A February visit: warts and all

A question we are often asked is, “How will you divide your time between the two homes?”. The answer is not straightforward as we both have busy working lives and family commitments. Some kind of answer will evolve over time but one principle we have adopted is to try never to leave either home abandoned and alone for more than a month or so at a time. A good way of measuring whether we are successful at doing this is to ensure that we visit every calendar month, regardless of the time of year.

I have returned today to Sussex from my February visit, made solo as R was travelling elsewhere for work meetings. Here’s a quick resume of my February visit:

I arrived in the midst of a tempête (very high winds) to find the electricity down and our farmer neighbour S zooming up and down the properties along the line trying to identify whether (and if so where) a branch might have fallen onto the line. Thankfully power was not off for long but in the meantime I thought it prudent to go in search of more torches. I bought the last one in our local Gamm Vert.

I spent some time looking ruefully at all the sticks and branches brought down by the wind, and all the leaves still hanging around from last autumn. What do other people do with so many leaves? We have gazillions, far more than can be put into a leaf-mould enclosure.

I collected an old pine wardrobe/chest of drawers, bought secondhand through a Facebook group, with the help of our trusty Man with a Van.

On Wednesday I had a visit from an arboriculturalist (arboriculturist?) and tree surgeon to review the future of the large number of mature and post-mature trees and to share information for the preparation of his devis (quotation).

A chimney sweep visited for the first time in our ownership of the property, and we now fully understand why the wood-burning stove in the sitting room wasn’t working … and will not do so again.

For the third time in succession I failed to light a bonfire. This is a major blow as my record as a fire-raiser was previously unchallenged. Can anyone recommend a fire-raising workshop?

Back in the days when I successfully had bonfires …

The leaves of the Musa Basjoo had been fried by January’s very low temperatures so I decided to tidy it up. A tidy up turned into a bit of a massacre. However I hear that the grues (cranes) are beginning their migration so I’m taking this as a sure sign that winter is now on the wane and am trusting that I’ve not acted prematurely.


The weather this week has been glorious, sunshine and rising temperatures. In sheltered spots the temperatures hit the high 20s.

Digger Dave visited to talk about how we might adapt the perimeter fencing to be more successful at keeping rabbits and badgers out. There is enough open countryside for miles around to feel quite justified in asking them to stay on the other side of our fence.

Our trusty electrician visited to upgrade a junction box which will ensure that the final flaky area of electrics no longer trip when they feel like it. Electrics in France are very different from the UK.

I tried to help our lovely French neighbour C catch one of her chickens which had found itself in an area of no-man’s land between our two properties. I’m not sure what the final outcome was …

I did a bit of pruning, all the non-climbing roses and two  large budleias. I don’t know what cultivar they are but last summer’s flowers were enormous and fragrant. I also hacked (I can’t say pruned) most of the hibiscus (not my favourite shrub) of which there are many. I don’t expect them to survive the master plan.

But I still haven’t managed to prune the small number of lavender bushes. They may be done for. If so it won’t be a disaster as lavender is a short-lived plant anyway and this is probably not a long term position for them.


We haven’t started planting yet so flowering interest is few and far between. Here’s one or two.

The first lizard of the year appeared on the south-facing front of the house. Subsequently more appeared in the warm sunshine as the week wore on. I wish they wouldn’t lurk in the window frames, ready to leap out and shout “boo!” every time I open a window …

The first lizard of the year, on a south-facing wall

It was great to see the new French windows, traditional style, which had been installed in a downstairs bedroom since my previous visit. Further discussions took place about next phases of work with the menuisier (window/door/joinery man) and maçon (stone-mason). The shutters do need to be repainted …


Oh, and I treated myself to Eggs Benedict at Gatwick Airport last Monday morning prior to departure.

Eggs Benedict with field mushrooms @ Jamie’s

I will return to some of these topics in more detail in future posts. Which ones would you be most interested in? Why not follow my blog so you can follow along with our French adventure?

8 thoughts on “A February visit: warts and all

  1. Would love to hear more about ALL of these topics- indoor and out (would love a pic of the chest of drawers). I (Brit) and husband (Yank) spend half our time in Geneva CH and half in an isolated chalet in Bugey, France. I too have had my first lizard plus a huge brimstone butterfly a fortnight ago. If I go alone to the chalet I sometimes feel overwhelmed (3 hectares of overgrown C18th vineyard). I am in 60s and not physically v able. We totally re-wired and installed solar panels on roof as we are not on mains. Installed new Jotul wood burning stove a year ago and we need ramoneur already (apparently French law/insurance demands this). Love your new French windows. Pls post pic of new shutter colour.

    That lavender looks fine – just hack it back.

    Re leaves we just pile ’em up on an open compost heap (surrounded by trees so don’t get blown away) – great stuff.

    Don’t normally like eggs Benedict but that looks yum!


    1. Thanks for your comment Trudy! Your life sounds interesting too. Whereabouts is Bugey? I will revisit most if not all aspects including the specifics you mention I am sure. Yes, a yearly ramoneur is apparently required for insurance purposes. We always used to have the chimney swept every year in our previous house so it doesn’t seem too much of a hassle. The biggest problem with the leaves is that there are so many trees (30+) that a compost heap of about 50 cubic metres would be needed to process them all. That might be a bit of an exaggeration … but not much. A number of the trees will come down though as they’re too old, overhanging electricity wires, generally unstable … or even just in the wrong place. We will certainly be planting a number more I’m sure. The Eggs Benedict was distinctly yum!!


  2. I’me glad I am note the only one who seems to take subconsciously less care of the shrubs I’me not as keen on, and the shutters have a faded elegance thats utterly charming but understand why you need to paint them


    1. Thanks Mark. You’re right about the faded elegance. We had to have a number of other shutters replaced and selected a gentle grey paint colour … which has turned out unexpectedly to have a distinct lilac tinge. There’s rather a mismatch between those and these. All in due time …


  3. I can advise on fire raising and pyrotechnics…….my achievement of cremation of 4 rough books and a green furry pencil case in the Chemistry lab at Ravensbourne School for Girls has been hitherto unrivalled……My Girl Guide pyromania was pretty good too. I accept a small consultancy fee of red wine……

    Keep this blog up Sharon. The picture of the gecko is exquisite!


    1. Thanks, dear Fliss. You must come and help me refine the art of fire raising (but only allowed between November and April). And we’ll drink red wine together anyway! All being well my Man with a Van will be sorting out this particular untorched bonfire in the coming weel.


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