Grateful this Christmas …

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Counting my blessings this Christmas. A lot of money has flowed under the bridge since this time last year (what with a greenhouse and one and a half bathrooms!).

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I also lost my precious mum at the start of January 2017: Christmas Day 2016 was spent (very happily, actually) by a hospital bed in Perth, while the Bon Viveur tended to things at home in Chatillon.

But wow – she must be so delighted when she looks down and sees what we have created in 2017!

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This is a very special greenhouse – it was my personal present to myself, for my sixtieth birthday in December 2016 (courtesy of financial help from my loving mother).

The BV has made an incredible job of constructing it – over a very long period of time. We started clearing the compost heaps that previously stood in this corner in October 2016. That took about a month on its own.

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Then the actual construction commenced in March. Due to the layout of my garden, this was the only possible place to put it. The bijou Eden Orangery was chosen for its small size and price tag – but mainly for the interest of its shape in a prominent position.  It was painted blue by us for the same reason. We imported it to France using a British company based in Brittany, since the French aren’t too hot on glass greenhouses (poly tunnels and workman-like spaces, no problem!).

We were toasting the final panes of glass going in with champagne as we greeted our second dump of snow for the year. And took the opportunity to show the first plants (lavender and santolina cuttings) their new home.

Can you see in the picture below that I go into my local supermarket to beg the polystyrene boxes that fish is delivered in? They make superb seed trays, pricking out boxes and carrying crates – and they last for an amazingly long time. I started doing this (on the recommendation of a local florist) when it became clear that I couldn’t get decent, rigid and reusable plastic seed trays in my part of  France.

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Not content with constructing the greenhouse, the BV also got his finger out for my wooden compost bins, painting and positioning them in the place I’ve had in my mind’s eye for the last five years or so. I kind of wanted little beehive shapes … but these will do nicely, thank you!

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They were purchased when the refuse collection system in our area changed to a ‘by weight’ calculation (I was already composting kitchen waste, but took advantage of the offer). The bins were supplied at a cost of only 36€ each by the company charged with refuse collection in the area. Each came with a nice little green compost container for the kitchen (so I have three that I can wash out and have on stand-by) and a stirring implement for each bin, looking a little like Neptune’s trident. Sicotral (the company in charge) even ran a day course on composting when the new scheme was introduced in May 2017. The French are so very, very thorough!

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The BV also created some temporarily duck boards so I don’t slip in the mud and crash into the glass of the greenhouse. We’ll use them lower down in the garden when I’ve re-established the grass path.

The upper level (to the right, in the picture below), where the greenhouse entrance is, will be a small wisteria-covered pergola, tailor-made for this gardener to pot and prick out to her heart’s content.

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There’s a lot of tidying to do, but next spring is already filling me with excitement and getting me to the serious seasonal task of seed-catalogue browsing.

Yes – it is going to be hot in there in the summer – very, very hot. Apart from the usual damping down and venting, I’m looking at purchasing something called ‘aluminium shading’ (clipped to the outside of the greenhouse), sold by a company in the UK called Simply Protect. I found them through an article in The Guardian and it looks like a fairly efficient solution – and not too very expensive. The technology appears to have been researched and developed by someone in North Carolina. Click here to take a look.

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We are also thinking of making a case at the back of the greenhouse so that several of the very long panes of safety glass on the sides can be removed and stored without fear of breakage – until we put them back in again in the autumn. Other ‘cooling’ ideas gratefully received!

I have been totally unable to raise tomatoes at Chatillon, due to blight (and I thought living on south-facing slopes would give me the best tomatoes I’ve ever experienced!). So, really, the greenhouse is a summer home for tomatoes.

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But I’m slowly realising that it will be more useful in the winter. Lettuces, spinach, oriental greens from September through to February, perhaps? The best, however, will be raising veggies and annuals from seed. I’ve experience only about 60% success rates with propagation in our sun room, up at the house – it only gets full, good light for half the day. I used to be quietly confident that I was good at this in the past!

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At the end of the day, I’d say the thing I’ve got to be most grateful for is the darling BV who has worked so hard on this project over months and cheered me beyond belief during a tricky year. Here’s to you!

I hope that all of you who have taken time to read my blog over the last year have a splendid Christmas! I know that I’m not always the best gardening blogger ‘friend’, but your kind comments have brought the sun out for me on many occasions.

If this Christmas turns out to be a sadder one than you would have wished, please accept a spiritual hug from me and my very best wishes for 2018.

A toast to the warm-hearted world of gardening bloggers and a very merry Christmas to you all!

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In a vase on Monday

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I am struggling to post, what with all going on in the house and our lives. Still, here is my Vase on Monday.

Not too many words, but I’m fond of my (soon to be coppiced) hazel and my hellebores.

Yes, we also have snow, which makes our balcony really slippy going. (Nearly broke my neck taking these pictures!)

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Don’t the hellebores almost look like orchids if you half close your eyes? They started flowering (surprisingly) in November.

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The vase was a vide grenier find from a local glass company at Isches, now no longer existing. I love the fine tracery on the surface, but (as a second-hand buy) it is pretty flawed. More pretty than flawed …

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You may be interested to see that my ‘toilet arrangement’ is still flaunting itself in the living room. (Here’s the previous Vase on Monday, if you missed it.)

Perhaps a comment on how much dust we have around in the house at the moment, since it doesn’t seem worth replacing?

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The element I’m enjoying the most (apart from the darling little hazel catkins and the grasses) is the dried foliage of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’.

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A funny way to say ‘Merry Christmas’, perhaps, but I’m going to post pictures of my magnificent – and long-awaited – greenhouse later in the week. And I’ll be just full of the right spirit then, because the Bon Viveur is on his way home for Christmas – see you soon and enjoy the next few days!

With many thanks to Cathy at Rambling in the Garden who always gets me happy and grateful when I think I’ve no energy left. Pop on over to her blog and see the other Christmassy vases.

Anniversary Vase on Monday

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Happy fourth anniversary to all the wonderful IAVOM people! And especially to Cathy at Rambling in the Garden who first thought up this terrific meme and takes such trouble every week to visit and appreciate everyone’s vases.

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For the anniversay, she set us the challenge of arranging in something other than a vase. When I saw saw the email alert for Chloris’ vase today, I was a bit concerned that she had ‘stolen’ my idea. But maybe hers is a different colour? Couldn’t bear to look before I’d completed my work. My pictures are terrible (as is the arrangement!), but it’s the taking part that counts, isn’t it?

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Anyway – my ‘vase’ uses Sedum spectabile, some branches of hazel, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’, autumn leaves from Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ and spent flowers of Perovskia atriplicifolia.

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That miscanthus is really rather splendid – it deserves better than this!

I have been unable to do any window-dressing at all due to lack of space around the container that my husband suggested might feature today. If you look at my previous post, you’ll understand.

This is my arrangement’s most elegant angle, I think – do you agree?

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Once again – a very happy anniversary to everyone – and especially to Cathy! Go and look at the links on Rambling in the Garden. This week they are bound to be a hoot! Oh, dear – sudden thought. Should I have taken this more seriously?

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French Renovation: more for your pound?

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The main square in the old village of Chatillon

A couple of summers ago I had a rather ascerbic comment from one reader, asking me why I was always complaining. Specifically, if I didn’t like France, why didn’t I move? (She was so wrong about me not liking France – but I’m a realist and nowhere is paradise!)

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The view from our bedroom window

Well, truth is, I find blogs where people tell you about their problems far more interesting than those that present me with glorious pictures at which I can only drool … information and problem-solving are the hallmarks of my favourite bloggers. Not for everyone, maybe, but works for me.

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Lots of people are beavering away here – this is an old Santiago pilgrimage house, directly opposite our own house (known as the ‘Maison du Guetteur’ or ‘Watchkeeper’s House’)

So, why do I live in France? I never had a yearning to live here, actually, unlike most Brits. My heart is in Scotland, but my husband often works 2 hours up the road from here and, strangely enough, we quite enjoy spending time together.

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Mine is not the only terraced garden at Chatillon

Also – and very importantly – for the gardener with eyes bigger than their brawn, who also loves houses and has a strong sense of history, you get far, far more for your money here than you would in Britain.

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One of the most delightful houses in the village, owned by an equally delightful Parisienne

In fact, this is a good place for less than wealthy people to build a dream. But you do have to invest a lot – and the bad news is that you are very unlikely to ever get it back.

Although French people with a lot of spare cash (specifically, those from our provincial capital, Nancy) are spending a lot of money on our village. It is quite heart-warming to live somewhere where people are treasuring and investing in their own history.

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The first place to be renovated in Chatillon, during the 1980s, the Hôtel de Sandrecourt. During the Renaissance in France ‘hôtels’ were private residences in the country where an aristocrat would stay as he moved around his domain.

When I lived in England I spent a lot of time yearning after a sixteenth or seventeenth century house with a superb garden. It wasn’t possible, due to cost. And I watched WAY too much ‘Grand Designs’ – I still do, sadly. But with a glass of wine to dull the pain.

Because, you see, the one thing that never penetrated was the pain involved in renovating a very old house – I was naive.

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Our ‘cave’, or wine cellar. Chatillon is known for having many of these. A friend tells me that when her children were small they knew the way into every ‘cave’ in Chatillon. Sometimes, when people renovate them, they have little ‘cave’ parties (mostly a Dutch past-time)

 

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You can’t have a sixteenth century house without a spiral staircase. This is my version …

I’ll come to my wretched fosse septique problem at the end of this post, but you can have a look at the previous post here, if you want. Suffice it to say we’re busy creating grandeur upstairs and still haven’t sorted out the basics (I don’t say we are dreamers for nothing!).

So, the point of this post? I always wanted to write more about the renovation work we were doing here, but a deep need to be private has stopped me. However – I now feel I have something to report that could assist other innocents dreaming of France.

It all started in the attic and the renovation of our spare room. You may have seen the previous post, again here. That was actually relatively easy in comparison with what we’re currently embarked on.

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The new library upstairs …

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It all looked rather lovely in August, until the bathroom ‘took over’

I am writing this at the beginning of a new week – a week in which I may actually have the new upstairs bathroom I am dreaming of. It will not just be an ‘en suite’ for us during winter and when there are personal guests and family in the house, but also a bathroom for guests to our gîte, which we are hoping to launch in 2018.

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In fact the whole of the renovation has been partially aimed at the idea of supplementing income.

So, gaily we embarked on the plan at the end of June this year. Four months later, I have a toilet upstairs! Hurrah! But it’s the most expensive toilet in the world; well, maybe not, but you get my drift. There’s nothing else in there …

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And this is it … the grand unveiling of the toilet!

So far we have changed all the pipework, including that going down into the fosse. Which can now be emptied of 10 years worth of … well.  (It was previously inaccessible under a thick slab of concrete.)

In passing we have repositioned beams in the cellar, had interesting conversations with the mayor’s deputy about changing the point at which water comes into the house (too expensive), and knocked down almost everything that existed of my previous bathroom downstairs.

There are now no walls …

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We used to have a little privacy in this house …

Althought the BV has erected cardboard walls to sort out the fact that the cats now think it’s a toilet.

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Lovely new walls

We have uncovered the old window under the watchkeeper’s window upstairs … (see later).

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This bathroom was pretty ‘normal’, this time last year …

And we have found the back of the old chimney (and installed a really horrible temporary shower!)

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Back of the chimney

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Uggh! I thought I was lucky when it first arrived in late June …

 

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New beams in the cellar … which some claim was actually also the village prison.

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Today’s post is, however, really about our stupidity in laying our new floor upstairs. The Bon Viveur (my dear one) managed to persuade me that I was not going for expensive tiles because I didn’t feel I ‘deserved’ them. He had a point and I caved …

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Then it transpired that we had not purchased the right glue. We are laying our tiles on a base which is a little like OSB – but better. In France it is ‘dalle de plancher agglomere hydro’ – I have no idea of the English, nor am I interested.

So down to the shop for glue that is tailor-made for this surface, without the need to lay another (expensive) membrane using the (expensive) glue. This turned out to be almost triple the price of ‘ordinary’ glue.

At the beginning of last week we appeared to be running out again – down to the shop again for more glue. If I mention that the shop is 50 mins away, then 50 mins back and I attempt to lead a normal life, you will understand the frustration.

Then we ran out of tiles in the last corner – not expensive, but we’d missed the lorry delivery for the following day, so were forced to travel 1 1/2 hours each way for one box of tiles. (They kindly gave us a discount, due to our inconvenient journey).

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These tiles are very long (they happen to come from an Italian factory just behind the place where the Bon Viveur lived when he was working in Italy – again, our sentiment always gets in the way). Laying them was a bit of a nightmare.

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The result – well, it’s kind of superb. We stood around in the kitchen on Thursday night and had a little wine toast – finally with happy smiles after a gruelling fortnight.

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A bit sad that we couldn’t afford the cost of the new fosse in the cellar (19,000€, but with a big subsidy).

But maybe it will come. Meanwhile, we are hoping to offer visitors the special experience of poo-ing in the old sixteenth century watchkeeper’s room for the village. That’s got to be worth something.

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Every year in November, France runs a ‘Telethon’ – a kind of ‘Children in Need’. I’ll leave you with pictures of a previous Telethon in Chatillon … greetings from a corner of darkest, beautiful France, where even the Brits rarely set foot …

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In a Vase on Monday

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Wow – that was a cold one!

Inspiration for today’s vase came from the poor little flowers of Rose ‘William Shakespeare’ (David Austin) and the blushes of red and pink on the greeny-yellery flowers of a mophead hydrangea.

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Believe it or not this rose is frozen almost solid!

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I passed the hydrangeas (in pots) on my way down to the garden to pick something for my Monday vase and the first thing I came across was poor Willie, frozen solid in the Rose Walk.

I  bought ‘our William’ because I wanted another dark red Austin rose – I liked ‘Munstead Wood’ so much and it performed so well here.

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At first I thought that M. Shakespeare was rather a vulgar version of ‘Munstead Wood’, but this year he’s coming into his own and ‘Munstead Wood’ has been very poor indeed (I’m wondering if it’s not too fond of the plentiful rain we’ve had?).

Nice when you fall in love with something that left you less than totally enchanted to start with!

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Then I braved the prickles of Berberis thunbergii ‘Atropurpurea’, because I felt they’d add a certain bloody something (I’m thinking Macbeth here) to the arrangement. And a little gentleness came by way of Artemesia ‘Powis Castle’

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There is actually some Sedum spectabile in there as well (all the leaves dropped off when I picked it!), but it seems to be shyly hiding in every photograph.

Even the surface of our table on the balcony had a film of ice on it this morning. Willie is still standing outside, because I think he’ll fall to pieces if I put him in the warm kitchen.

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I’m afraid this vase isn’t going to even last the day out, but I did enjoy creating it!

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Greetings from a very frosty Chatillon – did you read that the Academie Francaise has just voted to get rid of circumflexes? Thank goodness, because whenever I type the word ‘Chatillon’ in a blog post, I’m forced to use a website offering French accents to copy and paste (there should be a little hat over the ‘a’ in Chatillon). Now I don’t have to worry!

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Go on over and get an eyeful of all the other lovely vases on Cathy’s Rambling in the Garden. And thanks to her as our gracious hostess!

 

October End of Month View

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I’m a bit late taking part in this meme, now hosted by Steve, at Glebe House Garden. But I’m too aware that, even just for my own sake, I’ve not been recording the garden as much as I should have been.

October has been a very mixed month: heavy, ghastly (and depressing) rain, interspersed with week-long periods when the garden was full of heat and sun in rare old Indian summer fashion. We were just going through one of those sunny spells on the eve of Halloween, the day my photos were taken.

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The heavy frost wasn’t a complete shock: I checked the weather after dark and managed to rush down and rescue a couple of pots from below, including my precious Cycas revoluta (Sago palm), which always reminds me of time spent working in a Floridean garden, as well as a nice little collection of fancy and scented leaf geraniums bought in the spring.

However, thinking back to last winter, perhaps the mercy mission wasn’t quite so essential. My tender plants are kept in a sun room, where the door is usually shut over night and I try to ensure the temperature is always above 0 C in winter. But this is also the exit for our cats into the garden. Usually this door is shut at night when the cats are inside, but I do remember one sad occasion when I came down in the morning to see two little furry faces locked out in the cold and frantically trying to climb the glass, their yelling mouths wide open at the insult.

Last winter, however, from about the begining of December to end of January I spent quite a lot of time in Scotland and the Bon Viveur was in charge. Unfortunately he sets more store by the cats than my plants, and the door was left continuously open for them. The thermometer showed me that we’d been down to -6 C in there. The point of the story is that the only things that died were my geraniums, broad-leaved penstemons (the most tender sort) and Helichrysum petiolatum. Oh … and one camellia which, I think, just dried out quite a lot. Cycad, olive tree, Aloysia citrodora (lemon verbena), Melianthus major and Abutilon pictum ‘Thompsonii’, all came through unharmed. Just shows you, doesn’t it?

Of course some things, such as my miscanthus and Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ are in nice terracota pots – they are over-wintered in the sun room for the sake of the pots, although freezing of a plant’s root system can be damaging. But they are all definitely much tougher than I imagine.

So, on the morning of 31 October, the garden was looking superb with the heavy frost. The Vine Terrace with the BV’s blue pergola always looks particularly special in autumn (this is where the cycad lives, so not too many steps to lug it up to the house!).

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From up at the Vine Terrace level I have a satisfying view of the Rose Walk, which does begin to look quite mature.

DSC_0003At the moment more than a few roses are still flowering – originally it was planned to be for old roses only, but I’ve gradually added more of the Bourbons (which repeat) and David Austin’s group. So ‘William Shakespeare’ and ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ (Austin) are all still on the go, as well as ‘Mme Isaac Pereire’, ‘Louise Odier’ (Bourbons); ‘Mme Alfred Carriere’ is a great climber for staying in flower right through a mild November. In spite of the flowers, you may have seen in my Wordless Wednesday yesterday that they were cruelly treated by the frost.

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Those who have paid any attention to my greenhouse drama will be interested to hear that the base is finally finished … et voila! …

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…and we can move on to the quicker work of putting the frame up. In fact you can see that some of the parts have already been assembled.

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Then it will be painted – don’t ask, we don’t know if it will work, but that’s not putting us off! Finally glazed – all of this only a year and a few days since the time it was delivered! We move quickly.

I was a bit shocked that morning to see that all the BV’s neatly ranged tools had been heavily frosted in the night.

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And, walking further down the steps to the veggie plot  (this is the map of the garden here if you are lost), I saw that the veggie plot was well and truly hit (yum, yum, lovely parsnips now) …

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and my sweet little butternut squashes were covered in rime too.

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The BV thinks they look like a line of convicts trying to escape – probably they knew the frost was coming, although I didn’t. Will they survive this and still store well? They were going through their 10-day cure when they were ‘afflicted’.

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I was going to join in with Cathy’s Tuesday View meme at Words and Herbs, but to be honest the Long Border is so dreadfully weedy that I was quite pleased when she told me she wasn’t going to be able to do it this week. However, turns out I’m shameless and will show you pictures anyway.

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It’s definitely the finest hour for the hazels before we get to the February catkins. This year they are not going to be allowed to do their thing, so I’ll miss them with the snowdrops. But since all the herbaceous plants and roses are now leaning determinedly away from them at a scary angle, I can’t put the regular coppicing off another year.

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And their cut stems are terrific for making herbaceous plant supports and weaving into small rustic tripods for clematis. Birch is actually better for the herbaceous plant basket support, because the stems are so supple and interweave beautifully.

The cannas that I’ve been bedding out with the aim of creating a tropical look for late summer were badly frosted – fortunately they are root hardy, now out of the ground (with my banana) and in the cellar.

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The grasses and fans of the crocosmia foliage are about the only thing looking good in the border now – although with the backbone shrubs losing their foliage I’m beginning to get glimpses of the red and yellow winter stems of cornus behind.

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Gaura lindheimeri – at the front of the picture above – surprised me last winter by surviving temperatures down to below -15 C. I wonder if it is because they were young plants last year? I was told many years ago that plants of dubious winter hardiness come through best if they are young specimens.

And the Sedum spectabile do look exceedingly pretty with the frost on them.

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The Hornbeam Gardens are similarly weedy and messy – on the other hand this is the first year that I’ve been able to look down from above (the walk next to the Long Border) and see that, yes, it is beginning to become what I wanted it to be.

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Glad I picked my last dahlias and zinnias for the Vase on Monday this week – the frost has now done for them! Interestingly enough the snapdragons look like they still have a bit of mileage left.

Have a wonderful November and do pop over and see the other contributions to End of Month View at Steve’s Glebe House Garden blog.