We’ve worked hard on the garden this week, while the weather was warm anyway; but today it turned cold, wet and windy, so we stayed indoors.

I’ve nearly finished weeding the veg plot, unearthing three rows of onions planted last autumn in the process and Nick has done battle with the brambles that had submerged the pile of builders’ materials until, at last, we can see what we’ve got. We’ve taken one trailerful of brambles and weeds to the tip and the trailer is full again. It may not look pretty to most eyes, but these things are relative and to us it looks great! There’s still a large, lumpy patch under which is a heap of stones and rubble; probably next week’s task.

Most of the plants we put into the banking seem to have survived, the wild flower seeds are sprouting, the patches that I sowed with grass seed are growing and the general tidiness meant that when the wind dropped and the sun appeared this evening, it only took a couple of hours to mow the lot. That’s progress!

Back on the bike

Nick had signed up to do a bike ride in the Baronies, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, this weekend, so we used it as a good excuse for a trip in the camper, the first of the year. Thursday was spent cleaning the camper, inside and out, and loading it with provisions and bikes, then on Friday we were off.

Our first stop was in Lourdes, to ride the voie verte, a cycle track built on the old railway line, which weaves its way through woodland and meadows from Lourdes to Pierrefitte Nestalas, 20km into the hills. A stop for hot chocolate in the village and back on the bikes to go back to Lourdes, then we headed for Bagnerres de Bigorre for the night.

On Saturday morning, after a leisurely breakfast, it was time to go to the start of the ride, 10km away in Bersac Dessus, on the plain that borders the Baronnies. The weather was perfect, just warm enough, with occassional sunny spells, as over 1000 riders gathered, including quite a few from the Nogaro club. There was a bandas band playing as they set off, a few km on the flat before they attacked the climbs and descents of the Baronnies. Nick did the longest of the four routes, at 89km, with about 2500m of climbing and said he went better than he’d expected.

I went for a walk through some of the local villages; rarely have I seen such a concentration of huge old houses, tucked behind massive gates, usually set in beautiful gardens.  Between the villages were fields of wild flowers, and the ditches on either side of the roads were more like streams, with the mountain melt water rushing along them.

Back at the salle des fetes in the late afternoon, the cyclists began to arrive. The tombola was drawn and huge quantities of sandwiches, cakes, dried fruit, orange juice, water and coffee appeared, very much appreciated by everyone who’d done the ride.

We made our way back to the camper and hot soup, then home, already planning our next trip away.

The not-so-sensible option

When we lived in Harrogate, a garden was a luxury beyond our means, a tiny back yard with a little raised bed and loads of pots was all we could manage. Here, however, we have more than a hundred times the amount of land, so it’s been a steep learning curve.

Once mowed, the park looks quite respectable; the front garden, beautifully planted by the previous owners, is a bit overgrown and in need of some TLC; but the field behind the house is horrendous, not deserving the name garden; at the far end is the soil mountain, in the middle is a huge pile of assorted building materials and junk, largely grown over with nettles and brambles, and the rest of it is so lumpy that mowing has to be done slowly to avoid being thrown off the mower. Even the bits we use as veg plots are mostly knee high with weeds at the moment.

Over the winter we’ve been thinking about how to tackle this patch of land. The easiest, and some would say, most sensible, option, would be to level it and throw some grass seed down; but when did we ever choose either the simplest or most sensible path? Gradually a plan is emerging, with areas for fruit and veg, a garden where I hope to grow a profusion of colour and perfume, a Japanese garden for Nick’s bonsai trees, a pergola with climbers growing over it and a curved bank to screen the house across the road. Oh, yes, and I had this idea that I’d like a piece of old-looking, broken down wall with a gate in it, so that’s got to be incorporated somewhere too; it will be quite useful, actually, as it’ll use up some of the lumps of concrete for the foundations and bricks, rocks and old roof tiles in the wall itself.

Over the past couple of weeks we’ve started work; Nick’s reshaped the soil mountain, henceforth to be called the banking and we’ve barrowed masses of home made compost to spread over it. We’ve bought planters to put on the access points to the septic tank, which I’ve treated with wood preserver, ready to plant up after the Fources flower show this weekend, Nick’s started to rehouse stuff from the heap in the middle and has marked out where the wall will go. I’m trying to spend some time every day weeding the veg plots, though you wouldn’t notice yet.

Work on the house has come to a standstill, but that can be done when it rains and, as will happen soon enough, when it’s too hot to work outside after 10 am. If we’re having a party this summer, it needs at least to look tidy.

Quand on habitait en Angleterre, on n’avais pas le moyen d’avoir un jardin, donc notre grand jardin ici représente un rêve accompli, mais aussi, beaucoup à apprendre.

Le jardin derrière la maison est honteux, avec son tas de terre et un tas énorme de matériels de bricolage, presque enterré par des ronces et des orties.

Pendant l’hiver, on a beaucoup réfléchi et lentement un plan émerge, avec des lieux pour des fruits et des légumes, de la place pour un jardin anglais, un jardin japonais pour les arbres bonsaïs de Nick et un pergola pour quelques plantes grimpantes. On pourrait dire qu’il serait beaucoup plus facile de le nettoyer, niveler et semer de l’herbe, mais nous ne suivons jamais le chemin le plus facile.

Donc, on travaille au jardin lorsqu’il ne fait pas trop chaud et les travaux à la maison doivent attendre un peu.

Gardening, man-style

Spring has arrived. We’ve had a week of gorgeous weather, so it’s time to start gardening again, as the warm days and wet nights mean everything, but especially the weeds, is growing like mad.
Nick decided that it’s time to tackle the soil mountain in the back garden, the stuff dug out to install the new septic tank several years ago; he wants to make it into a banking, with plants growing on it. So out came the digger and Nick spent several happy days moving the heavy clay that passes for soil around here into a crescent shape; it needs doing before the heat and dryness of summer turn its consistency to that of concrete.
Now it’s at the stage where he needs to rake over the surface by hand. I’ve sown grass seed on some of the newly flattened bits and thrown compost on top of it, in the hope that the worms will do the work of incorporating that into the soil.
We’ve finally managed to get the “burning pile” to light, with plenty of white spirit, so that’s seeded too and Nick’s moving a couple of heaps of building sand and has promised to sort out the huge pile of roof tiles, wooden beams, bricks and general rubbish in the middle of the garden.
The carrot is the prospect of going to the Fources flower show next weekend; we always come home with loads of plants and nowhere to put them. This year, if we can finish preparing the banking, will be different.


The burning pile - seeded


This little bit of seeding is bigger than the whole garden in Harrogate!


Doesn't look much, but this is a huge pile of soil!


On a commencé faire un peu de jardinage derrière la maison. Premier tâche; former le tas de sol, enlevé pour la fosse septique, en forme de croissant. On doit le finir avant la fête de fleurs à Fources le week-end prochain à fin d’acheter des plantes.

Fingers crossed

It’s now a week since Nick had the pins removed from his ankle. We were at the clinic by 7am, he went to theatre at 8 and I was able to pick him up at lunchtime as the operation was done under epidural.

I don’t want to tempt fate, but so far, so good; it’s a lot less inflamed than before and seems to be healing at last. The stitches will be removed in ten days and I hope that will be the end of this horrible episode.

Il est une semaine depuis le chirurgien à enlevé les broches de la cheville de Nick. On est arrivé à la clinique à 7 heures, il a opéré à 8 heures et je suis allée le chercher à midi car il a eu un péridurale.

Jusqu’au présent il semble avoir marché bien; la cheville est moins enflammé. L’infirmière enlèvera les points dans 10 jours et j’espère que ça sera la fin de cet épisode horrible.

Feeling silly

My annual dose of bronchitis began last Monday, when I woke, feeling as though I’d swallowed a tennis ball. By Wednesday I was coughing; it obviously wasn’t going to go away, so a visit to the doctor provided me with antibiotics. I felt a bit better this morning and besides, I needed some shopping for when Nick gets home this afternoon from his week cycling in Majorca.

I was fine at the market, but standing in the queue for the checkout at the supermarket, I began to feel a bit faint. Suddenly there were people shouting and I was helped to an office, sat down and given some water. I soon felt better, thanked them and stood up to leave. But that’s not how it works here. Within minutes four paramedics/ firemen arrived; they asked questions, took my pulse, blood pressure and oxygen saturation. All normal; could I go home now? NO, certainly not! They made a few phone calls, loaded me into their big red fire engine-cum-ambulance and took me to the doctor’s. The on call doctor examined me and finally gave me the all clear. Back into the fire engine/ambulance, to take me back to where I’d parked the car, at the supermarket; no way were they going to let me walk the 200m!

I thanked them, collected my shopping and went home; it was a bit overkill and unnecessary for me, but good to know how efficiently the system works.


Our open plan, temporary staircase has been through several incarnations; it started straight, but we needed to build a wall across the top of it, so it was chopped and changed and it has moved more often than the ones in Hogwarts. However, it was definitely not child friendly and would need some work before our toddler granddaughter’s visit this summer. When I saw a photo of what I can only describe as a fantasy staircase, which looked like a stack of giant books, I really expected to have to work hard to get Nick’s agreement, but no; his “we could do that” reaction was immediate.

And so began two months of evenings spent with plasterboard and paints. Our original choice of favourite books began to look a bit boring, with fairly plain spines featuring just the title and author, so I started to choose others, still favourites, but whose covers were more challenging. Some took up to five evenings to complete, such as my grandma’s copy of The Wind in the Willows, whose paper cover is torn and dirty from much handling, exposing the fabric beneath.

Eventually, though, they were ready and we spent a morning fixing them in place; I have to say I’m very pleased with the result.

Notre escalier ouvert et temporaire ne serai pas approprié à la visite de notre petite fille de 18 mois cet été. Quand j’ai vu une photo d’un escalier fantastique, qui ressemblait un tas de livres géants, je pensais qu’il me faudrait travailler à convaincre Nick qu’on pourrait faire quelque chose semblable, mais non, il était d’accord tout de suite.

On a passé presque toutes les soirées pendant deux mois avec des morceaux de placoplâtre et des peintures. Au début on a choisi nos livres préférés, mais bientôt il m’a pareil qu’ils étaient un peu ennuyeux, avec leurs dos couleur uni et seulement le titre et l’auteur, donc j’ai choisi quelques autres, plus intéressants. Je suis assez fière de ” The Wind in the Willows”, qui appartenait à ma grand-mère, dont le couverture en papier est déchiré, exposant le tissu dessous.

En fin on a terminé, on a passé un matin en les attacher à l’escalier et je crois que c’est beau.