Memories of the summer and Le Jardin d’Angelique


I’m sorry if there’s been rather a long silence on the blog, we’re just getting back on our feet after a house-fire. I really can’t believe I am writing those words as now the event simply seems astonishing and quite unbelievable, and every so often I think I imagined it – until I go into the kitchen that is, and see the large space where the dishwasher used to be.

We were very lucky, and all the more conscious now of how important fire alarms and extinguishers are, as they made an exceptional difference to the eventual outcome. We all got out of the house unscathed, my husband was bravery itself mastering the flames by the time the firemen came, and we still have not only a house, but a kitchen that is once again operational. But if you don’t have fire extinguishers, go and get some now – yes, really, now! I’ll wait till you get back!

As you can imagine, the manufacturer of the dish-washer will be getting a stern letter asking why our dishwasher would choose to spontaneously combust at five o’clock in the morning.

But I want to transport you back in time to the endless days of summer, when the sky is blue with the occasional cloud scudding across it. And I want to dedicate this post to my sister, who finally lost her brave battle with cancer just when the early summer flowers were coming into bloom. My sister adored gardens, and was my choice person to join me to visit ones of renown, to discuss garden design, planning and our favorite scented flowers. We’d planned that she would come and recuperate in the hammock under our cherry tree, giving instructions on what next to prune or plant, interspersed with essential cups of tea and cake. “Everything can be resolved with a cup of tea and cake” she said, though in the case of my garden we would probably need an awful lot of it.

Sometimes you need a visit to a beautiful garden to restore inspiration and energy and we’d had the plan that we’d visit several french gardens during her convalescence. The Jardin d’Angelique is one such place we intended to go.

I was surprised to find that the Jardins d’Angelique weren’t the opulent gardens of a vast chateau, but the rather more lowly “maison de maître”, or master’s house. The grounds were divided up into three unequal parts, a large lawn in front of the house edged with flower borders and a long high hedge, through which I found a long and intriguing organically laid out woodland garden, and finally, behind the house, a manicured formal garden.

The archway in the hedge beckoned me to explore the woodland garden first, and after only a few moments I found myself in a shady clearing with a convenient bench, and mossy stone sculptures peering out from under glorious rose bushes and unusual hydrangeas. A few sinuous paths later, a sunny clearing, also with its bench, and the plants meticulously identified with little wooden labels. As I walked on, it was clear that this garden was one for reflection and peaceful isolation away from the hustle and bustle of the house itself.

Here and there a pond, or stream: a bee”hive” or an Arbour: and finally, around another corner, an elderly lady with silvery hair, sécateurs in hand pruning à rather lovely ancient white rambling rose. She turned out to be the owner of the gardens, and I asked her if she had a grand plan when she first started creating the garden.

“Oh no!” She exclaimed, and went in to tell me that the woodland garden had grown organically, stage by stage as she had sought to distract herself after the tragic death of her young daughter Angelique. Each time she created a new area she placed a bench to sit on, or an arbor to sit under out of the hot sun while she rested from her travails and took comfort in her flowers and reflected on the impact of losing her daughter.

We went on to chat about natural remedies for common garden pests and diseases, before she took up her secateurs once more, and I went on my way to discover the formal garden and it’s topiary.

I love formal gardens, and box hedging restraining willful, abundant and blousy blooms. The pond, with its lions as guardians was a lovely focal point.

I spent some very happy moments enjoying the contrasts between ordered and racy plants.

But there was something that drew me across the garden, that no other part was capable of.

There in the garden was a tree, not like those in the woodland garden clothed in foliage, but completely bare of leaves. The tree was completely dead, just it’s silvery bark reaching up into the beautiful blue sky. And where the leaves should have been were oblong wooden paddles, hanging, tied by wire to its branches.

Spinning.

First one way, and then the other. Endlessly turning in the light breeze.

And on each paddle, in both french and english, a word.

Nature – Nature

Espoir – Hope

Famille – Family

Paix – Peace

Rêve – Dream

Amour – Love,

Yes, especially love.

I sat under the tree for some while just watching them spin, reflecting, and then headed for home.

And later I discovered that quite by chance my camera had taken its photo of the tree under “burst” mode, and so when I looked again at the picture, for a few brief seconds the paddles were spinning – and continue to do so today.

Amongst all those photos of the garden captured in stills, the tree seems now to be the most living of them all.

Giverny- on the bucket list.


I met an 82 year old woman yesterday who has travelled to France from Australia to visit Giverny, the home of Claude Monet.

“I studied fine art as a student” she explained to me, ” and that’s when I fell in love with Monet’s paintings.” When she graduated, she married and settled in England and her greatest wish was to visit Monet’s famous gardens. Her husband didn’t support her love of art, declaring. .

“Why would you travel to another country just to visit a garden?

Now at the age of 82, divorced, with difficulty walking after an accident, and despite living in Australia, this lovely lady had thrown caution to the wind and flown across the world to make her dream come true.

“I knew if I didn’t do it this year, I never would” she said, and I am happy in the knowledge that today she will have a fabulous day.

We might have arrived at 8 in the morning, but Monet got his first view of his future home at Giverny in the early afternoon. He’d left his rented house in Poissy, the creditors at his heels, declaring he would not return until he found a new house for the family to live in.

Imagine passing in front of this great house, and spying from the road an orchard in full spring blossom where the flowers are today, while the pretty nasturtium lined central allée was originally a dark and brooding yew lined pathway. Monet detested the way the trees blocked the light while Alice, his wife, felt that it was a crime to fell a tree. Persuading her to let him remove the lower branches, Monet subsequently lopped the tops much to Alice’s indignation. The denuded trunks soon became the supports for his climbing roses, until rotting away they were replaced by the metal arches we see today.

As the seasons change, so does the garden. Irises and peonies are replaced by poppies and roses, and later by phlox, cosmos and dahlias.

The abundance of flowers is overwhelming, even on rainy days one thinks the sun is shining, such is the colour and cheerfulness of the surroundings.Monet had ten gardeners once he had fully developed the gardens; today there are only 6, and an army of volunteers who classify the deadheading of the flowers “a gros boulot” , a big job! Pissarro’s wife once commented favorably on one of Monet’s irises and Monet subsequently dispatched a cutting of them to her on the next train!

At the age of 50, 7 years after moving into the house, Monet started to create the water garden. Today there is only one gardener allocated to tend to it, and much of it is done by boat. Most of his activity is tending to the water lilies which are a great delicacy for the Muskrat.He has to ensure that the lilies grow in nice circular rafts, just as Monet liked them.

After Monet’s death the garden fell into disrepair and had to be largely recreated. Alice had insisted that he write to her everyday when he was away painting. From his letters, his gardening instructions gave the restoration team a good idea of the type and position of the original flowers, and other little notebooks and seed order books held the rest of the clues.

Today the garden is a masterpiece. A living work of art, just as Monet wanted; his largest canvass.

“Gardening was something I learnt from my youth when I was unhappy, I perhaps owe becoming a painter to flowers” said Monet.

Not surprising then that the lovely 82 year old I met yesterday was so keen to go and visit it.

I truly hope it is everything she hoped it would be – and more!

Fagots and Ficelles


What every garden needs is a fit gardener, and as much as I love gardening, there were a couple of jobs in my garden that needed the brute force and muscles of a guy! Having not been maintained for forty odd years, it had become something of a winderness with a tree canopy to rival the best of any tropical rainforest. We have had a stream of “garden” types knocking in the door over the last few months, some of whom were surely more the genre of burglers on a reconnaissance tour but one amongst them clearly knew his trees, despite the absence of leaves, and I decided to put him to work.

Having tackled the “lawn” on his first visit,  the visual impact of which was so positive, I decided to rope him in for the major task of removing two trees. One of the trees effectively blocked the view of the garden from  the conservatory, a Thuja, which had fallen over some time in the distant past and was growing horizontally across the garden, and the second, a large Hawthorn tree which effectively dominated the rest.

WP_20150423_016

WP_20150423_014

“Fit Gardener”, as we like to call him, on account of his chic french gardening attire and cheery disposition made short work of the two trees and used what remained of his allotted time frame to start gathering up the overwhelming quantity of branches into small bundles. He came into the kitchen and asked if I had any “ficelle”, and I looked at him a bit non-plussed until it dawned on me that he was looking for natural twine.

When it comes to rubbish, recycling and refuse removal, the french are at the top of the game. Every dechetterie (dump) in France has a stock of bags for different purposes, including yellow for paper and recycling of packaging and white for garden waste, along with each house having a green bin for bottles and a black bin for general waste. When I visited the dechetterie I explained to the man in charge that my garden hadn’t been touched for years and he handed over 25 reuseable garden sacs to fill with garden debris.WP_20150510_005“Fit Gardener” had made a massive inroad into the branches from the Thuja in my absence, gathering and roping them into bundles with the twine. The rules on the recycling website are that the bundles or “fagots” as the French call them must be no greater than 15cm thick, but ours were at least double that, and well tied with bio-degradeable twine. I stared in astonishment at the twenty or so fagots left at my gateway, expecting them to be carted away, but “Fit Gardener” assured me that the recycling truck would pass on the monday morning, having expected all house owners to have been gardening over the weekend, and would take it all away. I was unconvinced.

When I woke at 7 the following morning the pavement outside my house was empty, and all the fagots gone.

Time hadn’t been on “Fit Gardener’s” side, and the nasty thorny Hawthorn lay still spread across the garden. I didn’t believe that the guys driving the recycling truck would look on kindly to fagots of Hawthorn, some of the thorny spikes being a finger-length long, and so I took out my secateurs to chop each branch into metre-long lengths before filling the large recycling garden bags.

WP_20150505_009

WP_20150505_004

WP_20150505_003

It took several days of back breaking labour before all the branches were safely removed from the lawn and the bags stacked in a row ready to be put out onto the street on sunday night.WP_20150510_008

On sunday, pleased with my progress I headed off to work as usual, a full day of tours of the city for an ocean-going cruise-liner that was moored up at the Port of Rouen.WP_20150510_001

WP_20150510_002Not even having time for a pause for lunch,( which suggests the day had not been organised by a Frenchman), by the time I arrived home in the early evening exhaustion was setting in, dinner was still to cook, and the kids had very kindly left the remains of breakfast out on the table (apparently for me to tidy up when I got in as they had been very busy during the day – playing computer games!) So you can imagine the groan when the evening came to an end and I was locking up, only to spot the gardening bags still waiting to be moved out onto the street!

WP_20150510_003

You can see that I got more daring as time went on – filling the bags with ever greater quantities of thorny branches!

Once I had lined them up I had severe doubts that the recycling van would take them all. I looked at my neighbours little pile of greenery waiting to go and conceded that his waste was much more reasonable and crossed my fingers that the van-driver would take pity on me!

WP_20150510_006My neighbours bundle
WP_20150510_004
My bags!

When I left for work on monday morning I was astonished to see that the pavement outside my house was competely clear, and that my neighbours little pile was still resolutely lying on the ground where he had left them. And then I went for a closer look….WP_20150511_002

…only to find that my neighour had made one serious omission. In the land of “red-tape” and regulation, rules and obligations he had failed to put any ficelle around his bundle of greenery; whilst my back-breakingly bagged monsters had all disappeared!WP_20150511_001

Which just goes to show that a bundle of greenery without “ficelle” is simply not, and never will be a “fagot”  – nor will it ever be good to go!WP_20150510_004Don’t say you haven’t been warned!

In the “Veranda”


After a few weeks of glorious spring weather, the skies closed in this week and we found ourselves once again in the drizzly normandy climate. For a few short minutes I wondered what to do with myself before being drawn to start clearing out the conservatory or “veranda” as they are known as in France. Since I was very young I always had a fascination for the word “veranda”, being, along with Panda, the only two words that could rhyme with my name to create a lymerick, something we did suprisingly often in school. As you can imagine, when I discovered that I was the proud owner of one, it rather highlighted the pleasure of being able to sit in it while trying to compile lines three and four which would take me neatly on to our furry four-legged companion. Planting some bamboo at the end of the garden seems to have become, suddenly much more of a necessity!

But I digress. The veranda is in a fairly dismal state, and at some point extensive renovation is required. Several pieces of glass are broken. But for this year I intend just to relish its presence. To remind you of the “before”, I’ll slip in the photos with the previous owner’s belongings. I don’t believe that he been in here much over the past few years, the flower beds were bone dry and weedridden, and a general sense of decay hung in the air.

Annonce1-photo6 (3)

After a few days clearing of spider’s webs, the weed-mass in the flower beds and the first attempts to clean the windows it has become a tranquil space that is a pleasure to work or rest in.

WP_20150330_015

WP_20150330_007I’m having a “Green Card” moment, remembering the stunning conservatory that forced Andie MacDowell to “marry” Gérard Depardieu  to fool the board of governers into believing she fulfilled their criteria as a “married couple” to rent the appartment that went along with it.

WP_20150330_012

WP_20150330_001

I’ve brought the old urns inside to clean up. I’m not quite sure whether to leave them in their distressed state or to repaint them, 
WP_20150330_003But i’m loving spending a few minutes toying with plants and deciding what to fill them with.

WP_20150330_004
WP_20150330_006Seedlings are just pushing up their heads from the Geranium seeds I planted a week or so back,
WP_20150330_011and I have Allium, Climbing Roses, Peonies  and Lupins waiting in the wings for warmer weather when they can be planted into the bed outside.

But for now, I’m just revelling in the pleasure of gardening in comfort.

“Miranda is in her Veranda”

Annonce1-photo1 (6)

Rooting for a Lovely Garden!


Another burst of warm spring sunshine seems to have sent all of the neighbourhood into the garden. Looking at ours and the thought of the work ahead is very daunting but today I decided that I needed to focus little by little on the garden closest to the front door. All part, I suppose of the idea of “entrance” and having a pleasant vista to return to at the end of the day.

On first appraisal the flower bed or “bordure” nearest the garden gate was just a raggle of weeds and I was hoping for an easy half-hour to clear the bed. Then I spotted some pretty blue flowers and took one in to identify. The news wasn’t great. While pretty, the vincus minor or periwinkle is a bit of a pest, and judging by the lack of any established flowers, with the exception of one very fragile and straggly rose, the bed was riddled with its root system.

vinca minor

An afternoon later I am not exactly flushed with success, but the “bordure” is much clearer than before. I managed to bend the prongs in of my brand-new garden fork in the process when the vinca-minor root system was not the only one I tried to uproot. I had a pretty eventful time with the roots of our fig tree too.WP_20150322_007

Some are still in the ground blissfully unaware of their impending rendez-vous with “Husband à l’etranger”. “Husband à l’etranger” is blissfully unaware too,  – well he was until just about now!WP_20150322_009

But to be fair, I did put in quite an effort filling the wheelie-bin full of roots,WP_20150322_010

Who would have believed that one flower bed could contain so many ? But since they self -root from runners under the ground, any roots left in will stunt all other flowers placed in the bed.

After calling it quits on the roots, it was fabulous to look at the first of the spring flowers in other parts of the garden.

WP_20150322_005

WP_20150322_003But the slight chill of the early evening brought me back to thoughts of lighting the fire, and helping myself to a glass of wine.

WP_20150322_004But before I go, perhaps some of you are able to identify some of the following. Perhaps I have more hardwork in store rooting these out as well….

WP_20150322_015

WP_20150322_014

WP_20150322_013or perhaps I shall just invest in a pig and put an end to all this “cochonerrie” (slang for mess) once and for all!

After all I have these great little urns to deal with, and that’s much more fun!WP_20150322_011