These winding down days French side have been spent readying the house and garden for a longish absence. We won’t be back for a while and May is critical month for all the plants which are beginning to put on a spurt for the summer months. This means the weather needs to be kind, a meli-melo of warmth and adequate rain. A surfeit of the former will jeopardise all the plants which either live permanently, or are temporarily, in pots. They normally live in small congregations all over the garden but if I am lucky enough to arrange a waterer, they will have to be grouped.
But we still have work to do. Nick is constructing a netted frame to put over the strawberries. They are covered in flowers and have grown amazingly since Rosie put some time in weeding between them, then laying straw. He is also digging along the wall leading to the woodstore to give us a continuous narrow bed to plant up. I will need to edge the extension with scallop shells to match the existing patch. I’ve got plants waiting to go into this bed: Acanthus, a different (wild) Echium, Tournesol (sunflowers), Libertia, Sisyrhynchium. When I remove one of the wild Echium for planting I notice a seedling of the cultivated species in the same pot. I love bonuses and plant this tiny plant near the Chicory. With luck it will grow amazingly during the year.
On the old thyme bed where the Yucca stem might at last be showing signs that it has rooted, I planted out annual poppies around the trunk and some Ipomoea (Morning Glory Heavenly Blue) around a cane pyramid. There are also various creeping Campanula on the corners and two relics of the original thyme plant. When the Hunters were with us Dick bought some Mange Tout seeds and gave me some to sow. The plants are ready for planting out and two rows have been made next to the broad beans. Another task to get done is earthing up the few potato plants which were set for the Cholseys to dig up in August.
Another job that was on my list is the tidying of the potting shed. This was spick and span when we inherited it but we had failed to keep it clean and tidy. Nick has done a marvellous job of restoring it to order and cleaned and oiled the tools.
But mostly it is a question of potting on some large plants into even larger pots and, after Anne has been over to see the extent of the task, I assemble all these pots into groups and site them where they should get rain and some sunshine. When there is a string of dry days it is as much as one can do to keep up with one’s own containers without having to look after those of a neighbour who probably has more contained plants than is sensible! Fortunately it looks as if there will be plenty of strawberries for her to pick and some Globe Artichoke heads to cut.
On Thursday night we were invited to supper with the Poulets. Their mature garden has had some serious attention recently, some thinning of the trees and shrubs has taken place and the view from their conservatory is delightful. Anne has some lovely specimen plants including a Boule de Neige Viburnum which carries large white snowballs of flower and a tree peony with dinner plate size blooms.
The family was celebrating a happy event, their daughter Chloe and son Victor were there, as was Daniel who had provided an entree of poached cuttlefish. The flesh had been meticulously skinned (a very fiddly job) and cut into pieces, body bits and tentacles, and laid out on a plate with no garnish or dressing. The sole accompaniment was a pot of Daniel’s homemade mayonnaise. In truth the white meat looked unappetising – just like tripe and potentially just as rubbery. In reality it was tender, with a delicious flavour and rather rich. With a chicken casserole to follow, cheese, dessert ………..we talked till midnight.
Our day of departure was May Day. In France May 1st is a public holiday and they give Lily of the Valley to their nearest and dearest. You can buy nosegays and rooted flowering plantlets in clay pots from supermarkets and street stalls. I cycled into St Vaast to buy a baguette (Boulangeries are open 365 days a year) and it is a buzz of activity. Much of this activity is focused around Maison Gosselin with its beautifully dressed windows where people cluster to greet each other, and buy from the flower stall outside.
But as we approach midday the crowds diminish. If not your watch, you could at least set your sundial for the middle of the day by observing the melting away of ‘du monde’ when the lunch hours kick in. The French are very respectful of that interlude between 12.30 and 2.30 when, traditionally, French households come together to eat lunch, including the school children.
Fifty years ago I remember learning that Madame would spend the whole morning in the kitchen preparing the meal. These days more families eat more frugally at lunchtime, and perhaps faster food too, but the 2-hour interlude remains immutable. Even the supermarkets shut for lunch!
I’ve cycled into the port several times this week on my Raleigh Sports. Nick thinks it must be getting on for 60 years old and I love it. The saddle is at its maximum extension to accommodate my long pins. As I glide around the streets and along the quay I see everything from a higher level and at a speed that gives its own perspective, different from walking or driving. It is a surprisingly soothing experience.
All day it has been tidy up/shut down time. I don’t enjoy the unrelenting stream of tasks that must be carried out. Until now we have simply worked through all the things that needed to be done, in no particular order, with no structure as to who does what. This must change. It is not cool either for Nick to disappear in the middle of the afternoon because his mate has invited him in, ostensibly to inspect his paintwork, and coincidentally for a beer.
Even though our ferry has an 8.30 pm departure (but we need to be at the port an hour and a half before so that Rooney can be processed), and we have had all day to get ready for the off, we end up throwing the last bits into the car including ourselves. Daniel comes to our gates to wave us off and lock our gates up. Unfortunately he does not notice, as we pull away from the drive, that Nick has left his mobile phone and travel wallet (containing his passport and holiday Euros for Croatia) on the roof of the car……………….