Gardening here, gardening there………

After the Hamiltons leave us it is time to get back to full-blown gardening.  We have finally decided to tackle areas of the flowerbeds where they have been pretty much undisturbed for some years.  This involves digging out the soil, wheelbarrowing it over to a ‘processing’ corner where Nick laboriously picks out all the weeds, grass and roots and then sieves the earth into tubs.  It will be mixed with our own compost to make serviceable soil to dig back in, and to use for potting up the seedlings and offsets that are being discovered.

After trying for about five years to sow seed from Mme Heurtevant’s Sweet Cicely, when I get in round the base of the parent plant I find about eight plants quietly getting on with life.  That particular flowerbed contains Yellow Flag, a large Euphorbia, a Daphne odora, an evergreen Honeysuckle, a large Alstroemeria, an Agapanthus, a Forsythia, and Centaurea dealbata.  This latter flower is a child of the plant which Andy planted at 88 Pep as part of his esteemed collection of species when he planted up the newly created garden he masterminded.  Lost within all this foliage is a ‘blue’ rose which, after Nick and I have drastically thinned out that particular border, may be able to thrive.

When I tackle the complementary bed on the other side of the path that leads from the terrace out onto the lawn I find a myriad tiny seedlings of Sarcococca hookeriana as well as about a dozen decent small plants.  This all has to be rooted out and then I am able to replant uprooted Schizostylis coccinea – the Kaffir Lily under the shrub.  Again much foliage is cut back.

I notice that in amongst the poppies and other wild flowers which are allowed to bloom around the Mimosa there are splashes of blue, and it means that at least some of the wild flower seed I cast in that area has germinated.  I hope the Cornflowers will now continue to flower there as long as we leave the wild unmown patch.  As the weather is dry I put out my willow goose and cockerel to add a bit of interest.

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The weather is very hot and although Nick and I are on a mission to ‘get back control’, get some exercise and lose weight (too much wonderful food in South Africa) I find I have to work for perhaps an hour then retreat indoors and find another task.  No shortage of those!  There are jobs to do all over the garden so it is a matter of chasing the shade as the sun traverses from east to west over our south-facing house.

After the weekend during which the Tuttles arrive, we then have them over for supper on Monday evening.  We socialise again on Wednesday when Dede and Francoise invite us for supper after the hottest day of the year so far, and according to BBC news, record highest temperatures in parts of the UK.  The following morning I cycle down to the slipway by the oyster park.  It is high tide and I meet up with the Burnoufs and their other guests of the previous evening for a swim.  The key factor is that is high tide, so the sands and the oyster tables are nowhere to be seen.  There are just some steps to descend and then Plouf, into the sea.  With the seawall and the side of the slipway it feels a bit like a seawater swimming pool.  The following morning I repeat the exercise with Anne, having sold the idea to her the previous evening when the Poulets came over for curry.  They brought Noe with them and I was all set to give him his spaghetti Bolognese when his mother arrived to take him home to bed.  Another time I will make sure his meal is ready when he arrives in order to avoid the sight of his sad little face as he wished me goodnight 😦

Late on Friday night Nick and I fetched up in Poole and we are almost the last to check through customs.  We have Cybs and Eamonn staying with us for the next two nights as they have a family event.  We have come back for Mark the Greyhound’s 50th.  I spend a good hour watering into the early hours of Saturday.  During the day we tackle garden no. 2 and Nick makes good headway with the pergola he is erecting.  Once plants have been rescued from the brink I can put it off no longer.  Strawberries must be harvested before too many more rot away.  I find fruit-picking such a chore, so boring.  Nick and I spend an hour picking about 12lb of fruit.  IMG_6949 40Then it has to be picked over, quality control……  I chuck out squishy fruit onto the lawn for the blackbirds to pick over…………..Cue jam, ice cream, freezing, feed supper guests on Wednesday.    As we eat home-grown globe artichokes, asparagus spears, new potatoes, rhubarb – some of this produce brought across from France – it does give us pleasure to feel that we provide a regular if small input into our diet.  The jury is out on the gooseberries we picked just before leaving.  Let’s hope these gooseberries don’t make fools out of us!

The Sound of a Cock Porping

These memorable words were uttered by me during the delicious dinner that our house guests had treated us to, on the last evening of their recent stay chez nous.  Rosemary and James had taken us to the Hotel Fuchsias, an establishment we are fortunate to have just five minutes along our road.  Screw-top wines are pretty much unheard of in France and the sound of a cork as it is drawn from a wine bottle is unmistakeable and presages the deeply satisfying experience of the first sip of good French wine.  Unless, of course, the wine is ‘cocked’.  Which it wasn’t 🙂

Our guests are on their way to Mayenne, an area we had not heard of, and after people make landfall at Cherbourg we at St Vaast La Hougue are ideally placed for friends and family who plan a stay further afield in France and would like to make a stopover to see us.  Our dinner had followed a very agreeable afternoon spent at le Jardin botanique du Chateau de Vauville. 452c52c6c31516534ac43ea259824176 The garden was begun in 1947 and wanders over four hectares on a windy site within 300 metres of the sea.  Wikipedia tells me that it contains more than 900 semi-tropical species of plants from the southern hemisphere set within windbreaks of diverse Eucalyptus and bamboo. Collections include Aloe, Phlomis, Euphorbia, Hemerocallis, Agapanthus, Gunnera, Echium pininana, and  palm trees.

The gardens are one of the first destinations we visited when we first moved to France.  On one occasion we went there with Pam and Andrew Tompsett and the impression we gained from Andrew was that here was a garden in need of rather better management.  This time it was rather sad to see that the owners appear to have decided, but perhaps by default, to run with all the plants that will grow like topsy, and diversity has dropped considerably.  They are also allowing space to adventives such as Iris foetidissima.  IMG_6471 (2)40 I still think that two of the most impressive ‘rooms’ are the Bamboo Theatre and the High Forest of Palms.  IMG_6466 (2)40Throughout there are still wonderful trees there, notably statuesque Eucalyptus and interesting conifers.  Earlier in the year you can enjoy the Camellia, Rhododendron and Azalea and now it is the turn of the Hydrangea which are just beginning to flower. IMG_6477 (2)40

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There are many unusual shrubs too but the under-storey is now very depleted.  There is just one tiny colourful corner where some unusual flowers abound. It was lovely to find Bletilla in flower. IMG_6497 (2)40 I should love to try this in my garden.   I doubt the garden still boasts 900 plant species.  Even the circular lawn which used to be ringed by Agapanthus and Hemerocallis has changed shape and character and there are rather too many spiky Cordyline.  And then there are the water bodies which have been completely taken over by Gunnera.  Happily one of the ponds at Le Jardin de la Sagesse had a population of cute little frogs whose colours were metallic in appearance.  I don’t think they are native species.IMG_6494 (3)40 There are stone seats and some sculptures.  My favourite stone feature is the Green Man who is carved into the wall by the Chemin des Fougeres and whose perimeter is clad by Trachelospermum jasminoidesIMG_6482 (2)40To the best of my belief the chateau itself has not been opened to the public and remains a private residence.  IMG_6488 (2)40You get glimpses of it above the high walls and there is a corner where you can peer over a picket fence which runs along a wall by a back gate.  We’ve been visiting Jardin du Chateau on and off since we came here in 2005 and it has been interesting to observe the ecological succession that has taken place.  Aided and abetted I think by a lack of resources, human and financial, on the part of the owners to stay on the case…………… But it still makes a good afternoon outing.

 

Two Good Walks and Parting Shots

It’s to be a weekend of exercise and as much restrained eating as I can manage.  It’s a simple equation: x calories in and y calories out.  My x and y values must be equal at the very least and preferably the value of y should exceed the value of x.

It’s the second Saturday in the month and with typical village rigour this means it’s a day for the Winterborne Walkers.  Sheila has planned us a route that starts from The Woodpecker pub in Charlton Marshall.  The walk makes a circuit back to the pub and will start with a bit of a climb to Spetisbury Rings then loops round taking in Crawford Bridge and a lovely little church with Medieval wall paintings,  tucked into a secluded corner of countryside.  The beautiful of Crawford Bridge (listed as a scheduled monument in 1955) gives us a wonderful view of clear water, swans including a family with five fluffy pale mink-coloured cygnets, and a heron.  IMG_6433 (2)40

Later we arrive at the St-Mary-the-Virgin Church at Tarrant Crawford.  This simple church dates back to the 12th century, and is all that remains of a wealthy Cistercian nunnery – the 13th century Tarrant Abbey – to which it may have been a lay chapel. Our way takes past several water bodies and across a raised path with railings which incline pleasantly outwards.  The environs appear to be part of a large landscaped garden but although we have passed several residential properties it is not clear to whom this garden might belong.IMG_6451 (2)40 As we continue we also get a second sighting of a swan family below a small bridge, Aand as we watch the birds it is fascinating to see that the young mimic the body posture of the adult who appears to be in charge.  Must be the mother……..IMG_6442 (2)40The walk route we have taken is very agreeable and later when I surf to look for a particular bit of information I come across this website, which describes several walks taking The Woodpecker as the starting point.

The following day we have planned to walk with Maddy and Andrew on Portland, at Church Ope.  As a spontaneous and last minute decision son Dan and Jake had booked into The Old Workshop overnight with a view to climbing at The Cuttings on Portland.  Unlike a lot of Portland, the limestone walls at The Cuttings are not natural; as the name suggests, they are the remains of an old railway cuttings. The railway itself, which serviced the island’s quarries, is now long gone, but it has left a crag with easy access.  Dan and Jake head off after breakfast to stake their claim and we rendez vous with M and A in the carpark opposite the Museum at 11.

We walk along the cliff top, following the track of the old railway until we can progress no further, our passage being prevented by The Verne.  Instead we clamber down onto the area known as Penn’s Weare, as described by the blogger on this website.  The topography is undulating but a bit craggy too and the area is popular for those who like to go bouldering.  This is a lovely area to walk, the flora is wonderful and diverse.  I see several spent ‘flowerheads’ of a Broomrape and eventually find one in perfect condition. There are 200 species of Orobanche so I feel I have little hope of identifying my specimens although there is one species O. hederae which parasitizes ivy exclusively and there was certainly some ivy around.  IMG_6464 (2)40 The tiny florets of Pyramidal orchids are just beginning to open. IMG_6457 (2)40 We continue until we come to the cliff top on the eastern margin of Church Ope Cove.  We scramble down a narrow steep track with my enemy ‘scree’ very much in evidence.  Thank goodness for my walking pole which gives me a third leg.  And for the hand of Nick.

The steps up from the cove are a bit taxing but welcome…………….. calories out.  The four of us head for the Cove Inn at Chesil where we order lunch (calories in and too many!) and are shortly joined by the climbers.  Dan treats us all to lunch.

The following day is a busy one, I must prepare the garden for our leave of absence (which means moving a number of pots to sites where they will not bake), drive into Dorchester to collect a couple of items, visit my mother.  Nick adds a bit more wood to the pergola he is constructing in the garden.  In the afternoon Joy and Tricia pay us a visit and I must abandon them to Nick.  We are getting dab hands at this commuting business.  Just before supper and with the early evening sun smiling down upon the garden, I take a few photos.

We go to bed not too late and rise an hour earlier than we normally do in order to leave the house feeling calm and collected.  We achieve this.

 

Emerging Spring Blooms

Before we close up the house I grab my iPad and make a quick tour of the garden.  In truth I have not carried out quite as much taming as I had hoped.  Where the time has gone, well it just has.  So how does our garden grow and what is showing its floral head?

We are coming to terms with the loss of the major part of our largest Mimosa tree.  When Nick ‘phoned me from France to tell me what had happened I imagined a yawning space on the lawn with a clear view from the house to the little wooden shed at the end of the ornamental area of our garden.  In truth, the small part of the trunk/branch which survived does offer some screening.  If it survives and flourishes, and this is not a given since some of the rootstock was wrenched to the surface where the tree listed to the point that it  hit the garden wall, then it will gradually expand to fill the gap.  And there are one or two Mimosa saplings who may have been given their chance too.  One determining factor will be the presence of the fungus that infested the fallen tree.  If the mycorrhizae are still in the ground……..

The other victim to that extreme bout of frosts and cold high winds was our much loved lemon tree.  Since we moved to the house in 2005 it has yielded lemons continuously.  The fruits mature over a longer interval than one year, it is not seasonal and at any one time we have buds, blossom, baby lemons, green bullets and mature yellow fruits.  We have to pick the lemons and keep them for at least 3 weeks before we could consider them ripe, that is when the skin is pliable and the flesh inside is juicy.  Only then are they user-friendly.

Two shrubs have given great cause for delight.  The Chaenomeles japonica which I planted in the early days has put on a reasonable display this year.  When I planted it I knew that it was going into very poor ground.  The soil was very rubbly and reflected the fact that much of the back garden was given over to carparking and general neglect when our house functioned as the premises for an insurance company.

The other shrub is a triumph however and I think that it has and will continue to benefit from the opening up of its local environment as a result of the tumbled tree.  I planted three Camellia bushes and they have had mixed fortunes.  Soil type is, of course, critical but I think I haven’t always kept the ground around the plants clear of encroaching ground cover which is one of my good friends, except when it does what is meant to, to excess!  I lifted one very sick, yellow-leaved plant and put it in a pot.  It has recovered well.  The raspberry ripple variety is covered in flowers and the red one which was completely overshadowed by the Mimosa has more flowers than I have ever seen.  I’ve still a way to go with my Camellia but I see they are cause worth fighting for.

Apart from these individuals whom I have singled out for mention all the usual suspects are doing well.  The daffodils, the Helleborus, my good friend Daphne odora, can be relied upon to give pleasure.

At the front of the house my various pots and containers are showing flashes of colour.  One little group of plants is doing particularly well.  Tucked behind the woodpile I have a pot with a rather spindly conifer.  I cannot bring myself to dispense with it because it brings a bit of height to my plantings and I am sentimental about plants and why put a living plant down unnecessarily?  So this small conifer with various sparse foliage lives on, a remnant of the plants we inherited when we bought the house in 2005.  At that time it was planted in the small, raised pie segment of a bed in the corner underneath the Trachelospermum which clads the southwest wall of our façade.  Beneath the naked stem of this conifer there is carpet of blue Chionodoxa and I love them. IMG_6762 (2)

 

 

Not Exactly Silver Bells and Cockle Shells

At the end of half term week we take the girls back to Hackney.  Emsie cooks us a delicious roast chicken dinner then we head back to Winterborne Kingston.  A sustained interval of visitors and visiting has drawn to a close.  We face a month in our Dorset home before we repair to St Vaast at the beginning of December to prepare for Christmas.  I have many tasks I would like to tackle, some are long-standing and involve rooting out cupboards, weeding out drawers, organising and arranging the trappings of my life.  Above all I want my garden back.  I began to lose it in April and May.  By the end of June when we returned from France after our three week sojourn in the south of France I had acquired a wildflower meadow.  The borders had run rampage.  Fortunately I had made the decision back in May to vacate many of my pots and leave them with montages so I did not have many dried out and shrivelled plants to dispose of once autumn arrived.  There is a resident in the village who is a keen gardener and grows an assortment of plants which he sells and gives the proceeds to charity.  I walk round to Broad Close to see what he has to offer and buy small Viola, Primula, Wallflowers and small Cyclamen.  I spend £40 and get all the plants I need to populate the pots I have waiting in the wings, some of which, with bulbs, will be overplanted.

Out of the blue I get a message from Barns enquiring whether we will be about over the weekend of the 12th. img_6426 Fortunately we will although I have committed the Saturday morning to a pro-EU group who are running an Outreach stall in Bournemouth.  This will be my first experience of lobbying, in a minor way, out on the streets.  Meanwhile Barney and the children will join Nick for the village walk during the morning.  After my ‘reaching out’ I get home before the others return after their pub lunch.  The rest of the weekend is spent playing games, eating good food and on Sunday we do a walk in the morning which does push me to my limits.  Barns proposes we drive to Worth Matravers, walk to St Alban’s Head, along the coast to the cliffs above Chapman’s Pool and back to the car.  This entails those nightmare steps which need to be negotiated in order to cross the deep valley running down towards the coast.  We count 217 down and about 180 up the other side but there is a stretch of unstepped slope on the up side.  I complete the ‘crossing’ having found it extremely taxing.  (My leg muscles will ache for at least four days afterwards).  After a delicious slow-roasted shoulder of lamb Barns loads the kids into the car with all their clean laundry and drives the back to Oxfordshire ready for school the next day.

A relatively uneventful week ensues, culminating in a pleasant inaugural lunch at The Old Workshop to launch Splinter, a somewhat conspiratorial group of erstwhile village book group members.  Four of us eat my quick version Paella followed by Lemon mousse, choose our first joint title to read for discussion and decide on other titles that we have variously either read, or intend to read and which we will talk about as and when.  The following day I am going to drive to Sandford Orcas to forage for a basket with Kim.

Our Winterborne Wildness

After a very short interval in St Vaast after our French Riviera sojourn, I hotfooted it back to Winterborne K.  My sister is going to be staying with me for a few weeks whilst her knee heals after surgery for a replacement.  And my dear mother is now installed in her new residential home and after a month’s absence I am keen to find out how she is and whether she is settling in.  When I came to book my return journey to Dorset I nearly failed to get a ferry crossing on my chosen travel date because our neck of the woods in Normandy has been the focus for the Tour de France and many Brits have chosen to make long weekend of it.  Fortunately I can cross to Portsmouth and Liz picks me up on Monday evening.  My sisters are in residence.

Liz offered to mow it for me before I get back but I suggested she leave it for me to sort out.  .elty and a treat.  On my first night back we three go to our separate beds, sharing a house on our own for the first time for goodness knows when.  Maybe ever!   My home is ideal for convalescence – Chris can function on one floor level with her bedroom and adjacent bathroom.  In the end she will stay with me for another two weeks.

Liz has already warned me that our lawn is overdue for a mowing.  Arriving at the house I glance out of the kitchen glass doors and such a surprise greets the eye.  In our four week absence a transformation has taken place and I have a wild flower meadow consisting of yarrow, white clover, black medick, Medicago lupulina and self heal, Prunella vulgaris.  There is a certain amount of zoning of these plants which creates a patchwork of the low-growing, creeping species – the yellow and purple of the black medick and purple self heal, and the more upright flower stems of yarrow, together with the white clover carpet creating a third medium.  Overall I could not have planned a better planting arrangement.  Nature has given my garden a makeover.  When Nick returns he mows a small wavy diagonal path across making it all look very proper .    blogIMG_6145 (2)

After my return I am very keen to visit Mum in her new home.  When I arrive she is sitting comfortably in the lounge with the large picture window.  She is in good spirits and manages to accompany me, using her zimmer, to look at her room which has been beautifully organised.  My visit is a pleasure for us both and how much nicer her living environment is now.

It is going to be Open Gardens weekend in our village in a couple of days.  The front gravels are looking very untidy and uncared for with scattered weeds across the open area and a greening around the edges.  I have to get down on my hands and knees and attack the worst offenders.  After some hours and satisfied that the gravels look reasonably presentable, I go to Homebase and buy some plants to dress the porch to my study and freshen up the large glazed pots.  Because we will be away at the weekend I ask Chris to stick the chicken wire mouse fork into a pot on Sunday and I then feel that our frontage will present a respectable face to visiting passers-by.

Gardening Notes

With a view to temporary abandonment of my gardens I have been scurrying around dealing with the largest and most persistent weeds, and have been taking remedial and cosmetic steps to keep things looking pretty.   There has been enough rain in the most recent weeks to ensure lushness and healthy green growth.  Now, more and more splashes of colour are appearing around the borders.

I’ve had pickings of sorrel, globe artichokes and rhubarb.  Last year’s runner bean seeds which Nick happened upon in the workshop have germinated.  There are loads of figs on the tree – surely enough for us and the greedy blackbird who sets up residence.  There is a reasonable crop of gooseberries.  Nick and I cannot agree whether to pick them whilst unripe to freeze for pies and the like.  I fear the wood pigeons will steal a march on us.

All in all things must take their chance.  I’ve taken a few photos so we can see how things are looking in three weeks’ time….

 

Barfleur Crossings and Potty Endeavours

Since March Nick and I have been living a restless life.  Never in one country for more than a fortnight at a time, with intervals sometime less than that, our weeks have been peopled with friends and family in both our countries of residence.  We like visitors, and I at least, enjoy a shifting stage on which to live my life.  Nick is less convinced so some of my exploits have been solo efforts.  Like Orkney, and my time in Godalming when I cared for Ted whilst Demi was on holiday.

With the arrival of Jenny and Lesley in St Vaast we then find ourselves at the end of our hosting activities for the time being.  When we shift our location next time we will be going to join some dear friends on their boat at Frejus with a 3-week sailing spell in view.

In recent weeks I have been crossing the Channel on the Barfleur for a mid-week interlude, in order to visit my mother, play some bridge and when I can, tidy up the garden, notably the pots.  potsIMG_6011 (2)Although the winter in Dorset was not generally severe, there were a couple of very cold snaps when the temperatures descended into the minuses and I lost quite a lot of tender plants which I had raised in St Vaast.  All the tulips and daffodils I grew in pots are spent too so they need to be placed in a sheltered place and fed.   With summer in view I need to be pragmatic.  Things in pots do well during autumn, winter (if I choose the plants wisely) and spring.  Because there is enough rain.  Trying to have summer bloomers in pots only ends in tears when the weather is dry and I am not there to water.  So my new strategy is to leave these pots fallow and set ‘arrangements’ on them.  No shortage of shells, pebbles, boulders and other objets d’art chez moi!  And if a few pretty weeds sprout around my arrangements well that’s ok.  Whilst I am at it I haul out jugs which I keep in various cupboards and create a random.JugRandomIMG_5961 (2)

On one of my visits with Mum I take some of our holiday scrapbooks.  When my children were young in the late 70s and early 80s we had a series of hols in Cornwall and my parents joined us.  BessysCoveThese were happy times of the classic seaside holiday and we made scrapbooks using pictures, bits of writing, postcards and assorted tickets, pressed flowers and the like.  I thought these would be fun for the children to look back on in adulthood and their own children love looking at them too.  That this is an activity which gives so much pleasure to my mother is a real bonus.  When we first started going to Cornwall our first couple of visits were based at Port Isaac but then we discovered Prussia Cove and we never looked back.

Two Feminists and A Man and his Woodpile

We’ve felt a bit like Mecca these past weeks with a succession of ‘pilgrims’ fetching up at our establishment.  Latest in the line of travellers are Jenny and Lesley who have come to France for a week with a stop-over at 104 at the beginning and end of their sojourn.  I am lately back from England when they arrive at our house having spent 3 nights in Carnac near the Quiberon Peninsula.  They are full of the rocks, the countryside, wild plants they don’t know the names of, the Madame who ran the chambres d’hote at which they stayed.

My role and pleasure is to welcome them, feed them and as it turns out, listen……… and listen again and then a bit more.  Jenny is Nick’s sister and they are long-standing sparring partners when it comes to social issues, politics and above all, feminism.   remorqueIMG_5962 (2) Nevertheless Lesley and I get a generous look-in when it comes to conversing.  Whilst we have our visitors Nick is on the final stages of transporting the fully logged beech tree that he and Francois cut down earlier in the spring.  All our storage allocation at the rear of the house is now full so a neat stack is  built along the wall on the front drive.  blogIMG_6009 (2)It is a pretty neat and regular structure but I learn that Nick has some fancier ideas for a wood-pile which he has gleaned from the award-winning book, Norwegian Wood.  This is the definitive handbook on the art of chopping, stacking and drying wood in the Scandinavian way.  He’d better get on with his project because where the wood is stacked at the moment the agapanthus plants, which have seeded themselves along the wall of our property are shielded from the sun and unless they receive some good light and sunshine I fear they may not flower this summer and they will be much missed.

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Of Cycads and Cyclamen and an evening with Cybs.

I make a flying trip to Dorset to fulfil a few engagements.  Firstly my crown needs some attention and Mrs Ilankovan does the honours with minimum intervention and I hope it will hold.  There is a gathering of Book Group to discuss The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver about which I feel a bit ambivalent but am willing to, in a sense, give her the benefit of my doubt because it is a first novel and this novelist has gone on to write some storming stuff.  I manage a short visit to Chestnuts to see Mum and am a bit dismayed to find her off kilter, an angry personage and so I bundle us both into the car and we drive to Swyre to gaze at the boisterous sea, to watch a fisherman togged for cold and wet weather trudge back to his car with a codling on a string and to simply enjoy the greenness of winter fields full of sheep and the rolling slopes of Dorset countryside as we drive the coastal road between Weymouth and Bridport.  That evening there is a gathering of my bridge coterie at the Workshop.   On Thursday I give my sisters a lamb curry and we have a board meeting.  The following morning I am expecting a lift with Eamonn to catch my ferry from Poole but am nonplussed to arrive at the cottage to find he has already left for work.  Fortunately Cybs is able to put things right with a phonecall and he turns around to come back and fetch me.

Back in France I now have a good two weeks in view with the prospect of time to choose, and one choice is to catch up with our entertaining schedule.  We have been on the receiving end of delicious hospitality in recent weeks and it is payback time.

A particularly enjoyable lunch has been eaten chez Taille.  Francois seemingly lives to cook.  Along with fellow guests Andre and Francoise Burnouf we are regaled with escargots (‘les petits gris’ = Cornu aspersum) prepared by Taille neighbours, followed by Francois’ signature dish of Coquille St Jacques en croute – we’ve had these before chez Taille.  The meal is wrapped up with a Galette des Roi.

As it happens I have recently taken a Jamie Oliver recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala on board.  Cooking curries for our French friends works well generally speaking, with the exception of certain people who should most appropriately eat at the fussy boys’ table.  In particular my dear friend Fefe has expressed a liking for this dish so I am going to master it and cook it at least three times before the end of the month.  My guinea pigs are F. and la Poulette, hotfoot from Burma where they have spent two weeks travelling under their own steam and look very well on the experience.  It goes down well and even better three evenings later when I regale the Daniells and the Tenorios with the same recipe.  All bodes well for the Sunday lunch we will offer the Tailles and the Andres.

Meanwhile in the garden there is enough of break in the seemingly endless cold, wet and windy weather to enable me to get outside and achieve.  I remove the dead Cycad from a large terra cotta pot which frees it up for a SkimmiaMelianthusResizeThe little red cyclamen which gave good decorative service for our Christmas in Winterborne K can be pot-planted as companions to larger shrubs.  There is plenty of cutting back and dead-stemming to do and in the process I find nice Echium plants to fulfil orders from Liz, along with young Acanthus and Geranium madarense which will also find favour at Hawkchurch.  There are scattered flowerings around the garden, plants which have refused to go to bed seemingly and some which have woken up far to early.  I am thrilled to see that the Melianthus major which Paul gave us has continued to grow and is sporting three flower heads.  Its potential is significant and I begin to have a vision of a garden which is evolving to feature fewer, but choice, plants in the future.