Thursday, 14 September 2017

Where Did Summer Go? We're Pruning Already.

May's post was all about planting, so it's difficult to believe that we've just returned from France having pruned our field of flowers. Lavender should be pruned every year to keep them compact and to prevent them becoming woody. We used secateurs to remove flower stalks and about a third of this year’s growth, making sure that some green growth remained.
Our lavender, like this one on the left, looks quite spindly, but for their first summer, we're very pleased that 80% survived the brutal heat. We had no choice but to plant and then leave them to the elements for 6 weeks while we came back to our UK jobs. It wasn't ideal but next spring we'll replace the ones that didn't survive.
Here's the same plant after a haircut! Pruning is usually done in late summer after flowering, unless they’re being grown for their oil in which case, they should be cut just after flowering. The down side of this is that you miss their beauty and colour throughout summer. I suppose it’s a bit like the old saying, you can’t have your cake and eat it! (Which always struck me as silly because if I had cake it would definitely be eaten!) It was back-breaking work and for almost a week we were walking around like centenarians. So now our field has been mowed, weeded, cut back and put to bed for the winter. Unfortunately our abundant crop of fruit went unused this season but thankfully our lovely neighbours, both English and French, made use of some of it by picking cherries during summer. I'm looking forward to learning how to make pickles and chutneys. Here are some of the photographs I took around our land this summer. You can click on the recipe titles below.
Blackberry jam recipe.
Grapes. What else but wine!
Apples. Toffee apple upside-down cake recipe.
Plums. Plum chutney recipe.
Walnuts. Walnut cake recipe.
We also have the beginnings of a drive and front wall. We used metal gabions filled with with white stone - robust and heavy enough to hold back built up earth. Next year we'll back-fill behind the cages and plant flowers on top to soften the lines. The driveway runs in front and to the side of our barn but only the base has been laid this year. We're waiting until we've built our new house before we lay the top layer. It definitely looks a lot tidier than the overgrown cacti and weeds that were previously growing there! Now we're back in England waiting for our house to sell and counting down until our big move. I wish I had a crystal ball to see if we will have crossed the channel before Christmas. I've been making some jewellery this afternoon - lavender flowers set in resin. When they've hardened and I've attached them to chains or earring findings, I'll write an extra post about how to make them.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Lavender Planting

First we had a lot of ground preparation to do. We'd previously had the soil tested and the results came back as prefect for growing lavender. (such a relief) However, the earth had quite a lot of clay in it so we added extra sand and grit.
After the sand was rotovated into the ground, we laid and pinned a weed barrier along the trenches and then burned holes in it at eighteen inch intervals with the help of a long-armed blow torch. We then dug out the earth ready for planting - they always say that preparation is the hardest task of any job!
So, with the rabbit fence secure and hopefully impenetrable and the trenches ready, we set about planting. We laid out the plants along each line and although it was hot, exhausting work, we enjoyed every minute of it.
Paul and I chose Hidcote and Grosso lavenders for their colour, scent and hardiness. They like well-drained, alkaline soil and hate soggy bottoms. (Don't we all?) It took a week to finish, but with the help of our daughter, Rosanna, my mother and our lovely new neighbours, Andy and Sal, we planted the whole field. Sal sent a text to say it had rained for two days after we'd returned to England, which was great news for the plants.
When our lavender field is established, we hope to open a small tea garden (only about 6 tables) under our mature trees during the summer months. Our little shop will sell our homemade lavender sugar for adding to biscuits, sorbets and jams. Lavender's purple flowers are well known for their relaxing properties and we're looking forward to making soaps, candles and bath oils that will help visitors to unwind for a good night’s sleep. (They'll also be perfect gifts to take back home, wherever that may be.) Lavender flowers can also be added to stock to create a tasty sauce for duck, chicken or lamb dishes and I'll definitely be adding it to cake recipes for the tea garden. The fruit on our trees are growing nicely in the spring rain and warm sunshine. I wandered around taking a few photographs of the cherries, apples and fig trees.
Paul fancies becoming a bee keeper and making lavender honey - I'll happily let him do that by himself.
Our nearest village is Aubeterre-sur-Dronne. We have been visiting for ten year looking for somewhere to buy, but it is only now that our children are settled and happy that we've decided to make the move. After all, we're only a one hour twenty minute flight away and using good old Ryan Air, it costs £14.99 for a ticket! We're also hoping that family will come and spend longs holidays with us throughout the year. This is Aubeterre, which is very special to both of us. It's our nearest village, about 7 kilometres away.
There's also a river beach in Aubeterre where we can relax or go kayaking. Our granddaughters, Hollie and Sophie, had a wonderful time splashing about, playing on the park and eating ice-cream. They were as good as gold on the aeroplane and playing in the field while we were planting. Having four generations enjoying the week together is what it is all about - family.
The twins playing in Aubeterre's river beach We have a lot of cutting back and pruning to do and Paul has made a start. He removed lower branches from trees with a chainsaw - a machine that frightens me. I hate them but there was no way he could tidy boughs and branches without it. We have a lot more to do on further visits.
And of course, there's always time for a little shopping!

Thursday, 5 January 2017

A Flying New Year Visit

Following a seemingly relentless sixteen-hour car journey from Nottingham to Charente, we arrived with trailer still attached to the tow bar. Paul and I were taking building materials and a rotovator to store in our barn, ready for renovating the building and planting in springtime.
It was dark when we reached Aubeterre-sur-Dronne, but the smell was unmistakable. Sweet woodsmoke and the aroma of the Linden trees were redolent of a perfume. Christmas lights were strung around the square and a frost glittered on surfaces – even the statue of Ludovic Trarieux looked as if he’d had a sparkly makeover.
The following morning we drove a few miles to the tiny hamlet of Bellon and unloaded the trailer. I make that sound easy, but everything felt incredibly heavy in freezing fog and drizzle.
Paul and I walked around the field and the task ahead seemed so much more daunting than we'd first anticipated. It’s amazing how much the verdant canopies, long grass and fat hedgerows of summer, hide overgrown trees, un-pruned bushes and neglected land. It also became clear that our field was overrun by rabbits, which meant the added expense of rabbit proofing the perimeter. I love rabbits, but I’m sure they love eating lavender plants too!
A very welcome surprise was to be invited into a neighbour’s house for hot mulled wine and mince pies. Andy and Sal are also renovating their property in Bellon. They say that the sunsets are beautiful and if you’ve seen my Facebook timeline, you’ll know that I have a weakness for tangerine skies.
Paul and I spent New Year’s Eve in Aubeterre Square, waving sparklers and dancing to Leonard Cohen’s, Dance Me To The End Of Love. Have you ever watched the film, Scent Of A Woman? Here is a beautiful clip where Al Pacino, a blind, retired soldier, dances with Gabrielle Anwar to this incredible song. Click for song.