Tree pollarding

It’s the last big job of the season before it’s too cold to get outside. The avenue of beech trees along the railings at the back of the house is getting out of control and there are three large maples near to the front gate which would benefit from a good chop too.

The idea is to take the upper branches back to the main knuckle to promote a dense head of foliage and branches. Pollarding seems quite drastic and certainly makes the garden look bare but is something quite typical in French gardens, and in public spaces, as it can help trees live longer and keep them at a manageable height. The other benefit is the wood that can be taken and stored/seasoned for firewood.

Here are some before photographs. I will post pictures of the trees once they have been done. SCH

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Winter preparations

It’s that time of year when everything starts to feel a little sad. The leaves have mostly fallen from the trees and the front of the house looking a little bare after some over-enthusiastic pruning (climbing roses). On the upside its time to plant a variety of spring bulbs in the roundabout, under the trees and in the two containers either side of the side steps – providing hope that spring won’t be too far away!


Two other great things about this time of year are roaring fires and Christmas preparations. It’s time to collect pine cones, logs and foliage, dig out that ribbon collection and seek inspiration for  making this season’s decorations. SCH


It’s time to tackle the pond…

I saved the clearing of the pond until last. Partly because I knew it would be a major job but also because I am a little scared of… poisonous snakes… and my neighbour keeps warning me about them (despite the farmer’s wife in the nearby village laughing at such a ridiculous idea). It is fair to say that I’m not taking any chances!

When I first arrived at the house the site contained a concrete ornamental pond with a make-shift wire fence around it to keep dogs out. There was one large Laurel in the corner by a side gate, a few Yukka plants and a Hazelnut tree. Over the years, English Ivy, Virginia Creeper and brambles had overtaken virtually everything and you would be hard pushed to know what was down there! The pond itself was mostly full of decaying leaves, seven goldfish (how they are still alive I will never know) and a bunch of bullfrogs. But that was then…

Over the past three days, I have cut, cleared and dragged off what seems like hundreds of barrow loads of greenery. The site is slowly opening up to reveal a charming pond and shady area that I hope to plant up with white Calla Lilies come the spring. The gate is now accessible although I’m yet to locate the key! I will post more pictures of the finished pond once its done. SCH

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Garden update

As the heat of summer begins to fade and the first signs of autumn appear I can finally sit back and appreciate what’s been achieved in the garden these past four months.

It has been a battle (albeit a fun battle) to tame the weeds in the roundabout and in the gravel on the front drive… but I’ve finally cracked it; a mixture of brute force, hand weeding, spraying and mulching means I can finally put the iris rhizomes back. See the before and after shots below:

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Then there was the lawn which needed cutting weekly, the edges strimming, the privet hedge which looked better once nicely trimmed, roses to deadhead, containers and flower beds that needed to be weeded, as well as shrubs in need of shaping. And let’s not forget all those fruits and vegetables that needed tending (although not watering – fortunately).

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The tasks were endless but the result is now worth all of the effort as I look out of the front door across the garden and into the countryside beyond.

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However, there is still one major task that I’ve been saving until last… clearing/opening out the pond area and cleaning the pond itself. But that’s for another post since it’s going to be a bit of a mission! SCH

Elderflower cordial – it must be summer!

During the May half term, with the help of some little hands, it was time to make elderflower cordial. The recipe was from a 2010 article by Tom Parker Bowles.

We picked 30 elderflower heads and placed them in a clean bucket with almost a kilo of granulated sugar, boiling water, six lemons and a packet of citric acid. Over the next 24 hours, every time the children passed the bucket they would stir it. Once the sugar had dissolved we strained it through fresh muslin into sterilised Kilner glass bottles with flip top lids. With the addition of citric acid these should now last for a year.

For a tasty, refreshing drink I recommend mixing the cordial with ice cold sparkling water. It’s simply summer in a bottle. SCH.


Early summer blooms

Since arriving in France there has been a steady display of flowers in the garden. The month of April gave us beautiful magnolia blooms, scented lilac flowers (pink and purple) as well as peonies and tall blue iris – all of which have made excellent cut flowers for the entrance hall, kitchen, study and bedrooms.

But it’s the roses that have taken centre stage, flowering continually with the help of regular deadheading. There are older and newer varieties in the garden: bush roses, climbing roses and tea roses. Most are red but there are a couple of pink, white and yellow rose bushes at the back and side of the house.

I was told that plants that grow well in England do very well in this region but I wasn’t quite prepared for how well. Everything seems bigger, lusher and faster growing which is quite an exciting prospect for the cutting and kitchen gardens to come. SCH


Compost bins from used wooden pallets

We finally decided on a site for the new compost bins at Le Manoir Saint Gervais: alongside a boundary wall that gets equal sun and shade throughout the day. It will be easy enough to reach while been relatively hidden from the main part of the garden. Longer-term we hope to plant a line of vines to divide the ‘working’ part of the garden from the main grassed area.

Neighbours renovating a barn across the road very kindly provided five wooden pallets otherwise destined for the local tip. These were large, solid pallets ideal for creating two side-by-side compost bins. First we placed two against the wall ensuring adequate ventilation before adding a central divide and two ends. Next we tied all of the wooden pieces together with plastic-coated garden wire before moving the contents of a temporary compost heap to the left hand ‘bin’.

We have a small lidded compost bin in the kitchen which we have been filling religiously with vegetable peelings, egg shells, old cut flowers, etc. – basically anything that can be composted. The plan is to empty it into the new compost bin every couple of days along with any soft foliage from the garden (i.e. leafy and not too woody). In a few months time, when that bin is full, I will cover it with dark plastic sheeting and leave the worms to work their magic. By spring next year we will have fantastic home-made compost ready for digging into the vegetable, herb and flower beds. SCH

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Sunshine, guests and gardening

The weather is too warm to be stuck inside – it’s only April, however, temperatures have reached 25 degrees during the day. Despite needing to sort out the essentials inside the house (i.e. plumbing in the washing machine and finding curtains long enough for the enormous windows), it’s the garden that has received the most attention this week.

The first thing I did was rearrange the open part of the barn so that the logs are stored at the back next to kindling collected from around the garden. The previous owners left an old table at the back of the house so I’ve repurposed that and placed it in the front of the barn as a potting table. It has been a very busy week yet I’ve somehow managed to sow some tomatoes, French beans, lettuce and a selection of herbs. The rest will have to wait!

An army of family arrived on Thursday too and have wasted no time tackling the big garden jobs; over the last three days the beds have been weeded, the trees pruned and hedges shaped and the grass has been given a very good haircut by the village farmer’s 18 year old son. What was starting to look like a meadow is now a nicely manicured lawn… however, I am going to have to invest in a sit-on mower – that first cut took the poor chap four and a half hours with a small petrol mower! SCH

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