I obviously hope you enjoy browsing through the postings on here - do feel free to leave comments as it's always good to see who's visiting and to hear about other people's experiences - after all you never stop learning do you?

If you've any gardening questions or you live in Brittany and are looking for some gardening help - be it design work, planting or general gardening or you simply would like some advice, please don't hesitate to CONTACT ME or call me on 0033 661 77 23 89 (from UK) or 0661 77 23 89 (from France).

Happy gardening!

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Clutching fruitfully at straws....

It all starts with the humble straw bale... providing a revolutionary way of growing; enabling the gardener to create their own vegetable or flower garden from a mere bale of straw! No matter what the size of garden is, this method of growing can be adapted to suit any size of plot; from a small balcony garden to something much bigger.   If this concept has grabbed your attention as it did mine, you'll be pleased to know that due to the massive success of his first book on the subject, Joel Karsten has now written the second instalment   "Straw Bale Gardens Complete" - providing readers with everything they need to know about straw bale gardening (SBG).  An incredible and inspiring subject for any gardener - this book is based on both the author's own experiences and that of his many readers across the globe.

Joel has spent the past 15 years experimenting and perfecting this method of growing and in this amazing new book, takes you through the whole process with easy to follow instructions supported by great photography and illustrations.

Essentially SBG is based on the notion of using bales as a medium which is conditioned to become an excellent rooting environment in which to grow a wide variety of vegetables and flowering plants – and if (as it is) it’s a suitable basis on which to create a show garden  at Chaumont in Paris last year, then maybe this is something to take very seriously indeed.

The process behind this is that you take your straw bale and turn it on its side with the spiky ends of the straw uppermost.  The next stage is to treat the straw with a high-nitrogen based fertiliser - there are plenty of organic options here and this helps to accelerate the decomposition process within the bale. 

Following this application, the straw needs to be watered heavily for 12 - 18 days. As well as soaking them using a hose with spray attachment, the way that is suggested in the book is via a drip feed hose that can be attached the full length of your bale.  This will also help with on-going watering once your bale is planted up.  I have talked about straw bales in the singular here and unless you only have a small garden, I'm sure you'll prefer to use a number of bales to create your straw bale garden with!

Once decomposition is properly underway, as with a traditional compost heap, a good deal of  heat is created from your bales which offers ideal growing conditions for germinating seeds or encouraging good root development in young plants, enabling you to start off your vegetable patch earlier than normal. 

Your bale should now be ready for planting - either by using plants or sowing seeds.  If sowing seeds you need to apply a layer of potting compost to the surface of the bale so that the seedlings can first become established whilst plants are planted directly into the bale.

The straw bales can be positioned in a row with fencing posts at either end and a series of wires above the bales at different heights to provide a structure to support taller plants or for climbing plants such as beans, peas and some of the squashes.

Whilst seedlings germinate and as your young plants establish, you can also utilise one of the lower wires on the framework to support a polythene sheet so you can protect your seedlings over night or during colder days. 

The book goes into a huge amount of detail, with endless helpful suggestions on how best to set this up, and so for the purpose of this article, I'm not going to go into any further detail as this will hopefully encourage you enough to go out and buy the book!

If you're up for a new challenge and something to get the neighbours talking (in a good way!), why not give this a go. It's a great time of year to think about this whilst planning all the exciting seeds and plants that you hope to grow in 2015.

At the end of the growing season you'll hopefully have a wonderful selection of your own vegetables along with a good pile of composted straw to add to other areas of the garden, or to your compost pile providing an ideal home for hibernating hedgehogs and sloe worms amongst other things.

This excellent and informative book is available at the following link on  Amazon UK - Happy growing!

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Owl update!

Amazing experience having the owl babies in our woodland - after the last photo shoot they disappeared for about 5 days and have been back ever since... the two siblings seem inseparable and have now found a place at the far end of our woodland to shelter during the day despite getting endless grief from the large Blackbird population along with the Magpies and Jays all squawking at the tops of their voices at the slightest movement (I always know they're around when I hear this!) - even the little Wrens have been joining the chorus recently :-)

This last week I've been going down there very quietly and slowly about 10pm as it's starting to get towards dusk and getting the most amazing views of the pair, plus their Mum who's very attentive and who you can hear calling as she hunts - when she arrives with food you've never heard such a hullabaloo! 

The curious thing, the last 2 nights is that one of the babies is obviously very curious of me and has been flying into a tree or onto a branch almost as close as he dare, in an attempt to try and work out what the hell I'm doing!  This evening he was about 2 meters away crooning his neck in all directions whilst keeping a constant eye on me, turning around for a few seconds and then checking me out again.  He or she didn't seem phased by the fact I was there at all.  Has anyone else had this kind of experience with young owls - I wouldn't miss this for the world...

Whilst enjoying the owls have also had the pleasure of the company of a pair of Muntjac deer as well as a young female fox who came scurrying through on her way to her cubs I would guess - definitely a woman on a mission!  We've also got a number of hedgehogs around as well... so never a dull moment.

Enjoy the warmer weather and hoping we won't have any more storms like last night - all the flashing of lightening in the sky going on almost simultaneously with the thunder was like something from WW2... sent along to add to the celebrations going on this weekend!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Fabulous Farmhouse in Brittany for Sale with 1.5 acres of garden, woodland and stream

It's been a massive decision, but we have put our lovely Breton Farmhouse on the market with a view to returning to the UK and so would love to find someone to buy our home who would really appreciate not only all the wonderful living space, but all the fantastic outdoor space our home offers too. Not to mention all the wildlife and birds we have.

If you've dreamed of living in a lovely farmhouse with wood-burning stoves, lots of beams, old fire places - look no further.  We renovated the central part of this farmhouse about 10 years ago, using French professional builders. Our home comprises 4 double bedrooms (one downstairs), a large upstairs family bathroom, an open plan kitchen/dining room, large sitting room with doors to the garden, a utility room and downstairs cloakroom with door to the garden.  Adjoining the house either side is plenty of dry storage space or room to expand the property - potential for at least 2 gites if required.  There is even a large chicken house if needed on the edge of the garden and woodland.  We also have 2 wells on site - one of which provides all the water for the garden via an electric pump.

The property sits in a very good size of formal gardens with an abundance of plants, shrubs and trees (including fruit trees and bushes) and there is separate vegetable garden and greenhouse.  Below the main garden is an area of woodland - a mix of Oak and Hazel in the main with some Poplar and offers a plentiful wood supply for the fires. (The house also has central heating.)  Running along the bottom edge of the woodland is a pretty stream complete with it's own rustic bridge!

We are 1km to the nearest village of Yvignac La Tour with its Boulangerie, Post Office and Restaurant, and have a number of options for supermarkets & doctors & chemists - 6 minutes to Caulnes, 10 minutes to Broons and 20 minutes to Dinan.  The beach is about 30 mins drive from here, airports at Rennes and Dinard about 30 mins and St Malo Ferry about 45 mins.  There are also plenty of walks and opportunities for cycling directly from our doorstep!

Asking Price £199,950

For more information on the house... please see www.bretonfarmhouse.com

If you would like more details, please don't hesitate to get in touch via email jardinmiranda@wanadoo.fr

Thank you for looking!

Sunday, 18 May 2014

If you go down to the woods...

This is what you might find if you're very very lucky!

It's been so exciting this past week as a pair of fledged Tawny Owlets have taken up residence in our small area of woodland - a mix of Oak, Poplar and Hazel which provides a thick high canopy of leaves in which to hide!

Needless to say I'd been out on numerous occasions to get a snapshot of the babies but until this evening without any success at all...

The wait was definitely worth it - so do enjoy!

Monday, 3 March 2014

Spring time has finally arrived in Brittany...

Better late than never!  I love this time of year with all the Hellebores out - seeing the sunlight shining through their delicate petals... so beautiful.  It's very easy getting bogged down with all dreadful weather we've had (and we have!) but good to start seeing some colour returning to the garden after our so called winter - I think I can count up the frosty mornings we've had on one hand which is very unusual for Brittany.

I've had the Hellebores in the garden now for the last 6 years and am now starting to get some really interesting varieties coming through -  such intricate markings on the petals!  They're great for areas of mixed sun and shade or even in light woodland and are prolific self seeders too... I tend to remove the large leaves from the previous year's growth - this allows the blooms more space to grow straight and taller and gives a much better display.


These are a one of the many clumps we have of the double flowered Primula which was in the garden here before we arrived.

One of my favorites for scent at this time of year - Daphne odora "Aureomarginata" - a very small plant we bought on our honeymoon - now nearly 10 years ago!

This is another wonderful plant for fragrance - Lonicera fragrantissima - producing beautiful blooms on bear stems to begin with. This has been in flower since January and provides essential nectar to an bees that area around early in the year - a must for any garden.

My final picture is of the flowers of Hellebore foetidus - again the bees love this early flowering plant - it's evergreen and so quickly fills empty spaces in the herbaceous border and is like other Hellebores a prolific self seeders - great to be able to share with friends and neighbours alike.

I hope you've enjoyed a quick tour of all that is flowering in our garden here in Brittany and hope to be able to share some more as the months unfold... have a great week!

Saturday, 1 March 2014

The dying art of good letter writing....

"Companion planting" is a term I often come across - a method of organic gardening where you plant certain plants together to enable them to flourish by protecting each other from unnecessary pests.  I think there should be a similar term "Companion Gardeners" as this would best describe the beautiful friendship I discovered that existed between Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd in the book "Dear Friend and Gardener".

Lloyd and Chatto, two of Britain's best known and loved gardeners, share their extraordinary passion and experience of gardening as well as life in general through their regular letter writing to each other during the final decade of the 20th Century. They are also clearly a great source of encouragement and support to each other.

Their correspondence represents many aspects of their lives, often sharing their recommendations to one another of plant varieties, their successes (and failures) in the vegetable garden and the different recipes they'd enjoyed experimenting with when using their home grown produce.  It is difficult to list all the extensive range of topics of their exchanges, but it certainly makes for insightful reading!

This book goes way beyond most normal gardening books In that you really feel a part of their lives in the broadest sense.  One subject that is never absent in a "garden-centred" book is that of the British weather which comes up time and time again - never enough rain when you need it and too much at other times - nothing much changes does it!?

It was funny to read Lloyd's early reference to the then-unknown Sarah Raven: "Sarah is keen on plants and gardens and intends doing some volunteer work here quite soon" - looking at how her career as a gardener has developed since then is amazing.  There is also a great description early on in the book of the six day trip taken by Lloyd and Pip, his student gardener at the time to visit gardens and nurseries.  One of their experiences was taking in the discovery of  Snakeshead Fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris) in their native habitat in the exotic location of.... just south of Reading, Berkshire!  They really are stunning plants but a real bonus I'm sure when seen growing in the wild.

This book is an absolute delight as well as a mine of information offering a small window into the lives of these two inspiring people. And of course as emails have replaced letter-writing in the years since, one wonders whether such books will continue to exist in the future! It is also a book that can easily be read in small bite-sized chunks which is ideal for most of us with ever-hectic lives. This new illustrated hardback edition also contains an introduction by Fergus Garrett, Head Gardener at Great Dixter.  If you're looking for an inspirational read or a gift for a gardening friend, you should look no further.

To order a copy of Dear Friend and Gardener for £16 including p&p* (RRP £20), telephone 01903 828503 or email mailorders@lbsltd.co.uk
, and quote the offer code APG16.

Alternatively, send a cheque made payable to:
Littlehampton Book Services Mail Order Department,
Littlehampton Book Services,
PO Box 4264,
Worthing, West Sussex
BN13 3RB.

Please quote the offer code
 and include your name and address details.

*UK only - Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.


Sunday, 1 September 2013

Amazing what you find when foraging...

hedgesIt was whilst foraging on the Internet for books when I discovered a complete gem!  It's an absolute must for anyone who has a love of the countryside and who enjoys the excitement of discovering wild food sources.  It's also fabulous if if you want to gain a deeper understanding of the many health benefits that come from plants which are growing wild, even as close as your own front door!  "The Hedgerow Handbook" has been beautifully researched and written by Adele Nozedar.  
It is full of suggestions on how to use plants that in some cases would be easy to overlook - such as  Water Mint -an infusion of this simple plant can be great for settling an upset stomach and relieving symptoms of colds and flu.  Haw berries (from  Hawthorn) - they are full of Vitamin C, so why not try the Haw Syrup recipe for warding off winter colds?  If you're a keen gardener you'll be all too familiar with Ground Elder - after reading this book you can discover a delicious recipe for Ground Elder Pancakes so at least you can put this menacing weed to good use!
I certainly couldn't leave out a mention for the gorgeous illustrations in this book.  It is full of stunning botanical drawings and watercolour paintings by illustrator Lizzie Harper.  For anyone unfamiliar with the plants mentioned in this book, would find them easy to recognise due to the excellent quality of Lizzie's artwork.
It's not often I get moved by opening a new book but this one certainly had that effect - a high quality book in every sense and I hope this review might just encourage you to go and discover it for yourself.  It would make a beautiful present for a  friend; I've just bought this for my best friend who recently celebrated her 50th Birthday and she was thrilled to receive this; it reminded her of all the camping holidays we went on when we were younger when gathering up things from the hedgerows to have for our supper!
This book is available on Amazon ... click on the link to order your copy!
Foraging in the hedgerows for wild food is not only a wonderful escape from the business of everyday life that consumes us all but it never ceases to amaze me as to how much natural and nutritious food sources can be discovered in your average hedge (for free!).  
Only today I've been out gathering up a number of kilos of brambles... the wafts of bramble and apple coming up the stairs as I type are wonderful and very reminiscent of my own childhood. 
Whilst I noticed the large quantities of rose hips which are around this year, so with a bit of time they'll ripen up and I will look forward to making some rose hip syrup - you'll find a recipe for this too in the Hedgerow Handbook.

The Sloes are also in abundance this year - found in Blackthorn bushes.  If you've never made Sloe Gin before, you can find a recipe for this along with another for Steamy Sloe Gin, Caramelised Apple and Sloe Pudding - sounds fantastic for a cold autumn evening in front of the fire!

Be inspired and get outside to discover the hedgerows for yourself!  Not only full of food waiting to be foraged but the hedgerows themselves provide an abundance of habitats for wildlife.

Many thanks Adele for writing such a fantastic book and to Lizzie for her fabulous illustrations!