My Perfect Pergola

Having returned for Mark’s party we planned to stay on until the end of the first week in July.  Much of this time would be filled by gardening, I have the bit between the teeth with planting schemes and Nick has found the oomph to build the pergola.  During our stay he does this single-handed; no small feat given the weight of the solid oak uprights.  The finished article is fabulous and before we cross back to France he gets in behind the dark-leaved Sambucus nigra ‘Eva’ Black lace which has put on so much growth this year and cuts back virtually all of the vine we planted a few years ago to await the pergola construction.  Paul gave us this plant, it is a white grape and it will be interesting to see if it is similar to our French vine.  We know the name of neither.  Nick finishes with two strong, woody lengths which he feeds along wire to make contact with the pergola.  Our next task will be to choose some suitable fruit cordons to plant along the uprights and train along wires.

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I have come to terms with the idea that my idea of a wild flower patch along the far wall, between the two flowerbeds isn’t going to work.  We have had a good crop of nettles whose early growth provided leaves for soup but the nicer wild flower seeds I scattered have come to nought.  So I dig up and pot all the cowslips and primroses which had established themselves there and Nick digs over the rest and sieves the soil.  When Paul and Viv call in to see us Paul observes that their father was always a siever, Paul is not.

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I work hard with my pots and buy a few extra plants.  I love the Tibetan cowslip, the bright red Lychnis and the Harebell plants I buy from the lady who has a stall outside her cottage in Martinstown.  IMG_6963 (2)40We are on our way to Abbotsbury where I top up with a lovely dark-leaved Geranium, a fabulous orangey yellow Canna, some so-called ‘Dwarf’ Gladiolus, an Alstroemeria with more reddish colouring to the flowers than the variety I already have, and an interesting plant with a spreading habit and white flowers like Periwinkle but with different leaves, and whose name escapes me.

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On the Sunday before we leave for France we drive to Codford to have lunch with the Allens.  Mike and I have collaborated over a chapter in his book Molluscs in Archaeology and I have two other chapters in the volume.  Getting all the chapters submitted, refereed and polished for publication was at times a rollercoaster ride for Mike and Julie.  I don’t know how Mike kept his nerve.  The finished article is something to be very pleased with and I am delighted to have contributed material based on my work as an environmental specialist.

We sit in their garden of many rooms, and enjoy quiche and salads and bubbly.  We have promised ourselves this small celebration for some weeks, when the going got tough over one of the chapters which gave us grief.  All’s well that ends well, more or less.

Before we board the ferry at the end of the week I have a Splinter lunch with my breakaway reading friends in the village.  We discuss our communal reads and it is my turn to suggest a book.  I offer several titles and we settle around The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent.  I have already read this novel and enjoyed the fact that, having been written in French and is in translation, the style nevertheless retained that ‘je ne sais quoi’ subtlety which French writing often has.

I play some bridge before we leave and enjoy it………..



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.

A Corridor of Sunshine

After the storm we wake to a still, sunny day.  The first thing on my mind is an early morning swim.  The water is welcoming and, as always after the first frisson, it is as Anne Poulet always says “délicieuse”.  I swim back and forth along a shaft of sunlight that warms my face and then my back.  After this, coffee and a slide of bread with lovely butter that has crystals of salt in it is a perfect breakfast.  I love the boat coffee.

We are planning a walk ashore.   We take the Zodiac to the small harbour, le Port des Moines, and spill out onto the small sandy beach there. blogIMG_5321 (2) The island of Saint-Honorat, with its woods and pine and eucalyptus, its old forts and rocky coastline speaks of an earlier, wilder Mediterranean terrain that almost disappeared in many others parts of this region.  The clock tower of the abbey projects above the tallest pines in the mblogIMG_4354 (2)iddle of the island.  We pass and linger in the small lavender grove, bordered by Mickey Mouse cacti which are in flower at the entrance to the monastery.  From the harbour we cross over the spine of the island, arriving on the south coast close to the square fort or “donjon” which dominates this end of the island. blogIMG_5311 (2).jpg This ancient fortified monastery was build in 1073 to protect the monastic community against incursions of Sarrasin pirates. blogIMG_4351 (2) It was a place of pilgrimage including one pope who walked a circuit of the island.  Inside, a cloister surrounds the square courtyard at ground level.  As you climb every higher up the stone spiral staircase the views are “fabuleuses”.  I am the only one to make it to the top.blogIMG_4364 (2)

Rejoining the others at ground level we walk eastwards and complete the half circuit that takes us back to the Zodiac.  We pass one of the seven chapels on this island and several patches of a pretty pale lemon-coloured flower which is very evidently a member of the dandelion family.  Nick encourages me to collect a ‘clock’ or two to sow back home.

blogIMG_4373 (2) Back on ‘Till’, Francois cooks lunch – lightly fried slivers of salmon which we eat with baked tomatoes.  Before lunch I take a dip 🙂

Some of my afternoon is spent on my bunk with my current read ‘March Violets’.  This is a gritty thriller in Philip Kerr’s ‘Berlin Noir’ trilogy.  Late afternoon finds us hauling the anchor ready for the run back to Frejus.  We head eastwards along the channel between the two islands and round the eastern tip of Sainte-Marguerite.  Three kilometres long, it is twice the length of its brother island, but wooded alike and boasts its own forts including that in which ‘le Masque de Fer’ was interned.  We pass this, also the former naval boatyard on the north coast and start the open sea passage back to our home port.

This is another chance to admire that red lithology which dominates the coastline around the Esterel Massif.  These fiery red rocks formed under extrusive volcanic activity in the Permian about 250 million years ago, the younger greenish grey rocks that we notice as lenses protruding through the red are a lithology called Esterellite, named by a French geologist, Auguste Michel Levy.  IMG_4337 (2)These green rocks are younger by some 30 million years and were intruded within the red host rocks in a “muffled volcanic activity” setting.  In Roman times the Esterellite was mined for paving roads and building materials.  There is an arresting example of such a lens which appears starkly green against the red rocks at the sealine near Agay.

Fefe and I chatter on as the men bring the boat back to Frejus.  Every now and then we stop and reach for a scrap of paper and a pen to note some word or phrase which Fefe will want to commit to her ‘cahier’ in which she notes all manner of Englishisms.  Her fat new notebook is my gift, together with an inscribed pen, to encourage her to keep all her vocabulary in one source.

Back in the marina we settle a few tasks then Francois makes asparagus tip and air-dried ham omelettes which have the gooiest middles I have ever eaten.  With a green salad.  And somehow, by the time we have eaten and splashed back a drop or two of wine, sleepiness envelops and it is time to post ourselves back into our letterbox.



Prim, Proper and some Bridges to Cross

It is that time of the year, when banks of primroses grace the roadside verges and you just want to keep stopping the car and take photos.  I captured a few today on my way back from Valognes after an appointment with Manu.  I’ve got primroses out in my garden and there are two clumps underneath the large Euphorbia which grows by the pergola which is covered in Honeysuckle which seem to flower the whole year through.


After our three gastronomic events with friends it was time to eat at home and try to tackle some of freezer stock.  The day before I arrived in St Vaast Nick had been fishing and and taken a good haul of Pollack.  We now have a good stock of large white fish fillets and he has saved me heads and frames to make the other kind of stock, which I find so useful as a base for soups and for poaching.  Once cooked it is a fiddly job to pick the white fish bits of the heads and bones to add to the gluey stock.  I used this to make a big vat of bisque, taking carrots, rice and some leek to thicken the liquid, as well as some of the fish and scallop frills and then some spices.  It has to be bizzed up and the result is an orange seafoody looking bisque which tastes wonderfully savoury and gets stowed away for lunches for forthcoming visitors.

I’m only in France for just under week before I need to board a ferry to return to WK for a Bridge tutorial weekend.  Our tutor Barry is scheduled to teach us for four hours on Saturday and Sunday.  He arrives just after lunch and we settle down to learning some new ‘tricks’.  It is time to find out about the Blackwood convention and with the addition of this system to our repertoire we can hold our heads up and begin to play in the wider world.  We enjoy a meal at The Greyhound in the evening, a chance for the pub to redeem itself after the disastrous serving of crayfish which Barry received last time we treated him to his meal.  On Sunday morning Cybs cooks us a fab full English after which we settle down to another four hours with thirty minutes for tea, coffee and cake.  At the end of all this brain exercise I am quite spent but needs must, and there is a house to re-order for the kids’ Easter break, before I leave on Monday morning to rejoin Nick in la belle France

Golfing Greens and Sea Grass Beds

With the late arrival, on Saturday night, of our Marine Recorder, Simon Taylor, we are nine in residence at Bryn Engan.  Before we head for our shore of the day the five conchologists in our number have time to set up stations in the ‘dry lab’,  Blog-DryLaba small weatherproof outbuilding which harbours a small pool table around which we erect temporary work benches to accommodate our microscopes and associated paraphernalia.

There is also a wet lab of sorts, a larger stable with a ping pong table, which is served by the outside tap where we must sieve our samples.  It works.  We just lack sea water on tap and late on Sunday evening an excursion to a local beach is made to fill the two large plastic containers which Ian Smith has brought.   Blog-PhotoStudioIan needs to set up his photographic equipment and eventually settles on the front porch!

On Sunday our shore of the day is Porth Dinllaen, a stretch of coast which has been surveyed on previous Conch Soc field trips under the auspices of Tom Clifton the former area recorder for Anglesey and the Lleyn.

Porth Dinllaen at Morfa Nefyn, is a rocky peninsula projecting northwards with a small harbour of east side and more craggy and less accessible coast on the west.MorfaNefynInternet  With special dispensation we park at the golf club there and walk the tarmacked right of way that crosses the greens and more than once to the shout of ‘Fore’ we duck because misguided golf balls are heading our way.  To our left as we walk north there is a string of pocket beaches which look promising, if difficult of access.  Some of our number head for the tip of the small peninsula.

I decide to work the east harbour,porthdinllaenInternet and as we are on the shore well ahead of low tide, I focus on the upper shore noting Littorina compressa to be common.  LittorinaCompressa1

Despite careful searching none of us on that shore finds Melarhaphe neritoides nor much else in the way of upper shore crevice dwelling molluscs, although I do later obtain Lasaea adansoni from my Lichina sample.  Blog-2JanZosteraReally I am waiting to see if the ebbing tide will reveal the extensive Zostera beds I recall from previous visits.  Zostera is otherwise known as eelgrass (which is a good name) or seawrack which is a bad name as Zostera is a grass, a flowering plant, not an alga or seaweed.   (At Studland in Dorset there are now seahorses breeding amongst the Zostera there).  ZosteraInternet1Sure enough as more of the sand flats are revealed, so also is the green turf, which losing its buoyancy in the water, flops onto the silty sands losing its grace and mobility, which are features to enjoy when wading Zostera beds in shallow water.  I am stymied for sampling as I have slipped up by forgetting to bring a sieve of suitable mesh size in order to sieve some sediments associated with the sea grass, taking sand from small bare patches where the roots of the sea grass are not disturbed.  Even so I might have expected to see a scattering of shells of the species that inhabit this particular biotope.

We do find valves and fragments of the showy venerid clam Callista chione.CallistaChioneInternet2  This is a large bivalve with a handsome polished shell.  It is also edible although you would be wise to cook Callista first as attempts to swallow it raw and whole may be met with resistance from the large muscular foot.   Unlike the passive and hapless oyster!  My species list for the site is otherwise paltry.  With the law of diminishing returns in force we decide to take our paltry haul of specimens back to the ‘lab’ leaving our stalward Marine Recorder working the little pocket beaches we passed on our way to the shore. Blog-SimonPorthDinllaen

Who ate all the pies?  Well, we did; our evening meal being contributed by Peter whose local butcher makes fine meat pies.  Followed by his blackberry and apple crumbles we are replete and can settle to sorting our samples.

Let’s Split

We have an early flight from Gatwick to Split where we will be joining our sailing friends who keep their boat in Marina Frapa.  Allowing for the customary two hours in advance and the drive, it is at 01.45 that Nick and I pull out of our drive to head for the airport.  Nick finds the airport experience tolerable which is a relief and a Garfunkel’s smoked salmon and scrambled egg breakfast helps.  Arriving in Croatia we are met at the airport by the Derrick’s driver, Amadeus, who delivers us to the quay and Carolyn spots us as we stand dithering about where Verity might be moored.

It is lovely to be back on board and Verity has not aged one bit in the five years since we were on board.  To our delighted it is proposed to stow our bags and set sail promptly for an anchorage off the island of Zirje (“Jeeryay”) and where there is a friendly Konoba which essentially offers us fish or meat.

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That night I sleep long and well and after a healthy muesli breakfast we all take a swim in the deliciously 25 degree sea.  It is a supreme treat to sit under the bimini in the cockpit and read as we head north for our next anchorage which will be Smokvica (“Smokvitza”).

It is, apparently, several years since the Derricks have managed to find an anchorage in the tiny sheltered harbour on the seaward face of the island.  It has always been full by the afternoon, but arriving late morning we are able to tie up to the pontoon below the Konoba Smokvica.  Cue for salad in the cockpit then a siesta.  In the meantime some fellow sailing friends had arrived at Smokvica and there was time for another swim and then donning some shore clothes to join Kantara for drinks.  We then went ashore to the shore to eat at Konoba Piccolo and I enjoyed octopus salad followed by the Peppered steak which is a renowned speciality of the establishment and was delicious.  You have to order it ahead of time and it comes in a steaming clay pot with oodles of creamy sauce………….. and it is rather expensive (300 kuna [£30] a head).

The following morning we went ashore and climbed to the top of the hill where we re-acquainted ourselves with the typical vista of Croatian islands, sparse of vegetation and many uninhabited, rising from the sea like so many dollops of pale limestone.  DSC00130There were some interesting plants, wild aromatic herbs to gather for a bouquet garni.  Nick found a nice fossil scallop, much admired by Fi Young, perhaps I should have parted with it, but objets trouves are something to hug to oneself.  On the way back to the little harbour I bought a terra cotta fish as a houseplant pot decoration then we drank a coffee together, before returning to Verity for salad in the cockpit and a siesta.  I took a swim, incorporating some crunch exercises hanging off the ladder at the stern of the boat.  The Youngs came over to us for pre-supper drinks then we ate for a second evening at the konoba, this time choosing something a bit less expensive but delicious nevertheless: shrimp spaghetti.  The evening became quite raucous, our table being surrounded by Austrian guests including one group of rowdy young men.  We made our way to the boat, gaining access via a neighbour’s passerelle.  I hit the hay, zonk!



A Stately Woodland Bloom beyond the Ricketts’ Picket……… so tempting to pick it.

We made a flying visit to Godalming.  Ted has turned 8 and we had a pottery wheel with accessories to deliver.  He and his mother tried it out over the weekend.


Nick and I were invited to supper with William and Diana and another couple, all these people being very long-standing friends. We sat in their delightful garden……….. ‘just like old times ;)’……….. and whereas we used to talk about kids and schooling, we now talk about old age, aging parents, retirement homes.  But also books, and fellow friends and grandchildren so it is not all Richard Wilson.  The following day I visited the local garden centre and bought some plants and met Diana again, briefly, for coffee.

Ted recently had his Bear Grylls birthday party in the woods behind 88 Pep.  He proudly showed the remains of a shelter they had constructed and I took my camera up to photograph the foxgloves which have multiplied over the years thanks to the unofficial woodland management that is carried out by fellow occupants of the Pep Road houses.  The 8 semis are such a distinctive feature of the Charterhouse Hill settlement.  There is also a tepee that was started donkeys years ago and is now growing beautifully into its setting.  The tepee and the foxglove swathes are evidence that, notwithstanding you can create these features, Chelsea Garden Style,  by clever planting and rustic-effect construction with felled in-situ timber, it takes decades of working with nature to create, in this case, a guileless but subtly managed hillscape beyond a garden picket fence.

On Saturday Nick drove back to Winterborne K to join the village walkers and Charlotte, Ted and I went swimming in the morning, then created a bottom-of-the-fridge soup for lunch.  Afterwards we delivered Ted to his ‘Battlefield Live’ birthday party then Charlotte and I spent a very happy couple of hours hitting the Haslemere boutiques and buying lovely clothes followed by a reviving cup of coffee with lemon drizzle cake.  This was my highlight 🙂

City Kids go Native in Dorset

Lola and Ruby spent half term with us.  It was a time of green fields, flower meadows, wild orchids and arty crafty stuff at the DWT Kingcombe Field Centre. The kids have been there before; the last occasion was Halloween when they enjoyed an evening of activities centred around pumpkins, toffee apples and creepy crawly displays and activities.  This time our outing centred around an Arts and Crafts weekend at the Centre where various artists were demonstrating their crafts and displaying their work.  A Weymouth man, David Metcalf, makes chicken wire wildlife sculptures.  A mouse and a hare, each perched atop a vintage garden fork have now taken up residence in our garden.  Along with a willow butterfly which I picked up recently at the Morcombelake farm shop, on my way back from a flying visit to Cornwall to see Stella who is in hospital, and seeing Hilary B and the Paynes on the round trip.

The girls commented on the ‘green’ everywhere as we drove around.  It must have made an impact.  We had both girls on Saturday for the Kingcombe day and on Sunday their parents joined us at Winterborne K, en route from Wales after a wedding, for a Greyhound lunch at which my mother joined us.  Ruby left in the evening with her parents as she has a few days in the Lake District with a friend.

Lola stayed on.  She and I went to the cinema twice.  We had our own Bake Off competition for which Lola made chocolate cupcakes and I made savoury muffins.  She raided my wardrobe for a bit of dressing up, and Nick and I dusted off some evening garb for a roast chicken dinner one evening.  Lola made a shell picture and she read a lot.  How lovely to see her curled up in my sanctuary chair with her nose in a book.

After her few days of independence as a guest she was ready to rejoin her sister and parents.  I think it was her first stay away from home on her own, so it was a milestone.  We drove her back to Hackney on Thursday, then N and I dropped down to Godalming for a meeting, then home to WK for an early departure from Poole the following morning.



Putting the Garden to Bed

We have had yet another splendid interlude in St Vaast.  Whenever possible Nick and I have spent time in the garden.  By the time departure has arrived Nick has managed to work his magic on the potager and we have a picking of rhubarb to take back to Dorset.  I have continued to rationalise the pot situation, emptying several by planting the contents out.  The hellebore bed is beginning to fill out and there are specials to enjoy.  The Polygonatum is looking lush in the shady bed and a new pale-flowered Vinca is sitting pretty.  I am thrilled with the Cerinthe major plants, which came from seed given to me Kate Brice, and during this stay the dwarf Bearded Iris have flowered and the arc of mauve-flowered iris by the fig tree have been a welcome splash of colour down in the potager.  The parrot tulips in pots, which I just managed to catch before they started to turn, are pretty much finished.  Other containerised plants – Paul’s Primula candelabra and my Primula auricula collection on the iron étagère have pleased me greatly.

I have put in a fair amount of time working on the area under the mimosa tree.  Sadly the largest of the three trunks has died.  We are not really sure how many trees there are so are waiting to see what happens next.  But underneath there are now primroses, cowslips, foxgloves as well as some of the bee orchids and other wild plants.  I am trying to develop a wild aspect to this bit of the lawn and will help it with some wild flower seed mix.

After Maddy and Andrew leave St Vaast we join various friends around a meal table.  I do a ladies’ foursome lunch with Fefe, her friend, Claire at Le Debarcadere, whilst Nick and Francois T go fishing.  Another lunch is taken at Criee de Tomahawk with the Daniells and some Dorset friends, and on our final evening Francois P cooks cote de boeuf.  In the very familiar company of the Poulets and their neighbours I feel we have come full circle since our move to St V ten years ago and we’ll keep right on circulating.

An Excursion Closer to Huismes: Cyclamen Carpets and Wild Flower beds in my Mind’s Eye

On our last full day in the Loire we visited a local monument much closer to Huismes.  Fontevraud Abbey is a former religious building with an illustrious history and which has acted as a cultural centre since 1975, namely the Centre Culturel de l’Ouest, near Chinon.  The abbey was founded in 1100 and became a double monastery, with both monks and nuns on the same site. In the early years the Plantagenets were great benefactors of the abbey and while Isabella d’Anjou was abbess, Henry II’s widow Eleanor of Aquitaine became a nun there.  The tomb of this formidably powerful woman lies in the vaulted nave of the abbey, next to that of Henry II.  As you move down the nave there is a further pair of tombs, those of Richard I of England and Isabella of Angouleme.

We were able to see the Cloister but not the Chapter House because there was a conference of cartoon animators taking place.  How shocked Brigitte and I were  to see them all smoking in the Cloister during their breaks.  It seemed very sacrilegious. Now the abbey functions as an establishment which boasts a restaurant, an hotel, a venue for congresses and conferences and theatrical events.

There is a curious building tacked onto the main structure at one corner.  Various theories as to its purpose have prevailed in the past, until it was proposed as a fish smoking house, for which purpose the building seems structurally eminently appropriate and the fish scale effect of the roof exterior seems to lend credence to this idea. We strolled around the grounds, enjoying dense carpets of cyclamen and flower beds which had been sown with wild flower seed.  Many plants have made their seed-heads but the multi-coloured dazzle of the remaining flowers is gorgeous.

Leaving Fontevraud-l’Abbaye we drove to Saumur where we found somewhere to have a lunch before driving into the heart of Bourgeuil country to seek out wine-growers who Georgy had flagged up as a sources of favourably priced, well-rated Bourgeuil wines.  We found one of them, and enjoyed a brief tour of the site including the cave, finding that our timing was very propitious.  We watched the red grapes being tipped into the juice-extracting hopper, and went inside to taste the juice from one of the vats.   The Lights and the Roux each bought a modest amount of wine, as a souvenir of our wonderful 4 days in the Loire.