Do you have a special garden that you have visited?  One that lingers in the memory, which gave you lots of ideas for your garden or which just felt so wonderful to be in?

(I apologise for the lack of photos – I think I must have been too overwhelmed by the visual stimulation of the garden to take more.  I think I will have to make a return visit some day…..)

My choice would have to be Les Quatre Vents which is in Charlevoix County, Quebec, Canada.  It is now almost 10 years since I visited the garden, but the wonder of that day is still with me, aided I have to admit by the wonderful book on the garden that my brother in law found and sent to me.  But I digress, let me take you through the story of how we came to visit.

The house we stayed in

A group of us were holidaying in a house in rural Quebec overlooking the St Lawrence.  Before we went, I did my research and discovered that Les Quatre Vents was close by.  However, it only opens on four days a year and whilst our visit coincided with one of the days, they were already sold out, two months before our visit.  It looked as if we would be unable to see these wonderful gardens.

View of the St Lawrence from the house

However when we arrived at the house, we found that the property came with membership of the gardens which allowed holders to visit on Wednesdays in addition to the four general open days.  This was wonderful news.  Not only were we able to visit, but also there was virtually no one else there so we almost had the garden to ourselves.   There were two gardeners in the party, myself and my brother in law, and a few more who had an interest in the topic and so were interested in coming too.  Two were not the slightest bit interested in topic, but decided to come with us for an hour or so and then they would go off elsewhere.  To give you an idea of how inspiring this garden is, our two non-gardening friends decided to stay with us for the whole visit.

Les Quatre Vents is a garden of rooms, some small and intimate, others much larger.   You enter the garden near the house.  The garden near the house has a very homely atmosphere.  This is no grand garden, but rather the sort of garden that many of us would have outside the house.  It feels as if it has been there since the house was built in the 1920s.  In this part of the garden, you get no idea of what you will find as you explore more.  There are lovely stone edged beds and very typical planting.  The key thing that struck me here was that the impact of Canadian winters is that plants have a much shorter growing period and so plants that would never flower at the same time in the UK, such as roses and aqualegias, were flowering their heats out together.  It was a little like being at Chelsea, only in a real garden.

From there we moved on and it wasn’t long before we started to realise what a wonderful garden this is.  First we came to a number of garden rooms separated by tall hedges.  One contained a “long border” and another topiary.  One was very narrow and simply contained a long rill with grass on either side.  One started to get a feeling of the excitements that were to come.

A wonderful "borrowed" view

Almost every gardening device is employed somewhere at Les Quatre Vents.  On occasions, you get glimpses of “borrowed” views.  Another time, we thought we could see a statue, but we didn’t remember seeing it when we were near to where it appeared to be located.  We walked back and found that the “statue” was in fact a carefully placed silhouette, made from what appeared to be hardboard, which was not obvious when you were near it.

As you move further from the house, the garden rooms get larger.  There was a beautiful music room in the middle of a lightly wooded area, a Chinese pond and then we came to the ravine.  There was a wonderful rope bridge to cross this by.  The only problem is that I have a fear of heights and, in particular, swinging bridges.  The intrepid members of the party took the bridge and then had to wait for ages for me to finally reach the other side by the land route.  Thank goodness the trek to the other side was worthwhile.

Jazz Playing Frogs

Having walked along a lovely tree lined path through what appeared to be a spring garden, we came to the Pigeon House.  This is a huge archway building with the most amazing mosaic under it.  It is a focal point on this side of the garden.  From there we ventured on to a hedge surrounded area.  About half way down were two  side arms, like transepts in a church, where there were six foot high frog musicians.  One group were playing jazz and the other classical music.  Not only could you see the characters, but as you moved close to them, appropriate music stated playing!

From there we moved on to the Japanese garden, and then we went back toward the house to explore the other side of the garden.  I will admit that by now we were tired, there were so many wonderful sights that we had seen that our brains were starting to flag a little.  We went past the on stream fed swimming pond, which fits so naturally into its surroundings with its surface flush with the thyme lawn it sits in and eventually reached the vegetable garden.

Les Quatre Vents is the most amazing garden I have ever seen.  I highly recommend a trip to the garden if you can possibly manage it.  If you do decided to go, make sure you book your tickets for the garden a long time in advance, they can sell out six months before the opening dates.  Being a private garden, there is virtually nothing online about the garden.  It opens in aid of Centre écologique de Port-au-Saumon, and you can buy tickets on their website.

If you can’t get there in person, then look out for the book on the garden – “The Greater Perfection” by its owner Francis H Cabot.  It is not a cheap book, but probably cheaper than a visit for most of us.  Amazon has a few pages available to look at.  Other than that, there is a virtual tour that gives you an idea of what the gardens are like.

 

Whale watching

It is really worth making the trip to the St Lawrence, and while you are there, you might want to fit in a whale watching session as well.

 

Writing all of this has made me think that I really have to go back to Les Quatre Vents again to soak in its magic once more.

 

 

Ok, so you have been seeing loads of pictures of my garden that I share with my dogs, now here is your chance to show off your garden.  

Whether it is a work in progress or something that is a little more mature, so long as you don’t have a seperate areas of the garden for you and your dog(s), send me the pictures and I’ll put a selection in a new gallery section on this site. 

I need at least three pictures and up to 500 words to describe your garden and dog(s).  Make sure that at least one of the pictures includes your dog(s).  Pictures should be  minimum 600 x 400 pixel resolution.

Just fill in the form below with some basiscs about your garden and then we will get the process going.

This is a real garden and so not quite as pristine as one at the Chelsea Flower Show, but in my own way, I have an understanding of what those gardeners go through.   I am now at the titivating stage before next week’s NGS opening.

There is a path - I promise 🙂

For myself, I am happy to have the plants spilling over the paths in gay abandon, but I know that visitors would like to actually see the paths in front of them.  So this weekend, the job has been to persuade the plants to stay behind the border edging plant supports I have. 

Border plant supports – hopefully soon to be hidden

Whilst they are also made from metal and robust, they are different from the ones that I use to protect individual plants from the unwanted attentions of the dogs.  If you are interested in this type of support, check out Snape Stakes.  In the next week, the plants should grow enough to hide the supports whilst still benefitting from them.

Aqualegias are looking wonderful this year

I am spending my time wandering around the garden and watching for anything that looks out-of-place.  Never before have I had to dead headed Aquilegias as they are usually over by the time of the garden opening.  They are looking wonderful at the moment and I am just praying that they can manage to hold on for another week.

The bay that I had to avoid pruning earlier in the year as it was home to a blackbird nest has now had its annual trim, and the stock of bay leaves for the kitchen has been replenished.  Any yellow leaf that I see is whipped of the plant – everything is so late this year that the evergreen shrubs are still losing last year’s leaves.

Fallen wisteria flowers carpet

The big job left is sweeping the paths – this has to be done again and again.  The remnants of the wisteria’s flowers are still trying to carpet the garden.  Obviously they have competition from other plants which are dropping leaves and flowers too.  Then there are the bits of wood chip that the birds clear out of the way in their search for worms.  I used to blame the dogs for this until I realised that it happened even if the dogs hadn’t been out.

Less than a week's growth, the wisteria is trying to invade the house

In other posts, I have mentioned that the wisteria is a thug.  It grows so fast that it can be hard to keep it under control.  One of my more unusual jobs is to go upstairs and prune what I can reach from the bedroom windows.

But next weekend, the garden will be lovely – and all the big jobs I have to do each year will be done.  After the opening, I can sit back and enjoy my garden without having to worry too much.

When people ask me the style of my garden, I say that is a modern cottage garden – so, what do I mean by that?

Well, I embrace the principles of cottage gardening, as I see them. 

  • I love the idea of having a garden overflowing with plants.  
  • Apart from the pond area, which has a totally different feel, the garden is not formal at all. 
  • There are no straight lines, everything is in curves from the paths to the pergola and the patio.  Those decisions created the flowing borders, sometimes narrower and sometimes broader.  There is a meandering feel to the garden. 
  • The materials are all traditional from the stone and slate paths to the wooden garden furniture. 

There is no need for a time consuming lawn, this is a garden for someone who has a living to earn and wants somewhere peaceful to enjoy in the few hours that one gets to one’s self. 

We do have an area of space by the house, which provides the breathing space that most people get from a lawn.  I hate to call it a patio, but that is the best word to describe what I prefer to think of as a piece of art made from slate.   As well as providing a simple space, it is designed to be large enough for a puppy play pen.  It also looks even more lovely when it has rained as the slate seems to come alive when wet.

I hope that it is not too obvious when one walks around the garden, but all of this was planned – the garden didn’t just simply appear out of the ground.  There was a great deal of forethought as to how to make the best use of the space available and how to take one on a journey through the garden.

Like most cottage gardens, mine is one that we work in too.  My husband loves to BBQ and so that is catered for in the working area by the side of the house, along with the tomatoes and  plants waiting to go in the ground, as well as our compost bin. 

So, where are the “modern” elements?  Firstly, I have a small garden which has to work for me all year, providing some sort of interest throughout the months.  So rather than totally focusing on plants that are at their peak in mid summer, I have plants that come to their best at different times of the year.  Rather than the garden blooming in a crescendo and then falling away, I like to have an ongoing wave of plants coming to their best at different times.  That tends to mean that  the predominant colour in my garden is green, in oh so many shades and leaf shapes, with certain plants in different areas of the garden which catch the eye at different times.

I also enjoy a much wider plant variety that was available to our ancestors.  I happily mix ostespermums from South Africa in with the more common cottage garden plants such as aquilegias or geraniums.  I have magnolias and other shrubs that would have been rather out of the price bracket of our forebears.  I also can afford to buy plants rather than having to grow everything from seed, which is a good job as I don’t have much success with seeds.

The one way in which I don’t follow the cottage garden planting bible is that I don’t grow food crops in the garden – apart from a few herbs in a pot.  Maybe we are much more fastidious these days, but I would rather that things that I eat had not been too close to where my dogs might have relieved themselves.

I am certainly not averse to adding a few architectural elements to the garden, in the right places.  In the middle of one of the borders, peering out from the planting that surrounds it,  is a steel column  with water flowing down its sides.  It was never intended to be a bird drinking fountain, but the local population has decided that it makes a lovely source for fresh water. 

My Lythrum (purple loostrife) grows to six feet plus in our clay soil, much taller that it is meant to.  To ensure that it does not totally soak us when we walk past after rain, we tie it in to four tall black poles, made for me by a blacksmith.  Before the lythrum grows to its full height each year, the poles give height to an area which mostly has herbaceous perennials and so could look a little bland without them.

PS All these pictures were taken this week, so it gives you an idea of what the garden is looking like today – how is yours doing?

I was going to start this by saying that I started a new project today, but actually it started months ago.  I was talking at our breed club AGM with a friend and we started talking about gardening.  She has a large garden and wants to turn it into a garden.  If that sounds stupid, bear with me.  

She has a large amount of land outside the house.   It is currently mostly laid to grass with a few plants around the border and a couple of trees – it is the typical blank canvas.  Whilst she is at ease with vegetables and fruit (her polytunnels are outside the garden area), gardens are a little more of a challenge to her, particularly taking into account the needs of the dogs and family.

The next stage in the journey was that she asked me to write an article for the club newsletter.  The thing that most resonated with her about this was the idea that not only were there the human routes through the garden, but that the dogs too had their own routes that had to be considered.

A few months have passed by and she recently contacted me for help in the next phase of the project.  She wanted some help in turning the garden into a garden.  I am not a professional gardener but I was intrigued by the prospect of working with her on this. 

It will be a very unconventional situation.  Despite the fact that we meet at canine events, we live many miles from each other, so photos, email and phone conversations will be the methods of communication.  I won’t be giving her a design to work to, but what we will do is discuss her issues and I’ll make some suggestions to help her on the way.  It will be totally her garden, I will just ask the questions to help her make the decisions that are right for her.

With Debbie’s agreement, I will document the process in this blog.  Hopefully it will provide some ideas to others.

I like it when my compost bin is full – it feels like the garden’s way of telling me that it has had enough cutting back for a while.

I used to have two wooden compost bins but found it took so long to turn my green waste into compost. This was basically because it was just too much work to continually empty it to turn it. I would think over the seven years that I had the bins, I got about a bag’s worth of compost out of them. So when the wood finally rotted away, I had a decision to make.

My inital thought was to pay for the green waste bags that the council supply. It just seemed the easy solution. All we had to do was remember to put the bags out for collection once every two weeks. Fortunatley we live in a cul-de-sac and the lorry always came at lunch time. On a number of occassions, we suddenly remembered what day it was when we saw the lorry pass by as we ate our lunch. There was then a mad dash to put the bag out before the lorry had time to turn around and come past again.

I used the green bags for a couple of years, even investing in a second bag as I had so much to come out of the garden, especially at peak periods such as the end of summer. But all the while I did this, the thought that I was paying to throw away something valuable just niggled and niggled at me. I suppose part of the problem was knowing (from my perspective) how much hard work composting was.

Eventually, earlier this year, I decided to invest in a tumbling composter. Turning was going to be easy :). They promised you could make compost in two weeks (in ideal cirumstances). Well, I’m not in a position to hold enough material to always empty it and then fill it again, but I could manage to make sure that everything that goes into it has been through my shredder and turning it is a lovely quick job – just six revolutions a day – well, every day I remember. I have already had bags of compost out of it. It can be a bit of a pain sieving out the bits that haven’t composted enough yet, but a lot of that is because initially I wasn’t strict enough with myself about ensuring that everything had been through the shredder. I have learnt my lesson.

I really enjoy the shredding part of the job. It is strangely satisfying to see a huge mound of green waste turn into a much smaller mound of shreddings. The other thing is that I am constantly amazed by the dogs when I shred. The shredder lives in the garage and some time ago we decided to teach the dogs that they couldn’t come into the garage because there are tools and chemicals in there that could be dangerous to them. So now the dogs stay at the open door of the garage watching me work and waiting for me to come out and play with them.

On one of my journeys between the shredder and compost bin tonight, I found that Ruby had brought a toy outside. Normally she is very good and understands that her toys live inside, but today the ragger was obviously in need of a trip out doors. When I asked her to pick it up, she showed what a good gundog she is and immediately did so. She took it indoors as asked, but then wanted to come out again with it still in her mouth. She thought I wanted her rather than the toy inside. Thankfully after me removing the toy from her mouth a couple of times and gently laying it on the floor and inviting her outside she eventually got the message and was parted from her toy – until we all came indoors again.

Now, all I have to do is wait for a couple of weeks and then I will have some more compost and the process can start all over again :).