Taking on the development of a 3-acre garden in another country was never going to be for the faint-hearted. At the best of times we can only be there between a third and (absolute maximum) half of the year. The land is fertile, the rainfall plentiful, and the temperatures temperate throughout most of the year. So the plants grow fast. We can only do what we do with the help of good people on the ground. Without them a wilderness would ensue very quickly. And we are creating a garden, not a re-wilding exercise.
We are now helped by two people, one who focuses on plants and flowerbeds and one who focuses on the gardening that needs heavy machines (hedges, mowing, strimming). Both have some historical association with the house and have known it over a number of years, one of them actually owning it before we did! The work they do for us is complementary so there’s no problem of them being unclear about where the boundaries are.
Success in these long-distance relationships depends on a number of things being right (believe me, I know …). One of them is good communication, receiving regular reports and photos of progress. These have a practical purpose, capturing the moment in time and confirming progress made, but also a deeper purpose in linking me/us to the garden even when we are absent. And that’s very important given the importance of the garden in our French adventure; we think about the garden all the time in minute detail whether we are there or not. Having helpers who understand, and respect our deep link to the garden, is integral to the success of the relationship. We are very fortunate.
The first mow of the season has taken place this week. This might normally be expected in March but the winter has been very mild and wet so growth was well under way. That’s a relief as all our French neighbours keep their gardens immaculate and an unkempt garden might draw attention to an unattended property. I’ll write another time about our approach to grass management, being mindful of the increasing trend away from close mowing and towards meadow. Suffice it to say at this stage that there are all kinds of issues including but not limited to ticks, snakes, thistles, brambles … its not a simple black and white issue in our part of the world.
We’ve also recently received another very welcome trailer load of compost for mulching.
The mulch comes from a farmer, Gilles, about 10 kilometres from us who makes it from a variety of green and woody material from the council recycling centre (the dechetterie) as a sideline. So far we haven’t visited ourselves, never being in the right place at the right time with the right resources. We have a trailer but need to have our own car with towbar as hire cars don’t have them. We have driven past and admired what we can see from the road. The opening hours are a little opaque, the yard only being open between 10.30am and 12 noon on Saturdays, and not every Saturday of the year. So we are grateful when someone can collect a trailer load for us. The cost is in the time/travel to collect and distribute, as Gilles will put a bucket-load (that’s a big digger bucket) into your trailer for 10 euros or only a little more. Its beautiful: dark, well rotted, free of debris, crumbly. Lovely stuff.
It has recently been used to mulch a flowerbed on the west side of the covered terrace. Rainwater used to pour straight off that roof and wash away any mulch added to the bed, but gutters were installed last summer when the roof was replaced and so we can now mulch with the expectation that it will stay put. The terrace, full of life and colour during the summer, looks a little abandoned at this time of the year. Life and colour will return. The climbing plants are trachelospermum jasminoides, and the shrubs are a variety of different hydrangeas; very French. I plan to extend this bed out a little further now the rainwater has been diverted.
The shrubs along the boundary with the field, close to the exotic garden, have also been mulched. The exotic garden is just out of sight to the left of the picture below. 22 shrubs were planted along this part of the boundary, to become a kind of informal bobbly hedge. I’m told (good communication again!) that 8 of them are not looking particularly healthy, possibly deceased. That’s not a surprise as last summer was very hot and very dry and we weren’t able to water them as much as we should have. Fortunately I see that more as a planting opportunity than a disappointment! But I do just need to see for myself which ones have failed before replanting. And this summer should offer more time for watering with less work for me.
We make lots of compost of our own, but so far not nearly enough to mulch everywhere as thickly as we would like to. In due course, as we extend the cultivated areas, we will obviously be able to make more. Here’s a plan of our compost enclosures, at the end of our last visit in January! I drew it for our flowerbed helper (who’s also keen on compost much to my delight). Already some further turning has taken place so I’ll have to update my record next time.
We used to have a source of woodchip which made an excellent mulch but the provider decided to return to the UK so that dried up. Many people say “just ask your local tree surgeon” … not so in reality. I’ve asked them all but none has been available. More recently its been suggested that we explore the possibilities of waste from sawmills. I’ll report back if and when we find success in that direction. Google certainly indicates that a number of sawmills exist not too far away from us.
A local horse owner was able to deliver a few large trailer-loads of manure a year or two back which were very welcome indeed, and we are hoping that will resume before long.
Feed the soil; that’s definitely the root of our gardening philosophy.
Pain report me: subsiding and just one more week in the Broken Ankle Big Boot. I’ve confirmed my first physio appointment and can see the light at the end of this particular tunnel. Having been very careful during the bone healing period I’m determined to do everything I can to regain full strength and mobility.
Pain report OH: again, subsiding and heart continuing stable. Very good news too.
After all, we have work to do as we have a garden to continue to develop 🙂
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