I’ve recently been to a press preview of new varieties from the Ipswich seed company and have whittled down the many to the few that I found most interesting. Top of my list is the Wasabi Rocket with leaves that really do have the tang of wasabi. I will be making the first sowing this weekend. I also got a top tip from Colin Randall, their vegetable guru, who really does know his onions, potatoes, tomatoes – in fact any vegetable. If flea beetle is a problem, sow vulnerable plants in containers at least 30cm tall – this is higher than fleabeetles can jump.
Pea Terrain and Mange Tout Sweet Horizon are also interesting new late varieties – they are very mildew resistant and I was told that if I sow them this weekend I could be picking peas and mangetout in autumn right up to November.
When it comes to flowers and foliage plants, there was no shortage of colour, but my tastes are usually for subtle shades. There’s a lovely new soft yellow cosmos called Xanthos and a delicate colour-changing Argyranthemum Honey-Bees Light Pink with flowers that slowly fade to pink and a striking hardy begonia called Garden Angels.
I have mixed feelings about petunias – I love their fragrance and some of the soft-hued varieties, but I find them quite hard work to keep looking good over a long period – this probably says more about me than the petunias – but whatever the reason I generally don’t grow them. For those who do though I thought Indian Summer and mustardy-coloured Dijon were both really attractive and I’ve included a photo of Night Sky because it is so weird – it looks like a careless decorator has splattered it with paint.
I first read about this event in Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book when she wrote that ‘The great event of our summer in France is the garlic and basil fair at Tours. It is always held on St.Anne’s day, July 26th.’ The description that followed was like a siren call to me, so it was inevitable that I would go there. It was every bit as wonderful as she had said, but that was twenty years ago and I felt it was time for a return visit. There is a danger in going back – things do change – and admittedly the mountain ponies, monkeys and dwarfs were no longer there selling rather nasty Alpine sweets (bad taste in every way) – but everything else was as I remembered.
There’s an entire square filled to overflowing with pots of basil in every possible variety, the side streets are lined with trestles laden with the new season garlic, as well as shallots and onions, there are stalls selling charcuterie and delicious street food to be consumed at communal tables, washed down with top quality local wine at 2 euros a glass. Who wouldn’t be happy?
Both garlic and sellers vary enormously!
Cafe and street food is delicious
It remains a local event with all the Tourangeaux (inhabitants of Tours) stocking up with garlic to last until next year’s fair and filling their bags with as many basil plants as they can carry. Torrential rain did little to dampen enthusiasm and if it all got too much there was always the option of eating at one of the cafes in the square, or sitting at one of the communal tables to eat some street food. Unlike many French markets, it did not finish at lunchtime, but lasted well into the evening, so there was time to linger round the stalls, watch what the locals were buying and follow their example. Despite travelling home by regional train and Eurostar, I did buy myself a plait of garlic, a pot of small-leaved basil and a kilo of fresh cornichons for pickling – wonderful mementoes of a very happy return.
Back home with my plait of garlic, my pot of basil and the cornichons now pickling for future use.
I may have arrived too late for Chedigny’s official Rose Festival but there was still an abundance of flowers to be seen in this lovely village, including roses. Think a mellow stone Cotswold village transported to the Loire and you get an idea of its charm. It all started when the mayor got fed up with people driving through Chedigny without stopping – en route to somewhere else. He persuaded the villagers to plant the fronts of their houses with climbing roses and other flowers, created off-street parking so they (and visitors) had no need to park on the street and introduced traffic calming. Clever man – the villagers embraced the idea enthusiastically – and now Chedigny is a destination with various events taking place that draw the visitors.
I love the way they have matched the paintwork to this Vitex agnus-castus
Even the traffic-calming is horticultural in Chedigny
I stayed at www.leclosauxroses.fr – a very comfortable restaurant with rooms in the heart of the village. The food was delicious. I was much relieved to be assured that the bells on the nearby church stop ringing at 11pm and don’t start again until 8am the next morning.This is a place to relax, there’s little in the way of shops other than a boulangerie, a book shop and a few discreet art and craft galleries – the highlights are the plants and the traditional lavoir.
I did discover a plant I now have a serious yen for – Campsis grandiflora ‘Morning Calm’. It isn’t available in the UK, but I am on the search for a source. Ok, it can grow to 10metres, but I have a perfect spot where I can let it rampage away and reward me with its glorious flowers.
It’s worth rising early in Chinon to walk through quiet streets and really absorb the atmosphere of this beautiful medieval town on the banks of the Vienne River with its hilltop chateau that was once home to the Plantagenets. It’s justifiably famous for its wine and had it been a bit later I could have spent a happy bibulous hour or two visiting the wine producers caves in the cliffs beneath the chateau tasting the wines. But other destinations beckoned and wine tasting at 9am is never a good idea.
Fortunately I had stayed the night before and ate at a fabulous fish restaurant called L’Oceanic and tasted a rosé Chinon which was totally delicious. It was only the previous week that Telegraph wine expert Victoria Moore had written about rare white Chinon (I don’t think it gets exported) and I’m sure this is equally true of the rosé.
Anyway the early morning stroll was undistracted by food and wine, taking in glimpses of gardens, some rather fine municipal planting in limestone planters and the limpid Vienne.