Delicious Discoveries in the French Garden at Pressigny

Updated: May 14

Yesterday, I was completely downcast. As an amateur gardener, I have spent the past three weeks clearing the overgrown hedges and self-seeded bushes that have sprung up all over the garden borders. I have taken load after load of semi rotted leaves and laurel and buddleia trimmings (some eight feet long ) and have begun to see what is below the years and years’ worth of leaves that are under the hedges. I have begun to topiary a number of box bushes and although progress is not astoundingly rapid, I have achieved a lot of tidying and I am beginning to see many plants that have become hidden under the more rampantly growing bushes. Although it is still spring, it is not that early in the season, but when I have had the chance, I have consulted the oracles on the internet and, having taken their advice and cut back accordingly. To my delight, hidden in the undergrowth I have discovered climbing roses, wisteria, buddleia, sedums, hydrangeas, a fig and numerous self-seeded baby box plants, as well as honeysuckles growing out of the well cover, a bay tree growing in a large, four foot tall, six foot wide patch of rosemary and a number of sadly dead trees that will have to be pulled from the back of fifteen foot wide borders that weren’t even visible before I started.


Box caterpillar, decimating my hedge and gardens across France and England

So I was really delighted when my neighbour volunteered her sister to look at the garden when she came to visit. A has developed a four acre garden near Bergerac and I was really hoping that with her knowledge she might pass on a word of wisdom or two. Perhaps she was very tired after the long drive, but her grave look and lack of enthusiasm was rather dampening to the spirit. It might have been to do with the fact that she recognised, before she passed on the information to me, that many of the individual boxes I was carefully attempting to topiary and all of the fifty foot box hedge, the pride of the garden, were riddled with the dreaded box moth caterpillar, that is devastating the box in France and Britain. Fortunately, she has only treated her plants this week. Even more fortunately, Justine, the trusty gardener we are inheriting arrived at the critical moment. A was able to show J the caterpillars and was able to write down the treatment. J is going to attack the bushes with the deadly treatment this week, soaking them from the inside. As I continue the treatment I shall be very aware of the baby birds shortly hatching and will have to cover the offending bushes accordingly. It’s fortunate I have rolls of old curtain net I can lay over them until the treatment takes hold. In all the time I have been in the garden, I have seen very few birds and none anywhere near the boxes. It is something I want to encourage, so I shall be doubly careful that I will not be decimating the bird population as well as the deadly moth invasion.

Delicious homemade Elderflower cordial

Apart from that bad news, A was able to identify some of the plants I had not been able to name and I was delighted to find that I had been regularly walking past an olive bush that had failed to catch my eye. Cut back (not by me!) into a shape I hadn’t expected for an olive, it had passed my notice. There are also a number of elder trees, which I do not particularly want in the garden. However, the buds are forming and generally we make gallons of elderflower cordial that is wonderful to add to fizzy water and drink on hot summers’ evenings with lashings of ice cubes. When the latter are frozen with borage flowers, it makes for a really pretty drink….which we also do for

Pimms - the perfect summer time tipple

Pimms, when the occasion arises. With a ready supply of elder flowers in the garden, I am loath to get rid of the trees until after I have picked the flowers, so I am going to leave those for the moment. With a party coming up, I will be making as much elderflower cordial as possible and am going to get as many boxes of citric acid as I can when I get back to the UK. I always find it hilarious that as the elder flowers come into perfect form for picking, chemists start rationing the number of packets of citric acid sold to middle class mummies. Well-spoken Waitrose shoppers carting Boden attired offspring cutting up drugs with citric acid? Please! I’ve discovered that a small present of the duly bottled cordial allays the fears that the middle class mummy mafia has suddenly, at the end of May, taken to mass drug running and we are allowed to buy large quantities of the stuff (citric acid, not cut drugs!)

It’s a good job that the large chest freezer does what it says on the label as bottle after bottle is stored in the bottom. Plastic milk containers are washed and saved for weeks beforehand, filling the larder, before being sterilised and filled with the wonderful elixir. A firm favourite with children and adults. For the party this year, the first in our new house and garden, I suspect there will be a number of new recipes invented and that Vodka will be included. That will be a first!

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The Priory, Place de l'Eglise, Pressigny, 

Deux-Sevres, 79390, France

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