Category Archives: News at Châtillon!

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

Harry Potter à la française

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Châtillon-sur-Saône may be a village at the back of beyond, but we really know how to kick up our heels (and dance!) here, if the occasion calls for it.

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Tuesday 18 October, just before the start of the Toussaint autumn school break, saw a mass invasion by all the would-be Harry Potters from surrounding villages.

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Five schools were bussed in at 9.30am and, for the second year running, Châtillon’s Fête des Sorcières swung into action. First the kids were organised and cajoled into groups by our leading witch and the village schoolmaster.

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People work pretty hard in this village of less than 150 souls to make this a lively place, rather than a living museum.

But these witches were not just here to have fun. They also learned about the history of witchcraft from this scary young man, whose concept the first Fête des Sorcières was in 2015. Heard at an advance planning session: ‘No hangings, please, Thomas!’

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The trainee witches and warlocks spent time at the witches’ academy, absorbing the finer points of cauldron and broomstick use. Their ‘prof’ for the day  …

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Although I’m afraid she made some of the smallest cry …

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They made real broomsticks …

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And, near the Maison du Berger,

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They learned how to dance like witches …

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It’s hard with your hat on …

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So you really need to take it off …

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They painted like witches and they learned how to make pumpkin soup with the professionals …

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The dressed up like villagers from medieval Chatillon.

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And had their photos taken.

They even learnt a few English words like ‘pumpkin’, ‘skeleton’, ‘cauldron’, ‘bat’ and ‘skull’ from a crazy English-speaking resident. Just useful things like that, words that should come in very handy on their next school trip to Oxford … or wherever.

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In the afternoon we gathered in front of the church.

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Not quite as peaceful a business as you’d imagine, since parts of this Renaissance village are still falling down …

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See the Route Barrée sign below? We lost one there just a few weeks ago. A building that is, not a child.

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Don’t worry parents – the kids are safe. Except  from vampires and such like …

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Each school had come prepared with a little sketch they’d created in advance.

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A few weeks before the fête they were given key words to turn into a script, so they had time to create and practise – and after lunch on the 18th we all enjoyed their offerings.

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The small, rather perfect witch’s cat in the next picture played a starring role in one tale of enchantment. But had to be helped to leave her basket at the crucial moment.

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Some of the witches were a little too pretty to be properly frightening. These two are from Châtillon village school. (Of course … we have the prettiest of everything, even trainee witches.)

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Then the oldies presented our own masterpiece (written by vampire Thomas): The Wicked Story of King Bertrand (of Châtillon).The usual suspects are shown lounging about doing nothing …

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The story of Bertrand involves the enchantment of a dissatisfied king (by means of magic carrot) and his ultimate transformation into a cat. I was graciously allowed to be the queen who gets to marry the cat – Yvette is holding my future husband a little too casually in the picture below …

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A good time was had by all. And hats off to the handful of dedicated volunteers who have learnt how to amuse 130-odd children for six hours.

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Have a lovely witchy Halloween!

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(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 …