spanish chestnut everywhere, no matter what type of soil. Definitely eco-friendly. Wood in France is ‘cropped’ and there are none of those sad neglected patches of woodland we see over here, unloved and neglected with decaying limbs that should have been pruned to prevent disease infecting the trees. 

Unidentified tree - and out of focus as I had to climb onto a wall to take it
As we drove south (still in Brittany), there was a change in both the air and the plants: pines of various types, tulip trees, eucalyptus, walnuts, fluffy pink-flowered acacia (though on closer inspection I think it was some kind of wattle), palms and even bananas. Fields of melons, squash and pumpkins.

Municipal flowers to die for, in Quintin, northern Brittany
Lovely shrubby salvia here
There were cultivated flowers EVERYWHERE! First week in September and the variety was amazing. Every roundabout clothed in bloom, and pots, tubs and hanging containers exploding with colour to greet citizens and visitors alike.

I rather fancied these!
Formality is obviously not forgotten: patios and small backyard gardens may not have space for a floral abundance, but a number of pots of clipped box provide form and colour even in the winter. My garden is punctuated with such evergreen statements – I wouldn’t mind more!

Harvest from the sea
I haven’t touched on coastal plants, which as would be anticipated are salt-tolerant; with a silver-grey waxy coating (reminds me of Cornwall). To my shame, I could not identify them all but had no problem with recognising seaweed. We were woken on our penultimate morning by the sound of tractors passing just outside our window, each with huge trailer-loads of seaweed. Fertiliser I thought. Not a bit of it; it was all converted as a cosmetic constituent! 

Sea-loving plants and my journal collage
I came home inspired by simple changes I can make to our own plot – and many more photos connected with my journaling passion: images that will be converted into fabric and paper hand-made books. But for now, the garden calls.

As already announced, rather than blogging three times a month, I am now posting twice-monthly, to offer reader greater insight into a specific topic. At the end of September, it will be a 'live' post from the Malvern Autumn Show. Don't miss the Show itself, for there is far more to see than I will be able to cover. Meanwhile, previews can be found here.

Don't forget to  visit the Dobies' website for all your gardening needs and requirements. You may particularly like: vegetable seedsvegetable plants, flower seeds, flower plants, herbs, fruit and equipment. And don't forget their regular mailings and special offers online. Just keep visiting so you don't miss anything special. 

2 comments:

  1. The tree is an 'Albizia julibrissin'.
    It also has the nicer name of 'Persian silk tree.'
    There used to be a few odd examples of it as a street tree in London - but it is borderline hardy.

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  2. Thankyou so much, James, for identifying this for me. I can now look it up and discover more about it.

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