Strawberry fields forever

Oh happy sound. Tony attacking the brambles on the lower terrace above the vines. The landscape gardener arrives today. And Tony and I have the day to sort out the lower potager. We need to move stones and get the soil that is in the corner onto the rest of the garden. At least it is overcast and grey. Far better to dig in gloom than the blazing sun. I have started to learn the rhythm of the crops. Cherries are over by July. Figs offer their first crop at the end of July, the second crop in September. The blackcurrants are over by the beginning of the month but the jostaberries are just holding on. The plums are so few that it’s hard to tell when they ripen. And the peaches are a long way off – I keep banging my head on three unripe ones when I go into the cellar to turn on the tap. 

Nicolas gave me more little pots this morning and I have spent a happy afternoon potting up about 160 strawberry plants and their runners, and watering in 38 lettuce plants that I put up at the top potager. Most of them will probably bolt, but I can’t throw away good small plants.  Nicolas has completed the creation of the lower potager. What a Herculean task in the heat. And all by hand and mattock and spade. And he has even found the time to tackle our overgrown vineyard. Well, assemblage of vines would be kinder.  And by next week the two of them will finally lick this land into shape. Tony is to remove the fence posts and mess. Nicolas to prune out (euphemism for cut down) – the forsythia in the way of the orchard. And the non fruiting quince. And to strim all the lower  terraces. 

Tonight I stripped about two kilos worth of elderberries off the trees on the lower terraces. But as I don’t have scales or a decent recipe to make elderberry syrup, they are in the freezer awaiting developments. And I have a new compost bin, courtesy of Bernard. It is a work of art. 

There is a woodpecker on the telegraph pole below the house; it woke up our house guests Paul and Alice this morning and they have been studying it through binoculars.  And best of all, Nicolas has built a small stone wall at the lower potager to create a little terrace support of for the future flower bed and the strawberries. Goodness only knows how he managed to do it. We only left for three hours to go climbing, came back and found it done. He thought it would be a good place for the strawberries to go as they don’t really thrive in broad sunshine.  We had rain last night and Nicolas came over in the afternoon fretting that his wonderful potager had been washed away.

Alice was able to placate him that his fears were unfounded. I wasn’t here. I had taken myself off for a walk to the bulldozer man Monsieur Brun’s house. No point posting him a letter, it was only a three kilometre walk down the hill. And three kilometres back. But it was a lovely damp walk. I took in all the flowers and trees by the roadside (wincing at the state of the land we own below the bridge which hasn’t seen a strimmer in years). I looked carefully at everyone’s gardens. Well, there are only about six houses on this hill, but it was interesting. And up to M. Brun’s place. You could tell it was his house as there were bulldozers parked in the garden. Three large apple trees were in the hedging below his property and I picked one and munched happily on my way back.

 And to keep myself occupied on the uphill bit, I picked the white umbellifae family flowers that bloom beside the road. If I was ignorant I would call it Queen Anne’s Lace. Lovely and dramatic armful that I collected went into the big green vase we have here at the house. And I even managed to fill another vase with the small plants to go at the entrance way. Earlier we had a busy day – pulling out fence posts and cutting the wire away from the tangles of brambles and nettles. Almost all the fencing is down and folded and hidden behind the lower shed. And we have a huge armoury of posts. For drying and then burning. 

And then even though tired, we all walked up into the forest above the house. Taking the secateurs with me, I snipped and chopped through the undergrowth. And what a lovely walk. We didn’t make the summit – turned back about fifteen minutes up. But we have great plans to clear the path a bit and make it a good mountain walk.  Optimistically I packed a plastic bag to store all the mushrooms we may find. But I didn’t find a thing. So instead filled the bags with elderflower berries to be used in syrup when I get around to it. I was cutting the brambles on the upper terrace – such a consuming occupation – when Bernard and Florent turned up with more wood for the compost bins. So it was down tools and cool drinks on the terrace and catching up. Bernard is going on holidays from mid August to mid September. I’m going to miss him. And his skills. I would love him to make another fantastic bin at the top potager. And build the shelves in the kitchen. I think they would cost a similar price than having to slog to Ikea and buy them. And I bet we can get Bernard to be more creative with the space.  But that will be September work. 

Now we are off to St Michel de Chabrillanoux for a pizza. A reward for a heavy day’s digging and slaving over loads of fencing.