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jardin-perdu / Extreme gardening; Hardy shrubs for France
Cornus Alba ‘Sibirica.’ French name: Cornouiller blanc

Extreme gardening; Hardy shrubs for France.

Seasonal temperature changes here in France can be extreme, in many parts going from well below -10c in winter to well over 40c in summer, making gardening in France somewhat of a challenge. Today I received a wonderful question from Barry in the Tarn-et-Garonne region of France, as the question is pertinent to so many of us I thought I’d make my response into a new blog post.

“Hi there, this is a request for assistance. My garden is really a terrace with a border all round, 6 metres wide by 16 metres deep, facing south-west. It is situated in a hill-top village with a panoramic view, which I do not wish to interrupt with large shrubs.It has a 2 metre high wall on the south side which makes that side shady and exposed to the north-westerly wind. I am now ready to plant it out, and would very much appreciate advice/recommendations for dwarf plants and shrubs together with climbers, suitable for the climate here in Tarn-et-Garonne, which can be -12c in winter and 40c in mid summer.
As you may have guessed I am not a gardener! Thank you in advance for any help you can give. Barry”

Here in La Corrèze we experience exactly the same weather conditions as Barry in the Tarn-et-Garonne. Below I have listed a few shrubs and climbers which have performed well in my French garden over the past 3 years. Whilst they are not in the main classed as dwarf shrubs, they are all easy to keep maintained and low.

Berberis thunbergii atropurpurea. French name: l’épine-vinette de Thunberg Berberis thunbergii atropurpurea. French name: l’épine-vinette de Thunberg. This is happy in full sun or partial shade and is fully hardy. Deep purple leaves turn a blazing red in autumn.

Cornus Alba ‘Sibirica.’ French name: Cornouiller blanc. Cornus Alba ‘Sibirica.’ French name: Cornouiller blanc. Cornus is happy in full sun or partial shade and is fully hardy. Bright red stems provide winter interest.

Mahonia x media ‘Winter sun Mahonia x media ‘Winter sun. An evergreen shrub which prefers partial shade and is fully hardy. Bright yellow flower spikes bloom throughout winter.

Pyracantha angustifolia ‘Saphyr red’ French name: Buisson-ardent ‘Saphyr rouge’
Pyracantha angustifolia ‘Saphyr red’ French name: Buisson-ardent ‘Saphyr rouge’. Although happy in full sun, Pyracantha is equally happy in shady, cold spots and will be perfect for an exposed, shady wall. This is a compact, evergreen Pyracantha, which is fully hardy and has white flowers followed by an abundance of red-orange berries.

Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple. ’ French name: Arbre à perruques.
Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple. ’ French name: Arbre à perruques. Although happy in full sun, Cotinus is equally happy in partial shade and performs well in exposed aspects. It is a deciduous hardy shrub which has deep purple leaves which turn red in autumn.

Lonicera x brownii ‘Dropmore Scarlet.’ French name: Chèvrefeuille grimpant 'Dropmore’ Lonicera x brownii ‘Dropmore Scarlet.’ French name: Chèvrefeuille grimpant ‘Dropmore.’A honeysuckle which flowers into September and after hot summers will produce berries in Autumn.

Jasminum nudiflorum. French name: Jasmin d’hiverJasminum nudiflorum. French name: Jasmin d’hiver. Although happy in full sun, Winter Jasmine does equally well in shade and will tolerate cold winds. A lovely climbing plant which has bright yellow flowers from January into March.

This is my third winter here in France and all of the above have survived well, even through last year’s winter which was particularly extreme with temperatures reaching as low as -20c.

Over the years I have had a couple of casualties of the varying weather temperatures, and would therefore perhaps recommend that you avoid these plants; Choisya Ternata and Sarcococca confusa. I do also have a Fatsia japonica which is a great shrub for shady areas. Last year I was foolish enough not to cover the Fatsia over winter and I almost lost it. Fortunately it is a fighter and it grew back well even after loosing all its leaves. This year I have not made the same mistake and it is nicely tucked up under a fleece frame.

I’d love to hear your hardy shrub suggestions for gardening in France (as I’m sure Barry would) so please feel free to use the comments box below.

A bientôt
Katherine x

'Extreme gardening; Hardy shrubs for France.' have 23 comments

  1. April 30, 2013 @ 6:55 pm tricia lawson

    We live in Couiza, as often as possible, but not permanently! We are just about to purchase a small garden and I would like to grow some fruit trees, flowering shrubs(for seasonal colour)and flowers. Minimum work maximum impact!! Any help would be gratefully appreciated.
    PS So enjoyed reading your website.


    • May 1, 2013 @ 12:00 pm Katherine

      I am so glad that you are enjoying my blog Tricia and thank you for taking the time to leave the comment. Inspired by what you have written I am putting together a blog about my favourite, no fuss perennials which I hope will help you in your new garden x


    • March 18, 2014 @ 1:22 pm Carré

      I’m keen on gardening for years. before 2008, I lived in Normandy and I had hundred of different plants in my garden. I could help you – free of charge – if you want, just as an adviser. My wife and I have been living in Limoux. We had to change our choice of plants here, but it’s possible to get a marvellous garden, even if you don’t stay here all the time.


      • March 18, 2014 @ 4:15 pm Katherine

        I’d love any help you can give me. I’m sure your knowledge and gardening experiences in Normandy and now Limoux would be invaluable to not only myself but everyone who takes the time to read my blog. I’ll reply shortly to the email you have sent me. Thank you 🙂


        • April 5, 2017 @ 6:10 am Cherie

          Great post, as a new arrival in France I’ve been looking for native shrubs to France to begin turning our 3 acres into a permaculture lead small holding and am looking for shrubs native the the Charantre region. Any suggestions that would be good for medium level hedging around the family area garden. Will be used alongside some wire to form a border between herb garden and area for a few sheep. .


          • April 6, 2017 @ 5:08 am Gilles Carre

            I gave my comments to the person living in Couiza. Thanks of you,

          • April 6, 2017 @ 7:20 am Katherine

            Hi Cherie, the following are native shrubs commonly found throughout France; Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) Dog-Rose (Rosa canina) Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata) Elder (Sambucus nigra) Holly (Ilex aquifolium) Common dogwood (Cornus sanguine). They’re all great for wildlife, and will make good hedges. Some are spiky though, so may not be suitable for a family area. I hope this helps a little, good luck with the small holding, and enjoy your new adventure here in France.

    • April 6, 2017 @ 5:06 am Gilles Carre

      There are shrubs which can give you all that : in Latin and in French its name is ‘Amelanchier’, in English 3 names in my French/English dictionary : service-berry, shadberry, Juneberry. I had a tall one in Normandy. In Limoux I have got two of these deciduous shrubs. They give a marvellous white blossoming in March or April, then delicious small fruit six to eight weeks later. In Autumn, the foliage takes a lovely multi-coloured absolutely splendid. Without specific cares or whatever; just not too much chalky soil if possible, just a bit of compost for the roots… (température : until minus 20°C)
      Another tree Iike here is a palm tree : Butia capitata. French call that “palmier abricot” or “palmier vinaigre”.
      After a few years you can gather good fruit and its beautiful blue leaves are so sculptural ! (température : minus 12°C when wrapped in winter at the basis the first years and a lot of mulching.
      I also have a shrub from Chile : Aristotelia chiliensis variegata: fruit tree (full of vitamins) , evergreen and multicoloured foliage all along the year ! Another extraordinary fruit tree is ‘Feijoa sellowiana’…
      Flowers : if you sow ‘love-in-the-mist’ (Nigella damascea) in quantity, seems of ‘honesty’ (Lunaria annua) , sweet violets in a shady zone , or Cosmos in a sunny dry zone as in soil with gravel, every year these flowers they will resow year after year.
      As bulbs the easiest is Iris Germinica in the sunny area . Narcissus and daffodils, and tulips and ornamental giant allium everywhere…You can try primroses, pansies for the spring, lilium gladiolus and dahlias for the summer. Pretty shrubs for winter : witch hazels, Jasminum nudiflorum and betula utilis (for the splendid white bark ….I would be able to quote hundred and hundred of other plants, but time goes by…
      Sorry for my weak English,
      Gilles from Limoux (Aude)


      • April 6, 2017 @ 6:41 am Katherine

        Thank you for your advise Gilles. Amelanchier is certainly a tree/shrub that has been on my wish list for a while now


        • April 6, 2017 @ 11:27 am Gilles Carre

          Your choice is very clever; I am sure you will not be disappointed… Gilles


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  3. April 30, 2014 @ 7:33 am Marilyn Querciagrossa

    My sister and I are visiting France and we keep seeing a yellow flowering shrub along the highway. The flowers hang down like wisteria, but only in a single spike and it’s very pretty. I saw some of the bushes growing in the gardens at Giverney, but I don’t know what they are and thought perhaps you could identify them for us. Thanks.


    • April 30, 2014 @ 3:36 pm Katherine

      Hi Marilyn, was it Laburnum? http://www.majestictrees.co.uk/tree-shrub/274-laburnum-x-watereri-vossii They are stunning when in flower and there’s lots already in flower in our area x


      • April 30, 2014 @ 6:07 pm Marilyn Querciagrossa

        Merci beau coup, Katherine! Yes, it is the laburnum that we saw. I really am so happy you solved this mystery for us!


        • May 1, 2014 @ 6:52 am Katherine

          You’re welcome Marilyn, happy to have helped. My friend Gilles has dropped me an email about this to say that the shrub is called un cytise à grappes in French, and that although beautiful it is very poisonous! All parts of the tree are poisonous: roots, bark, wood, leaves, flower-buds, petals, and seedpods – of course so long as you’re careful you’ll be fine.


          • May 1, 2014 @ 7:18 am Marilyn Querciagrossa

            Wow. Who would think such a beautiful plant would be poisonous? That’s so interesting. Please convey our thanks to Gilles!

  4. July 24, 2016 @ 8:45 pm Judith

    Hi, I’m just traveling around France for a few weeks and today, in Bordeaux I saw a few shrubs with pink flowers that were very beautiful and i’m wondering if you could guess at what they are for me. The flowers are shaped like those of lilac bushes and the the bushes seem to be about the same height as lilacs. The flowers are medium to deep pink and the leaves – well, I noted that they are not heart shaped unlike lilacs, but I can’t really remember what they looked like either. They are sort of non-descript small leaves.


    • July 25, 2016 @ 6:41 am Katherine

      Hi Judith. It’s a bit difficult to say but could it have been a type of Hydrangea paniculata? They are very popular with the French and you can get a number of pink varieties. Enjoy your trip around France x


    • July 25, 2016 @ 8:39 am Carré Gilles

      I am French and I have been living close to Carcassonne (not far from the Spain). The shrub which looks like a lilac is a Lagerstroemia indica, in French “lilas des Indes” . These shrubs or small trees can be light pink, dark pink, red or even white.
      I have got few of them. They belong to the Lythracea family. You could see agreat number in the Biscayne Bay; in Bayonne for example…


      • July 25, 2016 @ 9:27 am Katherine

        Hi Gilles, yes it could be! I do not know this plant at all, but I have just bought one from Jardiland which has black leaves and bright red flowers. I have no idea where I am going to plant it, I just loved the colours! What type of soil does it need?


        • July 25, 2016 @ 12:12 pm CARRE GILLES

          This plant can accept normal soil, lightly charky (basic) or more acid. The main thing is to plant it in full sun ! The first year, don’t forget to water it copiously and often. And so, the next years it will be able to bear a bit more of dryness and within four or five year a lack of watering during many weeks ! A splendid shrub ! ! ! Easy-going !


    • July 25, 2016 @ 8:41 am Carré

      These shrubs are Lagerstroemia indica which exist in many colours…In the Bicayne Bay, in Bayonne for example, you can see a lot of them…


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