La Basse Cour: B&B near Alencon, Normandy
Normandy B & B : Garden Lovers
Bed and Breakfast with Gardens in France
Garden Plan of La Basse Cour B&B
While staying at La Basse Cour B&B make sure you explore the garden, subdivided into many "rooms", each with its own individual planting style or theme.
Click the image to see the full garden plan and plant list.
Looking for a B&B with a Garden in France
For 20 years we holidayed in small hotels and bed and breakfasts the length and breadth of France, but rarely did we find one with a decent garden open to guests. We always liked to sit in our garden at home after a day out and it seemed a shame not to have the same pleasure on holiday. And so the seed of an idea took root, that when we retired from regular work we might move to France and create a bed and breakfast for garden lovers.
At the turn of the millenium our thoughts turned to making the dream a reality, but which of all France's beautiful regions should we choose? In the end, of all the places we had visited from the Alps to the Pyrenees, Dordogne to Auvergne, Burgundy to Alsace, Provence to Picardy and most points in between, we chose the general area of south-east Normandy and the north of the Pays de la Loire. The region generally has an excellent climate for a wide range of plants, with little frost or snow in winter, not so hot that you have to hide from the sun most of the summer, and with less wind and rain than the Atlantic and Channel coasts - almost perfect for growing "English" garden plants.
After a couple of years looking at estate agent particulars and checking out various towns and regions in a cursory way, we started serious house hunting early in 2004. After briefing some agents, in March we spent a week viewing several properties a day, first near Dieppe and then around Alençon. None were suitable. None, that is, until the very last property we saw - La Basse Cour.
As soon as we saw La Basse Cour we knew it was "the one". Not only did we fall instantly in love with the "old stones" and outbuildings, but for us gardeners it provided a blank canvas comprising two and a half acres of grass, with just a neglected pond and some trees to influence the shape. We put in our offer the day after viewing and we completed the purchase and moved in on 1st August 2004, the day after quitting our regular jobs.
Early Days in the Gardens at La Basse Cour B&B
However, we had to put our more ambitious garden plans on hold while we converted the upper floor into bed and breakfast, which we completed in early 2005. We then undertook to re-point the exterior walls, a dirty but necessary job that occupied six weeks each summer from 2005-08.
We began gardening in a small way while awaiting planning permission for the B&B in late 2004 - largely out of necessity to find a home for the vanload of plants that we had brought with us to France from our garden in the UK. Those early beds were meant to be temporary but became a permanent feature, forming a border to the sunken terrace and lawn at the rear of the house, with a mass of spring bulbs, clematis, euphorbias, nectascordum, hostas and hellebores.
Early in 2005 we added two beds of herbaceous perennials and one of ferns and bamboos, running the length of an existing garden hedge. Around the same time we cleared the area which now forms the vegetable garden (potager) and erected a greenhouse. 2006 was spent developing the vegetable and fruit garden, creating a series of vegetable beds with grass paths, and the small lake ("étang") in the centre of the garden was drained ready for a major overhaul in 2007.
The Wildlife Garden Pond
Summer 2007 was mainly spent repairing the retaining wall at the south end of the pond, so that by the end of that year we were ready to tackle the job of dredging. The silt-choked "étang" (a small lake or large pond used to water animals and for fish) had been left to its own devices for 50 years and when we bought the property it was so shallow that it dried out each summer.
The Lake Dredging was a huge job which transformed the garden and soon drew in all sorts of wildlife. Moorhens, grebes, ducks, kingfishers, dragonflies and frogs have now made it their home while flocks of swallows, house martins and swifts zoom and dip the surface on their twice-annual migrations each spring and autumn.
The Gardens - 2008 to 2010
Work continued in 2008 with the construction of a tunnel walk of climbing roses, then creating a shade-lovers bed in a corner between the small barn and the boundary wall, further consolidating the pond wall and grassing the verges, planting the lake margins with reeds, rushes and waterlilies ... the garden around the B&B was beginning to take proper shape.
In 2009 a well was built in stone in place of the temporary wooden structure and a pump installed, while the existing flower beds at the front and rear of the house were expanded and planted with herbaceous perennials. In spare moments we continued research into the area, visiting garden shows and gardens open to the public - we can advise more than twenty gardens to visit in south-east Normandy and upper Pays de la Loire.
In 2010 a bed of rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias was planted in the garden in front of the house; later in the year a wooden bridge was built over the stream that feeds the pond at the north end of the gardens. An artificial islet was added near the edge of the copse where the stream enters the pond, and this is now planted with narcissi for spring colour.
The same year a formal walled garden with a walkway of cypress and box trees leading to a gazebo, looking over specimen beds of shrubs, grasses, hemerocallis and irises, was begun in the sunny, sheltered area to the west of the bed and breakfast.
The Gardens - 2011 to date
In 2011 we installed a covered gazebo in the rear garden, with tables and chairs and perfect for relaxing with a bottle of wine on a sunny evening evening and observing the birds and dragonflies on the pond.
In 2012 we installed a second gazebo on the far side of the pond, affording a very different view of the pond and the B&B, with the village church beyond. This is a favourite spot for those who like to be by themselves, with only the birds for company! The same year we planted a selection of our favourite specimen trees, all suitable for even quite small gardens, in the area behind the Big Barn : Amelanchier lamarckii, Acer griseum, Prunus serrula, Sorbus 'Joseph Rock', Robinia x slavinii, Cornus kousa 'China Girl', Pyrus salicifolia 'Pendula', Magnolia stellata 'Waterlily', Liquidambar styraciflua 'Slender Silhouette', Parrotia persica 'Vanessa'.
In 2013 we started the year by planting a bed of acers on dwarf root stock and hostas in a sheltered part of the garden, beneath the cover of a big old weeping willow.
We ended 2013 by constructing a new garden with the theme "Slate and Grasses" between the house and the barn; this we planted in 2014 with grasses mainly grown from seed.
There are further changes and developments each year, with jobs small and large, like clearing 60 alders from the overgrown copse and opening views across the fields to the forest. To keep up with our news of the garden and our bed and breakfast, visit our Facebook Page or go straight to our photo albums. Don't forget to "LIKE" our Page!
The Gardens - a Secluded Haven for B&B Guests
The garden is open only to our B&B guests: if you visit you will find plenty of places to sit, relax and enjoy the views - gazebos, garden shelters, tables, chairs and benches are generously dotted about the grounds for your relaxation and pleasure. Come and enjoy, we would love to share it with you.
© 2013 Phil Graham