roses
Gorgeous roses that just keep blooming

When we moved to the south of France, we had to learn new things about gardening. What works in the rainy north or in the Midwest wasn’t appropriate for a temperate place with such dry summers.

Cordyline
Some kind of cordyline…nice and exotic!

So we observed. We wanted low maintenance, which meant mostly perennials. Unless you’re right next door, you don’t always see how much work the neighbors put into keeping their gardens beautiful. If it’s their No. 1 hobby and not yours, then you need different inspiration.

lavender in bloom
Lavender…wonderful smell! Needs to be cut back once or twice a year, but otherwise not much work and doesn’t need watering.

Towns around here do a great job of planting and putting out flowers. We ignored the annuals that get dug up and switched out every few months. Instead, we looked at the roadsides, where plants are on their own once they’ve been put in by municipal workers. Maintenance once or twice a year. Little or no watering.

Here is what we see:

Silver leaf, left, and silver mist, right.

Russian sage, left (purple), and Texas sage, right.

Two kinds of Jerusalem sage (clearly the sage family is a hardy choice).

Rosemary, left, as ground cover, and bamboo, right, as a thick screen (it’s about six feet high).

Oleander, in many colors. That this grows in the median on the autoroute tells you something. After it is established–two or three years–it doesn’t need watering. It stays green all through our mild winters, and blooms voluptuously all summer.

How do you choose what to grow in your garden?

pink oleander row
See the wall? No? That’s the idea!
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22 thoughts on “Garden Gurus

  1. My sweetheart lives in Mississippi and I’m English. Over the years I’ve tried to get him to grow various plants that I’d have thought would do well. He is very resistant as he knows pretty well what will work. The odd time he’s humoured me and tried something either it’s extremely successful (i.e. flourishes so much it swamps everything) or it dies within a few months or weeks.

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  2. My observation about what you grow here is that it is based on the inexplicably extremely limited selection in the garden centres. I note especially the handy hedge plants, sold in ‘kits’ of 3 of each plant so you can alternate green, red, yellow or somesuch other equally hideous combination.

    I can remember when those ground cover roses were released. They caused an immediate sensation. A real success story of a plant being bred for a purpose which it fulfills admirably. Russian Sage is another great plant that I am happy to adopt despite its extensive use in public plantings.

    I’ve never had much luck with lavender. My experience is that they are much more likely to die of lack of water than too much water (although I’m sure that happens too).

    I’m surprised your list of low maintenance drought hardy plants doesn’t include irises and buddleia. I guess they are not planted so much in public places though (not enough multi-seasonal interest with irises and not allowed/bad practice with buddleia).

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  3. As someone who would rather have a root canal than dig roots in the garden, I appreciate the low-maintenance aspects of public plantings. My grandma had a huge garden, and she spent about 8 hours a day in it, if not more. I have a business, so I don’t have that kind of time and even so it wouldn’t be something I do for pleasure. More power to the gardeners.
    Our lavender is huge and we do nothing to it. It must be the difference in climate. We also have some irises, but they are meh. The leaves stay green in winter and all summer after they’ve bloomed, but the blooms are for such a short time, I think about putting in something different.
    Out of what’s shown, we only have oleander and lavender in our yard. But I enjoy the roadside show.

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  4. We choose our plants for pretty much the same reasons you’re do – low maintenance, big impact! When we bought our Vancouver property it was a giant gravel lot. Over 15 years we bought plants (small because they were cost efficient) and waited and watered (during occasional hot dry spells…) and now our yard is a bit jungle like. We love it! It is an oasis. I think our climate, zone 6 or 7, is closer to Normandy than the south of France. We also have lavender and sage, but I am addicted to flowering shrubs. My favourites are ceanothus, osmanthus, viburnum, philadelphus, enkianthus and choisia… we have several of each. Besides being fun to say, they grow large (10 feet or so) and look gorgeous with no work. My kind of gardening!

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      1. When we started I didn’t know a single thing. I have two Italian in-laws who are garden nuts – they have helped a ton! Plus they always seem to have something for us to bring home and plant in our jungle – theirs is too crowded after 40 years of propagating this and that…

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  5. I also live on the West Coast. Almost everything you mentioned except Oleander I have a type of in our garden…..yes a lot of work….but I enjoy it. We also have an enormous amount
    deer and rabbits just to add to the mix. I go out to the garden and the rest of the world fades into the background ….

    Ali

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  6. I live in a hot climate with mild winters, lots of summer humidity. Hostas grow to the size of small planets in no time at all, so I have lots of those. Did I mention the impenetrable clay? Kept a compost bucket on the back deck for a couple of years, poured the gunk into the clay, instant garden.
    Also lilies, day lilies, lemon lilies, whatever. They seem to do better than the iris. Lavender did well until I cut it back too much. Oops.
    Also bee balm and rudbeckia, those brought from a friend’s garden in New England. They got down here, saw that it wasn’t winter for half the year, and said, “Whoopee!”

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    1. You are too funny! Clay soil is a problem here, too. Good for wine, so “on fait avec.” I want to compost, having done a lot of work on the subject of food waste, but the other half is against. Does it smell? (Give me some ammo!).
      I can just imagine your hostas plotting a coup d’état….

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      1. Composting is easy, not smelly if you’re careful. It’s been written about at such length that I think it scares people who go “eeuw, major project”. I used a plastic bucket with lid, think scoopable cat-litter container. Dumped in some dirt, leaves, table scraps (no meat or bones). It smells if you take the lid off, but not bad. Add a bit more dirt, some leaves a couple of times. Let it all cook for about a year, maybe less; stir a few times. At the end of that, you have a black slurry that’s loaded with nutrients.
        I also double dig in small batches (hard work), to aerate the soil. I plant perennials closely, on the theory of cottage gardens — close-growing plants will crowd out weeds.
        Around here, they use pine-needle mulch, which I loathe as it’s full of little red bugs. So I use stone chips. Light color also helps keep soil from frying in summer.

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  7. Hmm. I wish my local authorities would get going on composting. Did you know that food waste is one of the biggest volumes of city waste? And contrary to widespread belief, it doesn’t decompose in landfill, because there isn’t enough air for the microbes to do their work. So cities like San Francisco are collecting compost separately, taking it to be treated with all the right microbes (like waste treatment) and then using it as fertilizer. Great idea, I think.

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  8. We do that in Portland…no food debris goes to waste. With that and paper, metal and plastic recycling pickup every week, very little goes in the garbage container anymore.

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  9. It’s amazing just how much you have to change your ideas!! I’ve tried lots of plants which I thought should do well here, but then they didn’t. In my defence I have to say that only the vegetables get watered, the rest has to get on with it!! I have had some wonderful inspiration from the garden of Gill Pound in Caunes-Minervois, and over the years many plants. Gill has closed the nursery now, but you can still visit the garden to see what things look like when they get established (http://www.lapetitepepiniere.com). Next door a new nursery has opened, with similar aims of providing drought resistant garden plants.

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  10. Our happiest plants have either cone from friends or the local master gardeners’ plant sale. Well-established, acclimated to our area, likely something the deer don’t like. … And the prices is right.
    True, we don’t have exotic varieties of coneflower, coreopsis, black-eyed Susans but we have variety and pack them in. Keeps down the weeds.
    Am becoming less of a fan of grasses for the way they self-seed among the flowers. Or maybe I need to chill.

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