Back from a fortnight in France: Brittany Ferries to Bilbao, then a circuitous drive north via Bordeaux, the Centre and the Loire, back home to a London garden transformed by the rain. However assiduously you water your plants it’s only drenching rain that brings such surges of growth. I thought the garden was pretty full before, of shoots and sheaves and swags of burgeoning green. We came home to the steps nearly blocked, the path jungled over. All morning I was chopping away.
The high point of our trip was going back to the garden and the woods on the edge of the Forêt de Troncais, in the centre of France, that we left fifteen years ago – happily in the most sympathetic and energetic hands we could have hoped for. Our successors have become family friends. The continental climate of the Centre can produce growth we never see in England, despite its mean acid soil and stingy rainfall. Things that were merely sketched (parterre, arboretum, woodland rides) are fully painted pictures. Can a gardener have any deeper pleasure than revisiting his work years later to find it continuing as he planned? Even completed (except that gardens never are).
Above all, of course, it’s the trees, twice or three times the size they were when we left in 2004. American scarlet, pin and willow oaks, sugar and red maples and the tupelo, Nyssa sylvatica, exotics we planted to blaze up as they never quite do here, are almost full-grown, sumptuous volumes of leaves. A tulip tree is invading the barn with long low branches and Italian cypresses have grown almost comically tall. Our survivor elm (always a puzzle; its companions get the disease) has become a landmark from across the valley. And the broad rides we made to define and connect the different plantations are grazed by horses that we imagined but never acquired.