Putting the garden to bed

I said this at this time last year, but the autumn is really the end of the year for me. That six month mad dash through spring and summer is over and now it’s time to slow down. I’ve got a few garden tasks to do, such as plant a few bare root trees later in the year, and the continued digging over I do of the vegetable plots, but by and large, the pruning is done, things are harvested and there’s just a gentle meander into the really cold bits.

The good thing about this is that I get to take the dogs for walks in the time that used to be filled with the garden. I took Heston for his first ‘off-lead’ experience this week. He’s been walking on the lead with me for three months and he’s pretty good, but I want to know he can go off lead too. And he was fabulous!

He’s not my best friend at the moment though, as I caught him and César yesterday with a chicken in their mouths. Naughty boys. César was swiftly ejected from the garden. He could see I was cross, so he went straight out, very meekly. Heston got a smack on the rump and the angriest ‘No!’ he’s ever heard. The poor chicken disappeared under a bush missing half its back feathers. I thought they were moulting, but it’s clear that Mr Heston has been getting himself a mouthful of feathers from time to time. Bad Books and Doghouses for Heston.

Still, when it’s too moist to garden, go for a walk.

The trees provide a natural umbrella, and though it’s damp, you hardly feel it. Lucky for me, I’ve got the huge Braconne forest on my doorstep. A five-minute drive and I’m in the thick of it.

It’s got lots of natural trails and then lots of forest tracks for the people going in and out to hunt. Hunting is restricted to certain parts and they’re always clearly signposted, plus you can see all the cars, so it’s easy to tell where not to go. Not so easy round here at the moment. I keep getting cornered by hunters and ending up doing massive walks that I don’t mean to, just to avoid going past them. I’m not so scared they’d shoot me or the dogs (though I kind of am… let’s say the hunter’s day starts with a tipple, continues with a tipple, stops for lunch for a big tipple and ends with more tippling…. there’s a reason they have to wear reflective jackets) but I’m scared that their dogs might come across my dogs and all hell would break loose.

So the forest is great right now because I can have an uninterrupted walk.

To be honest, the younger me wouldn’t have been able to live here with all these hunters. I’d have hated it. I can see the farmers’ point that things need to be kept under control, but a deer is still a thing of beauty, as is a wild boar. Last year, something ate my chickens. I don’t know who or what, but I don’t want to shoot the poor, hungry beast that did it. Even those foxes with blood lust – it’s just an animal thing. Call me sentimental or unrealistic, but sending a posse of fat, drunk men out with their poor dogs who often live in squalid conditions is no way to keep the animal population under control. Mostly, they miss, judging by the number of shots that are made. I’d rather those little piggies were kept under control by a clinical and efficient sniper, not hounded to death and finally shot, exhausted. What’s worse is that sometimes the hunters are so bad at hunting they get into the habit of feeding the animals at certain times, just so they can go and kill them. Lazy.

Anyhow… controversial subjects aside, I can walk in the forest with ease and I know now to stick to signed paths, having been lost a number of times. It’s a little worrying.

But Heston was a superstar.


He sniffed at stuff, he trotted off up the path, he ran himself ragged, he waited for me if we got to a bend. And in typical Heston style, he splashed in every single puddle.

I’ve started plotting our walks on Google maps, so I can see where we’ve been going and how long they are. These walks take about 45 minutes and are about 5 km. As he gets older, we’ll do longer ones.

Tilly just trots at her own pace, usually not very far from me at all. She’s such a sweetie.

And the only other thing I need is to video Heston playing with Noireau, the cat. Noireau is definitely the one in control. He chases Heston all across the garden and pounces on him. Not bad for a blind cat. Lucky Noireau that the vet fixed him and he wasn’t too badly injured or that the vet decided to put him down. He’s a very lovely, lovely cat. And lucky me to have a Noireau in my life.

I think this an awful lot about Tilly: I just don’t know how anyone could give her up. She’s such a delight. How could anybody just pass her on to someone else and not even care if she was okay or if that person isn’t using her to make a fur coat. But the same is true of Noireau, if he was someone’s pet before – and I can’t quite believe he wasn’t – unless he became socialised at the vet’s whilst he recovered from surgery. He’s such a people-loving cat. He sits on my knee, he cuddles, he sleeps by me, he talks.

Anyway… winter gives me more animal time, and that’s never a bad thing.

2 thoughts on “Putting the garden to bed

  1. They are not supposed to practice agrainage for the purpose of luring the boar to be shot, only as a means of keeping them off the farmers’ crops. It is supposedly strictly regulated. The hunt does make sure to make its presence clear in the big forests administered by the ONF, but is not always so diligeant on little chasse reservée. You are just supposed to know that they will be there and not disturb them — I don’t know how you are supposed to know, since they don’t post any sort of notice, but they are very huffy if you encounter them by accident. Boar and deer numbers certainly do need to be kept in check — with the loss of wolves there are no natural predators and their habitat is shrinking all the time while their numbers increase. On balance I support the hunt, but some of the hunters could do with developing a more professional approach in the field. They see themselves as the proud guardians of a vital French tradition, but the reality is that they tolerate all sorts of bad practice and are an aging and often out of touch group of people who don’t see that they would benefit from a bit of PR.

    1. It’s funny that the ones in the big forests are the more professional ones – they put down signs and they have a much more professional demeanour – unfortunately, I’m surrounded by woods where hunters just pop out of them with shotguns – and as there are no crops right now, I can’t understand why there are big piles of grain down on the pathways where they hunt. I’m with you on the hunting thing – I’d much rather an animal lived its life in the forest being an animal and then is quickly dead than it is raised in poor conditions. Ironically, the hunt has been responsible for bringing wild boar into my garden, not keeping them out. It’s a shame all the hunts aren’t as professional as the ones in the Braconne, where at least you know where they are and that they are less likely to shoot you than some guy who’s just decided today is a really good day to take his gun out for a bit after a few pineaus.

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