Have a bowl of raspberries. It will destract you from the following post.
Believe me, if I could type standing up I would. Sitting down provokes the mites.
As Lisa would so elegantly explain: I am a martyr to mites.
Oh yes, most of my poor flesh is warmed nicely by irritated spots of intense inflammation. Well not most. Just the creases. And under the bra strap, and the undie line… and I won’t go on. But I am aflame.
And all because I chose – in mite season! – to spend hours sitting like a tethered goat under a dozen quince trees working on my project.
These quinces line and overhang the fence at the top of the road leading to our one neighbour Jean Daniel. It’s an unpaved dust bowl which the cat adores as she can roll and roll and get nicely dusty then streak off at great speed to her feeding station near the potting shed.
And as it is frequented by our neighbour’s horses when he heads out, I am often seen with a light shovel and a wheel barrow up here scooping manure to add to the heap.
But it was a visit from other horses that bring me to the task this week.
Behold the most horrendous sight.
Yes. A pool party for one.
A distant neighbour over the other side of the valley has three draft horses and now a new one year old mad zany bundle of curiosity called… can’t remember this horse’s name.
And I don’t want to waste time scrolling back through the thread of messages from FanFan because I am still too hopping mad one week on from the Incident. She has insufficient fencing to keep them corralled. They have visited our rather verdant terraced farm three times now. Great big beasts, gentle souls that can be moved on with the bribe of apples towards somewhere else.
When we first bought this farm 14 years ago it was a maze of very poor fencing. The sort that holds up more brambles and weeds in between the wired grid rather than doing the job of keeping out the chickens and sheep. Even the wild boar could leap over the sagging snagged mess.
For about three years I tried to keep it orderly, and worked at keeping a kind countenance as the strimmer (weed basher) caught endlessly on the wretched stuff when trying to cut the grass beside the fence.
So one more afternoon of spending more time untangling the fence from my cutting tool than actually clearing the mess, I decided to do the radical deed.
I pulled it up. I just started with one fallen bit and heaved.
Heaved as much as I could with brambles anchoring the whole expanse of fence. We had no livestock; the wild boar found a way to get through anyway, and the deer sail elegantly over the top. So over the course of an autumn, up it came. Acres of the stuff. (And yes, I needed help, as it was way too embedded in the earth for me not to rip the other discs in my spine hauling and rolling the damn stuff.)
And suddenly we went from a scrappy rundown series of terraces on a mountain to … dare I boast?…. a parkland. A garden. A space of flowing grass and uninterrupted landscape.
Until you factor in escaping neighbouring horses.
Well, certain horses. Jean Daniel’s lot escape all the time. And are more than happy to graze the lush thyme on the lawn just beside the pool if given half the chance. What they don’t do is charge up en masse (three huge cart horses plus this one skittish toddler) and then end up in the pool.
The cover is a security one that will deftly keep out real toddlers, small deer, and one bored cat who likes to bounce over the surface with a pebble and play bouncy castles while pretending to chase a mouse.
But while we deal with the insurers (who loved the pictures I sent them and will no doubt feature in the Christmas party slide show of hilarious claims for 2021) and mourn the loss of not only the best pool cover we have ever owned (two and a half years, a record! – heavy snow falls, a flood, a landslide) but the one that had the least offensive colour clash in the garden. Maybe if it were bright blue, like the very first one we owned, the horse might have been deterred. But I doubt it.
I’m not finishing my sentences. Blame the inflame.
Meanwhile, we have to accept that FanFan is never going to have decent fencing, her horses will escape again, and our insurers will not find it funny a second time. Nor will we.
So it’s time to put up fences. Again. Temporary ones to start. Enclosing the back of the duck pond area which has the lushest grass and an underground spring below the mulberry tree. And we have to somehow fence the track that leads up to the pool area and the lush grass. And the orchard. So about three terraces worth of fence. Unless I’m clever. Surely some of the slopes up these terrace walls are so steep even a hungry horse will not venture.
And I am determined not to return to the bad old days of bad fences.
We put up these electric fenced tapes to just picture how the eyesore of a fence will look from all angles. And walking up the road yesterday I could see that the one at the bottom of the garden near the entrance to the orchard and the track Will Not Do. It looks more like a badminton net than a fence.
And the line is too straight. So it is going to have to curve through the end of the orchard, quite ruining my planting there, but doing its job of not breaking my heart each time I see it. Or the dread I felt when going outside at dawn on Monday and hearing a horse shrieking at the far end of the garden.
It was absolutely fine by the way, apart from scared. I placated it with apples, then we both managed to get the broken pool cover over its head without spooking it, then pulled it back as carefully but as swiftly as we could so the horse could charge up the steps at the shallow end. It was out in about seventeen seconds.)
Leaving us with the mess.
The fence at the duck pond is the most vexing. I have spent years getting this spot of wilderness beyond our boundary to flow in one smooth almost lawn from our landscaping to the next. If I fence it I am bound to neglect it. And I loved the expanse of green in among the trees. Almost as if it were a garden. We don’t have much lawn here in this dry part of the Ardèche, as the horses will attest to as they are forever grazing in this patch.
The fence has to permit access for the hedgehogs and the badgers and the deer that share the only decent water source on the farm. A small but constant flowing underground spring.
And I have to be able to mow around it.
So chestnut fencing it is.
And in a mad decision to recycle, I am going to use the long fence that lines the Dry Garden in the east. It is no longer required. As fetching as it is up along the top track.
I had Nicolas build the top barrier as the new garden was forever being dug up by the badgers when I first planted out.
The wild boar were threatening incursion too. But this top fence really does nothing in terms of protection now. The badgers cannot uproot the well-established shrubs anymore, and they are welcome to rootle about by going around the long way where the gaps are largest.
So apart from being handsome, it really is forty metres of excellent material to use elsewhere. Like in my orchard.
All I needed to do was pull out the two special fencing nails securing the fence to each chestnut stake every two metres along the fence. Then roll up the fence, shove it in the boot of the car, drive it down to the orchard, and re-erect.
Pause for all of you to chortle.
Hours. Hours. Hours. Hours of sitting directly under trees that are flush with mites just waiting for a deer or some idiot human to place herself directly under the flightpath of their dropping trajectory. And two spiders, one who bit me in the gap between glove and sleeve. And another who made it all the way to my waist band before sinking the teensy fangs.
And I have fingers that are no longer speaking. Prizing the nails out of the stakes was devilish work. Nicolas hammered them in beautifully. Securely. And I bet he never thought I would recycle the fence. Or ever want to shift it. It was built for permanence.
I won’t tell you about the swear words that emerged as I tried to uproot (in one piece) his beautifully secured upright stakes. He had sawn them to brilliant sharp points. Perfect for anchoring in our stony soil. I used a Bulldog fork and mattock and hope. One false move and I was going to tumble down the steep slope while still hanging on to the swaying fence and random quince branches.
So I leave it there. This is part one. All the nails are out. The fence is rolled, half is down where I need to place it. The rest can wait.
And now all I need is to work out how to hammer in these stakes every two metres in between iris, Ballota,phlomis, an apple tree and my mostly made of stone track.
First I’m off to the chemist to empty their stock of itch cream and see a sympathetic face commiserating me on my mite season madness.