In his regular column for French News Online "Lifestyle"
Section, professional gardener Mike Alexander, waxes lyrical as
he contemplates his February garden.
- Marqueyssac, Dordogne-
The rural French are great hunter-gatherers.
Whether it be wild mushrooms, blackberries, sloughs or some other
delicacy that happens to be in season, many of them love nothing
more than to wander through the countryside gathering the freebie
of the day.
This month if you happen upon a car parked in some obscure country
lane, or someone's bottom protruding from a hedge-row, it is more
than likely they will be gathering Ripounchous or wild asparagus.
In fact in the south west of the country, the likelihood is that
the plant they are gathering is Tamus Communis - which is a wild
climber and not really asparagus at all - but having tips which
resemble asparagus so closely, that the two have become synonymous.
- mouseover to view clearer image -
The plant, closely related to the yam, sends up tall, bind weed
like tendrills, that wind their way up other plants and hedges
in particular. Later in the year they will carry shiny red berries
that are toxic but the tender shoots are safe to eat. Another
common French name is 'femme battues' as the plant was used to
make a poultice to treat facial bruising in by-gone times. If
you intend giving this delicacy a try, I recommend you go with
someone who knows his edible plants so that you are sure you are
picking real Ripounchous.
On the more ornamental side of horticulture, why not think about
Berberis. There is a huge variety of these shrubs to choose from
and I have used them more and more recently, mainly because they
are tough, easy to manage and still look good. You often see the
purple ones used in mixed hedging, but I have to say that I am
not a fan of the mixed hedge. To me a hedge should be a neatly
clipped affair of one species in orderly military rows. Mixed
hedging with its different colours shapes and heights always reminds
me of a queue of unruly children waiting at a bus stop.
Or is this more your idea of a hedge?
Berberis can make great hedges if you stick to one type, but it
is also impressive in pots or in beds where it can be used to
contrast with other plants. It comes in colours from lime green
to purple with pink splashes. The small flowers vary between bright
yellow and orange and many will carry attaractive red berries
as well. They are all spiny in varying degrees but in some, the
agressive looking thorns add to their attractiveness and as they
don't require much maintenance, the thorns are less of a problem
then those of roses, for example
Berberis comes in colours from lime green
One of the main problems with a shrub of such wide colour and
size variation, is making sure you have one that will suit your
needs and taste requirements. So you will need to really make
sure you quiz your 'pepiniere' well, when making your purchase.
For flowers try to get Berberis Darwinii with its green leaves
and orange flowers. B Thunbergii "Rose Glow" is purple
with pink tinges, while "Bonanza Gold" has green/gold
leaves and is very compact.