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FRANÇOISE SERGY

artist and gardener

 

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gardener

Françoise Sergy started life as an artist. In mid-career, at the age of 40, she fell in love with plants and decided to train as a gardener whilst continuing performing and exhibiting. She studied basic plant science and practical horticulture over several years, ending with a Royal Horticultural Society Diploma, for which she received a commendation. She now gardens part-time for clients in London, her home, maintaining their gardens and gradually transforming some of them with new planting and design features.

 

Her love and knowledge of plants is her main focus. She is also lucky that her partner lives in Cambridge (UK) in a house with a good sized garden. So she spends the week-ends there, slowly developing her dream garden where plants are queens, sculptures roam and humans enjoy a tiny bee’s knees paradise.

 

The following images describe in more detail the Cambridge garden.

Cambridge Garden

  • July 8th 2013
  • June 14th 2016
  • July 3rd 2016
  • May 6th 2013
  • July 3rd 2016
  • June 8th 2014
  • June 7th 2016
  • June 7th 2016
  • June 8th 2014
  • December 6th 2005
  • May 6th 2013
  • May 6th 2013
  • 2016 May 8th
  • 2016 May 8th
  • 2016 May 8th
  • 2016 May 8th
  • 2016 May 16th
  • Foxgloves
  • Fennel
  • quince
  • July 3rd 2016
  • July 8th 2013
  • January 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2011
  • May 28th 2016
  • 2016 May 28th
  • 2016 May 28th
  • 2014 June 8th
  • 2014 Jun 8th
  • 2016 May 28th
  • 2016 May 28th
  • 2014 June 8th
  • 2014 June 8th
  • 2016 May 28th
  • 2016 May 9th
  • 2016 May 9th
  • 2011 June
  • 2013 7th July
  • 2007 June
  • 2014 21st July
  • 2014 21st July
  • 2016 19th April
  • mini hills
  • 2016 23rd May
  • 2016 9th May
  • 2016 3rd July
  • 2014 June 8th
  • 2016 July 3rd
  • 2013 July 8th
  • 2016 October 18th
  • 2016 October 18th
  • 2011 February
  • 2016 April 19th
  • 2016 April 19th
  • 2016 May 28th
  • 2014 June 8th
  • 2014 June 8th
  • 2014 June 8th
  • 2016 June 26th
  • 2016 June 26th
  • 2013 July 1st
  • 2013 July 28th
  • 2013 July 28th
  • 2014 June 8th
  • 2014 June 8th
  • 2016 June 14th
  • 2016 June 14th
  • 2016 June 14th
  • 2016 June 14th
  • 2016 June 14th
  • 2016 June 14th
  • 2016 June 14th
  • 2016 June 14th
  • 2014 June 8th
  • 2016 May 23rd
  • 2016 April 19th
  • 2016 June 14th
  • 2016 July 3rd
  • 2016 June 26th
  • 2010 December
  • 2010 December
  • 2016 May 16th
  • 2016 July 3rd
July 8th 2013

general view 1

This view shows one half of the garden, taken from the green roof. In front of the patio is the "mini hills" border. The path on the left leads to the pond and bog area. A glimpse of the ruin garden can be seen on the top right corner.

June 14th 2016

general view 2

This view shows one half of the garden, taken from the green roof, which is partly visible in the front. The "mini hills" border is below and beyond are the pond, bog and ruin area. The fruit garden begins on the right, out of the picture.

July 3rd 2016

general view 3

This view shows the other side of the garden, from the patio. The grass path leads to the fruit garden. The alpine area and the greenhouse start to the right.

May 6th 2013

general view 4

This is the fruit and herbs garden, with a corner of the greenhouse showing on the right.

July 3rd 2016

general view 5

This is looking at the house from the fruit garden. The greenhouse and alpine area are on the left, the "mini hills" border on the right. The green roof can be seen above the house's back extension.

The house is part of a 1950's council estate, the type of social housing built at the time, in this case around a large circular green with lots of space and light. Social housing built nowadays, if at all, is certainly not this spacious. The garden is on one corner of the estate, making it larger than most.

June 8th 2014

general view 6

A view from the pond towards the house. In the centre is a young mulberry tree, planted 7 years earlier.

When Françoise's partner bought the house, the pond was the only feature in the garden, apart from overgrown conifer, lilac and privet hedges.

Tackling these hedges was one of the first jobs Françoise did. She dug up a row of conifers before planting the shrub border seen on the right. The bases and trunks of the trees were kept to make a stumpery later on.

June 7th 2016

the greenhouse 1

After dealing with the overgrown hedges, the installation of the greenhouse was next. It was bought from Perity's, manufacturers of traditional glasshouses in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire (UK).

The greenhouse is unheated but provides a degree of winter protection for borderline hardy plants and alpines / cacti which don't like being wet in winter. Plants must be able to cope with extreme daily temperature variations, which in summer can reach over 30ºC in one day!

Local residents include an orange tree, myrtle, pomegranate, ferns, carnivorous plants, an enormous canna and semi-hardy bulbs.

June 7th 2016

the greenhouse 2

The entrance to the greenhouse is flanked by bamboos in pots and an old white climbing rose which was already in the garden.

The bamboo on the right is Pseudosasa japonica. Keeping it in a large pot prevents it from spreading and taking over. It is now completely pot bound but still coping, just about!

June 8th 2014

the greenhouse 3

A view inside the greenhouse shows a selection of alpines, a Sarracenia carnivorous plant in a fish tank and an Aloe plicatilis at the back left.

The Aloe and all the other succulents have to be brought inside the house for the winter but most of the cacti can stay in the greenhouse, where they do really well, flowering profusely in spring and summer.

December 6th 2005

the fruit garden 1

This is an image of the fruit garden in its first year, before the herbs were added. The greenhouse and the house are at the back. Raised beds were made with wooden edges to give the garden a structure. Posts and wires are there to support the fruit trees which are grown as restricted forms - cordons and fan shapes - to keep them small. This allows a complete fruit garden to be grown in a small area.

For the trees to remain small, the scions (fruiting trees) were grafted onto a dwarfing rootstock, a cultivar with weaker root strength. Most of them were ordered a year in advance and specially grafted at the Brogdale National Fruit Collection, near Faversham in Kent (UK).

The garden's soil is ideal: clay loam over chalk subsoil, very rich and well drained but alkaline, this being its only downside. The raised beds facilitate the addition of manure, necessary to have a good crop.

May 6th 2013

the fruit garden 2

The fruit garden in full swing. In the foreground is a blackcurrant. The small cherry tree ("Stella") is in flower, as is one of the apple cordons at the back.

The fruit garden includes 6 apple trees, 2 pear trees, 2 plum trees, 1 sweet cherry and soft fruits: raspberries, black and white currants, a gooseberry.

Over the years, other fruits trees have been added in other parts of the garden or grown in pots on the patio: a mini quince and medlar, a chilean guava with delicious berries which goes in the greenhouse in the winter because it is not very hardy, a peach, a fig in a pot, an apricot and more recently a persimmon which may not survive our cold winters. Climbers include a self-fertile kiwi which grows and flowers like mad but doesn't produce fruits and a grape vine trained around the back of the house. Without forgetting the mulberry with the sweetest of berries but incredibly messy to harvest...

May 6th 2013

the fruit garden 3

Three apple and one pear cordons are in the centre. A cordon is a tree with one main branch grown at a 45º angle, up to about 2m high. On the left is part of a plum fan: a tree grown against a wall or fence with branches shaped like a fan. Tying the branches at an angle encourages the tree to produce fruiting side shoots.

The cultivars shown from left to right are the Swiss plum "Andrierez", the apples "Pixie", "Kuldzhinka Krupnoplodaya" (Russian) with beautiful pink flowers and "Great Expectations", and finally the pear "Concorde".

2016 May 8th

the fruit garden 4

The fruit and herbs garden. Both culinary and traditional medicinal herbs were planted to compliment the fruits.

In the background is the Swiss plum "Andrierez". From left to right are the pear "Concorde", the apples "Great Expectations", Russian Kuldzhinka Krupnoplodaya" and "Pixie". The herbs at the bottom are a mixture of mint and oregano. A tulip bulb has appeared, courtesy of the previous owners.

Other herbs in the garden include thyme, rosemary, lavender, sage, garlic chives, lemon balm, soapwort, rue, hyssop, tansy, horehound, sweet cicely, lovage, rhubarb, sorrel, fennel, hedge germander, dropwort, lady's mantle. Many bulbs have also been added.

2016 May 8th

the fruit garden 5

The fruit and herb garden, looking towards the lilac at the end. Between the 6 apple cordons is a bed planted with raspberries. The cultivars are "Autumn Bliss" which is very productive, "Malling Jewel", "Leo" and "Glen Prosen". To gain space, they are grown as clumps around two posts instead of the traditional lengths of wire. In front of the lilac is the small cherry ("Stella"), in flower.

Traditionally, fruit gardens are meant to be planted under sturdy cages to protect the fruits from being eaten by birds. Françoise thought these cages would look unsightly and decided to do away with them. The garden in on the edge of a city and although it gets many birds, there must be enough food for them not to have become pests so far.

2016 May 8th

the fruit garden 6

The fruit and herbs garden. In the background is the cherry "Stella" and the American plum "Seneca" trained as a fan. From left to right are the pear "Doyenne de Comice", the apples "Court Pendu Plat", "Edwards VII" which a cooking apple, and "Pitmaston Pineapple".

A cordon is a tree with one main branch grown at a 45º angle, up to about 2m high. Tying the branches at an angle encourages the tree to produce fruiting side shoots.

The herbs are, at the back lavender and rosemary, at the front forget-me-not, snow tansy (Tanacetum niveum), chives, purple sage and rue (Ruta graveolens).

2016 May 8th

the fruit garden 7

Close-up of the herbs in the fruit garden. A rosemary is at the back. At the front is a snowy tansy (Tanacetum niveum), chives, purple sage and rue (Ruta graveolens).

The fruit trees, from left to right are the pear "Doyenne de Comice", the apples "Court Pendu Plat" and "Edward VII" which is a cooking apple.

Other herbs in the garden include thyme, mint, oregano, garlic chives, fennel, lemon balm, soapwort, lavender, hyssop, horehound, sweet cicely, lovage, rhubarb, sorrel, hedge germander, dropwort, lady's mantle. Many bulbs have also been added.

2016 May 16th

the fruit garden 8

The fruit and herbs garden. A rosemary is at the back. At the front is a snowy tansy (Tanacetum niveum), chives, purple sage and rue (Ruta graveolens).

The fruit trees, from left to right are the apples "Court Pendu Plat", "Edward VII" which is a cooking apple and "Pitmaston Pineapple". At the back is the American plum "Seneca".

Obviously, cordons being small, their crop is reduced. However, the pleasure of tasting different fruits more than compensate for the small harvest and there is no risk of a gluttony of fruits going to waste, unpicked on the ground...

Foxgloves

the fruit garden 9

Foxgloves have seeded themselves in front of the blackcurrant border. The blackcurrants cultivars are "Ben Connan" and "Baldwin". The whitecurrant is "White Versailles" which is a sweet variety. The gooseberry is "Leveller" - it always gets mildew here, not a very successful plant in this case.

Growing amongst the currants is rhubarb "Victoria", sorrel, purple fennel, sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata), dropwort (Filipendula vulgaris) and hedge germander (Teucrium x lucidrys).

Unlike fruit trees, most soft fruits only last for up to 15 years. After this they get diseases and the crop dwindles. The blackcurrants and raspberries will need to be replaced and the beds swapped around, to remove the risk of soil borne problems affecting the new plants.

Fennel

the fruit garden 10

Self-sown foxgloves are seeding in front of the blackcurrant border. The blackcurrants cultivars are "Ben Connan" and "Baldwin". The whitecurrant is "White Versailles" which is a sweet variety. The gooseberry is "Leveller" - it always gets mildew here, not a very successful plant in this case.

Growing amongst the currants is purple fennel in flower, rhubarb "Victoria", sorrel, sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata), dropwort (Filipendula vulgaris) and hedge germander (Teucrium x lucidrys).

Unlike fruit trees, most soft fruits only last for up to 15 years. After this they get diseases and the crop dwindles. The blackcurrants and raspberries will need to be replaced and the beds swapped around, to remove the risk of soil borne problems affecting the new plants.

quince

the fruit garden 11

Here is the quince "Sibley's Patio" which has been bred specifically to be able to grow in a pot. In the last few years, several fruit trees have been bred to remain very small and still produce good crops. This quince produces enormous fruits which make a truly scrumptious compote!

Several of these small trees have been planted in the garden or grown in pots on the patio: a mini medlar, a chilean guava with delicious berries which goes in the greenhouse in the winter because it is not very hardy, a peach, a fig in a pot, a mini apricot and more recently a persimmon which may not survive the cold winters but is too heavy and big to be moved. Climbers include a self-fertile kiwi which grows and flowers like mad but doesn't produce fruits and a grape vine trained around the back of the house. Without forgetting the mulberry with the sweetest of berries but incredibly messy to harvest...

July 3rd 2016

the patio 1

After making the fruit garden, buildling the patio came next. The garden's overall shape goes off at an angle on one side, where the fruit garden is situated. To reflect this and visually integrate all the garden's elements, Françoise built the patio with a diagonal line across the centre, adding an extended corner with a circle along the side shrub border.

The patio was made level by removing the sand underneath the existing paving and digging up uneven ground. A huge pile of spare sandy soil was deposited at the bottom of the garden, to be found a use later on. She did all this by hand - very good exercise!

July 8th 2013

the patio 2

Seen from the roof garden, the side of the patio and the path leading to the pond. The left shrub border replaces a row of conifers which Françoise dug up and used to made a stumpery.

After making the fruit garden, buildling the patio was next. The garden's overall shape goes off at an angle on one side, where the fruit garden is situated. To reflect this and visually integrate all the garden's elements, Françoise built the patio with a diagonal line across the centre, adding an extended corner with a circle along the side shrub border.

Growing in pots on the patio are a Sorbus 'Autumn Spire', a dwarf pomegranate and a London plane tree kept in semi-bonsai form.

January 2008

alpine garden 1

The alpine garden, between the patio and the greenhouse, was the next project.

Before making the garden structures, Françoise had to lay a drain pipe running underneath the area. This will in future be connected to the roof's gutter and take rain water to a buried storage tank.

A yellow hose pipe has been laid next to the drain: It goes to the pond, to feed it excess rain water from the water butts. Rain water is best to water plants and particularly ponds. It is a precious resource which should be recycled.

April 2008

alpine garden 2

The alpine garden, between the patio and the greenhouse, was the next project. The term refers to an area for alpine plants, which are natives of high mountains habitats and to some degree arctic regions. Traditionally, this would have been a rock garden but Françoise was inspired by images at the Utrecht Botanic Gardens in the Netherlands, which showed plants growing in structures made of recycled building materials. So she set off making a small version of this, using what she had available.

On the bottom left is a brick and roof tiles structure. In the middle is a paving stones structure for plants needing extemely well drained conditions. On the right is Ozy, a concrete sculpture made by Françoise's partner.

May 2011

alpine garden 3

This is what the brick structure looked like 3 years after planting.

Many of the plants featured have subsequently died and been replaced. Alpines are very difficult to please: They are niche plants, adapted to survive in very hostile environments which have to be somewhat replicated for them to thrive in our gardens.

Most need direct sunlight throughout the day, a specific micro climate and often perfect drainage. Some also do not tolerate "winter wet" - they normally spend the winter under snow, which is actually quite dry.

2016 May 28th

alpine garden 4

Looking at the brick structure from a distance.

The alpines shown are, from the left, Iberis sempervirens 'Snowflakes', Phlox douglasii 'Cracker Jack', Dianthus Nyewoods Cream (these two alpines are some of the survivors of the original planting). Two miniature spruces are growing inside terrocatta drainpipes: Picea glauca 'Alberta Globe' and Picea mariana nana.

Growing inside the pot in the foreground is the mini medlar tree 'Sibley's Patio'.

2016 May 28th

alpine garden 5

A close-up of survivors: Phlox douglasii 'Cracker Jack' and Dianthus Nyewoods Cream were part of the original planting. They have grown faster and taken over other less vigorous plants, a common occurence in gardens...

A gardener's skill is to control the "thugs" and give others the best conditions possible to succeed. Inevitably, plants are chosen which are not suitable and often a scheme involves putting too many plants too closely together. Gardens have to evolve over time and the learning is constant.

2016 May 28th

alpine garden 6

A close-up of of the brick and tiles structure.

The alpines shown are, from left to right, Aubretia 'Fiona' at the back, Rhodiola trollii, Oxalis magellanica, Clematis x cartmanii 'Joe' at the front (a mini type of clematis) and Ptilotrichum spinosum ( the large plant on the right).

The clematis produces lovely white flowers which are immediately eaten by slugs...

2014 June 8th

alpine garden 7

A view of the paving slabs structure. This was built to cater for alpines which need extremely well-drained conditions. The centre of the structure was filled with soil mixed with a high percentage of grit. Being raised above the ground, the plants can have a long root run before reaching the local clay loam. On the sides, they were planted in pockets of soil in the gaps between the pavers.

Over the years, many plants did not survive but those who did are now thriving. A selection include Saxifraga paradosa, Romulea bulbocodium, Ranunculus calandrinioides, Salvia cyanescens, Ozothamnus coralloides, Euphorbia myrsinites, Daphne cneorum, Erinacea anthyllis, Aethionema membranaceum, Armeria juniperifolia, Arenaria drypidea, Sternbergia lutea.

2014 June 8th

alpine garden 8

A close-up view of the paving slabs structure. This was built to cater for alpines which need extremely well-drained conditions. The centre of the structure was filled with soil mixed with a high percentage of grit. Being raised above the ground, the plants can have a long root run before reaching the local clay loam. On the sides, they were planted in pockets of soil in the gaps between the pavers.

The alpines in flower are, from left to right, Verbascum 'Letitia', Aethionema membranaceum (top right) and Erodium guttatum.

2016 May 28th

alpine garden 9

A close-up view of Erodium guttatum thriving on the paving slabs structure.

Now that plants have become established within the structure, it is becoming much harder for new ones to settle and do well. The soil must be full of roots competing with each other. If the health of all the inhabitants start to decline, Françoise will need to resoil and replant the whole thing. Hopefully this won't happen for a while yet!

None of the alpines are ever fed or manured and they are only watered at planting time.

2016 May 28th

alpine garden 10

A close-up view of Lewisia longipetala (white form) growing on the side of Ozy, a concrete sculpture made by Françoise's partner.

This structure houses plants which need a neutral to acid soil. The sides of the sculpture are open and the soil is just held together with bits of an old marble chimney. Amazingly, plants survive there without any watering.

Behind the Lewisia is a larch tree grown in a pot, from a seed.

2014 8th June

alpine garden 11

An orchid is growing on top of Ozy, the concrete sculpture made by Françoise's partner. The alpine behind is Gentiana septemfida, one of the easiest gentian to grow.

Amazingly, the orchid appeared without Françoise's knowledge. Her guess is that it must have been present in an alpine pot she bought. Over the years, it gradually developed leaves which she assumed to be of a Dodecatheon she had planted there (this had in fact died). No other orchids are present in the garden, so you can imagine her surprise when she saw the flowers! This was two years ago and it has not reappeared since...

2014 June 8th

alpine garden 12

This view shows containers traditionally used for alpines: old kitchen sinks. They are ideal for the job - they have the right depth for many plants, their plughole provides good drainage with the addition of a layer of sharp sand and their planting area can be crafted imaginatively. Françoise kept their white ceramic sides visible rather than make them appear to be real stone troughs, as she was told to do at horticultural college.

The alpines grown in them have certainly fared best, with the least deaths over the years. They include, from the top, Berberis x stenophylla 'Corallina compacta', Alyssum (Ptilotrichum) spinosum, Helianthemum 'Ben More', Arabis x wilczekii (in the chimney pot), Cotula hispida, Erodium glandulosum, Geranium sessiliflorum nigrescens and Arenaria caespitosa aurea (in the chimney pot).

None of the alpines have ever been fed or manured and were only watered at planting time.

2016 May 28th

alpine garden 13

A close-up of houseleeks (Sempervivum cultivars) growing on top of an old kitchen sink. These plants are the most easy alpines, thriving on neglect provided their basic needs are met: total sunlight, dry conditions and little else!

Although trained in horticulture, Françoise is not an expert alpines gardener. She doesn't try to grow difficult specimens and she accepts her constant failures. Despite this, she has a garden full of tiny plants growing and flowering away, doing their own thing for themselves and indirectly for her.

2016 May 9th

pond and bog 1

The mulberry and pond in May.

The bicycle is actually propping up the mulberry, which insists on leaning forward and would soon be falling over otherwise. This is a common behaviour of these trees.

In front of the tree are some Camassias in flower. The red shrub in the background is a japanese quince - Chaenomeles superba 'Clementine' - which has an amazingly long flowering season from January to late May.

2016 May 9th

pond and bog 2

The pond in May.

The red shrub on the left is a japanese quince - Chaenomeles superba 'Clementine' - which has an amazingly long flowering season from January to late May. Below is an Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Variegatus'.

The pond was the only existing feature when Françoise started the garden. It is made of concrete and she soon realised it was leaking along the sides - the roots of some of the aquatics had gone through the concrete! She emptied and repaired it but unfortunately the same thing happened again a few years later. The water level will now remain lower until a radical solution is found.

2011 June

pond and bog 3

The pond in June.

This picture may look serene but one element of the pond is a constant bugbear: DUCK WEED! The little buggers had already established themselves before Françoise took over. She spends hours every month controlling them and every time she goes away for a few weeks, they are back with a vengeance, clogging up every available space. They are definitely winning!

The waterlily in the foreground is Nymphaea candida. The tall strap leaves at the back are flag iris (Iris pseudacorus) and bur-reed (Sparganium erectum). In the middle is a marsh marigold (Caltha palustris).

2013 7th July

pond and bog 4

The pond in July with a view of the mulberry tree and the "mini hills" border.

The aquatic plants growing in the pond include the waterlily Nymphaea candida, flag iris (Iris pseudacorus), bur-reed (Sparganium erectum), marsh marigold (Caltha palustris), a mini horsetail (Equisetum scirpiodes), Iris versicolor kermisina, frogbit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae), water soldiers (Stratiotes aloides), skunk cabbage (Lysichiton camtschatcensis), water mint (Mentha aquatica), water plantain (Alisma plantago-aquatica), lizard's tail (Saururus cernuus), flowering rush (Butomus umbellatus) and the oxygenator Elodea crispa.

2007 June

pond and bog 5

Building the bog area.

Françoise wanted to create a habitat for bog plants: those needing constant moisture in the soil. As the pond was already built and made of concrete, she could not alter it to accomodate a bog. So she dug a very large hole next to the pond (good exercise again!), placed three water tanks in it, added a layer of gravel in the tanks, lined the hole's bottom and sides with corrugated plastic, connected a hose from the water mains to the tanks and filled up the hole with soil rich in organic matter.

Excess water is able to escape through gaps in the plastic but is held inside the water tanks. The bog can be topped up with mains water but this is rarely done as rain water is much better for plants generally.

This artificial bog is only partly successful: It is situated near a large conifer hedge and Françoise suspects that the tree roots have colonised it. The soil is moister than in other parts of the garden but in no way boggy. Still, some plants are doing very well, particularly those which don't attract slugs and snails... and frogs love it too!

Building the bog created another enormous heap of spare soil, this time mostly sub-soil, ready to be used in another chapter.

2014 21st July

pond and bog 6

The bog area next to the pond. A ring of geraniums surrounds the bog, with shade loving cultivars near the hedge.

As mentioned previously, the area's soil is not boggy, just moist. Plants grown here also have to do well in semi-shade.

They include meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), common meadow-rue (Thalictrum flavum), water avens (Geum rivale), Astilbe cultivars, goat's rue (Galega officinalis), Hacquetia epipactis, Primula bullesiana, bugbane (Actaea matsumurae 'White Pearl').

2014 21st July

pond and bog 7

Close-up of the bog area next to the pond. A ring of geraniums surrounds the bog, with some flowers visible here in the foreground.

As mentioned previously, the area's soil is not boggy, just moist. Plants grown here also have to do well in semi-shade. Showing on this image are meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) and purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria). The shrub behind is Kerria japonica 'Pleniflora'.

2016 19th April

mini hills 1

At this stage of making the garden, after building the patio and the bog, Françoise had several large heaps of spare soil at the back of the garden. One was good loamy soil, another was very sandy and the third was sub-soil. How could she use this soil?

She already knew she was going to make a herbaceous border in front of the patio. So she thought of creating a series of mini-hills, each with a different type of soil to suit specific plants. The hills would have meandering mini valleys between them acting as walking paths and a line of glass blocks would delineate each hill, holding the soil within the overall border.

The image shows the hills in April.

mini hills

mini hills 2

The herbaceous border is made of a series of mini hills, using leftover soil which have different qualities: One hill has very sandy soil for a free draining texture and warmth, another has a mixture of sand and loam (semi-dry). Three other hills have rich loam for an average texture, another has had much organic matter added to make it moister and the last hill is mainly chalk sub-soil, reserved for plants found in calcareous grassland.

This image shows one of the meandering mini valleys between the hills. The chalk hill is on the left, with biennial woad flowering (Isatis tinctoria). In the distance are some Allium on another hill (the cultivar Purple Sensation).

Over the years, the mini hills experiment has paid off, with one caveat: All the hills are very well drained, even the one designed to remain more moist. Once the plant roots reach down into the local soil which is rich clay loam, they have plenty of moisture but to do well they must be tolerant of dry conditions on the hills themselves. Françoise only waters at planting time: Her aim is to grow plants which are suited to the conditions and can do well without regular watering. If a plant is struggling, a new position is found. Trials, errors, failures and some successes are the norm!

2016 23rd May

mini hills 3

The herbaceous border in May. In front are the dry and semi-dry hills, dominated by a cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) and two reticulate thistles (Onopordum nervosum). These enormous thistles are biennials and migrate over the years in different parts of the border.

At the back are two of the loam hills and the moist hill, which is not particularly moist, probably partly because of the mulberry tree sucking out moisture from the soil. The plants on this hill are doing fine though, mainly due to luck! The purple perennial near the mulberry is Persicaria microcephala 'Red Dragon', a fast growing plant with beautiful leaves which later in the season reaches way beyond its allocated space but is easily controlled. The bicycle frame on a post is there to support a climber.

Grasses are an important feature of the border, providing visual anchor throughout the year and sculptural form in the winter. The orange flower at the front is a wallflower and the grass next to it is deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens) which is suited to dry sandy conditions.

2016 9th May

mini hills 4

The herbaceous border in May. In front are the dry and semi-dry hills, with a cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) on the left. The bicycle frame on a post is there to support a climber on another mini hill.

Grasses are an important feature of the border, providing visual anchor throughout the year and sculptural form in the winter. The orange flower at the front is a wallflower (Cheiranthus 'Treasure Red') and the grass next to it is deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens) which is suited to dry sandy conditions. Below it is an easy plant: reed grass (Calamagrostis × acutiflora ‘Overdam’), with variegated leaves. On the right grows one of Françoise's favourite plants, a foxtail lily (Eremurus). The next image shows it in flower.

2016 3rd July

mini hills 5

Close-up of the semi-dry hill in the herbaceous border. On the left are two foxtail lily (Eremurus 'Pinocchio'). These plants are fairly tricky to please and are taking a long time to get established in the border. Patience is definitely required in some cases! At the front is an easy plant with a complicated name: Buphthalmum salicifolium 'Alpengold' (willowleaf oxeye). Behind the Eremurus is a self-seeded snapdragon. Behind is a reticulate thistle (Onopordum nervosum), a enormous biennial with deadly sharp silver leaves.

Other plants on this hill include Epilobium angustifolium 'Alba' (rosebay willowherb), Centaurea macrocephala, Bupleurum longifolium, Berkheya multijuga, Limonium platyphyllum (broad-leaved statice), Solidago 'Golden Fleece', Zauschneria californica 'Glasnevin', Buglossoides purpurocaerulea and several tulip species.

2014 June 8th

mini hills 6

The dry hill in the herbaceous border. This hill is dominated by an ornamental cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) which is not completely hardy and has had to be replaced once. On the left, growing up the post, is the climber Campsis radicans flava, which is planted in ordinary soil at the base of the hill.

Other plants on this hill include Crambe maritima (sea kale), Erigeron (the white flowers on the right), several Agapanthus, Eryngium 'Jos Eijking', Centaurea 'Jordy', Veronica spicata 'Heidekind', Poa labillardieri (common tussock-grass), Eragrostis curvula (weeping lovegrass), Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian sage), Triteleia laxa and Tulipa acuminata.

2016 July 3rd

mini hills 7

View from inside the herbaceous border. Parts of three hills are shown: the dry hill on the right, the chalk hill and one of the loam hills. At the back is the climber Lathyrus latifolius (everlasting pea).

Biennial plants feature in the border, moving around every season: Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea), here on the dry hill, evening primroses (Oenothera biennis), reticulate thistles (Onopordum nervosum), Verbascum bombyciferum (silver mullein).

The plant with strap leaves is Libertia grandiflora. In front is Knautia macedonia with pink flowers. An Eryngium can be seen on the top right. Below, growing on the chalk hill, is Campanula rotundifolia. The yellow flowers are Hypericum perforatum (St John's wort) which would take over if allowed to let loose! Françoise reckons that if the garden was abandoned, it wouldn't take long for ten to fifteen plants to dominate the entire area before the native wild flora brought a new type of equilibrium...

2013 July 8th

mini hills 8

One of the loam hills in the herbaceous border. This hill is now dominated by three grasses: Cortaderia 'Evita', a compact pampas grass, Stipa gigantea (golden oats) and Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus' (Zebra grass).

Around the grasses are hollyhock (Alcea), Sanguisorba menzeisii (both seen here), Lychnis coronaria, Lathyrus niger, Inula helenium, Penstemon 'Black Bird' and Libertia cultivars.

At the back is white rosebay willowherb (Epilobium angustifolium 'Alba'), one of the plants which would take over the garden, were its rhizomes allowed to roam freely. Another such plant is common teasel (Dipsacus fullonum), beautiful and imposing but self seeding everywhere.

2016 October 18th

mini hills 9

The herbaceous border in October.

At the back is the mulberry tree. In front is the moist hill, which is not particularly moist but through luck has been one of the easiest hill to get established and is at its peak in the autumn.

Plants featured include Phytostegia virginiana 'Bouquet Rose', Persicaria microcephala 'Red Dragon', Phlox 'Blue Paradise', Thalictrum delavayi 'Hewitt's Double', Chelone obliqua, Amsonia tabernaemontana, Asarum caudatum, Spodiopogon sibiricus (frost grass), Juncus 'Elk Blue' and several sedges (Carex). The orange flowers here are the annual Tithonia 'Torchlight'.

After several failed attempts, Françoise has had to give up trying to grow some of her favourite perennials in the border. The reasons for these are many: wrong soil, too dry, too alkaline, too many snails, too crowded... On her goodbye list are Monarda, Tanacetum, Echinacea, Angelica, Cichorium, Linum, Phyteuma. Many other plants have not made it over the years but these are the ones she misses most.

2016 October 18th

mini hills 10

The herbaceous border in October. At the front is Persicaria microcephala 'Red Dragon'. Behind, the grass Spodiopogon sibiricus shows its best autumn colours.

As a rule, Françoise always grows one plant specimen only and combines it with others similar in appearance, instead of having large clumps of identical species: Her garden is not big and she wants as much variety as possible.

Other plants growing in the border include a mandrake, Colchicum, Echinops, Iris, Eucomis, Parahebe, Asparagus, Camassia, Allium, Molopospermum, Panicum, Nectaroscordum, Ornithogalum, Ipheion, Limonium, Fritillaria and Dierama.

2011 February

ruin / stumpery 1

The stumpery was made after the completion of the mini hills border. A stumpery is a gardening term for an area where plants grow amongst dead tree stumps. As they slowly break down the stumps provide ideal soil conditions for ferns and other woodland plants. Françoise had previously uprooted a row of conifers when starting the garden. For her stumpery, she planted the trunks in a circle, roots upwards, and filled the middle with a mound of soil.

In this case the stumps do not have much contact with the soil and so have a mainly decorative purpose. The circle is quite small and the planting area limited. Standing next to a large conifer hedge, the soil is also fairly dry.

2016 April 19th

ruin / stumpery 2

The stumpery in April. A stumpery is a gardening term for an area where plants grow amongst dead tree stumps. As they slowly break down the stumps provide ideal soil conditions for woodland plants. Françoise had previously uprooted a row of conifers when starting the garden. For her stumpery, she planted the trunks in a circle, roots upwards, and filled the middle with a mound of soil.

Here the stumpery is home to an ornamental bramble, Rubus cockburnianus, with beautiful silver stems in winter and spring. The shrub behind is Kerria japonica 'Pleniflora'. As the bramble becomes larger, little else grows inside the circle but primroses are very happy at the base of the stumps.

2016 April 19th

ruin / stumpery 3

Next to the stumpery is the ruin, seen here in April. Whilst on a week-end away in Wales, walking in an abandoned slate quarry, Françoise got inspired to build a ruin! She contacted Berwyn Slate Quarry, ordered some slate walling and made the corner of a little house, with a glass blocks window.

To the ruin were added rusty tools and implements of a bygone age, as well as many types of containers to grow plants in.

2016 May 28th

ruin / stumpery 4

The stumpery and ruin in May.

On the left is the ornamental bramble Rubus cockburnianus. Growing inside the ruin is the large shrub Rhus tiphina 'Dissecta', which has beautiful autumn colours.

Just showing on the right is a tree Françoise has grown from seeds, which was thought to be Parrotia persica but ended up being a hybrid between Parrotia and Sycopsis (x Sycoparrotia semidecidua). It lacks the wonderful autumn colour of its parent but frames the ruin well.

2014 June 8th

ruin / stumpery 5

The stumpery in June.

Woodland plants are growing well on the edge of the stumps, including Sanicula europaea (sanicle), Lysimachia nummularia (creeping jenny), Silene dioica (red campion), Adoxa moschatellina (townhall clock), Lilium martagon (martagon lily), Synthyris missurica stellata and Primula cultivars.

Inside the stumpery, the bramble is creating too much shade and the few survivors are not establishing well.

2014 June 8th

ruin / stumpery 6

Françoise has planted many ferns and other plants in and around the ruin. Some are growing in a permanently wet environment inside an old tin bath and enamel tub. At the bottom of the image are two of these, the horsetail Equisetum variegatum and Mukdenia rossii 'Crimson Fans', which has wonderful leaf colours.

Inside the tin bath, to add height, some of the ferns are grown in metal tubes, raising them above the wet soil, such as Athyrium filix-femina and Dryopteris species.

2014 June 8th

ruin / stumpery 7

Close-up of an old mangle and of ferns growing in a tin bath.

The fern species which need permanent moisture include a royal fern (Osmunda regalis), Onoclea sensibilis, which can be seen in the centre and Blechnum chilense.

Other ferns are grown in metal tubes, raised above the wet soil, such as Athyrium filix-femina and Dryopteris species.

2016 June 26th

ruin / stumpery 8

The ruin and stumpery in June.

Ferns dominate the planting in the ruin but other species include Cyclamen hederifolium, Cardamine diphylla, Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot), Hepatica nobilis, Anemonopsis macrophylla.

All the containers used, with the exception of the bath tubs, have had their base taken out to enable the plant roots to grow into the soil.

2016 June 26th

ruin / stumpery 9

The back of the ruin.

The ferns included in and around the ruin include Cyrtomium fortuniae, several Polystichum and Polypodium, which cope with dry conditions, Asplenium (hart's tongue fern), Dryopteris, Cyrtomium fortunei, Adiantum venustum (a creeping maidenhair fern), Athyrium, Onychium japponicum.

Not all fern species have survived, particularly those which prefer more acidic soil, such as Blechnum. Being primitive plants with basic root systems, ferns grow slowly and they are taking their time to colonise the area. Hopefully both the plants and the little house corner built by Françoise will eventually age into a genuinely overgrown ruin...

2013 Jluy 1st

green roof 1

Creating the roof garden on the house's extension has involved building a new roof. The existing flat roof was sagging badly, as well as being very poorly insulated and not strong enough to support the weight of a green roof. The new roof was built according to specific green roof requirements. In terms of costs, this was by far the biggest project.

After the builders left, Françoise started on the green roof, using materials made by the green roof company Optigreen, following her roofing contractor's instructions. This involved carrying many bags of soil and stones through the house and up a flight of stairs. Her plan was to make a mini "brown field" garden.

2013 July 28th

green roof 2

The green roof ready for planting.

The green roof consists of four layers placed one above the other on top of the waterproof roof membrane: first a protection layer to prevent plant roots from damaging the membrane; followed by drainage boards - plastic boards with many egg cup shapes which allow rain water to drain very slowly; followed by a filter mat that holds the soil above the drainage boards; and finally the visible layer - the soil and decorative aggregates. In this case the soil is a mixture of sub-soil from the garden and lightweight substrate provided by the green roof company.

The last three layers are surrounded and held in place by a metal frame. The outer edges are filled with pebbles and excess water drains into gutters.

2013 July 28th

green roof 3

The green roof ready for planting.

At the top is The Lady, a sculpture made from a bath which will act as a small pool.

The roof includes pockets of broken pavings and other building materials, as well as wooden logs and branches. Slate paths surround the planting areas, where soil depth is mostly kept at 6 cm (the minimum needed for plants species adapted to these conditions). A few areas have greater soil depth but these only use a lightweight substrate, to ensure the overall roof weight remains within its specified limits.

2014 June 8th

green roof 4

The green roof one year on in June.

Françoise chose to use mainly native plants recommended for green roofs. She bought "plugs" (very young plants) and planted them in the autumn when the soil was moist and they would have time to get their roots established before the summer drought: Because the soil on a green roof is so thin, it dries out quickly, particularly in summer.

The following June, some of the plants were getting established, particularly the Sedum species, which are traditionally used on green roofs. Other plants also appeared spontaneously, from seeds present in the sub-soil which was added to the substrate, including a Nicotiana and Verbascum species.

2014 June 8th

green roof 5

The green roof one year on in June.

A self-sown evening primrose is on the left and in the centre is Dianthus deltoides, which often dries up in the summer but now self-seeds itself.

The roof is taking much time to get established, with many plants drying up in the summer, even those meant to cope! Some of the survivors are biennials - Echium vulgare (viper's bugloss) has been a real success. Others regrow from seeds. Françoise's plan is to control the "weeds" she does not want and add plugs and seeds to see what takes. She does not water the roof.

2016 June 14th

green roof 6

The green roof three years on in June, slowly getting established.

Sedum species are spreading, including in the driest areas against the house. Biennial Echium vulgare (viper's bugloss) with its beautiful blue flowers is doing great, so are Salvia verbenaca (wild clary), Achillea millefolium (yarrow), Pilosella aurantiaca (fox and cubs), Plantago lanceolata (narrowleaf plantain), Galium verum (lady's bedstraw), Allium vineale (wild garlic).

On the left is shown part of the Ladybird sculpture, a "bugs hotel" mainly used by spiders - the green roof is too exposed for most bugs to nest there!

2016 June 14th

green roof 7

The green roof three years on in June, slowly getting established.

The Lady is shown: a sculpture made from a tub, acting as a bird bath. Around The Lady is a grape vine (Vitis 'Boskoop'), growing in the garden below and trained to run on the edge of the green roof. Another climber, a kiwi fruit (Actinidia deliciosa 'Solo') is also trained to run between the green roof and the back wall of the house, where the roof's soil is particularly dry. The roof has a shallow slope towards the garden and the eaves of the house stop rain from reaching the ground. Very few plants are managing to grow in the area right against the house.

The logs are a seat.

2016 June 14th

green roof 8

A close-up of The Lady: a sculpture made from a tub, acting as a giant bird bath. Behind her is a grape vine (Vitis 'Boskoop'), growing in the garden below and trained to run on the edge of the green roof.

Inside the bicycle wheel is deeper but freely draining soil planted with hardy cacti. These include Echinocereus species, Gymnocalycium species, Notocactus mammulosus, Coryphantha vivipara.

2016 June 14th

green roof 9

This part of the green roof is near the front, where water drains into the gutters. Apart from the cactus wheel, the soil is less dry here. The wooden logs also create a mini climate with greater moisture in the air. This is why Sanguisorba minor ssp. minor (salad burnet) grows hapily against the logs. This is the only place within the roof where it has established itself.

On the left and right are Sedum rupestre and Sedum album (stonecrops) and Rhodiola rosea: hardy succulents ideal for green roofs. The tall biennials in the middle are evening primrose (Oenothera biennis).

2016 June 14th

green roof 10

Close-up of of Sedum rupestre growing amongst pebbles and broken stones. This area has no soil at all and yet some plants have managed to seed there, including a Verbascum and Echium vulgare.

On the pebbles is a rusty wood and metal beach relic, maybe part of a boat or pier structure.

A green roof is a difficult habitat for plants to grow and a lot of those adapted to the environment are small in size. This is why Françoise has given room for objects to mingle amongst the plants and add interest.

2016 June 14th

green roof 11

Branches from the conifers that Françoise uprooted early on in the garden's life have found good use on the roof. Viper's bugloss (Echium vulgare) is growing amongst them, as is yarrow (Achillea millefolium).

Other plants doing well include Origanum vulgare (oregano), Malva moschata (musk mallow), Scabiosa columbaria (pincushion flower).

Recently, Françoise has added seeds to the planting, both of native perennials and hardy annuals. Some seedlings are now growing which she has yet to identify. Seeing them in flower for the first time will be great!

2016 June 14th

green roof 12

Branches from the conifers that Françoise uprooted early on in the garden's life have found good use on the roof. Viper's bugloss (Echium vulgare) is growing amongst them, as is yarrow (Achillea millefolium), oregano and wild clary (Salvia verbenaca).

Three years after planting the green roof, the soil is still thinly populated. Many seedlings grow between autumn and spring before fizzling out during the dry summers. Creating a green roof is a real test of patience and hope. Each autumn seems to be back to the starting point, except for the knowledge that the soil is holding more and more seeds and that one day, maybe, it will look after itself...

Recently, Françoise has added seeds, both of native perennials and hardy annuals. Some seedlings are now growing which she has yet to identify. Seeing them in flower for the first time will be great and she'll keep trying with new species until there is no more room!

 

2016 June 14th

green roof 13

Close-up of hardy cacti and succulents growing amongst logs on free draining soil. So far these have done very well, with only a few losses. Some of these plants are very large in the wild but Françoise doubts this will become a problem on her British roof!

The two plants featured here are Lobivia huascha on the left and Agave parryi v. huachusensis. Also on the roof are Aloe striatula, Aloe aristata and Opuntia humifusa (prickly pear).

2014 June 8th

sculptures 1

Many of the sculptures dotted around the garden have a utilitarian function, often to train climbers or act as planters. Most are also made out of bicycle components: Françoise and her partner love bikes and they had a shed full of frames and old bits waiting to be put to good use!

Ladybird, shown here, is on the green roof. It is meant to be a "bugs hotel" but the green roof is much too exposed for most bugs to want to call it home, with the possible exception of spiders...

2016 May 23rd

sculptures 2

Ozy, shown here, was made by Françoise's partner. It is a very heavy concrete planter, inspired by Shelley's poem Ozymandias:

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command.....

.....'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

2016 April 19th

sculptures 3

Many of the sculptures dotted around the garden have a utilitarian function, often to train climbers or act as planters. Most are also made out of bicycle components: Françoise and her partner love bikes and they had a shed full of frames and old bits waiting to be put to good use!

Here in the background is a bicycle and ivy sculpture which later in the year support a hop climber. The ivy is growing over an uprooted tree trunk shaped like a torso.

In the foreground is the shrub Viburnum burkwoodii with scented white flowers. Behind it is the Japanese quince Chaenomeles superba 'Clementine' with red flowers.

2016 June 14th

sculptures 4

This sculpture, The Lady, is on the green roof and acts as a giant bird bath. It is definitely popular with pigeons, blackbirds and magpies.

Françoise sawed a woman's shape into a bath tub, as if a lady was actually reclining in the bath. This was the easiest and quickiest artwork she has ever made!

In the summer, The Lady is dressed with a grapevine growing along the front of the roof.

2016 July 3rd

sculptures 5

This saddle sculpture sits by the aerial stems of a climber, Campsis radicans flava, in the mini hills border.

It was made with a bag of solidified concrete as a stand, with moss now growing on it. Although technically a seat, the structure is very uncomfortable to sit on!

2016 June 26th

sculptures 6

This is a close-up of the ruin, showing some of the rusty old objects displayed there.

Part of an Edwardian lawn roller can be seen on the right, with shears propped up against it. Behind the roller is a gardening gloves graveyard, where Françoise puts her worn out pairs to rest, with the shape of her hands permanently embedded in the leather. They are slowly being covered in moss.

2010 December

sculptures 7

A view of the mini hills border in winter. The wheel and pedals sculpture in the background acts as a support for the climber Campsis radicans flava. It is visible in winter when the climber loses its leaves but disappears inside the plant in summer. This happens to all the sculptures with a similar function. Discovering them again after leaf fall adds interest to the garden during the cold months.

2010 December

sculptures 8

Close-up of the wheel and pedals sculpture covered in frost. It is visible in winter when the climber it supports loses its leaves but it disappears inside the plant in summer. This happens to all the sculptures with a similar function. Discovering them again after leaf fall adds interest to the garden during the cold months.

Most of the sculptures are made out of bicycle components: Françoise and her partner love bikes and they had a shed full of frames and old bits waiting to be put to good use!

2016 May 16th

flowers 1

A cactus flower in the greenhouse: Echinopsis eyriesii.

The flower is huge for the size of the cactus but it only lasts about a day!

2016 July 3rd

flowers 2

A bumble bee pollinating flowers of Dierama pulcherrimum (angel's fishing rod).

These flowers are some of Françoise's favourites. She has had to move them to give them a better position and they are gradually establishing. She remembers seeing them in all their glory in Beth Chatto's garden, a plantswoman she greatly admires.