Gardening in Auvergne
PUBLISHED: 17:32 08 December 2014 | UPDATED: 15:08 25 May 2016
A British expat tells us about the difficulties of gardening at a high altitude and shares some tips for other gardeners in Auvergne
Sue Woodward and her husband Kev bought a cottage on the Cézallier plateau in Auvergne five years ago. She reveals the challenges of gardening at an altitude of 1,200m.
What was the garden like when you first arrived?
The previous owner was a painter and film-maker rather than a gardener but he had planted a few rose bushes, lupins and two very productive gooseberry bushes. The side garden was neglected but two scots pine trees were just about surviving. in front of the east-facing kitchen window was an ugly concrete patio. in total we have a plot of 300m².
How have you developed it?
The unused, south-facing area to the side had once housed a stable so underneath the rough grass was a layer of cobbles. after many back-breaking hours, removing what seemed like tons of rocks, we made a tiny potager which has enabled us to grow a few vegetables and salad leaves under a small polytunnel. We constructed wooden containers to provide extra growing space for vegetables and herbs. We covered the ugly patio with wooden decking to provide an ideal place for morning coffee, or if warm enough, breakfast with a spectacular view of the sunrise. We also built a rockery and searched for the hardiest perennials to plant there.
What grows well in your area of France?
Hardy plants! Spirea, pulmonaria, aquilegia, hellebores, lavender and dogwood grow well and, of course, a range of alpines. Spring bulbs thrive and in early summer the garden is a riot of self-set scabious from the surrounding fields.
What tips would you give to someone with a garden in your area?
Look at what grows well in the area – we made the mistake of trying to garden as we did in the UK. Summer comes late to the Auvergne mountains and snow can fall up until the end of may. We learned to be patient and listen to the locals who abide by the legend of the Saints de Glaces – according to French folklore the three saints whose feast days fall on 11, 12 and 13 May bring cold weather and the last frosts of the spring, so it is safe to plant after then.
What do you enjoy most about your garden?
seeing the first brave snowdrop bulbs appear, the grass emerging from under the snow and just watching the garden become alive again by early spring. my favourite thing to do is to sit outside on a warm evening with a glass of wine.