Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Glorious spring days....

I think this is my favourite time of year; it always seems to me to be miraculous how, after months of dreary, bleak winter days, so many plants burst into life, changing all the colours around us.  And we have been exceptionally lucky here this spring, with much of March and April being gloriously sunny and warm.  The garden is looking so colourful now with most of the trees in leaf and/or blossom and flower buds beginning to open up. 

You may remember the flower bed I had dug in the autumn (I call it my "eye" bed as the shape is oval like a big eye!)  This is now really coming to life as you can see.  On the left hand side are some gorgeous deep purple tulips that we put in back in the autumn and I love them so much, I think I'll plant more this year!

I think the front garden always looks beautiful at this time of year and although I've put pictures of it on here before, I can't resist putting another one on now.  I took this photo this very afternoon...

Anyway, one of the reasons I'm telling you about the beautiful weather, is because it's why Danny and I have been doing lots of things outdoors.  It seems almost a crime to be indoors when the weather is so good and there is no shortage of jobs to do in the garden!

I wonder if you can guess what Danny might have been doing from this picture of Finn....
Well, you might have concluded that Danny was painting something in blue and you'd be right!  He has started to build the shed that will be our "pool house".  This is the building in which the pump, control box and other pool supplies will be kept.  We think it will be big enough also to keep things like sunbeds in over the winter months.  Anyway, Danny has been working on it for the last couple of days, having painted the back panels first as he wouldn't have been able to get to them once it's built.

Here's the shed gradually coming into being...

(Danny hopes to finish it tomorrow and then we'll be painting it.  I say "we" because I'm always happy to do a bit of painting although I wouldn't mind betting that Danny will prefer to do it himself!)

Before he started on the shed, Danny put up a 'fruit cage' near the bottom of the garden.  I love the soft fruits of summer and it was something of a surprise to me when we first moved here that there isn't an abundance of cheap soft fruit to buy.  (A bit like the shock of finding the lack of fresh herbs!)  A French friend of mine explained that this is a very traditional area in which there is little change so that year on year the fruit grown in the area is mainly apples and pears.  I have come to the conclusion that the local French people must grow soft fruit themselves.... probably along with the fresh herbs!  Hence the decision to grow fruit and have the fruit cage, which is designed to keep out the birds!  The cage itself was left by the previous owners of our house and they used it for their cat!  (The house was a holiday home to which they would come for a couple of months at a time, bringing the cat with them.  I believe the cat was only allowed outside if it was in its cage!). 
Danny had to adapt the cage to give me a full size door -  I'm a bit too  large for even the somewhat generous cat entrance it had!  But having done so, and having erected it for me, I have now planted raspberries, a blackberry and several strawberries.  It's a long walk to water it but that's going to be a small price to pay for what I hope is an abundance of soft fruit this summer.  And I can use the exercise!!  Here I am watering in the fruit cage...

On the subject of growing things, I have now started planting in my potager (kitchen garden).  I'm not sure I've spent enough time (or energy) digging the earth in there but time will tell and this is going to be something of an experimental year to see what works and what doesn't.  So far, I have planted seed potatoes, beetroot, onions and red onions in one of the raised beds.  In the other, I currently have only some lettuce that our builder, John, gave me and some cherry tomatoes. 

By the way, the green netting over the beds is to deter the dogs from running all over them.  We'll have to see if it works!

As the earth is not as finely tilled as I think it ought to be, I have sown seeds of radish, sweet peppers, spring onions, lettuce and squash in seed trays with the intention of planting them out once they are more established.  And as  I have put my geraniums back in their window boxes, I have the mini greenhouse available for my seeds...

And that's about it for now!

Just one last thing... I subscribe to a weekly newsletter from a website called The Good Life France.  It features all sorts of things about France and I was invited to write a 'guest post' for them.  I am delighted to say that the piece I wrote has now been published and if you weren't already aware of it, you can read it here

Enjoy your spring wherever you are!

Friday, 4 April 2014

And there's more... but not the pool!

I promised to tell you about other areas in which we've progressed this week and here I am.  Some weeks seem to drift by with very little to show for them but this one is not one of them.  Quite the reverse as we seem to have made great strides!  Of course, the dramatic changes to the pool and its surrounding area have helped but nonetheless, I feel that, in general, things are really taking shape now.

Firstly, let me show you this...    

I can almost hear you frowning and saying, 'yes, it's a pallet leaning up against the wall'!  So it is BUT it's more than that.  Danny has fixed it to the wall of the piggery that I use as my 'garden shed'.  And this is what its for....

...all my garden tools are now standing neatly in between the wooden slats!  It needs some refinement, in the shape of clips to hold up the shorter tools, but even so, isn't it good!  I have to confess that we stole the idea from our local déchetterie (tip) where they have their 'clearing up' tools stacked in similar fashion!           

The kitchen doorway is progressing, somewhat slowly, but that is because John (quite rightly) has given priority to the pool.  We do now have the use of the kitchen door, which is every bit as useful as I thought it would be!  But there's still some way to go in building up and making good the walls around the doorway, as these latest pictures show....

There were two other achievements in the garden this week. 
Firstly, my potager beds got filled up with top soil.  Danny and I had spent days the previous week or so, putting in a layer of rotted compost but we took advantage of Phil the digger man being here this week to do the rest of the filling.  It was quite appropriate really because as he was scraping off the top soil from around the pool, he was loading it in the dumper and taking it down to fill the potager beds.  It's so much easier when you have the right gear; both beds were filled in no time at all!  Here's what it looked like in action and after the event!

Now I have quite a bit of work to do to get it forked and raked over, before the fun bit of planting my vegetables can be done!!

The other achievement was clearing out the bottom left hand corner of the garden.  I have zoomed into the picture above and have cropped it to give you some idea of what that corner looked like "before"...

A conifer hedge came out at a right angle to the boundary hedge.  Behind it was the compost heap and beyond that was an overgrown fig tree.  The compost heap, while useful, had become a smelly playground for the dogs because they were able to just run onto it and root around in it. Yuk!

We decided to have the hedge removed, spread the remaining compost out and replace it with a compost bin.... Danny may just make one from the many pallets now lying around the place!

Our next plan is to use the area for growing soft fruit and what remains in the space, to grass over.  In the meantime, it has really opened up that area of the garden.  Danny has cut back the fig tree (revealing another tree we knew nothing about, behind it!) and all in all, I think it is a vast improvement on what it looked like before.   So here is, if not a final "after" picture, one which shows you what it looks like right now!

You may be able to spot some of the old conifer hedge still on the right hand side of that photo.  Let me tell you, we have already made three trips to the déchetterie today, getting rid of the cuttings.  It is no mean feat; they have to be cut to manageable sizes, schlepped from the bottom of the garden round to the front where the trailer is parked then hoisted on to the trailer for the journey down the road!  And I estimate possibly another three loads like that tomorrow and Monday.  What joy!  Still, when I'm picking my raspberries, strawberries and blackberries later in the year, it will have all been worth it!

Well, other than the final removal of the original pool steps (the ones that had sat on our drive for nearly a year but which turned out to be the wrong size!) that's about it in terms of a progress report.  Even this is progress though, as it clears yet another space on the drive!  Here is a little collage of the steps 'going'.... it took three men to do it!

If I can, I like to leave you with an amusing story or picture and I think you will enjoy this.  As long as it's not boggy and muddy in the back garden, we've let the dogs run around out there while John is working as they seems to like being out there with him.  They are always nosey and want to know what's going on but I think this was particularly funny......the title could easily be "Dog Inspection"!  What do you think?

Have a good weekend, all!

À bientôt!


Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Pool Progress.... in Pictures!

So much progress has been made generally in the last couple of weeks that  I think it will be easier to demonstrate it in pictures, rather than me scribbling on about it!

I shall cover just the pool progress in this post and then do a further update in the next day or so, of the other things that have progressed!

This is what the 'pool' looked like two weeks ago.  The steps appear to be in mid-air; the pool is full of concrete blocks - not to mention yet more rain water!

A load of ready mixed cement was delivered (destined for the outer side of the panels) but unfortunately the lorry driver was not prepared to attempt to bring his lorry further than the front gates.  Here is poor Danny with the last wheelbarrow load!
And this is what it looked like once the cement had been poured in.
As this next series of pictures shows, John then started building up the blocks that will support the steps into the pool....

The next stage was for Phil the digger man to come back and scrape out the earth around the pool which will (one day) be the terrace around it.  And this is what it looked like at the end of a very long day!

Just as there is a positive side to each negative one, the reverse is sometimes true.  And the wheels of the dumper truck that was used to move all the earth removed from round the pool, has done THIS to our garden! Ah well, c'est la vie!

Yesterday was spent getting the pool ready to have its concrete base laid.  John is very thorough and meticulous and even though the recommendation is for a base that is 10cm deep, he considered that 15cm would be safer, given the volume of water that has to sit on it.  He also used a special mix of cement that has fibres within it, strengthening it still further.  He has had a willing (if now exhausted) assistant in the shape of Danny as you will see...

This was them in action yesterday...
John also prepared the ground for a set of steps that will lead from the terrace into the pool area and also for the base for the shed that will be the "pump house".
The cement for the base was to be pumped in and at 8am this morning a lorry turned up complete with cement mixer and pump.  The tube through which the cement was pumped went over the house from the front garden to the back.  I hope these photos demonstrate what I mean....
Over the course of the next hour or so, cement was poured into the pool hole while Danny and John moved it around to level it. 
And the rest of the day was taken up with them levelling and smoothing it all.  Here they are in action again!

Here is an up to the minute picture of the base as it is right now...

And before I finish, let me leave you with this picture of my poor husband, exhausted after a very, long, hard day.  He's now had to mix cement and finish off the base for the pump house because (a) there wasn't quite enough ready mixed cement to do it and (b) John is still busy smoothing the pool base.

 I will do another post in a day or so, to let you know about everything else that's been going on here!

À bientôt