Playing catch up
Bad, bad, bad. I have been remiss. Days have gone by and I don’t seem to have been able to post news.
I do get a bit thrown when we have house guests over a weekend as the early evening is my best time to edit the photographs, label and resize, and post the daily news.
But I’m in London this week with time on my hands, so I promise to be as thorough as I can.
So where was I? Washing river stones I seem to recall.
I looked in my 28th March folder and only found this picture of Artur snoozing in the grass next to the pool. He likes to supervise with his eyes closed. But he likes to be nearby.
I did finish the long side of the pool. But discovered that the end of the pool – the short five or six metre end, also needs work. So I don’t feel I can tick that one off the list. It will have to get done next week.
And while I was working away at this part of the garden I realised that I really need to do something to the bank above the pool.
I had planted about forty pannicum grasses here about five years ago. (The grasses are to the right of the curving wall.)
Only about ten survived in a rather spotty pattern. And then one year I did an emergency thyme planting with flowering thymes from the upper terraces.
That worked well. But it doesn’t smother all weeds.
And to my dismay, I found that there are brambles sprouting on this side of the steps. Here is a before shot so you can see what is ahead of me.
I want to remove a lot of the soil that has grown over the lovely rock that is just above the decking. I have to go carefully as I don’t want any soil to drop in between the wood and start sprouting weeds.
I’ve done more than enough fiddly weeding here thank you very much. So if I can get a tarp down and secure it well, then I can just fork the soil and weeds onto the tarp and spirit it away onto a compost heap.
That’s the plan. At least I’ve moved all the good pannicums. They now run along the bed directly behind the swimming pool. In our sort of wilflower garden which was fab once, but needs a lot of work.
A Lot of Work is the phrase that keeps coming to mind. But it’s all fun. Really. But only if you don’t mind ghastly broken and torn and frankly grubby fingernails, an aching back and the feeling you haven’t done enough in the day.
So back to the list of achievements. Actually looking back I can see that I actually had a good burst of activity.
Paths. I am madly sowing grass seeds on so many areas of the garden to get a green vision of loveliness rather than brown and weedy.
The two paths – which I call Alice’s path for the lower one below the potting shed, and Sarah’s path for the one above have been resown with gazon rustique. Twice. It’s just too warm. I have been away during the important times when only a gardener would stand there with a hose and water dirt.
Both these paths took such a beating from the floodwater that I had to add a lot more topsoil and try and start again. With luck I can report back on some fetching germinating lawn looking paths in a month. But for now it’s just neatly raked brown.
It’s not all doom and gloom. The tulips are out. And I have been able to take bunches of flowers twice to my friends at the Thursday market.
I was forced to put most in pots behind the potting shed (ahah, so there’s a point to calling it a potting shed at long last) and the purissimas were first up.
But these lovely red ones are out now and they make me smile every time I walk up the path.
I could give you their name; except I left my list behind in France and didn’t drag my notebooks to London with me.
And the irises are just starting to come out. These are by far my favourite perennials. I think I prefer their spear shaped leaves more than anything. So upright and dramatic. The flowers are divine, but so, so fleeting.
And they are a perfect foil for the stachys that seems to have happily colonised many of my beds.
They were a gift from Leslie and I love the grey felty leaves.
I must dig some up and add them to the newly planted shade garden bank which only have thymes and some purple sage right now.
The barn garden which sits atop the steep bank leading down to the lawn has sunk a bit more over the rainy winter. I don’t dare weed or do anything there in case it all comes tumbling down.
I might see about propping up the bank frin underneath with some hefty stones. It will be a bit tricky, but one learns on these steep terraced gardens that you have to channel your inner abseiler.
And now onto my marvellous weekend. Alice and Paul came over from Chambery and I had a day of help in the garden. And Alice is keen to learn.
So we started with a good warm up job. Collecting sticks from the lower forest. You may have heard me lamenting (bleating) about all the mulch I lost from the garden beds. The only way to replace them is to chip sticks and branches that abound in the forest.
I had thought of buying the stuff in; but apart from not being able to get the sawmill man to reply to my calls, I realised that I prefer to use raw materials that live on this farm. More chestnut and less pine (which is the staple ingredient of sawmill stock).
So we hauled and it was so much easier with two. And then stuffed all the lot in the car for the last journey up the mountain to the chipper outside the gite.
To recover from that lung busting job, it was into the potager where Alice sowed her first peas, carrots, mangetout, beetroot and parsnips.
But we were back down to the lower terraces in the afternoon. Malcolm emailed to say that he was delayed in the second attempt at the vineyard pruning and time was getting on.
So I volunteered to wield the secateurs and Alice bravely agreed to help.
It’s not a fun job. But she gleefully got stuck in to clearing away last year’s dead vines and I marched up and down the (endless) rows.
And a treat was seeing all the blackthorn flowering. I don’t think I have ever remembered it flowering so well before.
And that’s a terrible confession as it means I just don’t go down this far into the farm in spring. Shame on me.
I donned my gauntlets and brought a few branches back for the nature display pot at the front door.
That was a tip I learned from reading Beth Chatto’s books. She is a wonderful gardener in that she has a challenging large garden in a dry part of England, and opens it all year round. Quite an achievement to have fun things to show in the dead of winter.
And she always urged people to have a big pot at their front door and seek out foliage and flowers and interesting things all year round.
It forces you to look for unexpected decoration. I have no idea how long it will do in the pot, but I have a zillion euphorbias to put in its place.
Both Paul and Alice gave me a hand shovelling soil on Sunday morning. The bulldozer man, Michel, was widening the road on Friday and just hoiked lots of lovely turf and soil over the fence. I wish I was paying more attention when he was working so I could have asked him to pile it all up on the top side of the road. And that way I could have put it to instant use.
It’s lovely rich stuff as it is mostly good topsoil washed down the mountain. (I don’t dare bring up the word flood again as you must be as sick of reading it as I am of writing it).
I put some onto the hornbeam hedge. And have put a lot aside to tidy up the area where the new tarmac meets the mud.
And naturally I have other plans for all that rich stuff. I want to reinforce the track with more of the soil and turf. And if there is any left over I want to build up the sloping bank up near the cherry tree on the top road.
Anything to avoid having to strim and mow instead.
And what of the bulldozer work, I hear the machine keen among you. It is going so well. I was cross I had to leave before getting to see the tarmac go down. But here is a little photo essay of the work.
I was amazed how meticulous the work was. We are so used to just having the council do a patch up job. But this time it was in with the bulldozer to crush the broken tarmac, regrade it but keep it in place.
Then roll the area and add a mix of sand and gravel (not sure what it is called apart from zero trente), rake like mad and roll again.
And then tarmac. Artur naturally made the most of the soft surface to race across and leave his foot prints. And I had to creep across the edge with my suitcase and recycling bags on the morning I left.
Next week I hope to have the finished shots.
But what of the sticks that were last seen in the back of the car?
I chipped almost all Monday. Until 3pm anyway which was a big job. I managed to clear the entire massive pile and get bags and bags of the stuff where it was needed.
The huge shade garden has an upper and lower side. I had made progress on the upper side, but the lower side has more plants and more weeds sprouting like mad in the bare earth.
Bare earth is anathema to me, so I covered as fast as I could.
And had to pause every time I came to the shade garden area so Artur could leap on my lap and have a quiet cuddle. I suspect that old cat has a spot of dementia.
He has forgotten that he is supposed to be semi wild and haughty. I didn’t have the heart to push him off, he only stays a few minutes, then would leap off and go back to a spot in the potting shed.
It’s a bit warm in there right now, so he needs me to keep the windows open so he can enjoy a cooling breeze.
I laboured on. But it’s such a great feeling to get this soil covered that I never mind.
Naturally I came up short. Alice will be amazed when she remembers the three huge loads of sticks we hauled out the forest, but that’s chipping for you.
I don’t know if I can manage another foray into the forest now that it’s the growing season. I’m very busy. And forest work does feel like a winter project. So I might give in and just fill the last bit (about 5 square metres) on the top side of the shade garden with bought in mulch. Shameful!
But I had one more task to do on Monday and it couldn’t wait. Strimming.
When I look out the kitchen and office window I can see down onto the lower terraces. Only the first three terraces have the lush look of a garden.
And it was suspiciously too lush on the second terrace.
I’ve really only tamed the first very long one which I mow. I’m dying to get a good long walk mowing that first one as I need the grass cuttings to use as a mulch about the hedges.
But terraces two and three are smaller and rocky and steeper and really best tamed with a strimmer first.
You always have to watch out for hidden rocks and stones in the long grass. So I like to get in with a hefty strim and then try and keep it neat with the mower later in the year.
And the second terrace has too much vinca threatening to flower. That’s why it looked too lush. So time was running out. And there is a nettle patch under the majestic mulberry tree that needs taming too.
So off I went. And it’s such a satisfying chore. It takes time and it kills the back, but I’ve done it. A rather brutal haircut. But I decided to keep going.
So I had a go at the first terrace steep bank (lots of rose tremaire, can’t think of the English name – hollyhock – had to look that up) and baby elderflower trees trying to take hold. Plus the usual nettles and brambles.
You can tell why I never take close ups of these long terraces. A distant view hides all sins.
And then I twinkled up to the main orchard below the pool and tidied that steep bank too.
I don’t dare boast this early in the season but I feel I have tamed the brambles well in advance of my usual time of year.
They grow out of the stone walls on the terrace edges and if neglected, they arch out and anchor onto the flat and rich soil on the flat And then if you leave it one season and you have a forest of impenetrable mess.
So I departed bent a bit double, but so pleased with my work. Next week I have another two page list of chores to perform. But I never want to give the impression that I’m suffering very much. I never dreamed I could have such a fantastic and extremely large playground in which to create and grow.
Being in London feels like a nice quiet break. I get to read garden magazines, try and repair all the damaged fingernails, run errands, and yearn for my return.