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Christmas bouquet

My Christmas bouquet from the garden this year.

Every Christmas Day for some years now, I've walked around the garden on Christmas morning and composed a bouquet of the things I can find in flower and in berry. It's one of those simple things that makes me very happy. There's a lot of holly around this year, but not in my garden, so I can't cheat (under my self-imposed rules), but I'm well supplied with cotoneaster berries and crab apples. 

Christmas bouquet

It's a very mild winter, and this year my bouquet is composed of:

BuddleiaEleagnus pungens 'Maculata'
Crab apple (nameless)

Mahonia media 'Charity'
Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Goshiki' and
Rosa Rambling Rector.

There were plenty of others to choose from, including the dried-out heads of hydrangea paniculata, all sorts of rosehips, bamboos (which I am forbidden to touch until year 4) and grasses, but these were enough to be getting on with.

Merry Christmas.  



Reclaiming the garden

We're reclaiming the courtyard of our garden.

Jolia tonnelle

I've had very little time for blogging lately, taken up as I have been with a cat dying of thyroid cancer, a dog dying of heart failure, medical appointments for both me and the DH, and - last but not least - work. 

However, being slightly flusher than normal, I have been able to stump up some money for a gardener, and that has done wonders. He's removed the bed in front of the house, which had gradually crept out into the courtyard for about 15ft, and we are now planning to gravel right up to the wall and set up a table and chairs.

On the opposite side of the courtyard, he's cleared the patio of the assembled brambles, weeds and a broken-down old table that had cluttered it up, creating a lovely outdoor room area.

Not having had a decent summer since 2010, we haven't sat out here much lately and I was shocked to find how much the shrubs had grown up. Really, now, it's more like sitting surrounded by light woodland, as the lilacs are a good 9ft tall and self-seeded hawthorn, cherry, hazel and oak have grown up. These have now been thinned out, and the eleagnus and photinia cut back into tree style, with their lower branches removed.

We are doing this a lot lately as our trees reach maturity. The first year, we take off the lower branches, then each year we go up one layer, until it gets as high as I can reach with the loppers over my head - ie: about 8ft. Once you can walk under the trees easily, this feels the right height - about the height to which, in the surrounding fields, the local cattle would nibble them off.  

Last year, I thinned out the parrotia in our courtyard, which made a world of difference. Instead of the thick, dense shade of hazel, we now have a lacy network of branches, with leaves only from 4ft and upwards - this creates a beautiful stained-glass effect. We also had the walnut tree trimmed by a local tree surgeon, similarly allowing light to come in underneath. When we bought this house, that tree was about 4ft high - it's now well over 20ft. My aim, eventually, is that it will just have a straight trunk to the height of about 15ft, with the branches only appearing above. Walnuts come into leaf very late, not being a native species, so they throw little shade onto the house until high summer, when it's needed.

To celebrate our new patio area, I've just bought this tonnelle for half price in a sale from Delamaison - a steel 3m x 4m with a white top and curtains. We fancied a sturdy wooden or aluminium one really, as we are beset by the wind here, but with the difficulty of finding a replacement cover, we decided to go with the cheaper option and just replace the whole thing when required. Our old tonnelle lasted 10 years and the old bits don't go to waste as they go out into the orchard to support roses, etc. 

I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to sitting under here this summer. It's wonderful having the area with the cabin, down by the ponds - it's bliss down there - but when we need internet, we have to be up closer to the house and this tonnelle will give us a lovely outdoor room to enjoy this summer.  


The end-of-winter blues

Spring, spring, when will it be spring?

Trish and Zola at the Parc Florale

Lord, I've been feeling fed-up lately. 

Work seems to be a treadmill and I've had no time to do the daily walk that keeps me sane, the weather's been bloody awful, my computer is dying on its little rubber feet, I've got conjunctivitis and eye strain so I haven't been able to go swimming, my dog's got congestive heart failure and my cat's got thyroid cancer, the DH is feeling overwhelmed and depressed and on Friday I finally got sick.

I'd managed to avoid it all winter by avoiding ill people and obsessively washing my hands (with an auto-immune disease, I can't be too careful - I wear gloves when I shop and wash my hands before and after unpacking the shopping etc) but when I took the dog to the vet, the receptionist was full of cold and I think I must have picked it up from there. I hit my bed at 4.00pm Friday afternoon with the shivers, nausea and a blinding headache, and didn't get up till the next morning. 


But heck, no wonder we are tired. We didn't get a holiday last year because of our cancer cat, who need dosing every day, and I think we are just feeling worn out. We haven't had a break since November 2011 and barely a day off either - we usually do a six-day week and often a seven-day week. I can't remember, I really can't, the last time I had any FUN. Just pure fun. And oh I am sick and tired of being COLD. Ack. I fucking hate winter. This is my 49th and every damn one of them seems to get harder. 

It didn't help that our last load of wood, from a new supplier, was hopelessly unseasoned and isn't giving out much heat, plus which it created so much tar we had to get the chimney swept mid-winter, which is unheard of. The bedroom temperature's been as low as 9 degrees (teach me to live in a medieval shitpile instead of a normal house like a normal person), the kitchen is about 10 and you can see your breath in there. Every day is a task of donning ski thermals and fleece layers asap and spending the day hunched against the cold, all of which is do-able when you're feeling well, but doesn't feel so do-able when you're unwell.   

Still, all is not lost. Yesterday I worked like a dog to get work out of the way, and today we finally - yay! - managed to get out to the Parc Floral de Haute Bretagne. I really wanted to take the dog to the sea, which he loves, because I don't know how long we've got him for, but he knows the park and I think it was enough for him right now. At least he seems to be coughing less on his new diruetics. 

Oh la. Let us be thankful for small mercies. My swimming mask has arrived, so I can now risk the pool again, thank heavens (I couldn't get a mask round here for love nor money - I was told they wouldn't be in stock before April - how the hell is a swimming mask a seasonal item?), and the Abufène the doc put me on in the hopes of fixing these hot flushes does, fingers crossed, seem to be working and I am finally getting 5-6 hours sleep a night, which feels miraculous after 3 or 3.5 hours had become the norm. 

And my new Macbook Pro is on its way and might just get here before this one dies. And the days are getting slightly longer, just a couple of minutes a day. My David Austin roses have turned up (this year, deep crimsons of Guinée, Etoile d'Hollande and Crimson Glory (Climbing), and even in the chopped-back Parc, the odd camellia and witch hazel were giving just a hint of promise. Oh, and the the new Lands' End Stadium Coat was the perfect garment for walking around in an icy wind - lightweight, waterproof and totally windproof.

OK: rant over, but finally, finally, are we seeing the end of winter? I hope so, because right now, I have really had enough. 


Twinkle twinkle little beads

We tarted up the shed last weekend.

bead curtain

I made a new addition to the shed at the weekend - a beaded curtain. Not your bog-standard beaded curtain, although I like these very much, but one I made myself. 

Beading is one of my hobbies, and among my collection I'd amassed many beads that weren't really suitable for necklaces - that were too heavy, too transparent, too bulky or too sharp to wear. I had also, courtesy of some job lots on Ebay, quite a lot of large glass macramé beads that I had no use for. And then I hit on the idea. 

Three hours later, I was finished. I strung my curtain up on a bamboo pole and the DH put it up on hooks for me. And there it hangs - less of a fly curtain and more of a giant mobile. 

I thought it would be fun to do but what I hadn't anticipated is how beautiful it would be. "Entrancing," was the word the DH used, who isn't given to flights of fancy. 

The reason is the way the beads catch the light (mostly an accident on my part, though when I realised which beads gave the greatest effects, I focused on those). 

There are all sorts in there: mother-of-pearl discs taken from a belt; large red acrylic beads from a cheap broken necklace; iridescent yellow plastic ovals; foils in all manner of shapes and colours; seashells picked up on the beach in Brittany; orange pumpkin macramé beads; 1950s beads shaped like meteors; kiln beads shaped like missiles and expensive Victorian Bristol blues. 

I didn't realise until hanging the curtain that the beads would spin constantly, the faceted surfaces reflecting the light in a thousand glittering mirrors, the fishing line on which I strung them near-enough invisible, so the beads, in red and orange, green and purple, yellow and jade, magenta and crystal, appear to be suspended in space. The effect is truly magical. 

Me in shed

I can't remember the last time I was so pleased with a few hours crafting, and it inspired us to tart up the shed a bit. It hasn't stopped raining for weeks, so I still haven't been able to paint the doors, but we've put up some prints, and another mirror, and some candle sconces, and our new dragonfly storm glass, and last night - rain or no rain - we went down at 11.00pm and sat in the flickering candlelight until midnight, the rain drumming on the roof, our trusty cat Rockwell and the pooch faithfully at our sides. 


I love my shed

How I love my hidey-hole.


I love my shed

Have I mentioned that lately? Well, I'm mentioning it again. I swear to God, this is the best thing we've ever done in this garden, and quite possibly in the house too. 

We spend as much time as possible down here each day, pinning a notice on the front door of the house to 'sound your horn' if you turn up, as it's a long trek back up the hill from our situation down here by the ponds. 

When we put this thing in, it was really just to have somewhere to sit in the rain for a moment on our daily walk around the garden, and to store tools so we didn't have to lug them back up to the piggery constantly. We - well I - were thinking originally of a caravan, but I'm very glad now that we settled on this 10m2 log cabin affair instead. 

In here we now have my old metal daybed, which takes up most of one wall, a teak recliner and a drop-leaf table, a rack of shelves and some coat hooks. I've furnished it with striped blue and white shower curtains (thank you, Lidl) to keep off the worst of the sun, and we laid a floor of beige concrete slabs which I then waxed for an easy-clean finish. 

Although we sit here all day long with the double doors pinned back, our next step will be to install an extra window, both for more light and to allow some through-draught (we also need to install a couple of ventilation grilles, as it's stifling when the temperature picks up). 

The complete openness with the doors pinned back makes me think of Japanese houses - that lack of barrier between inside and outside - especially as my view is of acers, willows and bamboo, for this area was 'the Japanese Garden' long before we decided to put the ponds in. Yesterday we sat here in torrential rain, which was utterly beautiful and only added to the Oriental atmosphere (I might install rain chains. With bells on…). 

It's hard to describe quite why this place is so enchanting. Much of it is accidental. We put the cabin here because this is where the ponds are and becuase it's one of the rare flat areas in the garden. But its location at the far reaches of the orchard, out of sight of the house, makes this place extraordinarily private and silent. We're bordered on one side by a high laurel hedge, and because of the slope of our land are simply not visible from anywhere else. 

We can't get wifi or electricity down here either (too far from the house), which means you have to make quite an effort to go pick up email, etc. That gives us a feeling something like being on holiday as we sit here, even though we're actually working. 

It's also warm. Again this is an accident, as we turned the building to face southwest for the best view, not for the best light, but the large door, single storey, black roof and wooden construction means it heats up at the first glimmer of sunshine, which simply doesn't occur with the 2ft-thick stone walls on the main house. In really hot weather, I expect it'll be insufferable, but in the rubbish spring and early summer we've been having, the cabin's been a much pleasanter place to be than the house. 

For when it's cold I have a big fluffy throw. For when it's hot I have a yukata to change into. A big pile of cushions, a big pile of books, a jar full of toffees, a big mirror on the back wall, spare straw hats, cleaning materials and some gardening equipment make up the rest of our accoutrements in here. 

Other than that, it's just us, the dog, the cats and the odd visiting dragonfly. It's just the best place to be that the world ever invented. 


Summer roses

Our spring order of roses has just gone in the ground.

Gloire de dijon rosePlanting more roses always fills me with hope.

Butterflies and bees

It's a easy job to make your garden more wild-life friendly - starting with insects

It takes only a little thought to encourage wildlife into the garden and it means less work for you, the owner.

Garden pleasures

Today is a sunny but coolish day - perfect for making flower syrups

rosesElderflower and rose petals both make wonderful flower syrups that are very evocative in the depths of winter

A Christmas bouquet

Every Christmas day, it's my challenge to see what I can gather in the garden to make a bouquet

Xmas bouquet thumbnailGathering my Christmas Day bouquet each year gives me real lift on one of the shortest days of the year.

The love of roses

I ordered my roses the other day, and it suddenly feels like spring is on its way

They won't actually arrive for ages, of course. They're bare-root jobs from David Austin in the UK, and they won't come until March or April. But in a bitter February, with frost on the ground every morning, a girl can still dream.