Wednesday, 24 February 2010


I think I've mentioned before the difficulty I have planting up the 'walls' in the courtyard around the Grande Maison. Despite best attempts to improve it over the years, the shallow soil leaches away nutrients in no time, proceeds to bake in summer heat and has the water retention of a sieve. Last year it did OK with Nasturtiums. For a few weeks, 'Empress of India' took off, flowering profusely on it's starvation diet which nasturtium love, that is before the insect population of the world descended and devoured it in record time. Shame, could have been a beautiful thing.

My sister suggested that I plant Thyme. Sensible really, it's the perfect growing environment for a mediterranean herb and although I welcome it's culinery significance, I already grow it in a little herb 'area', I wasn't entirely convinced how it might look. Well todays visit to the garden section at supermarket E. Leclerc brushed aside any aesthetic fears I may have had as four varieties were on sale at just a euro fifty each. Decent sized pot too.

From left to right above, Thymus faustini, T. citriodorus 'Doone Valley', T. citriodorus 'Aureus' and another lemon thyme, 'Bertrand Anderson'. I brought thirty pots in total and spent an hour or so putting them in this afternoon. Do I need to tell you the smell is just terrific?

Of course I've fallen for thyme before. These pictured back in November are T. Preacox 'Snowdrift', a creeping variety. Sadly there's not much fragrance with this one but hopefully the late spring flowering should more than compensate for that as I'm reliably informed they're a mass of white flowers so watch this spot!

Sunday, 14 February 2010


The Alder tree grows profusely all along the riverbank here at Le Banquet. It's a bit of a weed as it seeds itself about with as much ease as Sycamore. Conditions are perfect as it loves to have 50 percent of its roots in water which is all well and good but eventually erosion and tunneling from various animals can undermine the root structure and lead to the tree leaning at quite an angle. This becomes a concern when it's near to property, believe me. I always get twitchy whenever the wind gets up so it was time to have it felled.

There were six trunks growing from this tree, five were felled, but one had to be dismantled piece by piece as it was so close to 'La Fermette'. Pictured above is Matt who did the job. He'd 'march' up the tree with the ease of a bear (he's wearing tree climbing spikes) loop a rope around near the top which in turn was then tied to the towing bar on the 4 x 4. The car would then reverse to put tension on the tree, a cut was made and (((thud))), it's down. All very exciting.

No Vertigo there then, none whatsoever.

All the trunks and large branches were neatly cut into 50 centimetre lengths,

so much firewood, I reckon there's a good six cubic metres or thereabouts. Give it a year or so exposed to the elements and it'll be good to burn. 'Seasoned' is the correct term. Apparently trees felled in winter have a lower water content than those felled in summer which means they need less drying time.

The potential heat output from wood is measured as a 'calorific' value. Hardwoods such as Oak and Ash have high calorific value which means they generate a lot of heat when burnt, softwoods a lot less. I don't think Alder has a particularly high number, but it's not bad so I'll be using it next winter.

You can see a table of the heating output that various wood gives by clicking here.

Karen and I spent most of the weekend burning the twigs and small branches, It's been nice standing around a bonfire as it's been another cold, slate grey day.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Pruning and Planting Trees

Despite cold nights, recent days have been mainly sunny and feeling mild. I like February, the sun starts to have some strength and the increasing daylight allows more time to get things done.

After being cooped up for weeks decorating, plumbing and generally immersed in DIY, finally being able to get outside and catch up around the garden is pure therapy.

Back in the Autumn, after rebuilding the stone steps here, I decided that as a finishing touch I'd plant a tree down at the edge where they meet the lawn. Well it had to be a Cypress de Provence. Cupressus sempervirens var. stricta to be exact, also known as Italian Cypress or Pencil pine but as I blog from here in France, then from Provence it is.

Just as soon as the we get a break in the frosty nights (anytime from Thursday onwards) I'll get on and plant it with as much TLC as befits my most expensive plant purchase for some time. Spadefuls of manure, compost, handfuls of hoof and horn, maybe a little light conversation, that kind of thing, certainly better treatment than my method of transportation, I drove the 50 kilometres or so from the nursery near Bergerac with the tree sticking out of the car window. At some 30 kph below the average speed limit and in a country where tail 'gating' is the national sport, trust me when I say this was an interesting journey.

Beautiful days such as these are just made for pruning. This is an activity I enjoy, you feel like you're back in control after months of gloom and neglect. I have to climb on a step ladder to get to the back of the nameless yellow rose here on the gable end to the long barn.

Pruning away, all feels good in the February sunshine, even if the temperature drops like a stone at nightfall.