Tag Archives: gardening

Houston, we have evening 2013

I’m such a daylight-lover that not having an evening really depresses me. Going from light to dark with ne’er a goodbye is just something very sad. I love that time when everything slows down and the sun melts into the horizon. It’s the first sign to me that the Winter is dead. You can actually do productive stuff without feeling like you should be in bed. Having the shutters still open at 6pm – delicious.

Not only that, but there’s actually another joyous little ray of light (no, not Madonna) coming into my life every day. I usually wake up about 6.30ish. I don’t know whether it’s me waking Heston up or him waking me up, but as soon as I’m conscious, I’m conscious of a warm breath right near my face. The room is pitch black – the shutters see to that – so the only way I know it’s nearly morning is Heston’s dog breath. Tilly would sleep all day I think. She snores right through even when I’m properly awake. However, I think that there’s something nice creeping into the bedroom – a little ray of light under the door each morning. It is wonderful to open the bedroom and see that the sun is beginning to lighten the world a little. Some days I think I just fester in darkness. It’s too cold to open shutters and opening them from 9am – 3am is so pointless that most of my village don’t bother. I don’t really either. This year has been one of the darkest winters for ages, apparently. It certainly felt like it. There certainly didn’t seem to be as many of those bright and frosty days as there have been in the past here.

It was that grim, it was almost Mancunian.

Sorry Manchester.

It’s true though.

So, to have an evening, to have long sunsets, to have mornings where it seems to take a while for the sun to break through the haze, it’s all good. Yesterday, the sun was so bright that I could barely see when walking the dogs.


However, how quickly we forget the grievances of warm weather. A fly came in the house yesterday. It really pissed me off. Can’t I have one day where I open the windows and a beast comes in?! Plus, I can’t leave windows open as the chickens fly in. Maybe I need nets over the windows? The flies are quickly dealt with by the uber-efficient Catch strips which are deeply unpleasant but highly effective. The chickens, not so much. They come in for the dog biscuits, as far as I can see.

Cheeky chickens.

They’re back at full lay now, and how lovely it is to be able to give away eggs to friends. I have more friends than eggs, however, so I have to kind of portion them about wherever I’m going if I’ve got spares.

The chickens like the evenings as well; they sit on the windowsill sunbathing and cuddling. It’s kind of sweet. I like peaceful evenings like that.

It’s nice too, since most evenings I teach from 4pm-late, depending on what day it is. It’s nice to finish and have a little left over and still feel like I could do something if I wanted to. I don’t really, since I’m usually worn out, but it’s nice to be able to think I could if I wanted to.

And, just because I knew I’d had this reflection before, I went looking for it. Indeed, on March 9 2011, I realised I felt just as excited about the oncoming evening. I should bookmark the post for the middle of winter when it seems like the days will never brighten up. Still, the last time the sun got up so early was September, and the last time it went to bed so late was the end of October.

I’m obviously going to have to control myself or else I’ll be breaking out into song here and there.

But I don’t care. I’ve waited a long time to see the sun get so warm (it’s three whole months since it was so warm in the day! We had two days in mid-November that crossed the 15° mark).seeds

So, today I am breaking out the big guns. It’s rotavator time! After that, all hell breaks loose in a frenzy of planting and crazy gardening chaos.

I’m going to enjoy the quiet before the vegetation storm while I can!

To Butlins or not to Butlins?

I’m foregoing Top Ten Tuesday til later in the week because I’ve got more pressing things to show you.

A few weeks ago, on a cold, wet, miserable day, I started to imagine what I could do with a little bit of land I have in the courtyard.

It’s a bare bit of land with conifers on one side, the peach tree at the back and a lovely flowering currant Ribes King Edward VII and a viburnum ‘Snowball‘. There are sometimes some nettles and some hollyhocks and in the winter, there were quite a few mushrooms. The outpipe for the bath runs underneath this plot, and at some point there was a tree here too – now just a stump. I’ve said before that the garden is a very functional thing here – we have a few no-maintenance or low-maintenance shrubs left by Madame A, but essentially, if it doesn’t produce something or need very little maintenance, it’s not got a place in the garden.

The space looked like this when we moved in:

Two years ago!
What there was once…

And this is what it looked like a month ago – before Steve got giddy with the rotavator

I had a bit of a plan about what I wanted – a kind of spiral/keyhole shape that goes up higher in the middle.

A bit of a sketch

I’d started planting out what I wanted in the plot – a mixture of herbacious perennials and annuals – and I’d bought a couple that it was harder to find seeds for here in France, or that were part of our local pepinière’s 5 for 10€ deal. Not much has changed, except I’ve added a space for delphiniums and lupins.

So… what’s in it?

Pinterest board
  • campanula
  • calendula
  • zinnia
  • french marigolds
  • limonium
  • immortelles
  • marguerites
  • monarda
  • rudbeckia
  • coleopsis
  • dicentra bleeding heart
  • dahlia
  • aquilegia

And this is what it looks like now… of course, there’s a lot of growing still to do!

What it looks like now…

Now, I had a great idea. I like plant markers very much, on account of I often forget where things are and what they are. I decided I was going to make little rustic bunting-style flags with the name of the plant on it in permanent marker, tied with gardening twine.


However, this is the source of consternation. Steve liked the bed idea and followed my instructions to the letter as to how to make it. He shifted all the grass and put down the weed suppressing carpet of newspaper, then the top soil. He liked the plant arrangement.

He doesn’t like the flags. Apparently, hate is too strong a word and he feels the same about these flags as he does about kidney beans. He laughed at the flags, though, and gave them a 2 out of 10. He said it made the garden look like Butlins.

I obviously DON’T think they make it look like Butlins. I think they are cool.

He also is taking far more of the credit than he should. He compared himself to Michelangelo and said that just because I came up with the idea doesn’t mean that I could execute it (I hasten to add, I did the actual picking, growing and planting and he moved some soil and put in the border) and he has laughed at my attempts.

This aside, I would like to thank him for his realisation of the foundation of my border.

Now all I have to do is get Noireau to realise it’s not a nice, plush outdoor toilet and convince a few people that the flags are a great, inspired idea!

A certain friend may find herself abandoned at the airport with her children when she turns up here for her summer trip unless she admits that they DON’T look like washing on a line and that people just don’t have knickers that look like this.


I feel a bit at the moment like we are in stasis. It has been so cold and wet that nothing is growing, not even the weeds. The soil is solid clay and sticks to spades, rakes, hoes and boots. If I walk on it, I just make it impossible to hoe or dig when it dries out, so I don’t plant. There are the four little bud leaves of turnips beginning to appear from the row I planted a week ago, but little else is happening. Steve’s had to leave painting the house until he gets back from England – it’s pointless to even try to paint outdoors at the moment, given that it is so wet. With such low temperatures as well, the paint takes ages to dry.

And although we might be in stasis as we wait for the weather to dry up – and I’m glad I waited, since I’ve already heard stories of people losing everything they’d planted out, and how I laughed when I heard the French won’t put anything outside before the middle of April, but the frost has already had its wicked way with my courgettes and some mirabilis – things are still growing in the lean-to, and everything is looking very green in there. I’ve leeks waiting for space, alongside cauliflowers and three types of cabbage. I’ve tomatoes waiting for air and light and space, too. Not only that, but I’ve not been able to get on with my flowerbed and whilst the earth has been turned over, it’s waiting.

This time last year, it was 25°, compared to 12° today. The night last year was warmer than the daytime today. I know last year was a fluke – and an exceptionally dry year – and if the truth be told, I welcome the rain, but I don’t welcome the cold. We had to have a fire yesterday – that’s how cold it is. In fact, it’s colder than it was in December – and with the days being longer, with the earth having more time to warm up, it feels colder – and not to mention the fact we had fires all the way through December. I planted out our tomatoes a full two weeks earlier last year, and this year, they are still languishing in the warmth of the lean-to.

And had I followed last year’s planting, the courgettes, the melon, the peppers, the chili peppers – they would have all turned wet looking and sad like my mirabilis and the courgette. I’m glad I held on. Steve is itching to get them outside, but as it is, they’re best inside. After April 1st, in 2011, it didn’t dip under 20° during the daytime – so you can understand why waiting is irritating me. I just keep reminding myself that good things happen to she who waits – and it best be true. I can batten down the hatches over winter and hibernate, but right now, I want to be outside, planting stuff!

In the meantime, I’ve been trying to get ahead with some things and make sure I’ve done everything I need to do before the marking season starts – then at least I’ve hopefully got a few things out of the way so that I can get into the garden when the sun does start shining. It feels like all my spring is spent building up to the fruitful season, whether it be a social life, work life or things growing out of the ground. Summer is fruition. Autumn is preparation. Winter is waiting. And this is supposed to be my busy time!

What’s worse is that it doesn’t seem set to end – not unlike the snow, which seemed like it would never go. Where last year, the potatoes were already shooting, this year, the ground is still unbroken. Lettuces are still tiny, radishes are little beads, no pea flowers yet, wilted-looking broad beans. I’ve not even thought as far ahead as the last summer crops, like sweetcorn, since every available space is waiting with things to go outside.

And in the meantime, I just have to wait. There’s so little to do, though. I’m reading Game of Thrones, since I enjoyed the series so much. However, last night I found out that George R. R. Martin has only done five of the seven planned books and I’m so gripped on it that I might not be able to contain myself. What if he dies and I am never able to find out who will finally rule, whether the Starks will get the kingdom, whether Daenerys will take back the throne. It’s all too frustrating. And whilst they are good books, the fact that all the good guys who I want to rule die, it means there’s not much left. I hope Daenerys’ dragons grow to full size and kill all of the Lannisters.

I felt a little like this when I was waiting for two kind-of teenage series to work through. One of these was the most excellent Tales of the Otori series that took me to Japan because I so needed to see a nightingale floor for myself. The second of these was the Wolf Brother series, which would be a mighty fine Game of Thrones for teenagers. It picked up one of the largest advances for teen fiction, beyond that of the Harry Potter books. The good thing is that Lian Hearn and Michelle Paver rattled out those books like you wouldn’t believe, so it was a pleasant wait – and a wait you knew would be fulfilled – just as it was for the Harry fans. However, I get the feeling that GRRM might just give up and never write the final books – and that he himself doesn’t quite know where it will end. If he doesn’t get his act sorted, I’ll seek him down. I hate it when things aren’t finished.

Anyway, I shall continue with my reading, wearing my three jumpers and my winter socks, and waiting for the time I get to put my shorts on.

When life hands you radishes…

As you may have seen from my last blog, we are inundated by radishes. I planted some called ’18 day radishes’, some French breakfast, some seeds from last year’s radishes and Jake also planted some. We’ve had half a kilo already, ranging from mini ones to ones as big as turnips. Not bad considering they went in on the 13th March – and were ready at least a week ago!!

In all honesty, I don’t like radishes much. I planted them out of sentimentality because my Gramps loved radishes. Steve likes radish, but even with his love of radish, you’ve got to have a real fetish to eat half a kilo of the things. So, I was looking for recipes with radishes. I found two that might have been a bit appetising.

One was in an old Readers’ Digest manual – brie and radish mousse. The other was in The Silver Spoon – my bible of cooking. We had camembert, not brie, but I didn’t think it would matter. You have to chop the rind off a very ripe brie (or spoon it out – much easier!) mix it with a little double cream, whip up the same amount of double cream, add some powdered gelatine and mix in the radishes then leave it to set. I confess I chose this one because we had a ripe camembert and I needed something to do with it.


Because the cheese doesn’t ever really mix with the cream – it just becomes a mix rather than integrated – and the gelatine has to bind the two – which it didn’t really – it just did that nasty thing of going all stringy and horrid – it just ended up a bit of a gloopy mess. I thought it was quite edible, but it seemed to bring up a lot of phlegm. Dairy will do that if you’ve got a cough! Steve did NOT think it was edible, professed it looked like phlegm, ate one mouthful and did a face like Jake does when faced with any one of his food dislikes: one of utter disgust.

Not one to be kept then!

The second recipe fared a little better. It was radishes in yoghurt. I chopped them (you’re supposed to have an apple in it, but I didn’t have one, and I had a lot of radish, so I just did radish!) mixed Greek yoghurt with lemon juice, celery salt and pepper – perfect. This works. Steve’s finishing it off as I write. I can probably get away with some celery and apple in there too.

Of course, the internet is my favourite recipe book and I’ve since found several that make me want to grow more radishes. The first is the lemon, chilli and radish salad which looks like I might even try it. It reminded me that quite a lot of oriental food uses radish – I saw a lot of dishes with radish and seafood in some kind of eastern sauce. It’s become clear that a ‘smoothie’ of vegetables is a real part of French cuisine in restaurants at the minute – gone are veloutés (despite G. Ramsay’s misuse of the term!) and confits – so my second choice is a french radish smoothie with carrot paté and artichoke and chorizo muffins. It combines much of those elements the French seem crazy about at the moment, cuisine-wise – American stuff like smoothies and muffins, with a real French twist. Plus, it’s cheap to make. I think this is one for the next radish harvest. The final one is a more old-fashioned, dare I say passé recipe from Sophie Grigson for citrus radish confit which also looks splendid. I’m actually looking forward to our next radish crop now.

We noticed yesterday that the cherries are beginning to ripen – some had turned orangey-green. Today, they’re definitely red, although not so many of them are that stage yet. You can almost watch them ripen before your eyes. We ate one each – they weren’t deep red on the inside, but they were still fairly edible. I think I’ll wait before I eat any more though. They were perfect last year when we came in the last week of May.

From this:

To this:

And now to this in six weeks!

I am waiting for this:

Mmmm. Cherry jam. Cherry ice-cream. Glacé cherries. Cherry jelly. Cherry brandy. Cherry compote. I love cherries! I think I’d go as far as saying they’re my favourite fruit.

The trouble with chickens…

Plotting the downfall of mankind

… is that they are always plotting… they always look like they’re up to no good. In fact, I think chickens are probably responsible for secret revolutions everywhere. George Orwell was very wrong with his decision that the leaders would be pigs, as in Animal Farm. I understand the allegory of leaders being pigs, though that’s unfair on pigs. It would be chickens. They’re evil with their dinosaur feet and their beady eyes and their plotting ways. Pigs are fat and happy. Chickens are restless revolutionaries. I’m sure this is why Cuba is such a revolutionary place, because there are millions of chickens roaming about there. Our chickens mostly spend their time plotting the downfall of the dogs – the military junta of our sovereignty – and chasing Moll off. However, they have busily been stealing my blackcurrants and redcurrants – then pretending they had nothing to do with it when I asked them.

My laryngitis has subsided somewhat to a pointless hacking cough – and my voice sounds more like my own voice rather than Barbara’s from The League of Gentlemen. If you haven’t seen her, she’s a post-op transsexual taxi driver in a strange village. The operation was not particularly successful and she has a deeper voice than most men.

First crops

 Me & Stephen have been busy in the garden, as per… the polytunnel #2 collapsed  in his absence and he was most distressed. However we have begun our harvesting – only radishes, peas and lettuce, but enough to keep us going until the main crops start. The potatoes are already beginning to flower – the broad beans are fattening up. We have radishes the size of turnips and turnips the size of swedes. It’s been so dry though – not a single drop of proper rain, other than a light soaking a couple of mornings – since the third of April – that’s almost a month. Luckily, the existing polytunnel has a super-duper watering system courtesy of Mr Stephen and it’s lush in there, at probably tropical temperatures and humidity. Unfortunately, whoever is in there is often caught out by the watering system being switched on by Tilly. Tilly has had the blame several times for me getting a good soaking, although Stephen’s insistence that it is her is a little suspicious considering she doesn’t have opposable thumbs to turn taps or a single thought in her head other than where to bury bread rolls, eggs or bits of things she might want later.

We’re now full to brimming in the polytunnel and all the plots are bursting – not just with plants, but with les mauvaises herbes. Bad grass. Naughty grass gets everywhere and I’m so tired of convolvulus that I dreamt about it last night.

Considerably better than January!

Steve is convinced that things have grown exponentially since he departed two weeks ago – he’s right. We have full lettuce heads and tomatoes beginning to put out flowers too. I’m absolutely amazed and delighted by it all!

10 things I’m loving today:

1. The Boy’s improved mood after I threatened to withdraw his right to electricity if he answered me back just one more time.

2. Steve, stick-man, saying he needs to go on a diet because he’s reached 12 stone! He needed a bit of meat to keep him warm.

3. Radishes:

Fat radishes

4. Verbena… I’d have hundreds of verbena if I could afford it:

Hot pink verbena

5. Steve relishing the chorizo and pepper risotto last night; nothing like old favourites that weren’t old favourites a year ago! I love cooking here, even if I only have one work surface! We’re also infested by ants.

6. Lemon, glycerine and honey home-made cough medicine

7. Sleeping with the window open

8. Cheerful lettuces in rows:

Lidl value seeds... impressive!

9. Brocante season. I love a good rummage, me! Brocantes, vide-greniers and bric-a-bracs are French car boot sales. And they love a bit of recycling.

10. Spending hours looking through photos my Nana has entrusted to me of her final 10 years with my Gramps. Happy pictures of the most lovely people in the world.

And 3 things I’m not loving:

1. Tilly getting up for a wee at 4:00 a.m. on my red patent leather shoes and me not realising what she was doing until it was done

2. Coughing for half an hour before getting back to sleep

3. The smell of nettle liquid feed. Evil.

Harmless looking, but the most evil smell in the entire world