I find myself in the grip of various emotions when I visit Perch Hill – awestruck by the consistency with which it looks stunning throughout the seasons, admiring at the endless innovation in plant varieties and plain envious of Sarah’s energy and inspiration in creating a fabulous garden that has been the inspiration behind an internationally recognised and successful brand, and her many books on both gardening and food.
The garden was open recently in aid of our local hospice on a perfect September day, so I took the opportunity to have a wander round. Dahlias of every shape and size were at their colourful best and the central arches in the Cutting Garden were hanging with interesting looking gourds, including some that looked rather like semi-deflated balloons.
There was also a row of bright everlasting daisies, also sometimes called strawflowers. They aren’t on offer in her catalogue, so I suspect she is trialling them – they have been very unfashionable for some years, so they are probably ripe for rediscovery.
Tea and cake in the Glasshouse was enjoyed amongst Sarah’s flower arrangements.
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.