Gardeners World – Gascony France
Gascony in the late Autumn is a wonderful place for a gardener. With a fragrant ancient rose in my front basket, I rode a vintage bicycle through the rolling countryside, passing through tiny villages, long since settled deep into the countryside, as much a part of the land as the crops and the great flocks of birds migrating south overhead.
Six of us met by helping to maintain the gardens and buildings of a beautiful converted barn and farmhouse, still retaining stone slate floors and noticeably cosy rooms with thatch walls. For a fortnight we worked in the sunshine five hours on week days, called in to hearty meals of crusty local bread, aged wine, Armagnac and home grown fruit and vegetables.
We were impressed with the recycling in Gascony. We walked our recycling to the ubiquitous local recycle points, around the corner down the willow lined lanes, a man in a horse drawn cart tipped his hat to us.
French recycling policy recognises that human habits are not sustainable. This system is ingrained in village life in France, and sets an example to us all as consumers, not only at a governance level, but as individuals taking personal responsibility day to day.
Another aspect of Tillac life worth emulation was the use of water. Our spacious French garden featured a humble but beautiful stream-fed pond. The dusk light the sun lit up bulrush heads to glow like lanterns. A myriad of frogs plopped away at our footsteps, we befriended one little fellow of vivid green.
Be it poets or psychiatrists, Zen Buddhists or hikers, nobody denies the calming beauty of water. Water features are a beautiful addition to you garden.
Creating a water feature in your own garden is a hugely rewarding project, creating a serene depth to your garden space. Some may be able to use natural water ways, otherwise use pumps.
To create a wildlife pond, gardeners should follow a few useful pointers. Firstly, choose level ground, avoiding trees which will shed their leaves into the pond and congest it. Landscape the pond, creating ledges for plants around the margins. It is recommended to line the hole with sand to protect the pond liner. Lay the liner neatly, ensure there are no holes. Take photos of the cabling to remember the positioning when it is obscured.
Creating a waterfall not only looks wonderful, it increases oxygenation for the flora and fauna in the pool, and creates ‘white noise’. White noise is a sound that contains every frequency within the range of human hearing in equal amounts, and the calming effects of running water is attributed to white noise.
Placing rocks in the pool will create shelter for wildlife. Plant marginal plants, such as Amphibious Bistort, Bog Arum, Water Cress, Water Crowfoot Ivy, Water Forget-me-Not. Make sure there are oxygenator plants. Include deep water plants, and floating plants such as lilies. Plants can be placed in pots underwater and moved as the grow taller.
Our hosts were a fount of knowledge in many aspects of a gardeners world. They took great pride in their onions, and we learnt some valuable tips for the correct drying of the bulb while assisted them in the harvesting.
Onions should be pulled after a dry spell; onions contain more moisture after rain, thus liable to rot and mildew during storage. Onions should be pulled during a reliably dry spell; they must be left in the sun to dry for several days. The onions are ready to store once their roots are dry and brittle.
On this gardening occasion I was a ‘wwoofer’, immersing myself in traditional French life in the name of gardening. ‘Wwoofing’ (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) is the chance for gardeners who like to meet wanderers and welcome them at their tables whilst getting help with their gardens; the flip side, of course, is that adventurous gardeners can travel and experience cultures off the beaten track in a non-monetary exchange.
The arrangement was originally work on sustainable organic farms in return for food and a bed. It is no longer confined to organics or gardening has expanded to caring for huskies, taking air balloon tours or running NGOs.
Otherwise called ‘Helpex’ or ‘Workaway’ after the two leading wwoofing websites, volunteers network with hosts all over the globe Wwoofers do anything from an afternoon of painting to 12 months keeping gardens in a yoga retreat.
The wwoofing scheme is a brilliant way to share knowledge across borders, a face-to-face barter system enriching friendships and demonstrating the transcendence of gardening in all corners of the Gardeners World.