Outdoor Living

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One of the greatest things  I have found out about blogging is that sometimes it’s an excuse to do all sorts of things I might otherwise never think of! During some gorgeous weather this week I played around with outdoor-dining, and for each meal I set the scene slightly differently. I cannot tell you how much fun it was, it felt a little like being on holiday!

But first, a very Happy Mother’s Day to everyone in America! Here in France we have to wait a little longer until the end of May for our equivalent celebration. For many people Mother’s Day often means a special meal with the family either at home or in a restaurant. This got me thinking about table settings and creating the perfect ambience, particularly as we have finally had fabulous weather here and have virtually lived and eaten outdoors every day. Amazingly this constant sunshine has also coincided with a four-day weekend as both Thursday and Friday were holidays. As a result delicious smells from the barbeque have replaced the smell of woodsmoke from the chimney and doors and windows have been flung open. The garden chairs have been dusted off, their cobwebs and spiders removed, and they’ve been dragged to shady spots around the garden where various children can read undisturbed by noisy siblings. The whole show has moved outside!

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There is nothing I love more than al fresco dining. To start with it’s just great to finally eat in the fresh air again, but as the months pass we start to take it for granted and by the end of summer the magic wanes a little as autumn draws in. To curb this, I thought we’d try a few changes this year. Rather than always eating on the terrace we’ll move around, seeking new places to put the table. As a result, the last four days have been interesting, to say the least. We’ll see how long the children will put up with carrying food to the far corners of the garden (Roddy has suggested we buy a trolley with big fat tyres – he might be on to something). Variety is the spice of life, is it not?

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From the early morning smell of croissants warming in the oven to the night-time gentle purr of the dishwasher, food plays a large role in our lives, especially at the weekend or during holidays when the children are at home and friends often visit; sometimes most unexpectedly. Meals take on a more relaxed feel and Roddy is forever conjuring something up out of a fridge laden with leftovers. Whoever is around will be seconded to help.  Someone will lay the table while someone else grabs a pot of flowers from the garden and makes it look pretty. It is always informal and casual; simplicity in its truest form. The greatest pleasure is the combination of good food and company, whether it’s just us with the children, or other people and friends appear to join us. If a glass or two of wine miraculously appears as well then life is complete.IMG_6215

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Even a sandwich tastes a whole lot better lounging on a picnic rug under the shade of the Magnolia than sitting at the kitchen table!

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A couple of days ago I couldn’t resist bringing the fern from the sitting room outside, I wanted something plain that would not steal the wisteria’s limelight.

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Just occasionally, perhaps for a birthday or a celebration I’ll try and make it really special, and for an element of surprise I’ll take the silver outside; it totally changes the mood, it gives the atmosphere quite a decadent feel.

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Having been brought up in England where summer warmth cannot be taken for granted, dining al fresco is a privilege. I think just being outside fuels the soul. But above all for me it’s the seasons that make this all so special. I really think we need the seemingly endless winter months as a counterpart to the time when spring arrives and we can literally revel in everything she brings with her. This spring one of our new favourite places to sit is on the old stone by the pond watching the fish and the frogs. It seems no one can walk down the garden without taking a moment to pause here and spend a few minutes.

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I wonder, do you have a favourite place outside? Whether it be for a cup of tea, a glass of bubbly or a three course meal, do you try and sit somewhere pretty?  Even if you simply take a vase of flowers and put them on a table beside you, I hope you’ll let me know where you end up.

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And finally I have a little tip from Jeff, our amazing chef who stayed with us last week. Homemade cheese-straws. Of course they taste incredible with his own puff pastry, but if you haven’t got hours to make your own (and let’s be honest most of us don’t) then simply use a packet of bought puff-pastry. Roll it out as thin as possible, almost like a sheet of paper, and sprinkle one half with grated cheese (we use a strong cheddar). Fold it over and then roll it as flat as you can again. Then once again sprinkle one half with cheese and fold again. Roll flat once more and then cut into fat pencil shaped lengths. Twist and bake at around 180C/350F for 15 – 20 minutes. They can be made in advance and kept until needed (for some reason they never seem to last that long in our kitchen), or served warm straight from the oven. They’re terribly simple, and the most perfect and tasty accompaniment for apéritifs outside on the lawn!IMG_2404

 

70 thoughts on “Outdoor Living

  • Susan you have outdone yourself this week! I love the idea of being able to throw together a meal outside and we have just about reached the right temperature over here to be able to do so. The photo of the two dogs with their wine is lovely, be sure to save some for yourselves!

    • Hi Lily, thank you so much, it was all such fun! I heard the UK also had some fabulous temperatures this week and hope you were able to get outside and enjoy it. The dogs are never far from me when I am in the garden. Bentley loves to lie in the sun and Evie just loves to pose! Have a lovely remainder of the day, Susan x

  • Lovely pictures. And that wisteria!! Wow! Really enjoyed this, and I will make a bit more effort when setting up outside for the next evening meal. Thank you for sharing and inspiring

    • Hi, thank you! The wisteria really is the star of the show at the moment but the petals are falling fast and so we have to make the most of it! I guess I’m lucky to have so many little helpers to help carry back and forth plus they are always so appreciative it makes it all worthwhile. Enjoy the rest of today, Susan x

  • I always love eating outside when I’m in France. There are no flies! No mosquitos, at least at my friends’ homes or in areas where we rent. In the States, we eat outdoors but more often than not on a screened porch (protection). You are also lucky to have so much land, so many lovely places in your garden to set up a table. Most of us don’t have more than an acre. Se eat on our decks (not common in France) or on our screened porches. We may not have the beautiful variety this way but at least we do get a chance to feel and smell the fresh air!
    Your table settings are all lovely.

    • Hi Jacqueline, I remember always eating inside the screened porch in Florida only too well. We only have just over an acre here and a third of that is now given over to the chickens! I just love the thrill of being able to eat outdoors, as you so rightly say it’s the smell of the fresh air. Have a lovely Sunday, Susan x

  • Susan, that wisteria is just stunning. What fun moving from spot to spot outside so it stays fun eating outside. I hope to eat outside a couple times soon before the heat and humidity set in. Just waiting on a table and chairs to arrive.

    • Hi Kim, thank you! It was rather fun moving around. Our neighbour’s came over one evening and their son was so excited to see we had moved the table and were eating in a different place, it was the perfect reaction and made me realise how important mixing things up a little is! Fortunately here we now have a long outdoor season, so long as the rain stays away!!! Can’t wait to see the new table and chairs! Susan X

  • What a great theme. You have captured the essence of Summer for me. It is still chilly here but I am looking forward to my own al fresco dining. I am doing some redecorating of a back porch this year and cannot wait to spend time there. Such beautiful photo’s have given me more ideas. Thank you.

    • Hi Lucy, thank you so much. Being outdoors for me is also what summer is all about and I just can’t get enough of it! I hope your porch will be finished just as your warmer weather arrives and you can spend many many hours enjoying it. I like to think of the terrace or porch as another room during the warmer months. Susan x

  • How beautiful, and I love the idea of moving around the outdoor tables.
    Here in Boston, the Spring has been so cold our wisteria is just starting to emerge from dormancy. We’ll be in the Charente at the end of the month, looking forward to some warmth!

    • Hi Amy, we have found it rather fun to move things around! Our weather has been most bizarre too. Anything that flowers early in the spring like the wisteria came early and is almost over thanks to the very mild winter. But herbacious perennials which need warm spring weather are much behind last year as we had such a cold April, our poor plants are so confused! However May has brought much warmer weather and the night time chill has gone so hopefully you will have lovely weather when you are here! Susan x

  • Here in Seattle, we’ve had a very early warm spring and started eating outside in April with even our roses putting in an early appearance. No wisteria in our garden alas, but the tree sized snowball bush is covered with fluffy white balls. It is lovely to eat outside in the spring with neighbor cats popping over the fence for a visit.
    Your garden looks lovely and I like the idea of wheels on your table…

    PS we’re mostly bug free in Seattle with only the wasps showing up in August to annoy us.

    • Hi Patricia. I had never heard of a snowball bush and have looked it up. I hope I am right in that it is a type of Viburnum? It looks gorgeous, I love white flowers on anything. Our roses are terribly late this year, in bud but no flowers because we had such a terribly cold April. We are not too troubled by bugs, some mosquitos but nothing that stops us from eating outside and like you we do get wasps, but we get used to them! Have a lovely week, Susan x

  • We have three separate dining areas in our garden–a covered patio on the pool house, a pergola and the terrace with the outdoor kitchen. Depending on wind and sun and temperature, we eat outside even in winter (that’s when the choice is a well-protected, sunny spot on the terrace). The favorite, though, is the pergola, under a big tree, surrounded by a low stone wall that creates an open-yet-cozy outdoor room. We made roll-down shades to cut the sun at the height of summer, and the bamboo roof keeps leaves from falling into the food from the tree above. We tend to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner there all summer long.

    • Hi, your dining areas sound quite perfect. Sadly it’s rarely warm enough to eat outside year round here although we might take a coffee in the sheltered walled courtyard garden. When we lived in Provence we used to eat outside virtually all winter. I remember once putting the thermometer on the table on the terrace outside the house in full sun and it went up to 102F in January! As you can probably tell I just love eating outside! Happy Mother’s Day, if you still celebrate the American day. Susan x

  • Wonderful photos Susan. We have a favourite spot near the end of the garden. Yes it is a little way away…but with a big tray……we sit and enjoy looking back at the garden while enjoying an aperitif almost every day. It certainly is the reward for all the garden work.

    Ali x

    • Hi Ali, I really do agree with you. There is nothing better than sitting a little further away and looking back up the garden. When I have time, I like nothing better than just walking around the garden in the evening before we eat, a glass of wine in hand, looking at plants that have sprung up, those that have suddenly started flowering, watching the fish and just pottering for five minutes and feeling content! It’s my little luxury, it doesn’t happen every day, but when it does I love it! Susan x

      • Oh Susan, I know exactly what you mean, my favourite time of day. No fish to watch but I am usually accompanied by our marmalade cat Harry and of course a glass of rosé in hand! x

        • Hi Petrina, you see we are in total agreement! Often Clara, one of our cats will come and join me, she hates coming in the house but if I am in the garden she will come up and rub herself around my legs purring. Harry sounds like a great friend. Alas no wandering around the garden this evening, it is pouring with rain, a fact that I know is good because it has been so dry, but still I am not a fan of rain!!! Susan x

  • I can hardly believe that you waited for my departure to enter the al fresco dining season full-tilt. There is nothing better than a convivial meal in the waning sunshine on a warm evening with a cool glass (or three) of crisp rose’.
    I am happy that you did, in fact, use the puff pastry trimmings to make cheese straws. Both because they are as unlike the purchased version as can be imagined and to waste good puff pastry would be a pity. Especially when the girls worked so hard rolling the dough with a wine bottle! Next visit, I’ll pack a rolling pin rather than spare shoes, so much more useful. Or borrow one.
    Thanks for your help, and a thoroughly enjoyable visit.

    • That is probably because the weather waited for your departure to up the tempo and climb into the mid 20’s! Although I do recall we certainly managed one lunch outside, I seem to recall it was cuttlefish! I am in love with your cheese straws, as are the rest of the family! Can’t wait for Izzi to arrive so I can let her sample them too, she is so envious and so sad she missed out on everything! I did offer you the rolling pin, I know you just preferred the bottle of wine, I think the girls did too, it made it far more fun!!! Looking forward to your next visit, Susan x

  • It all looks so inviting! I love your idea of a moveable feast – quite literally! We are enjoying the most beautiful weather here, and all the windows are open. My equivalent of your wisteria (so beautiful!) is the gardenias, which have just begun to bloom, and the sweet fragrance drifts in when the breeze blows. I will cut some and put them into a small vase for the living room!

    • Hi Nancy, lucky you I remember the gardenias and the scent, just gorgeous. The moveable feast, well it is when Roddy is cooking, is rather fun, I’m constantly thinking up new places! It’s a very good thing we have lots of little helpers around here! Susan x

  • What a Happy post this is! Thank you so much for sharing. In just two months my daughter’s family and I will be in Vaucluse area and hope to have many meals on the house’s terrace. Why is it France is not buggy???North Carolina is really too buggy for outdoor dining.

    • Hi Kelly, thank you so much and a happy Mother’s Day to you. You will certainly have many meals outside in July in the Vaucluse, it is such a beautiful area, I hope you have the most wonderful time. France has it’s fair share of bugs, and we do get mosquitos here, just not in the same numbers as I remember on the East coast of the USA! They are there, but not a problem and we can live with them! Thank you for commenting, it’s so nice to get to know my readers, have a lovely week, Susan x

  • Wow! You are having gorgeous weather. Here, just started but no one really bbqing yet. I left on Friday to go to Cape Town and am spending a glorious day wine tasting in Stellenbosch with my daughter. We have not spent Mother’s Day together in about 6 years so it really is a treat.
    Happy Mother’s Day to all moms out there!

    • Hi Nadia, the weather has been gorgeous but it literally only changed on Wednesday. We went to a friend’s house for a BBQ last night and had one here the day before, it feels so good to be living outside again! I hope you have a wonderful time, Roddy spent several years living in SA and always says how beautiful it is. Hope you have had the most wonderful Mother’s Day, it sounds very special. Susan x

  • Wish the sun was here at the moment – marmite and lettuce sarnies, some pork pies, cold potato salad, half an onion and some cheddar, a punnet of strawberries and some PIMMS. Yay ! Summer would be here.

    (the Pimms is in BIG letters because it is soooooo summer)

    • Hi Simon, Roddy also loves pork pies, the first thing he looks for whenever we are in the UK! I searched all summer for Pimms here last year without success, I wanted to introduce it to the French. Thank you, you have reminded me well in advance this year, I shall see if I can buy some online! We have successfully converted our French neighbour’s to Cheddar lovers so next up is Pimms! Susan x

  • Being able to eat outside is something I really enjoy about living in France. Love your Wisteria,a lovely backdrop for somewhere to set your table. We too are fortunate and have several different places we are able to set a table, a sheltered corner for morning coffee, a decked area when we have nice warm sunshine, then a covered large terrace for when it’s too hot and perfect for evenings when family or friends get together & great even if it rains, we can still eat outside. The whole atmosphere is so different with lots of candles, we always warn any new guests who are eating with us for the time to bring a warm wrap or fleece sweater as we will be eating outside.Look forward to seeing more from you.

    • Hi Barbara, Oh I so agree, it’s that knowledge that we will be able to eat outside for several months, it just changes everything and feels so good! Lots of candles and a sweater to keep warm, sounds like the most perfect evening. Thank you for commenting always, it’s great getting to know you a little through the blog. Have a lovely week, Susan X

  • Bonsoir Susan. Encore merci pour ces images ensoleillées de votre superbe jardin. A votre talent d’ écrivain vous ajoutez le talent de décoratrice de table ! J’ habite en ville dans un appartement et je n’ ai qu’ une loggia de 10 m2 pour me sentir dehors. Donc, grâce à vous, je peux m’ imaginer en plein air mangeant ce croustillant au fromage ( merci pour la recette ) arrosé d’ un verre de rosé très frais…Laissez-moi rêver un peu s’ il vous plait ! Cela fait du bien au moral de lire vos instants de vie familiale dans votre magnifique maison charentaise. Philippe./… Good evening Susan. Thanks a lot to share the sunny pictures of your magnificent garden. To your talent writer you add a talent dining set decorator! As I’m living in town whithin a flat, I have only 12 m 2 loggia to feel outdoor for lunch. With your photos, I can dream eating outside with some cheese-straws ( thanks for the recipe ) and a very fresh glass of rosé… Let me dream a little please! It was doing good to read your families moments in time within your beautiful house.Philippe.

    • Hi Philippe, dream as much as you like, I think day dreaming is one of life’s great pleasures! The weather here has been fantastic, but only since Wednesday, it is lovely to finally eat outside again! Hope you have had some good weather too, I think from watching the Meteo that it has been pretty widespread through France and I hope you were able to enjoy the long weekend with another three day weekend coming up, it makes May such fun! Have a lovely week Susan x

  • Thank you so much for sharing that recipe with us I have funnily enough been looking for a good cheese straw recipe all day, I would love to see more recipes from you! Wonderful photos and atmosphere.

    • Hi Helen, thank you, I can’t, sadly lay claim to the recipe as it belonged to a guest who stayed with us. But I can confirm they are delicious and don’t last very long at all, quite unlike anything you will buy in a store, as Jeff quite rightly said in his comment. Every now and then I post a recipe, but I admit not often, perhaps I shall add a few more! Have a lovely week, Susan x

  • Love the early evening ambience – candlelight and wisteria. Perfect. And blessedly bug free. What could be better?

    Roddy is right–you need to get one of those beach wagons they sell in US that has those big fat tires. We use one when we go to the beach to transport all the grand-baby/grand-toddler stuff (and sometime the children, too) across sand. Works like a charm.

    • Hi Mary, very nearly bug free! At least enough that we can enjoy being outdoors. I am not sure I should let Roddy see your comment, he will be importing a giant wagon from the States and I can just see it being pulled around the garden. I am also fairly sure that after a short time it would be commandeered by the children and used for transporting their things around the garden! Have a lovely week, Susan x

    • Hi Paulita, thank you, the scent from the wisteria is heavenly, it wafts straight into the open upstairs bedroom windows, lucky children as it is their bedrooms! I’ll pop over to your blog now. Susan x

  • Hi Susan,
    What a wonderful idea for outdoor dining & an amazing post. The wisteria provides such a lovely backdrop for your table. We eat almost every meal on our portal at our summer home in New Mexico.. We get to experience some amazing sunsets that way. Texas has lots of mosquitos & is hot & humid in the summer-not too conducive to outdoor dining. Thanks for sharing your little corner of France, such a beautiful area.
    Happy Mother’s Day!

    • Thank you so much. I remember only too well the hot and humid weather of south Florida, we never ate outside in the summer. Being outside is indeed such an incredible way to enjoy sunsets, I just find it changes the atmosphere completely. Have a lovely week, Susan x

  • Hi Susan,
    I, too, deal with the bugs that come with eating outdoors but try to do it anyways. I do it often for morning coffee and/or breakfast then they don’t seem so bad. Your yard and gardens are beautiful and have inspired me to go get mine ready. Waiting for this weather to shape up!!! Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Hi Mary, sadly outdoor living and bugs seem to go hand in hand. Fortunately here they are not too bad. Hope you are able to get outside and enjoy everything soon. It’s actually raining here this morning and I know I mustn’t complain because it has been so dry and we do need the rain but still…! Have a lovely week, Susan X

  • Such a nice post. The pics of the wisteria and blooms of the horse chestnut are lovely. Our home faces our little park and on the pergola the wisteria is blooming and the shrub roses surround it.

    • Hi, thank you. Your pergola sounds lovely, I planted roses under the wisteria a couple of years ago with the great idea that they would climb all over the front of the house and their blooms would take over the colour once the wisteria flowers had gone. Alas it was a complete failure! The roses didn’t get nearly enough light with all the mass of foliage from the wisteria and were quickly suffocated and so they died. In order for it to succeed I would have to prune the wisteria so that only the top horizontal row remained with leaves and I don’t really want to do that. So I envy you your shrub roses! Have a lovely week, Susan X

    • Hi, thank you so much! I hope this means that you will be back to France to visit soon. Thank you also for taking the time to comment; this is the best part, getting to know my readers and ‘chatting’ with you. Have a lovely week, Susan x

  • Hi Susan, you have such a sweet family, love your outdoor dining areas! Just put up a screened gazebo today because around here we have huge mosquitoes so sitting on a blanket here is only on the beach. Have a wonderful day! Lisa@ Sweet Tea N’ Salty Air

    • Hi Lisa, thank you so much. I understand just how you feel with the large mosquitos having lived in South Florida for a while! Thanks for taking the time to comment, popping over to your blog now. Have a lovely week, Susan x

    • Hi Paulita, thank you, it was great fun to be able to join in. Which part of France are you moving to and when? It all sounds very exciting, I can remember how excited we were when we first moved here although it seems an eternity ago! Susan x

  • Hi Susan,

    You often mention about projects for your blog. What about your visitor Jeff and his journey over the next year or so to acquiring a property in France?

    I appreciate that this would be an intrusion into Jeff’s life that he may not wish for and I don’t know how much contact you will have with Jeff in the future, but for the thousands of us who dream about making the move, and the few hundred that will be brave enough to actually follow in your and Jeff’s footsteps it would be a wonderful insight into the process of property hunting and the practical problems that one would face.

    As always, I absolutely love your blog as it quite literally brings a little ray of sunshine into our lives.

    Eugene

    • Hi Eugene, what a great idea, I had already mentioned doing another post once he has bought a house, featuring the property and the garden, but including how he moves here would be most interesting. Not being a European of course it is very much harder for him. I did chat with him a little about the process he has to go to and how he gets residency, it is all quite complicated! Thank you so much for taking the time to suggest this and have a lovely week. Bucketing with rain here today!!! Susan X

  • Bonjour, Madame!

    Quelle jolie maison, quel jardin impressionant! Thank you so much for coming to leave me a comment so I could find YOU! How beautiful the wisteria is here; in Minneapolis where I reside, these beauties just don’t survive. Al Fresco dining, I can’t wait! I am a school teacher and l’année scolaire is almost over, but as soon as it is, “On mange dehors!”

    Bonne journée, Anita (Les Dames D’abord)

    • Hi Anita, and thank you so much for coming and finding me! We still have two months before school is over, so we have to make the most of the weekends! I love eating outdoors it just adds that certain je ne sais quoi. Do you ever come over to France? Looking forward to getting to know you through our blogs. Bise Susan

  • I’m so inspired!!!!! We shall eat outside today!!!
    LOVE the recipe – please keep throwing recipes like that our way!!!!!!!
    Wow – enjoying each step of Spring in France thanks to you!!!!
    Thank you !!!!

    • Hi Jamie, I love eating outdoors, but the weather has been very hit and miss and we’ve gone from gorgeous weather eating every meal outside to eating every meal inside and lighting the fire in the evenings again! Still it is meant to be warming up as of tomorrow, fingers crossed! Hope you have had a wonderful meal outside! Susan x

  • Hi Susan. Here I am, late again, but have enjoyed travelling around your garden and embracing the outdoor living! The wisterias are out here now and looking splendid. We are still ‘building’ our garden and last weekend was the pond unveiling! We’d dug it last year but too late to fill. So Saturday the cover came off and the stones were laid around the edge. The little water feature moved about until in the right place and all left ready for the following day when the ‘big fill’ was to begin! Poor Mr Toad, who had waited all year for these people to provide him with a proper place to be a toad, and was lurking under the half flower pot, decided enough was enough and launched himself into the pond during the night!! What a shock he must have had – they’ve forgotten the water!! So our first job was to lift him out and put him back under the pot while we filled the pond! But where to eat was your question – I love the idea of moving around. We don’t have enough room to do that, but we do have small places, like an arbour – add a small café table, and a stone bench near the henhouse – lots of fun to come! Failing that, I thought I could just change the mood with different cloths, tableware, lighting and floral arrangements as you seem to have done to great effect! Next weekend it’s off to buy our Wisteria, not for a wall, but for a large strong fence. Just got to get one in somewhere!! Thanks for a lovely post – and save a croissant for me!

    • Hi Marian, never apologise, it’s just wonderful that you comment and always great to hear from you! Will you put some fish in your pond? We put fish in ours for the first time last month, there are lots of frogs which have made it their home and newts too, which Roddy says is a sign of a healthy pond. We added plants for the first time as well – it’s actually been great fun. It just sat with water and nothing else for a year after we made it. I love your story of Mr Toad, is he now happily ensconced in the pond? Your seating sounds perfect, little places just where you need them. Have you got your chickens yet? Buff Orpingtons if I remember correctly, a bantam and a full sized one? One of our little bantam is sitting on four eggs which are due to hatch at the end of the month, it’s all so exciting, we have never got bored of the chickens. Have fun buying your wisteria and a lovely weekend, we’re nearly there! Susan x

      • Can’t believe you remembered the Buff Orpington and bantams! one gold laced and one silver lavender. Not ready yet, not till after our trip to Giverny in mid July, so probably August. Can’t wait. Thinking of names at the moment! You will know as soon as they arrive have no fear, I shall need to cluck to someone!! thank you for replying and remembering!

        • I love reading everyone’s comments and I love hearing about people’s lives. For me this is what makes the blog what it is, it’s like we are all chatting and exchanging letters and notes and so I think that’s why I remember all the little things, I can honestly say it genuinely interests me. We saw some Hollandaises hens the other day, I am not sure what they are in English, they were black with white heads, they were so beautiful. Can’t wait to hear what names you choose, it always takes us ages and causes much debate! Ours are laying like mad, 6 or 7 eggs a day from 7 laying hens, not bad!!! Have a great weekend. Susan x

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