We have had two momentous events this week. The first was Evee having her puppies, an occasion when the excitement chez nous reached fever pitch, and the second was a change in the weather, a fairly dramatic turnaround that had our first big heatwave of the year changing the garden and its landscape almost overnight. The first true flush of summer and really warm air sent our plants and trees into a slow motion frenzy of activity. There was an explosion of life; branches and twigs whose fists of buds had been tightly clenched against the cold for so long suddenly unfurled in a frantic rush, desperate to stretch out and absorb the heat from the sun. Hedgerows turned from brown to green and the entire garden changed within a matter of hours. I don’t think I have ever seen such a dramatic transformation in so little time.
Spring is that time of year when a resurgent energy returns to the land after the dormant winter months – something so forceful that nothing can stop it, and every time I enter our property at the moment I am reminded of nature’s power; every day new life is emerging and it is blissful to know that all is well with the seasons and the warmth is coming back.
It is the time once again when fragrant flowers from the wisteria perfume the air….
….and the horse chestnut majestically takes centre stage, its flowers tilting their heads upwards towards the sun, proud and strong.
Its spreading branches provide the perfect shade against those strong first rays of the year, the sneaky shafts of sunlight that catch one totally unawares and turn pale skins of delicate English roses a less than subtle shade of pink!
Everywhere we turn right now there is vigorous growth
The Virginia creeper is once again cloaking our walls, framing archways and smothering one side of the house.
When we first moved here the garden was already well established; this and the ancient trees clinched the sale, these were key factors that we fell in love with. Interiors one can change, but 500 year-old trees, even with ‘all the money in China’, simply cannot be replicated. However, there was still some room for adding a few personal touches. We wanted to create rooms and special places, so one would feel as if one was always walking in a secret garden. I wanted to include several different places to eat in the shade,
and places where, given the time, one could relax. Places that felt calm and serene for both two legged and four legged creatures!
We were also keen to encourage the garden to take on a slightly less formal look, despite the size of the area I wanted to lean towards a style rather more of a cottage garden than the manicured and sometimes slightly austere perfection of a French manoir. I am more than happy to let the cow parsley mingle with the peonies. I love the moss on the old cobbles and the Lily of the Valley which appears, quite miraculously at the end of April every year.
In France, the 1st of May is a public holiday, officially it is labour day, La Fête du Travail but it is also La Fête du Muguet, the day when the French give their loved ones a bunch of Lily of the Valley. My mother carried a bouquet of these delicate white flowers on her wedding day many decades ago.
One of the easiest ways to promote a little romanticism in the garden is with archways. I have embraced the stone ones which were already in existence and added a few more, carefully training plants in the right direction, so that one has to duck a little to walk where the prunus and tamarisk meet.
Our garden has to appeal to not just me but all of us. Whilst I look lovingly at the stone walls and the church in the background, the children are drawn to the swings, their wrought-iron frame is still rigid and strong despite being perhaps fifty-plus years of age, bringing to mind that frequently quoted phrase, “they don’t make them like they used to”.
I can’t quite put my finger on what it is exactly that I love about the sight of the church tower from our garden. But there is something that I find quite wonderful about it. Perhaps because I grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere, or perhaps it is a secret yearning for village life that has now been fulfilled. Maybe for me the sign of a church in the village, and being within striking distance of it, signifies that we live in the heart of a community. I suspect it is an amalgamation of all of these things; the only thing I know for sure is that I am extremely content with its close proximity.
I love the stone walls that surround us, and which separate our garden from our close friends, the neighbours.
This early in the year our garden is not yet a riot of colour; blues blend with the sky and pinks resemble spring sunsets, but for the most part the dominant colour is green, and all its shades are the vibrant bright hues of youth.
It really is incredible to think that this time last month we were standing in snow, doors and windows tightly shut against the cold, and at night shutters were closed to keep out the chill. And yet here we are, a month later, and we are welcoming the cool air inside and inhaling the sweetest perfumes of Spring.
Cycling has also taken a seasonal turn as the farm tracks are once again dry enough to facilitate easy movement for thin tyres, and a little off-roading is possible once more.
Exploring the countryside like this in turn delivers its own sweet rewards. There is a wild lilac tree I know in the middle of nowhere; it is overgrown, neglected and quite abandoned. Each year however, it produces the most fragrant blooms. It cannot be reached by car but only by bike, and needless to say, great bundles find their way back into our house.
Which brings me neatly back into our garden! Some of you may recall the green wire fence which separated the chicken-garden from the rest of our property. In the winter I had an idea, one of those moments when I express a few thoughts and I can hear Roddy thinking, “Oh no, this is going to mean a lot of work!”. I decided that we should change the wire for a traditional post-and-rail fence and I started hunting locally for an old wrought-iron gate. Fortunately luck was on my side and I found just what I was looking for not too many miles away – and for an exceedingly reasonable price!
Roddy admitted that when ‘Operation Fence’ began he could not see why I wanted to change a perfectly good barrier for another. But he did have the good grace to charmingly say that when the job was complete he totally saw my point of view; it looks a zillion times better. Even a chicken fence can be romantic!
And so back to Event Number One. Yesterday was a very long, slightly dramatic day with the arrival of Evee’s puppies. This started with an unexpected bang at 7am and continued until 6pm, and our final result was seven wonderful miracles of life, a writhing squealing bundle of perfect Jack Russell puppies. The photo below is when the oldest is a few hours old and the youngest perhaps just an hour old, taken quickly in the evening when Evie stepped outside for a few minutes and we were able to take a quick photo of them all visible at once. I am not sure who is the proudest, our family or Evee.