Grinding, harrowing, and musings on blog frequency

Like many bloggers, the gaps between my postings have been varied and often far too long. I have sworn to myself that I’ll never use the words “sorry I haven’t posted for ages”, “wow, I’m back at last”, “It’s been far too long”, or similar. I’ve spent some time considering how to write, when to write, how often to write, illustrations to include. I’ve known that I haven’t written enough but haven’t been clear on how to resolve that issue.

Writing has formed a significant part of my working life, so I’m not a novice nor am I daunted by the blank page. In the early 90s I was working with Jeremy Myerson (an accomplished journalist and author, founding editor of Design Week, for many years a Professor at the Royal College of Art) on a project and asked him how he managed to keep on writing. “Sheer technique” he responded. He wasn’t being arrogant at all, just helpful. The meaning was clear: just write. And so I did, and his advice has stood me in good stead both in my professional life, and my personal life too.

The biggest stumbling block that keeps me from writing and publishing more is that I spend much of my working life sitting in front of a computer so the last thing I want to do in my time outside work is … to sit in front of a computer. I know some people blog from iDevices but that’s not for me. I need a proper screen and keyboard to produce anything (at least at this stage in my blogging life). And a second block is that I tend towards perfectionism, possibly putting off writing/publishing posts because I can’t see a long enough window of time to “get it right” (whatever “right” is – to misquote Prince Charles in his famous engagement interview so many years ago).

But this morning I received some photos from Steve, the groundworker/heavy machinery guy, which he took at the end of his work yesterday. And I want to share them with you. So, here I am, publishing a new blog post two days’ running (and writing it at my desk in front of my computer in the middle of the working day). No worries; I shall just work on a little later this evening to catch up.

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The stump grinder, and stumps still to be worked on. The white gates are our neighbour’s.

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Almost done

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Stumps now fully ground, tractor and harrow going over the area to smooth it all out, looking towards the south-east

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Looking south-west

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And the job finally completed, looking north towards the house. We are absolutely delighted with what has been achieved by the team and really feel ready to move on.

This last picture shows a little under a third of the garden, what we describe (at the moment at least) as “the front garden”. The two big remaining trees on the right of the picture are both ash, in good condition, and will give us an upper storey to that area of woodland garden.

The laurel hedge in the background is a boundary (forming a bit of a dog-leg in our plot) and in front of that we will be creating a new parking area (screened by new hedges from the rest of the garden) with an ornamental garden and petanque court in front of that.

The shadows on the left come from five large and ancient plane trees, dating from Napoleonic times, which appear to be very strong and healthy.

Between the plane trees on the left and the woodland garden on the right we will have an open area of lawn which will give sweeping views from the house. Its exact position still to be determined, there will also be an area where we will plant spring bulbs to naturalise in the grass and encourage wild orchids to seed themselves. In the foreground we will plant a hawthorn hedge which we will keep fairly low to keep the view open. Friends have successfully established hawthorn and I was very inspired by Arne Maynard’s hawthorn hedges at Allt-y-Bela when I visited last spring.

Which varieties of trees would you plant in the new woodland garden?

The first spring

We took over ownership of the French house at the end of November 2015, still pinching ourselves to be sure that this was really happening. Since then we have made a number of visits, enjoying unseasonably warm weather during December and then experiencing (not enjoying!) cold, wet, stormy weather throughout much of January and February.

By the middle of March signs of spring were beginning to appear, with plants being a clear 2-3 weeks ahead of progress in the south of England. Overnight temperatures were still quite low, with the odd frost, but when the sun came out there was warmth in it that those in the UK would only experience in late spring or early summer. The region is renowned for its plum orchards, plums destined to be turned into prunes, and the blossom is

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Plum orchards in full blossom, acres and acres of them

currently at its peak. It is quite something to drive through miles of countryside past acre after acre of plum orchards in full bloom.

I have many ideas for the design of the garden, most of which are still quite undeveloped and disjointed. I have taken on board advice from those wiser and more experienced than I, to consider how the garden sits in the landscape, focal points, journeys around the garden. But I still have pretty much just a list of ideas. I’m going on a day’s course with Arne Maynard later this month to help me work towards a more cohesive design which sits well within its landscape.

Today two old ramshackle barns were demolished. They had been earmarked for demolition from the start as they were neither functional, beautiful nor historic. And after the storms in late January they were unsafe and quite dangerous. We didn’t expect them to be demolished today; indeed the Mairie earlier in the week told us not to before applying for permission. But the message didn’t seem to get through to the man with the bulldozer and so we will need to square this with the Mairie in due course. We will be pleased to see the back of the barns as they were eyesores as well as dangerous, and this will open up a key area in the journey around the garden.

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Our land is this side of the fence, the farmer’s the other

We have been having perimeter fencing installed (mainly to keep visiting GrandBoys within the bounds). It is in a very rural, agricultural style, and we hope that it won’t suburbanise the plot nor act as any kind of visual barrier with the true agriculture on the other side of our boundary.

Our primary aim for the coming year is to continue to maintain the garden as we bought it, as we learn how the sun comes round, how the temperatures fluctuate in different areas, wind speeds and directions, soil type, rain, water retention … And of course to discover what plants are already in residence.

We can probably see and identify most of them, but I was very pleasantly surprised last week to find some lily of the valley coming up on the edge of the drive reasonably close to the house. That was unexpected.

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Lily of the valley, unexpectedly appearing at the side of the drive

We won’t know what some of the trees are until their leaves are fully out (and maybe even flowering). We know there are plenty of “weeds”, for example too many poplars, some well past their best and quite unstable. So there will be some culling on a fairly grand scale.

And there is a lot of grass, a huge amount. Mowing is going to become an important part of our lives for some time to come!