Reflections on a busy summer, 2018, part I

Once the coldest, wettest spring in living memory finished in June, it turned overnight to summer. And what a summer! Within a few weeks our water stocks for watering the garden were already inadequate, so we had to top up, using the well.

The main job for the summer, though, was the installation of our hot tub and landscaping around it. Nick dug out a curve around the terrace, using the digger, as well as another to house the tub and built a plinth to sit it on. He built a retaining wall around it and we lay weed proof fleece and covered it with stones. We dug out a flower bed and planted it up. We decided we needed a step leading to the gîte, where the ground level drops and another two up to our garden. Then came one of those ” you know what would look great there……” moments, which inevitably lead to serious work for the other person. Nick’s idea…… my job. To do pebble mosaic steps.

We visited builders’ merchants and DIY stores, eventually finding useable stones in black and white, bought several different grades of sand and drew up designs. The first, and largest step would be a lizard design, we’d think about the others later.

We started work early one morning; we wasted more than enough time trying to repair the big parasol, but eventually decided I’d just have to wear a hat; by 2pm I’d be working in the shade of the house anyway. We’d already dug out the base to 20cm and had laid increasingly fine hard core; now we mixed different grades of sand with cement and lime, filled the space and tamped it down well. Nick brought over the bags of stone and I started the mosaic, carefully tapping each stone into place, constantly checking the level of each one. Because you’re working with a dry mixture, the project has to be finished in a day; it took 13 hours, by the end of which I thought I’d never walk straight again. Once finished, I gently watered the stones, covered it with a plastic sheet and left it overnight. The following day I made up the grout mixture and carefully brushed it in between the stones, sprayed it with a fine garden spray, then covered it again to cure for the next week.

For the other two steps, we wanted a different theme and I fancied doing a compass on one of them. We’ve got quite a few tomettes, thick terracotta tiles, as well as some slate slabs, which would work. We also went to the seaside a couple of times, to collect interesting stones and visited a friend whose garden is more stone than soil, from where we got lovely golden coloured stones. Using a design taken from patchwork, I explained to Nick how I needed him to cut the tomettes and slate; he made a lovely job of it and I had my starting point. The compass is quite accurate, with an N pointing north, also cut from tomette. Another two days in the baking heat, (by now we’d bought a new parasol), and the steps were done. I’m pleased with the result and hope they’ll last for years to come.