Gardening has got to be THE number one pastime where I live in France. But for some of us it’s a way to keep our outgoings down and our enjoyment of high quality food produce up.
Here in the Limousin, the focus tends towards enjoying our homes, and with our homes, our gardens. Many of us are fortunate to have some land, and if not some land then a garden, patio or balcony. Some kind of outdoor space in a place which has such fantastic weather and beautiful scenery is a real joy.
For us, choosing a home in France with a decent-sized garden was very important. We had tapped into our ability to grow things when living in Bristol – and my own parents are very successful and keen gardeners but I had not taken advantage of this knowledge when living in the UK and so wanted a place where we could practice and refine our growing.
Choosing your French garden wisely
One of the great temptations of looking for a home and garden in France can be the inclination to get as much land as possible.
This seems great on paper, particularly to those of us who come from an island where land is expensive and scarce! The problem with maintaining this mindset in France is that while the cost of the land may not be much, the costs – be they financial or physical – can be great.
In choosing the kind of garden which we wanted to manage when we moved we were mindful to take heed of this advice and choose only so large a piece of land as we could reasonably manage between us and that would not require a huge outlay for equipment to manage our ideas of what an appropriate amount of gardening in France might be!
We were also mindful that the home we were choosing would hopefully be the one which we will live in for the rest of our lives, so things like accessibility and how much management might be needed in the future when we have less mobility were important. I know that doesn’t exactly sound upbeat and optimistic – after all, at the time of writing this I am only thirty-five – but I have struggled with chronic back pain for all of my life so already know what it is like to have to live around physical constraints.
The temptation of isolation
Again, being islanders squashed in with neighbours all of our lives, the option of living in a remote, isolated smallholding was very alluring. We did concede that being detached would be a nice experience – we’ve had some interesting neighbours in the past and had never lived in a detached home – so this seemed like the ideal time to give it a try.
Proximity to others is not something which we crave. Whilst I manage the eternal struggle of being introverted with a longing to connect with others, my husband likes his solitude and so having space away from people – but not so far that we have no neighbours or daily interactions with other people has been a nice compromise.
If our neighbours need us, or we need them they are only a few minutes walk away and we see the same faces in our hamlet day by day, giving us a pleasant sense of community. At the same time, we are not in the middle of the village dealing with the business that comes with being so close to the mairie or post office.
In terms of how this plays into our garden space, it means that we have a large moat-like garden all around the property with a vast expanse of lawn behind, and a top third for garden tools and wood storage – oh and the chicken coop!
Take the time to live with your new French garden
Turning our garden into a potager was important and we have been slowly building our gardening stations over the past eighteen months. Zoning our garden into spaces for leisure or growing depending upon the natural usage which has come to us and the space over time.
If you end up with a largeish garden I thoroughly recommend living with the space for a while before making large changes – you will need to understand how when gardening in France seasons can seriously impact the various spaces – where you get the most sun, the most wind and where the ground is wet vs dry. It’s only by living on your land for a year that you will come to know it well enough to make the most of it.
Or – if your French property is a second home, perhaps it would be worth asking neighbours and friends what grows well in the area to save you time and allow you to fill your space with plants which you know won’t need too much attention over the time when you’re not there.