In his regular column for French News Online "Lifestyle"
Section, professional gardener Mike Alexander, waxes lyrical as
he contemplates his February garden.
- Fleur de Lys-
April was a difficult month in terms of the weather which offered a smattering of everything but mainly just too much rain.
It is a busy month for any gardener and rain in the amounts we've
had really throws life into complete disarray. To add to my woes
the neighbour's sheep jumped the wall into one of the gardens
I look after, playing havoc with everything an ovine decides ought
to be edible. Under the watchful eye of the farmer's border collie
the sheep regularly pass us and usually without incident. But
on this occasion the collie allowed them access to my precious
plants. I think she was taking some sort of industrial action
that day but whether this was in sympathy with one of the larger
trades unions or a more specific grievance affecting the sheep
dog union, I really can't say.
So let us hope that May turns out to be kinder to us the long-suffering
gardener brigade. The 11th, 12th and 13th of this month are the
three days of the Saints de Glace which -- according to longstanding
tradition -- is a period when we may well have a late frost and
before which time, the locals will sagely insist, it is most foolhardy
to plant out any tender seedlings and plants.
This tradition dates back to the Middle Ages and used to be the
feast days of Saints Mamert, Pancrace and Servais but all three
have for reasons we shan't go into here, been desanctified by
the Vatican and by more recently-approved saints now fill their
place. Saints de Glace is still a tradition the French take very
seriously and I am regularly reprimanded for planting out earlier
than this period. I have however been planting before Saints de
Glace since I first came to France and have yet to have significant
losses to bad weather as a result. To me the longer growing period
makes it worth taking a risk although of course if you live in
the north the chances of a late cold and destructive snap obviously
Fleur de Lys
One group of plants that will be coming into flower now and which
cope with just about any weather is the bearded Iris. These are
deeply embedded in French culture --the Fleur-de lis was of course
a symbol of the French Monarchy for at least six hundred years.
So closely were they associated with the monarchy that during
the 1789 revolution they were chipped off stone buildings and
obliterated from wall hangings etc. Indeed citizens were guillotined
just for wearing them on clothes or jewellery. Luckily Fleur-de
lis fervour has dampened somewhat since then.
There are over 2000 varieties of Iris but the most common are
the blues and purples made so famous by Monet. They need plenty
of sun but are extremely tolerant of soil conditions and thrive
quite happily in very poor and shallow soil which is why they
are so often seen growing at the base of walls and buildings.
They grow from a swollen underground stem known as a rhizome and
when planting the top of this rhizome should be level with the
soil surface. If planted too deeply they grow vigorously but fail
to flower. Plant them about thirty centimetres apart and divide
every three years. Water only sparingly in dry weather and dead
head regularly and they will give wonderful displays at this time