Category Archives: Good things this week

Rain!

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In spite of my fears, we were incredibly lucky and the rain did not pass us by! Although it has just stopped, it came and I’m thankful.

Every gardener (except maybe in gardens like Inverewe, in Scotland, where it rains 1.5 days out of 3) loves rain. I love it because it reminds me of that exceptional feeling of being ‘saved’ from double digging or wheeling barrels of manure when I worked as a professional gardener.

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This is not something that we would share with someone else – except if it was your partner – it’s not ‘cool’, in that world, to allow any doubt that physical work is anything other than ideal. If you let the doubt creep, the blues creep in too. But we all knew by each other’s cheerful faces as we filed into our messroom or shed.

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Whenever it was raining (or snowing) we had the luxury of joining the more civilised world indoors where everyone’s clothing was not covered in mud from head to toe.

For a brief time our backs and arms would stop aching and we were free to calmly pot and top-dress amazing plants, with the leisure to properly admire as we worked. Or we cleaned seed and chatted away sorting out the world … nice memories of rain on a glasshouse roof and the knowledge that the soil was going to be too wet to work, at least for the day.

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Chamaerops humilis on the balcony

I love the way the colours of plants glow when it rains so that you want to rush and get the camera or to paint them.

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Self-sown seedlings of Nicotiana ‘Perfume Mixed’ on the balcony

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Lycianthes rantonnetii on the balcony

The way that the sun stops scorching the earth that you’ve worked so hard to make a good home for your plants. And the way that the plants themselves seem to almost be reaching up for the gift (spot of anthropomorphism here!). They never look like that when you turn the hosepipe on …

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The things I don’t love about rain are, on balance, much less important. The knowledge that all of that seed I was ‘just about’ to collect is now soaking wet. The picture of the downpipe that I broke when pruning pouring its contents down an old stone wall I’m trying to caretake.

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Most of all I just think – aren’t I lucky to live in a part of the world which is still green, proof positive that (at least for a few years to come) rain will always arrive in the end?

If you feel like it, I’d like to know what rain makes you think of?

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September garden musings

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If you happened to drop by and you enjoy looking at pictures of my garden – welcome!

But be aware that this post is mostly for the benefit of my absent husband who likes to keep up with what’s happening – it may be too long for you! Also – although I love garden memes, I sometimes find them really exhausting. When I first started blogging, I did it because I wanted to record some of my own garden experiences. To be honest, I wasn’t too bothered if nobody else read what I wrote. The memes have taken some of the pleasure out of that experience … added to which my eyes are not taking kindly to the hours in front of the computer demanded if you truly try to ‘keep up’ and be a good blogging friend.  So these are just ramblings. And I’m giving myself permission to do more!

Here’s your parched garden, Nick. Still no rain to speak of and temperatures have climbed a little again into the low 30s. We are forecast a little rain tomorrow after 12 days – but it often passes us by. And then there seem to be no dark clouds for days to come. Hey ho …

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The supper terrace has been the most luscious place this summer, the foliage so huge, the blooms of hydrangea so welcome (must get more) when it’s hot. This just proves what watering can do.

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And the orchids do seem to be enjoying the trick of hanging outside with a regular spray over. I really enjoy them, because they look more like the orchids I remember from my botanic garden days.

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As epiphytes they relish that regular touch of cool and damp. Unfortunately I haven’t got it automated and so I have to run down (or up!) regularly with my little hand sprayer. But they are looking cool and much happier. The idea is that they are whisked into the house in flower.

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On the Mirror Garden we have a desert aspect. The only things left in the lawn are the Verbascum thapsus that grow everywhere in Chatillon. They have to have their heads chopped regularly.

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I had to cut back the Banksian rose (Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’) hard in July, mainly to dispose of Muelenbeckia complexa. It looked so sweet in that little pot – and remember how I gave out when you accidentally strimmed it Nick? But it’s a horror, and I do wish I’d read how invasive it is before planting it. Below are before pictures …

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It was growing in all the crevices of the old tower which is part of the medieval ramparts. I was fearful for the stone. I’ve sprayed it twice with weedkiller since rooting it out, but it will need more and I noticed yesterday that a tuft in the wall is greening up again.

And some ‘after’ pictures …

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You can see how much pruning I had to throw down to the next terrace (and then throw down to the next – my disposal method for woody prunings). You can also see that I accidentally broke the downpipe from the roof! Even that rusty old thing had Muehlenbeckia growing in it!

Fortunately the rose is coming back after the massacre, although we won’t have much flower for next year.

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Following attacks by the box tree moth caterpillar (Pyrole de buis) I sprayed twice with Bacillus thuringiensis (May and late July) and set three pheromone traps (which caught a lot of adult moths). My box is still alive and, if not thriving, still providing the structural element I like.

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Back in May I did clip all the garden box at the same time when I first discovered the caterpillar (I usually do it in stages). And that removed tonnes of the little blighters, so quite an important step! It took me about 3 days, with 3-hour stints each day. The actual spraying takes about 2.5 hours to cover everything in the garden. It’s debatable if this process is for everyone.

I still like to think the box tree moth can be controlled. It was so bad this year – decimating everyone’s box for miles around – but I think that may have been due to the fact that no one in the area paid much attention to the first onslaught in 2017, myself included. Next year I am also going to try a French nurseryman’s recommendation that box be clipped in late February – he says this can remove any ‘problems’ that are over-wintering in the top growth.

The Vine Terrace is looking sweetly autumnal – although the birds and wasps have had the grapes as usual. Next year, maybe? We need to be bottling our own wine in this house!

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The greenhouse still has some tomatoes coming on, although it’s all slowing down now.

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Outside I’ve been really enjoying the Salvia ‘Mystic Spires’ and white antirrhinums that were planted in the two new pots you bought me, Nick. They look good with the Ricinus communis that were never planted out in the Long Border due to the early heat. And what I think are carpenter bees (comments anyone?) are enjoying them too. These big black bees come in the morning (perhaps nesting in the rampart walls?) and are replaced by honey bees in the afternoon. Curious.

I’m so glad that Eryngium ‘Mrs Willmott’s Ghost’ is seeding and spreading in the Rose Walk.

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Biennials and annuals that like to self-seed here are to be treasured because the heavy clay is not for everyone. So far we have Salvia sclarea, Papaver rhoes, P. somniferum and Verbascum thapsus that seem to like us. I notice that all of these like heat and have quite fleshy taproots (with the exception of the annual poppy). For the life of me I can’t establish Dame’s Violet (Hesperis matronalis) or Honesty (Lunaria annua) or Forget-me-not (Mysotis) although I keep on trying, and perhaps they will do better below where there’s more space for self-seeders.

The veg plot is a DISASTER!

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I am still waiting for my brassicas to recover (they usually do in September, but we haven’t had the rain and cool they like). The pumpkins did quite well, but surprisingly little fruit, and the french beans didn’t get enough water after my first great pickings, so petered out quickly. On the other hand, the autumn-sown broad beans were great and I still have perpetual spinach and chard to pick (chard running up to seed slightly), since they can take a bit of heat.

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The Long Border looks pretty messy and dry, but that always spurs you on to plan constructive changes for the following year. There are many shrubs due to be replanted down below and I’m sick of the vast swathes of hemerocallis that I inherited with the garden. It’s a pretty boring plant, in my opinion. But it does love it here and perhaps I should experiment with different, prettier, colours than the standard orange.

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Still roses flowering. ‘Jude the Obscure’ hasn’t been too bad this year, after slowly moving into gear for the last two seasons.

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A friend has a ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’, consumed by what I think is brown canker. David Austin should think twice before naming roses after tragic heroes and heroines. But I think Jude will win out, unlike his namesake.

This is the first year that the Reverend Pemberton’s Hybrid Musk rose ‘Felicia’ has risen to her full height.

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There are one or two interesting perennials still flowering (many of my flowers were over far too soon in the Long Border this year, although fortunately it looked good in May and until the end of June when the garden was open). Aster ‘Monch’ is always nice …

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Funnily enough the other asters (michaelmas) haven’t really got into their stride yet. One helenium remains in flower. My least favourite called ‘Loysden Wieke’. I should take it back to the nursery, because they swore I’d love its quirkiness …

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The Hornbeam Gardens are still taking shape from what used to be their field – with the expected weeding (especially of crab grass) that comes with the transformation.

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I’ve managed to clip the hedge in the top half, which is the cut flower garden. You can see my ladder working on the arch …

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But the hedge at the bottom remains hairy and wild. The bottom is also proving a bit of a problem because it is incredibly dry down there, owing to heat and the greedy roots of an ash tree just beyond our boundary. No matter how big your garden, this is a problem that you always seem to encounter. But maybe I should rejoice that the ash is not yet dead, as it is in Britain?

Finally – the little cyclamen, many of which came from your mother’s garden in County Wicklow, Nick, are still alive and starting to bloom really well. A terrible picture, but in the life they are more than whispy ghosts! Hopefully they will still be on the go when you are back at the end of September!

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This summer has given many of us pause for thought. We do not all love gardens that are ‘bedded out’ every year, and some of us feel immoral when we over-use the hosepipe. I water my spaces no more than once a week. In the past this has worked, but this year when I look at the pots that are watered every day and the borders that are rationed I can note a huge difference in growth.

I do not feed borders either, because I believe this just plays into the hands of the big businesses that want to take my precious pennies. And I prefer a natural style of gardening. Instead I use a little slow release, organic fertiliser on roses and I hope that mulching with the product of my new compost bins and the material that runs through the recently purchased shredder will give the soil back what it needs.

I refuse competition. My garden is for our pleasure, not to make somebody I’ve never met a lot of money or to impress my neighbours. But it’s difficult when you encounter climate change as we are doing at the moment. Ideally I’d have a low maintenance Mediterranean-style planting here, with lots of greys and drought-tolerant plants. That’s also why I’m so interested in things that like to self-sow. But the soil does militate against this style of planting. It is cold and very wet in the winter and dry as – well, fired clay, in the summer!

My new year resolution (did you know that September is traditionally thought to be the start of a new gardening year?) is to try and evolve a planting style that is appropriate for this place and not so based on the traditional English herbaceous style that I ‘grew up’ with. So lots of lists – and lots of seed to purchase! I do think grasses and bulbs will figure large, with early-flowering perennials, because the late-comers can’t take the heat. Just wish I could add succulents and dramatic shapes to the Long Border, but it will be way too cold for them here. Could be fun, if and when I rise to the challenge!

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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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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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An August indulgence (the long read …)

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Wow, even in a wet summer like the current one, our grass on the Mirror Garden is still parched.

I first started my blog quite a while ago (you can find my original here). It was a seed that sprouted from a desire to communicate what was happening in my garden here in France to my husband (endlessly working abroad) and my mother (living in Scotland).

The Bon Viveur is again absent working in England, so I’m taking him on our  customary tour of the garden. It’s been a long time since I took an objective look at the garden; this will consequently be a little lengthy. If you haven’t got the stamina for the walk (and the endless photos) goodbye until we meet again!

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We’re up on the balcony. It’s a cloudy Saturday evening; I can sit up here tonight without my sunglasses on. It’s been a bit of a battle to get plants to grow on the balcony, because it’s like an oven when hot. And since we are always going to be sharing our space at close quarters, the traditional suspects such as agaves are not an option. Even lavender has been a really tricky thing to get going – I can’t tell you how many plants have gone into my troughs in the last 3 years. And I actually had to google why my cactus were going funny colours: too much light (can you believe it?).

On Saturday 12 August, Châtillon-sur-Saône was preparing itself for the big, annual August Fête de la Renaissance.

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The château grounds next to our garden have been clipped to within an inch of their lives and the ‘other’ Bon Viveurs have put up their flamboyant little canopy in preparation for the sun, which didn’t quite arrive this weekend.

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Walking down to our supper terrace, below the balcony (see the map here, if you think you’ll get lost!), I’m celebrating the fact that my own special Bon Viveur has removed all the old gravel (in preparation for paving), reorganised the foliage plants and put up an artificial hedge.

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I was a bit doubtful about the latter – but it works. No space consumed, lots of privacy. I love the stripey Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ against the ‘hedge’ and my little Gingko biloba has new growth, which makes me want to sing.

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The next level is the Mirror Garden, looking as tranquil as always, after the tulips finish putting  in an appearance in May.

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The blanket of green on the tower is, rather surprisingly, a Muehlenbeckia species

I like the Mirror Garden like this – it’s fairly straightforward to manage and easy on the eye. But I’d like some more euphorbias and yellow/white thingeys up here in spring. I was shocked to see that my special baby, Euphorbia characias subsp characias was killed by our low temperatures this winter (down, probably, to -20 degrees). Start again time!

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Peaceful except for those little white bags that have sprouted furiously over our nameless white dessert grape on the tower. This is the kind of slow, loving job that the BV does the best. This grape is so sweetly delicious that the wasps always get to it before we do. Foiled!

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And, my dear friend Beatrix, did you notice that the tiny little Muehlenbeckia you gave me about 7 years ago is now holding up Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’? Just go back and look at the second Mirror Garden picture again! To think that I was cross with the BV for strimming it and ‘killing’ it only 5 years ago! Now it may take over the village. It certainly has designs on our guest bedroom.

As I come out of the Mirror Garden, the Vine Terrace is one level below. Currently being (again) revamped by the BV.

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I have a water reservoir with no water (all the pipework has been disconnected!) – but joy, oh joy – yes, another artifical hedge. I am not being tongue in cheek here – really. I spend hours and hours battling with ivy and parthenocissus growing on all the old walls in this garden. An artificial hedge seems a bit like heaven on earth. And it doesn’t look half bad either! Thank you Lidl (and Nick).

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This ‘haie artificiel’ has been done in only one layer – the one up on the Supper Terrace is 2 layers and a million times better. Try it yourself. The BV spends hours over a flora at the moment trying to discover what species of plant this is. And how will it mature?

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To my left, walking down by the steps, is the Iris Garden. Again tranquilly green after the once flowering of Rose ‘Blairii No. 2’ and the irises themselves. Although ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ still throws out the odd bloom – and I think you can probably see two in the photo?

It’s such a privilege to have a large enough garden so that you can enjoy things in season and forget about them later.

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I never fail to enjoy the BV’s lovely blue pergola in the Vine Terrace when I look up at it from the Iris Garden – in fact you can see it from most points in the garden.

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The blue pergola on the Vine Terrace – and you can also see the balcony above.

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I’m going to bulk up Eucomis comosa in the Iris Garden. I was too mean to buy more than 2 bulbs, initially – but we have our first flower spike, and it’s luscious! What a lift in August, when everything is looking sad and hope leaves the gardener’s heart (unless he/she understands that this month is actually the start of the new gardening year).

Although the Rose Walk was the first place where I started to garden, it now looks like a building site and has been the source of a lot of depression this summer. I felt so sorry for the poor old roses doing their thing in the midst of heaps of soil and stone rubble. And I longed for my paved path up the middle – definition in wildness, that’s what my goal is.

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The greenhouse is still a twinkle …

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Although I do have a lovely new compost bin (one of a trio).

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Unfortunately I’m getting used to the building site – can you see that I even weeded around the ‘greenhouse’, Nick? In future I hope it won’t involve climbing over great heaps of soil.

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Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ is beautiful. But it’s the strangest thing here – whenever I divide herbaceous perennials they have a tendency to peter out. I used to have 6 of this Echinacea, and made a couple of divisions. Then they all started to die. So I’m quite nervous about dividing this one decent plant.

Although much of the Rose Walk is a bit scorched looking, repeated plantings of Stachys lanata and Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ help to keep it fresh.

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And I’m really enjoying the little picture that Perovskia atriplicifolia is making with the new growth of the rosemary.

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Turning down into the Long Border …

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The Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ are finished flowering and all is pretty parched now (this is probably the hottest part of the garden).

But Echinacea purpurea …

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Cannas and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’…

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and young Helenium and Phalaris arundinacea ‘Picta’ are all looking good. When the hazels are coppiced in winter these will be so much better in 2018. At the moment everything is leaning forwards.

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Straight on from the Long Border is the veggie plot. Looks tidy, but is singularly unproductive.

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We had some nice spinach and peas earlier, before the heat set in, and I even managed to grow carrots this year, finally recognising that they had to be sprayed over every day to get them to germinate (and with a long germination time, that can be 20 days of spraying!).

Brassicas absolutely loath heat (to my chagrin, because I adore broccoli), but then recover in autumn, so the sprouts do fine (and I get late broccoli). This year there have been many, many failures in contrast to previous years.

When the greenhouse is up, I reckon the trick with this very hot site will be to sow in late February under glass, with a view to planting out in March.

From the Long Border I can look down onto the cut flower garden. That, and the fact that I had just completed all my strimming, were what made me decide to post today.

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It looks good although it is – wait for it! – unfinished. But you know, it’s a lot of work. I underestimated how much would be involved on our sloping site.

This year was my worst year for cut flowers. I had no sunflowers, no Ammi spp, no larkspur. But the sweet peas were good – over now! – and I am filled with joy when I look at the strong zinnia plants.

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Disappointing snapdragons, bought from Special Seeds. The cultivar ‘Black Prince’ looks to be completely dwarf, so useless as a cut flower. Why, oh why, do seed companies not do single colour packets any more? I know the answer, you don’t need to tell me!

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You can see more clearly why I call it a building site!

I started sowing too late, hence 2017’s cut flower disaster. I think I always underestimate how much work there will be in spring, given that I’m developing new areas all the time. All that digging and heaving means there isn’t a lot of time for pleasurable things like sowing. I really do hope I/we are nearly at the end of garden development – then I can begin to take pleasure in real horticulture!

As well as all the wooden/ turf steps in the Hornbeam Gardens (the top is the cut flower garden, the bottom the wild shrub garden), the BV has had to completely redo the stone steps that descend down there. I’m no longer in danger of breaking my neck, but it has been so time-consuming.

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Our cheap little Aldi metal arches that we bought to frame the entrances are really rather pretty – they won’t last forever, of course, but I’m hoping that by the time they are dust to dust the horbeam hedge itself will have grown up to make the arches. This week I had to be rather brutal with the hedges, because I realised that I was letting them grow up beyond something that would be beyond my control in the future.

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You will notice in the photographs above that I still haven’t decided what the eventual surface of these steps will be – but you can be sure it won’t stay like this! The easiest would be to sow some decent grass (involving weedkilling the ‘bad’ grass in September). Haven’t made my mind up yet.

This stretch of ground from the Rosa ‘Rambling Rector’ arch up to the ‘delphinum’ border is probably the path most impacted by the decision I make.

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I’m enjoying what Deschampsia cespitosa is doing down in the bottom part of the Hornbeam Gardens … it’s not all good though!

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To the right the lower Hornbeam Garden is completely scorched and horrid (although it looked pretty in spring). I’m thinking buddleias and sedums to withstand the intense drought here, caused in part by overhanging neighbour trees (no shade, just sucking!). Magnolias also seem to do really rather well in drought conditions. There is one here that battles on in the midst of the mess!

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The other side is really rather jolly, although it needs a lot of tweaking. The flowering shrubs here are all spring things – lilac, deutzia, Exochorda macrantha ‘The Bride’, Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’.

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There were hydrangeas for later, but all but one has given up the ghost – and that one remaining plant, H. paniculata ‘Limelight’, is not too happy. This is definitely not the place for the superb Hydrangea aspera.

Walking out into the orchard, this is the last area that I believe HAS to be developed in the garden – although I could go on down to the river with wild plantings (this is REALLY dreaming!). Much of the fruit is planted to make espaliers (although some poor souls don’t even have wires at the moment).

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Am in the midst of trimming hedges and strimming by the lines of espaliers (to the right)

There will be a meadow-style herbaceous planting underneath four Prunus ‘Tai-haku’ in the ‘will-be’ borders (we do need shade here, although you may not understand this) .

I have planted 4 yews to make strong boxy statements at the corners of the two broad borders. I intend to dig at least one side this winter – the side that already has some plants in it (roses, oxe-eye daisies, etc.)

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The little brown boy at the front is actually doing something very natural and unmentionable. I’m sorry you had to see this!

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My vision is for the cherries to flower with Narcissus poeticus ‘Recurvus’ below, followed by wilder roses and daisies. I’m learning what seeds itself well here, and this will be so very important in the future. Opium poppies do well (although I couldn’t get ‘Lauren’s Grape’ to germinate this year), verbascum and – miraculously – Verbena bonariensis. All the old verbena plants were killed in our very hard winter of 2016/17. I thought I’d lost it, but it’s popped up beautifully in the Hornbeam Gardens.

Knautia macedonica is becoming a menace and I never have to worry about losing nigella (although, again, have not managed to get ‘African Bride’  to germinate).

I am really, really looking forward to seeing this part of the garden swaying with species roses, daisies and wild carrot (‘Purple Kisses’ is a pretty one I tried this year).

And I so very much hope that this is the last winter with a huge amount of heavy work to do. Someday I’ll get sowing early instead of wallowing around in March still digging.

Well done if you made it through to here! And do cut me a bit of slack and remember that when we blog we are recording for ourselves too!

Nick – hope you enjoyed the walk around your garden?

More than he could chew?

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So I’m finally getting it! Yeah! The greenhouse that I’ve been longing for.

However, as with most things in our life, it’s a long, slow process. The actual greenhouse arrived back on 25 October 2016. It was a present from me to me (courtesy of my mother) to celebrate my 60th birthday. Here it is, arriving all the way from England.

The man that drove the lorry was held up overnight by the clearance of the migrant camp at Sangatte, Calais. What an awful thing to drive into accidentally.

And yes – how else would the Bon Viveur celebrate the occasion? In fairness, I forced the glass of wine on him, because I was overcome with happiness …

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An awful lot of money for just a few little boxes! It is a little Eden Orangery that we plan to paint pale blue (not the dark, experimental blue that is shown in my pictures, more like the blue of the pergola above it).

Only time and experience will prove whether this attempt to paint an aluminium greenhouse will work.

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In the autumn last year the garden looked lovely. I was even quite proud of the vegetable garden (for once).

As soon as the greenhouse arrived I was kept busy moving the enormous heap of compost and material for the shredder that had been standing there since the spring of 2012 when I first started gardening the adjacent Rose Walk.

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Here’s the heap. It took days – make that weeks – to shift it. It was bigger than it looks!

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In March this year I was joined on the last leg by the Bon Viveur whose job it was/is to actually put the thing up. We were nearly at the finishing line! (I thought … )

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But progress has been painfully slow. The measuring … well, I don’t even want to talk about it. This is a tricky (uneven and rocky) space. Come to think of it, all our spaces are rocky and uneven.

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As with anything, the foundations are crucial. And we are fitting the greenhouse into a corner of the garden edged by the old village ramparts. Plus it has to line up with the planting already done in the Rose Walk.

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The BV’s tasks have involved cutting away (safely) stone to fit the greenhouse into the corner and building a small wall on which it will rest.

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The wall has been the most problematic factor in the whole operation. The BV had to cut each stone by hand (and I had to nod understandingly over the trials and tribulations involved). My oven was taken over for several days to dry stone and sand. And then the kitchen table was fully occupied to weigh said stone and sand.

The point was to achieve the perfect lime mortar mix for the wall. Apparently you have to assess the absorption level of your stone (ours is very absorbent) and the quality of your sand before you can arrive at the correct lime/sand ratio that will withstand the test of time. The standard advice is a mix of 1:3. In times gone past they used a 1:1.5/2 ratio – apparently more suitable for our absorbent walls. The water ratio to this is also important, but I’m told it’s like Easter – very variable.

Although the precise explanations of this process leave me yawning, I’ve only got to look around me to see the disastrous effect of much of the concrete pointing that has been done on our walls here. Concrete has no natural ‘give’ and during the winter it will be the stone (very soft and porous in our case) that takes the strain and cracks, rather than the mortar which is supposed to take up the strain.

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He is now the world expert on mortar. I shake in my shoes when he describes the hours he intends to spend in the future righting the wrongs done on our many walls.

He’s got other stuff to do (of which more at a later date) …

I tried to focus on Narcissus ‘Jenny’ flowering in the Rose Walk instead.

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For the time being the much promised ‘grand opening’ on Easter Sunday is a just a precious dream. I kind of wish I hadn’t sown those tomatoes after all. When all my carefully raised plants died of the blight last year – with barely a crop – I swore I’d never plant them in the open ground again. This was actually the fourth year of tomato misery. Something to do with the soil (the ghosts of many potatoes, perhaps?) and morning mist over the river.

Here he is, bless him. Head full of ratios and huge, huge plans for palm houses that will never materialise.

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This blog isn’t called ‘Garden Dreaming’ for nothing.

In front of him is rather a decent show of tulips in the future Knot Garden. You may remember that I planted this from cuttings. The box plants were clipped in March last year and were immediately struck by the worst blight I’ve ever seen.

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Tulips ‘Aladdin’ (red) and ‘Ballerina’ (orange)

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Tulip ‘Green Triumphator’ completes the colour scheme

This year I’m keeping the little box plants wild and woolly. Box plants in nature rarely suffer from blight, it’s the tight clipping that makes them susceptible – I think! And so, until the knot is of a better thickness and health I’m letting it grow (so far no sign of the wretched caterpillar in the garden).

The tulips are not thickly enough planted – I’m going to have to double the quantities in future.

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This will been my main tulip area in the garden eventually. I’ll replace them every year and plant the current bulbs elsewhere in the garden.

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But they are pretty in the evening sun, after a hard day’s work …

Hope to see you again next week? Meanwhile – have a wonderful, flowery Easter, full of hope for the garden in 2017.

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Tulip ‘Flaming Artist’ in the Long Border

(Very) good things this week

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Please be warned – there are some seriously bad photographs to follow! However, I’m going to blithely continue in recording something that gave us a great deal of pleasure last week.

We were in the midst of one of those awful computer melt-downs that will be all too familiar to those (overly) reliant on the beasts.

I do use my computer for work (copy-editing), and I have had a fair bit of that recently, so perhaps extenuating circumstances?

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I was on day four of a marathon to save my machine. It had trembled and collapsed at the knees after the most recent Windows 10 update. Too much for the old girl, I fear.

She is now laid to rest. (Although the Bon Viveur is suggesting a new hobby for me: I should spend my ‘spare’ hours bringing her to life again. Thanks, Nick. I already have enough hobbies that drive me to distraction while I try to keep them simultaneously moving forwards.)

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A new shiny piece of kit is currently winging its way by camel from Amazon UK (I am a touch-typist, so I have to have a Qwerty keyboard), and I am working courtesy of a friendly dinosaur.

In the midst of this gloom two Great White Egrets flew into our lives and settled on the river bank opposite the house.

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Now the bank is a long way away and my telephoto lens is very poor. (This is where the bad photos of my earlier warning come into play.)

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The pictures were taken in the grassy gap, dead centre in the photograph above. And unfortunately at dusk.

First there was only one egret – who appeared to be inspecting ant hills on the other side of the river. Doing his ‘hunchy’ thing.

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Then he/she was joined by a mate. They started to spread their wings and look about a bit.

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After much excited consultation of books and websites, we were sure that we were lucky enough to be seeing Great White Egrets. Until recently they were rare in this corner of France.

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A friend who lives at the other end of the valley confirmed that they had been present in recent years, owing (he thought) to the warming of our climate here.

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They were superb – if only I had had my camera to hand on Friday morning when one of them took off and slowly circled above the garden at about 7am.

Unfortunately they have been sharply seen off the premises.

A little later on Friday or Saturday the Bon Viveur saw a grey heron and a white egret standing next to each other on the river bank, appearing to have a bit of a barney.

Next day, we had only a grey heron circling the chateau grounds, river and garden, guarding his territory. He is there continuously now.

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And I never even had the chance to say goodbye …