Our Garden

Layout, Trees, Outbuildings and Water

Horse chestnut in autumnOur plot is a lens-shaped area of about an acre and a half, which droops over the edge of an escarpment like a Dali watch.

The upper part we call "The Park" - it's a grassed area with over 80 mature trees, including cherries, figs, maples, lime trees, ailanthus, yew, sumac, acacia, bamboo and a horse-chestnut.

The drought of 2004 killed a fine pair of conifers and another pair of Douglas firs succumbed to an attack of Capricorne beetle. The latter trees were home to processional caterpillars, with their toxic spines, so it wasn't an entirely bad thing to lose them. 2006 saw a flurry of chainsaw activity as Peter and I felled, bucked and logged the dead trees, including an ancient cherry tree which had died back. In 2013 four ailanthus that had outgrown their welcome were dismantled by a tree surgeon, creating a load of timber that was cut, split and stacked.

The old road looking westBisecting the plot and running along the top of the escarpment is a grass strip flanked by old stone walls; this was at one time the public road, which has now been moved to the upper boundary. Below the road is a steep slope populated mainly with French oaks. The house sits beside what was the road on an intermediate level.

We were much taken with the garden when we first saw it - the different levels and the old dry-stone walls add interest and the walls radiate heat on cool nights after sunny days.

There was a lot of work to be done when we moved in; the ailanthus trees had self-seeded down the escarpment and grown quite tall so I equipped myself with a robust chainsaw to fell these together with a few oaks which were blocking the "view-to-die-for" over the valley below. The oaks are particularly attractive, particularly at sunrise and sunset when the neon-coloured sunlight trickles through the leaves, so I don't intend to fell many more. The ailanthus trees, however grow like weeds, but provide timber that can be burned green; so I intend to manage these to provide wood for the wood burning stove.

Our BarnGarden buildings comprise the "petit dépendance", containing the central heating oil tank, and an enormous barn, which includes Ian's workshop and playroom plus a colony of pipistrelle bats. When the house electricity supply was changed from three-phase to monophase the hotch-potch of wiring in the barn had to be sorted out by the addition of a consumer unit and complete rewiring of all the power points and luminaires. This proved to be a major task with over three weeks of work in 2007 with ladders precariously perched on roof-beams.

The south wood

We're amply provided with water; in addition to mains water there's a quaint old stone-topped well, an enormous rainwater cistern under the terrace (with an electric pump) and a right of access to a spring nearby in the wood.

I love my garden: fortunately it is quite low-maintenance; periodic use of the ride-on mower and the powered hedge trimmer is all that is necessary to keep it in order, together with a yearly session with the chainsaw to keep the trees under control. I spent the first few weeks wandering around the garden and the barn, pinching myself in case I was dreaming!

The new patioThe biggest outdoor construction project I've tackled so far was the patio and pergola. Intended for Simon & Sara's wedding celebrations, it was completed just in time after a wet fortnight had held up construction. It involved the shifting of a great deal of earth by wheelbarrow and shovel, and the laying of a lot of concrete, for which I bought myself a cement mixer. It proved to be a great success - during the summer months a great deal of time is spent eating outdoors and it's very pleasant to have a level and stable surface.

Grapes on the pergolaI planted two vines to spread over the pergola, a black wine grape and a white dessert grape. The white grape has done really well, producing far more grapes than we can eat; it seems wickedly hedonistic to reach up and pluck a grape from one's own vine!

Petit DépendanceOur "petit dépendance" is an old animal pen which was faced with breeze blocks and an ugly plastic door; since it faces the house I rendered the blocks and made a nice blue door for it. The roof beams had some capricorne (house long-horn beetle) infestation so they were sprayed and injected with Xylophane.

View across the ValleyA view between the oak trees across to the other side of the valley.


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