A Tale of Two Murphies

After a four week absence it is difficult to know where to look first in the garden.  We can immediately see that the grass is clover-ridden and lushly, greenly too long, and there are monstrous weeds to be pulled.  We walk down through the garden taking in the state of the borders on either side.  As I pass the Mimosa tree I can see ahead to a lovely stand of frilly, brightly coloured poppies beneath the Yucca in the bed bordering the gravel.  The seedlings were set, equispaced, to form an under-storey of plants whose form will complement the young palm tree.  I think it works although I’m not sure Lis, who arrives a couple of days later agrees!  It might just be a bit too regimented for what she describes as our cottage garden.

The Echium are enormous and now provide entertainment in the guise of some very hungry caterpillars who have been munching their way along the leaves, growing fatter each day and they will eventually pupate under a gauzy silk web which causes the leaves to roll and brings the edges of the leaf together.  Checking on the web I conclude they are Painted Lady caterpillars – Echium is given as one of the host plants for the larvae and we had a flutter-by of these butterflies back in May.

It’s good to see the white rambling rose, Long John Silver, which I planted in November is in flower.  The roses smell like very expensive face cream.  Also the Brodea which Andrew Tompsett planted beneath the trees are also in flower now.  What joy to see that we have a crop of mange-tout and another of broad beans.  They have grown amazingly.  There are still strawberries to pick and more to come despite the regular harvesting that Daniel and Valentine have carried out.  There are artichokes ready to cut and more waiting in the wings.  It looks as if we will have a fair number of figs – and most amazing to us, the olive tree is in flower.

Despite the fact that we are tired after a poor night’s sleep and the drive from Caen we set to.  I go for maximum impact in the shortest possible time so pull all the very large weeds, and any that may seed at any moment.  I also pull some spent foxgloves and stake up tall plants.  In the course of my weeding activities I find two flower spikes of a Broom-Rape (Orobanche), a genus of parasitic herbaceous plants which, having no chlorophyll of their own, are dependent on other plants for their nutrients.  Their seeds can lie dormant in the soil for many years until compounds put out by potential host plants trigger the broomrapes to put out root-like growths that attach to the nearby host.  Rose Murphy, my botanist friend who lives at Reskadinnick, tells me that my flowers are probably Orobanche minor which has numerous known host species.

Nick fixes the mower he has brought over.  This turns out to be a bit of a prize.  It was discarded by a neighbour because it was continually running rich and he’d already tried having it repaired, unsuccessfully.  Nick googled the problem and found a soul who’d identified that the gremlin was being caused by a dodgy gasket.  Nick bought and installed the new gasket and hey presto.  It’s a hover vacuum mower and will happily cut long, wet grass and get rid of the long stems of coarse grass that are left by a conventional mower.  He then mowed the lawn.

I need to rationalise pots: remove spent and dead plants, plant out contents or repot others.  Lots of watering is required although this has not been the principal problem for the garden.  Nick moves on to the gravel-weeding task.  His leg is still giving him stick in that it swells up rapidly after he has been on his feet for a while.  Elevation brings about rapid relief but how much can you achieve in a garden like that?  He finds a solution, bringing into service the small trolley we use for transporting heavy items around.  Seated on the trolley he manages to shuffle around and painstakingly weed the gravels.  He reminds me of the street character in the Eddie Murphy film, Trading Places.

The stalls in the market on Saturday are laid out with the freshest looking produce.  Bunches of carrots, turnips, radishes with unwilted leaves, huge beefsteak tomatoes for 1 Euro 50 a kilo, deliciously small Charlotte and Cherie new potatoes, and cherries…….

I now have a quartet of cheeses I buy when we have visitors:  Fourme d’Ambert, Tomme de Savoie, Reo Camembert, some sort of Goat.  Then I buy 2 dozen oysters for lunch.  I might have staggered this back to the house if I had not seen a large potted red verbena.  It is a mature plant in need of feeding and repotting but it will be just the ticket as a summer centrepiece for the round table on the terrace.  Nick gives me a lift home.

We toil in the garden right up to the moment Lis and John arrive at about 5 p.m on Sunday.  Then it is tea in the garden and a grand catch-up of news.  They have been on holiday in Brittany with Piers, Nia and Nia’s widowed father.  They will be with us till Tuesday morning so we spend the next day and a half in low-key mode.  Lis is willing to accompany her brother in the gravel-weeding exercise, John has a novel to read in the sunshine.  Lis is less happy when we go for a spin round Tatihou on Nick’s boat.  She is not a water baby and is glad to step back onto dry land.

We are treated to supper at the Debarcadere on Monday evening.  We have been kept guessing as to when Dan and family will actually arrive.  They have brought their arrival in St Vaast forward a few days after illness knocked out their plans for a weekend at Inshriach.  Nick and I wake up on Tuesday morning expecting them at 2 that afternoon.  At 10 a.m. I get a text to say they are making good time after their trip through the tunnel and along the north coast.  They expect to be with us in just over an hour……………..


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