Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Watering Systems

After our long hot summer we thought it was a good idea to introduce the subject of 'watering' in our October meeting.  Sue, who is pretty technical and has experience with trying out the different watering systems talked us through the subject and has written the follfowing article to help us to install a watering system ourselves and point out where some problems could arise.



Can I install a watering system myself?
Yes, but do your homework on the internet first.   It is a steep learning curve and it helps to be nimble- fingered and have unlimited patience !    

Does it matter what time of the year I install the watering system?
Yes – the tubing comes in rolls and has to be unrolled before using and stretched out in the sun to soften the rubber and straighten (place a rock at intervals on the tubing to keep it straight.   And the earth needs to be soft so that the plastic pegs can be pressed by hand into the earth to hold the tubing in place.   The pegs will snap if you try to hammer them into sun-baked or frozen earth.

Do I need special tools?   Yes and no
*     yes - the hole punch to make holes in the medium thick tubing to insert the individual fittings   

*     no - to cut the wider, thick tubing use a serated bread knife:  to cut the medium and narrow  tubing, use seceteurs or scissors..   A very long extension cable to the area being worked is needed for the electric kettle (for dipping the medium and narrow tubing to soften the ends for inserting joining sections, angled corners, T-connectors, end-stops, ON/OFF valves etc.

Where do I buy the components?
Tubing (thick, medium and narrow rolls of 10 – 50 metres): 

AmiTube, on the RN7 between Vidauban and Les Arcs.   They are wholesalers but will sell to the public and nothing is packaged so easy to ensure fittings attach to whatever part and you can buy the quantities you need.    Gardena is widely available in DIY and hardware shops but packaged and sold in fixed quantities.

Programmers for automatic watering systems
*     the principle I apply to choosing progammers is similar to choosing washing machines – the simpler the better !   Do not buy the American brand Rainbird – you need a university degree in logic to figure out how it works and it seems that American and European logics are not the same!

*     you may need more than one programmer.  Why?   Drought-tolerant plants in a flowerbed need less water than plants in pots which may need watering daily or twice daily in high summer.   Or one area of the garden is served by one tap and another area by a different tap.

*     if there are no instructions in English on the box, visit the relevant website and download them there.   I am always surprised to see the range of languages Gardena (a German company) offer on goods sold in France but not in English, a second language most commonly used throughout the world!

Water pressure
*     if the pressure is too high it will blow the heads/fittings off the micro-bore watering system. 

*     if you don’t know what your villlage water pressure is, telephone the mairie (Services des Eaux) – it is probably 6 bar.   

*     prevent this problem by using a water pressure reducer at the start of the medium tubing OR manually reduce the pressure by reducing the flow from the tap (it is easier to gauge the water pressure with a lever tap if, for example, the chosen rate of flow has the lever at half open)..   If you employ a gardener, attach a weather-proof label to remind him not to change the pressure !   

*     plan the watering system to start from the highest point in the garden.  If the area to be watered is higher than the mains tap then a wider diameter and thicker tubing is required to carry the water uphill.    

*     where the medium tubing joins the thick tubing use an ON/OFF lever valve and in winter disconnect the medium tubing at the valve and leave the valve open (lever in line with tubing) to drain the system.  Why? – because even the metal valve will crack in a brisk frost if there is water in the tube.

Winterise the watering system
*     before the first frost drain down the system and leave the ON/OFF lever valves in the open position (lever in line with the pipe) having first removed the pipe attached to the mains water.   

*     protect the garden taps (or lever tap) from frost EITHER by wrapping with strips of bubble wrap OR cut a  length of 20 cm diam. grey plastic tubing to cover the tap, place over the tap and stuff bubble wrap all around the inside (better, thank you YouTube).   OK, not as pretty as the pre-formed foam garden tap covers sold in DIY stores in UK (but not in France) but cheaper.
Whilst you are thinking winter, check that your mains water ON/OFF tap is well insulated.        

Garden hose storageFrancoise McCredie told us about a wall-hung unit for storing garden hose so no more lugging heavy hose pipe around the garden.   See website below, price has increased from the promo promo price mentioned, available in 10m, 20m and 30m lengths.

Watering by hand
I brought two watering hose sprayers – one with a “dead man’s” handle (when the handle is released the flow stops) which I did not recommend for two reasons:  first, they last one summer and break and second, it is painful for arthritic hands to tense the muscles for an hour of watering.   The second hose sprayer head is the one I recommended is made by Rainplay @ €6.99 from Lorgues L’Entrepot du Bricolage, guaranteed for five years.  The chosen flow of water is controlled by the sliding yellow knob so you just hold the sprayer lightly.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-aN2ZjxNAEc       (using water bottle)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xoxWEZSg-Pc     (using foam coffee mugs)

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Bordighera and Hanbury Gardens in La Mortolla, 26/9/2019

Wrestling women

11 of us shared transport on our trip to Italy.  It was market day in Bordighera.  A popular small market along the sea front.  I think most of us could not resist buying something.  We had lunch in a restaurant off the main road going through Bordighera.  Not a success, I remember Marie-France ordering 'Pasta a la Vongole' with just 3 clams in her pasta. Despite the very average lunch we had a nice time as a group.

After lunch it was off to the Hanbury Gardens in La Mortola. The property spans the whole of the Mortola Cape, in total 45 acres, the gardens occupy half of it. The rest is left to indigenous vegetation.

Gillian with a view of San Remo in the distance

After earning a fortune in trading in China, Thomas Hanbury purchased the land together with the ruins of a 11th palazzo built by the Lanteri family.

 The Palazzo

The landscaping of the garden was in the main the work of Ludwig Winter recommended to Sir Thomas Hanbury by Charles Huber, a nursery man living in Hyeres.

Temple of the 4 Seasons, Dorothy Hanbury is buried beneath it.

Between 1925 and 1939, Sir Thomas's daughter-in-law, Dorothy Hanbury, made many changes to the garden.

The garden suffered in WW2 and was given to the Italian State in 1960, then in 1987 it was entrusted to the University of Genua.

The Hanbury family still owns a property on the site.

No matter what time of the year you visit, it is always impressive.  Most of our group had not been there before and were absolutely amazed at the sizes of some of the Aloes, Agaves, Yuccas, Cacti and Succulents. Although Aloe and Agaves look alike, the difference can be felt in the spines on the leaves, Aloe's leaf margins are softer.

 Agave with small Echinocactus in front


 Agave victoriae-reginae

In the front:  Agave attenuata

Dasylirion serratifolium, with razor sharp edges, unlike Agave's the plant does not die after flowering. (Mexico)

Doryanthus palmeri (Australia)

Cyphostemma juttae (south Namibia)

Euphorbia candelabra (from Somalia to South Africa)

After this very hot summer not much was in flower. We came across two orange flowering bulbs, never encountered before.

Haemanthus coccineus

Brunsvigia josephinae

Brunsvigia josephinae in different stages of development

Some shrubs that were interesting:

 Hibiscus rosa sinensis

 Hibiscus moscheutos

 Salvia leucantha

 Leucophyllum frutescens with Solanum rantonetii behind (in our area in a protected spot)

Solanum rantonetii

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, does very well in our area, originally from W. China

Eriocephalus africanus (South Africa)

In the Japanese Garden there is lovely pond with turtles and goldfish, with a dragon fountain surrounded by foliage, Cyperuspapyrus and Calocasia esculenta leaves:

Cyperus papyrus in between the Calocasia esculenta with above the cave with the statue of the 'Slave'

Almost at the bottom of the walk there is a large area of ancient varieties of citrus fruit

Citrus maxima (Pummelo) can weigh up to 1.8 kg

Mermaid Fountain

We were lucky with the weather and although it was a long trip, I think most of us found the day worthwhile.

Our thanks to Marie-France for taking the photos.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019


On one of our garden group meetings in spring the members who were present were given a packet of Cosmos seeds in 3 colours, white, light pink and deep pink. The idea was that they would sow the seeds and at the end of the summer we would  compare photos.

With our hot summer, the members who tried to grow the seeds did not have much success apart from Angela Stokes. She planted them quite soon after the meeting, before the hot period started, straight into biodegradable pots. It was a great success, her Cosmos plants flowered all through the summer and are still flowering as you can see:

Friday, 5 July 2019

Our visit to Mas de l'Advocat in Eygaliere and Mas de l'ilot just outside Tarascon, 18 June 2019

We were very fortunate to be able to see these two private gardens, thanks to Gillian Duffy who knows the owners.

Mas de l'Avocat

On a lovely, sunny morning 12 of our members met at Mas de l'Avocat owned by Guy and Lydia Bradley. You enter the garden over a narrow bridge spanning a stream, follow a drive way lined with plane trees before you reach the Mas, and what a lovery Mas it is.  It has been built in 3 stages, the oldest part dating back to 1683, the middle part dates back to 1794 and the latest addition to 1830.

The view from the house is impressive, it is a layered view, first you notice the Alpilles, then below the Alpilles your eyes rest on Cypress Trees, below the Cypress Trees, the yellow of a Hay field, below the Hay field, Lavender and finally the lawn stretching to the court yard.

The front of the house is shaded by 2 very mature Plane trees and in the middle a well head made of Eygaliere stone.  Apparently in the area all well heads were made of that particular type of stone.

The garden is large, 8 ha. and divided into different sections, most of them named after a tree or ornament in that particular area. The planting is dominated by trees and shrubs originating from the Far East, mainly Japan and China.

There is no shortage of water in the area, in fact there is sometimes too much water and flooding of the lawn has occurred, hence the border have been built up on a slope so that the plants do not get water logged. It was once swamp land, drained in the Middle Ages.  Under the layer of earth is a solid layer of tuff, a type of rock which is impregnable.

Through a pergola clad with Roses and Wisteria we arrive in the section, called the Monkey Puzzle  Tree (Araucaria araucana) area named after the tree at the far end. Guy's study looks out on this part of the garden. On the left Olive trees, on the right shrubs and trees planted on a slope with a lawn in the middle.

We were wondering why some of the shrubs were covered in green tarpaulin. This is to protect the rhododendrons that are underneath the tarpaulin.  Apparently they can take heat and sun but not both at the same time.

The shrubs and trees are planted into a liner and then covered by cocos matting, which when it wears down a bit, looks very much like soil.  The soil that was used was ordinary garden soil mixed with ochre.

Some of the trees and shrubs planted in the border are:

Toona sinensis (Chinese Mahogany Tree).
Nandina domestica.
Erythrina crista - gali.
Sophora japonica.
At the bottom of the slope near the lawn, Hemerocallis and Gaillardia's.

Just further along we passed the future Jardin d'Ete, or Tea garden.  Sophora japonica is draped over a circular pergola but has not yet covered it.  The area is surrounded by Osmanthus, not in top condition. They've had a problem with the rat taupier, a type of rat that make small hills of earth like a mole and eats the roots of trees and shrubs.

Some of the shrubs and trees encountered:
Hydrangea quercifolia.
Catalpa bignonioides.
Melia azedarach.

Onwards into the rose garden, which is Lydia's, Guy's wife, creation. An impressive framework of wrought iron, a bit like large versions of spokes of a wheel, again on a slope, has specifically been created by the blacksmith for the climbing roses.  Never seen anything like this before, quite ingenuous. Apart from the climbing roses there are quite a few shrub roses.

From there into a circular garden with different varietis of Phormiums, Yuccas and grasses. A central bed is planted with Japanese Imperata' 'Red Baron' Grass, which needs a bit of care.

We make a turn into the next section. As we turn there is a semi circular wall built in a unique way. The stones are set in such a way to form a semi circle.  When you look from a far the wall has a pleated effect.  In front of the wall are several Gunnara's.

Apart from making a framework for the roses and the pergola, the blacksmith made another one for the Cedrus Atlantica 'Glauca' (Weeping Blue Atlas Cedar).  Under the framework are rows of Escallonia.

We now enter the Cedar room with different types of Conifers.  In the centre is a bed of Stipa grass, particularly attractive when the wind is blowing.

From there into a section called 'Espace Matisse', 5 red Acer japonicum represent the dancers in Matisse's painting 'Dance'.

Another unusual tree encountered is Chitalpa tashkentensis a pink flowering tree with flowers similar to Catalpa flowers but with very different leaves.

Forward into the Theater area.  No performances have been given to date, but it could possibly seat 50-80 people.

A wole area of Bamboos have been planted with metal borders 70 cm deep.

There is even a fruit orchard with peaches, nectarines, pears, figs sour cherries and medlars.

Some trees along the way:

Rhus typhina
Metasequoia, a deciduous conifer.

Along a path on one side pillar with in between Taxus baccata. Once the Taxus becomes mature it will be clipped to the same size as the pillars.  On the other side a variegated bamboo, not sure of the name but it could be Shinochima bamboo. 70 cm deep metal strips surround the bamboo are to prevent the roots from spreading.

Then into the Japanese garden.  Based on Japanese principles like running water in form of a small waterfall, a pond with waterlilies and Iris ensata, a Japanese water iris quite striking as the 3 petals are horizontal.  In the middle of the pond is an island with a small tree in the centre.  From the pond runs a pebble stream bed.  

All  along on one side of the pond are Japanese Acers of various colours.  Rather striking.

The last part we saw was the swimming pool area and from there back to the car.  Although the garden is only 5 years old some of the trees are quite mature and the planting being mostly acid loving plants in a calcaire are
a must be challenging. I guess anything is possible with a lot of care and energy.


After a lunch Chez Paulette in Eygaliere we went on to the second garden of the day, Mas de l'ilot with its formal garden just outside Tarascon.


Mas de l'ilot

Simon and Andrea Farley bought the property in 2007.  The garden is made up of box parterres, perfect to the eye, but apparently not 100% aligned.

The drive up the the house is through a path of pink Oleanders up to the parking area.

From the parking to the front of the house you pass a whole area of shade loving plants.  Hydrangea arborescent 'Annabelle', as well as Hydrangea paniculata and Hydrangea quercifolia, with its oak-like leaves. We were there just at the right time as they were in full bloom.

Hydrangea quercifolia

Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle'

A path to the left and right of the house takes you all around the garden with access to the central part here and there.

The path to the right of the house was lined with Campsis cut into tree form, never seen that before and underplanted with white Irises, now finished flowering, white lilies and Lavandin 'Grosso', the largest and most flower producing Lavandin and Taxus bachata

The central part has box parterres with circular pruned olive trees.  A whole is left in the middle for light.

All around the garden are statues bought mostly in the U.K. As the soil contains lots of iron most of the statues have a rust coloured tint to them. Stone toad stools (staddle stones) are scattered around the parterres.  In the olden days they were used as supporting bases for graneries and hayricks.

At the bottom of the garden we take the path to the left of the house leading us back to the parking area.  The beds on either side of the path are covered in Agapanthus in bud.  How lovely that must be when they are all in flower.

Just at the end there are rose beds filled with red and white roses.

Photos:  Jacqueline Hodkinson & Angela Stokes


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