Questions on Garden Consulting on the French Riviera

How much should I invest in my garden on the French Riviera?

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That depends on what needs to be done in your garden.

But generally we recommend to invest about 5 to 15% of your property value in your garden, depending on the complexity and size of the garden. This investment will increase your property value significantly.

The landscaping industry’s general estimate is that you don’t loose on investments in your garden, which means that you would get 100% of your garden investment back if you sold your property directly after the garden has been cmpleted.

If you wait, the garden actually starts making money for you. Over the years, as your property’s value increases your garden’s value increases as well and adds around 20% or more to your property value at a given time.

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Should I swap my lawn for a garden? Isn’t a lawn easier and cheaper?

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No, it isn’t – on the contrary, a lawn is the most expensive choice. So yes, you should swap your lawn for a garden.

This question affects almost every home owner on the Cote d’Azur. In the end you’re not here permanently, so ongoing garden maintenance is definitely a cost factor.

Some numbers from the U.S.

The Applied Ecological Services, a Wisconsin USA based ecological consultancy estimates that the price of maintaining 1 acre (ca. 4.040 sqm) of traditional grass lawn over 20 years is around 20.000 USD, compared to 3.000 USD of maintenance costs over 20 years when planting native or climate zone adapted plants, other than grass. 

According to the Professional Landcare Network, an American lawn industry group estimates that on average Americans expect to spend 700 USD per year on mowing, edging and leaf cleanup in 2013 and another 400 USD per year on additional lawn care, such as fertilizers and weed control.

These average numbers of 1.100 USD per year do not take into account the costs for lawn irrigation, but only for external lawn services.

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How much does it cost to water a lawn on the French Riviera?

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The general rule of thumb is to make sure a lawn receives 25 mm of water once or twice a week during dry conditions (more than 30 degrees C.), in order to let the lawn survive. To provide 25 mm of water to a square meter it takes 25 l.

So a lawn of 100 sqm (1.080sqft) needs at least as much as 2.500 l of fresh water once a week, which adds up to roughly 5.000 liters per week, when watering twice.

A lawn on the Cote d’Azur will at least need irrigation during April/May and end of October/mid November which are around 26 to 28 weeks per year. Consequently 100 sqm of lawn will need between 66.000 and 132.000 liters per year. Many garden owners though, water their lawns on a daily basis during summers.

So, a 500 sqm lawn will need between 330.000 and 660.000 l (330 – 660 cbm) of water during the dry season.

Water prices on the Côte d’Azur vary; in 2014/2015 they ususally were between € 1,34 and € 3,45 per cubicmeter. A lawn of only 500 m² can quickly cost between € 435,- and € 871,- or € 1.121,25 and € 2.242,50 only for its irrigation. Not comprised are additional maintenance costs and irrigation costs for other garden areas.

This calculation example shows, that a classic lawn isn’t a good option for a Mediterranean garden on the Côte d’Azur, if only for its financial drawbacks. A designed garden on the other hand doesn’t only need less ongoing maintenance costs, but also requires a much lower water consumption and thus lower irrigation costs.

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I know compost is a good thing. But isn’t it smelly?

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No. A compost that smells is maintained incorrectly and will most probably be fed with the wrong ingredients.

Composts are the secret to having a beautiful and healthy, and sustainable garden that is quite low maintenance. With somposts you produce high quality soil yourself. Apart from pure desert sand, almost any poor soil can be turned into a good and fertile soil – with some time.

Instead of paying for burning or carrying away your valuable green waste and then paying for feeding plants artificially, it makes more sense to feed your garden’s soil with mulching, a working compost system and compost tea. Building a physically, chemically and biologically high quality soil tilth with a raised biotic life, will help making all nutrients directly available to your plants.

We will advise you on the installation and maintenance of non-smelly, quickly working and easy-handling compost systems for your garden.

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Can you grow climbers on a wall or do you need a growth support?

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It’s always better not to plant directly against a wall.

In case of a renovation or painting of the wall a tilting structure will be helpful to do both, reach the wall and have a climber covering a possibly unpleasant spot.

We will be happy to advise you on how to realise a tilting structure for your climbers.

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Which citrus trees will grow on the Cote d’Azur?

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From a principle all citrus trees will grow on the French Riviera but it will depend on how high up in the mountains you are.

Average light Mediterranean winter frosts will not damage citrus trees, but as soon as temperatures fall lower than -5 degrees most citrus trees will suffer a little, with the Kumquat as the only exception.

Mandarines and bitter oranges, as well as grapefruit are also quite hardy. They will survive in most regions, even in the hinterland. Sweet oranges and lemons are the most delicate.

Soil conditions, diseases, regular skilled pruning, proper feeding and drainage are more of a problem for citrus trees than temperatures and are – unfortunately – often times ignored.

We will advise you on how and where to grow citrus trees, check on long-term weather reports and will recommend planting citrus trees in pots when in doubt of favourable conditions.

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Can you grow hygrangeas on the Côte d’Azur?

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Yes, they do under certain circumstances. Many people love hydrangeas and its not an exaggeration to say that they are as much a garden defining plant as is a lawn for many.

They are though, not adapted to the heat during the summer at all. They need a lot of constant watering during the summer. And they will need a completely different soil than nature has to offer. Plus, they love dappled shade and no direct sun from the south.

So we would always recommend putting them in a shady spot or planting them in a compost rich soil in pots so they can be moved around easily as the season heats up.

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Can you grow roses on the Cote d’Azur?

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Yes, you can. There is no reason not to enjoy old English roses on the Cote d’Azur. Many people will say you can’t, but a visit to public gardens on the Med will show you, you can.

We have already installed many David Austin roses on the Cote d’Azur and apart from a little need for a little extra care they will perform perfectly if given the right place, space, soil and water.

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How do you get more butterflies and generally more wildlife into your garden?

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Welcoming wildlife, birds, bees and butterflies into your garden has never been more crucial than today. It’s not overstated to say that in our times every little piece of nature where wildlife and pollinators will feel welcomed will be useful, even necessary. We would like to encourage you to introduce more environmentally useful plants into your garden.

A garden that is sustainable and that welcomes nature can still be very stylish and beautiful.

There is a large choice of plants that will ensure that you have plenty of bees and butterflies in your garden. We will be happy to advise you on what to choose in order to welcome more pollinators, butterflies, birs and insects.

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Your lawn never looks good. What can you do?

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Unfortunately there are many possible reasons for this picture. Starting with the wrong type of grass there also might be drainage issues.

Did your gardener put in a drainage layer of gravel and sand and topped it with compost rich garden soil?

Does the lawn get aerated frequently enough? Are the clippings always removed? Does the lawn get sanded and topped frequently?

Apart from that a lawn in subtropical climates never is an easy-care choice. How about swapping your lawn for a garden?

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Are there alternatives to lawns?

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Yes there are. When we speak of lawn alternatives we always speak of no-grass lawns as opposed to artificial grass. For multiple reasons we would always advise against artificial lawns.

The lawn originates in late 18th/early 19th century when aristocrats introduced lawns for ball games (and for hinting at the fact that they could afford that much space that didn’t serve any purpose).

One has to admit that this perennial has something to it, if vast areas are covered with a perfectly maintained lawn, that are used for cricket, tennis, hockey or golf.

The later history and background of lawns is less amusing. It mainly is a consequence of the chemical industry promoting a heavy use of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides on lawns that made lawns so popular during the 1950ies. The invention of lawn mowers finally cemented the lawn’s success as a piece of aristocracy’s lifestyle for everyone.

Sometimes form does indeed follow a function and with lawns there rarely is a function to it anymore.

Of course there is a good reason for open spaces and cleared views down a property’s main sight lines. But today there is no need anymore to establish a costly, unsustainable and environmentally useless, high maintenance feature that does not serve any purpose but to cover a large area in green.

Apart from swapping a lawn with a designed garden, there are many alternatives to grass lawns that will need less water and less maintenance while adding additional interest and environmental value.

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Do you need an automatic irrigation systems?

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Yes you do, unless you like watering by hand. Unfortunately there is no alternative to an automatic irrigation system. On the French Riviera you need to start watering between May and June and you will need to do it until October or even until November (under climate change conditions).

At the time of planting, all plants on the French Riviera need regular watering for at least for 2 to 3 years, even older trees and palms, especially when they were potted plants.

As soon as trees and shrubs are established you can step back from watering a little, at least from watering as frequently as in the beginning, but now and then a skilled eye should take a look. Often times certain plant appearances masquerade as diseases but they are indeed a sign of water shortage.

Also watering after plant renovations and pruning campaigns is compulsory.

To make things worse, all subtropical climates (as does the Mediterranean) produce a heavy, clayey and sticky limestone decomposition soil and very flat soil horizons, both of which create drainage and water retention problems in wet and dry times of the year.

So soil amelioration is the other necessary side of irrigating a garden in this climate.

Ideally, in a highly sustainable garden, you would have cisterns and water collecting systems installed, in order to save a little on the water bill. 

To irrigate efficiently it requires a water plan and a professional set up, including nozzles that are adjusted to the individual plant.

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