From jungle to garden in “only” a year

It’s nearly a year since Maddy and Dom came over for a working holiday and helped us to start clearing the gîte garden; sadly they won’t be able to make it this year, but we’ve continued to work on it since, as much as is possible between holidays, cycling, visitors and other such necessary occupations.

In February we planted up the flower bed that we’d unearthed; there was a second one, but we decided it would be more useful, as well as less maintenance for us, to have plenty of parking space. So out came the grasses, the bulbs and the yuccas, to be rehoused elsewhere, as well as the brambles, the rampant honeysuckle and other undesirables, taken to the tip. We bought as many bags of bark chippings as would fit in the car and spread them between the plants in the bed. It was beginning to look like a garden, except for the weeds that appeared everywhere, growing at incredible speed.

We made a small, circular bed around the olive tree, finished with the edging tiles taken from around the second, oval flowerbed, then realised it could link to the picnic area wall by becoming teardrop shaped, so more digging and edging tiles.

Nick constructed a fence to divide our garden from that of the gîte and I painted it with lasure. We spent what seemed forever weeding, levelling and weeding again until at last, we could ask Mr T to deliver some stone. We also contacted Gary, a neighbour who’s always happy to work for a good feed. Mr T brought nine lorry loads of stone over the next week; we shovelled and barrowed and raked under the scorching sun for days on end until, finally, it was all spread and reasonably level. It’s a mixture of grades of stone, from 2cm down to sand, the idea being that when it rains the sand is washed down and the stones stay on the top. It’s still looking quite sandy, so I think we may need another lorry load of just stones. I hope Gary’s still game for a bit of hard labour.

It all looked very bare; a trip to a garden centre saw us return with a climbing rose, 2 oleanders, a bottle brush plant, a trachelospermum, a phormium and lots of other stuff whose names I’ve forgotten. Planting along the side of the fence was slow as the ground was mostly stone and concrete rubble, but eventually Nick dug holes big enough to fill with compost and put the plants in.

We’ve moved lavenders from the bed around the terrace, where they’ve been engulfed by other plants, into the bed around the olive and found slate chippings to cover the soil around them. But even that turned into a bigger job than expected; as I started to dig the spade hit concrete, so I moved left a bit, the same thing and bit right was still the same. Nick came to help, eventually unearthing a gatepost base, a cube of at least 30cm in each direction; it took some shifting, but finally came out. There were also two pieces of an old, concrete wall, but they were small enough to be avoided.

There’s just a bit of grouting of the slabs in front of the gite to finish, after which we can begin the transformation of the third bedroom in the gite from its current state as a building site into a room we can use when the whole family arrives for Christmas. 53 days and counting…..