The Pre-Spring Garden

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Spring always knocks on the door relatively early here. Thankfully our winters are traditionally short and mild. Cold enough that we need a good sturdy winter coat and certainly appreciate the warmth of the fire, the crackling of logs and a hearty soup. But normally it does not outstay its welcome. By February the garden starts to take up more and more of my daily thoughts. Read more

Living a Sustainable Lifestyle

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January is a great month for reflection. The slightly frenzied rush of December is over, the bling is back in its box for another year and in the northern hemisphere the gardening season is at its quietest. It’s a New Year and not just any old one but a new decade and the start of the twenties. When we think of the roaring twenties, we think of the 1920’s, flapper style, the Jazz Age. In France they were known as les années folles which literally means the ‘crazy years’. I wonder what this decade holds in store for us ? It surely has to be the decade in which we try to save our planet, a decade in which trying to make a difference is not enough, we HAVE to make a difference and an enormous one at that.
First of all I must apologise for the silence here on the blog. I am not quite sure how a month has flown by without me writing a word. It’s been a month of family visiting, enjoying the company of friends and a month when I have thought a great deal about our carbon footprint. How we live our life here in France and what we can do better.
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So the 2020’s are here I am sure there will be plenty of heartbreak and anguish, the world is a mess. But let’s not forget in the 1920’s it may have been the decade of plenty but it was also the decade in between the two world wars, not all was good back then either.
Have we learnt anything ? I often think not, but I am no politician, nor historian and I am certainly not going down that road in public. What I will say though is that this is the decade when we have to do our very best, each and every one of us, to save this planet if we want to secure its existence for future generations. We have to go past just talking about it and actually do something. The tendency is so often to think we help a little here and there and then continue in our own merry fashion. In truth it means making sacrifices and compromises, but they can only be for the good. I asked two of our children (we’re down to just two at home this week and it feels very strange) two simple questions. First question. “Does everyone at school know about Climate Change?”  Obvious answer to this one, “of course they do”. Second question. “How many of the kids amongst the 400 or so in your school are actually doing something/have changed their lives to help the planet?” Our daughter said maybe 5 or 6 and our son said maybe 1 but probably 0. Doesn’t that just speak volumes? There is so much apathy, even though we see the warning signs, and the reminders and the pleas for everyone to help every day on our screens, in newspapers and on the television.
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So for me January is not just a month of reflection but also a month of planning and this January is a month when I really consider how to make necessary changes and to make sure we implement them. I love making notes and I splashed out on a gorgeous Castelli Italian notebook so that I can keep every list I write in one place and because it looks so elegant that no one (read me) will mind it sitting on the kitchen table all the time!
Climate change, sustainable living, these are words and phrases we hear every day. The most basic choices are the ones seen everywhere. Less waste. Eat less meat. Choose sustainable energy providers.
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The three ‘R’s head every one of my lists. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. We are lucky to have an abundance of fresh local produce here in France and if we cannot grow our own we try to always buy locally. Our favourite greengrocer is a regular stopping point. It is on the way to and from school so there is no specific journey needed and we now take with us a selection of string bags, a Christmas present from our eldest daughter and we fill these with the produce we choose, ready to be weighed. No paper bags needed and absolutely no plastic. And I’ve said this a hundred times or more before, one of the best things about living here is that we cannot get out of season fruits and vegetables. Sounds a strange thing to be happy about but I really am. When those strawberries come into season they are treasured and savoured and enjoyed to the full. The first melon, the first of the spring asparagus, a fresh raspberry, they all suddenly become such an immense treat.
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We reuse and recycle and upcyle whenever possible. I have spent the past two weeks decluttering the house. Yesterday morning we took a car full of things to the local charity store. Perhaps someone else will find things that will be useful for them. I will continue with my Brocante store because I love it and because even though when things sell overseas this means they are sent by plane, it is one package on a plane that is already taking that journey. Air travel is not going to stop. But by buying and reusing vintage products we are certainly helping a great deal. I only wish I could ship some of the wonderful old furniture I find here around the world. It is so strong, so well made and so inexpensive. A beautiful vintage armoir costs less than a flatpack mass produced store bought one that is not even real wood but manufactured and often coated in plastic. I also like to think about actually using vintage things rather than just looking at them. Eating off vintage china and using vintage cutlery feels like a luxurious treat, it raises the level of every meal, but actually we are helping.
But hey, this is no lecture, these are just my thoughts. We are very aware and we have made sure our children are too. Sunday afternoons are made for family walks with the dogs. The best sort of afternoon entertainment.
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When the weather allows there is nothing that I love more than working in the garden, doing what I can at this time of year, already planning for spring.
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And if its too wet or cold and I have time to spare then I retreat to the potting shed, where I light the fire. This is where we store all the twigs and branches that fall from the trees when the wind is howling. There’s a constant supply! One huge box which is drying and another from the year before which is for using now. It is eco friendly heating. I work away sharpening old secateurs and shears. Cleaning plant pots. Soon I will start thinking about sowing some seeds. And these saucers which you see on the potting table below are all old recycled terracotta lids. Originally they were used  for enormous jam, olive or grease pots. I picked up a mass of these years ago from a local brocante. No one wanted them and I think I paid a couple of euros for about 20 of them. I knew instantly I would use them as plant pot saucers. They have flat bottoms and come in all sizes. I love them and so many people comment on them. Typically since then I’ve never seen another mass lot for sale!

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Getting to Grips with The Spring Garden

IMG_0160It’s been a month of frantic activity in the garden.  The last two weeks of March saw the children wearing shorts, we dined al fresco, dusting down the chairs and grabbing any cushions we could find. Our usual outdoor accessories were still carefully packed away, not quite ready to come out of hibernation. Read more

The Potting Shed

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The potting shed or the summer kitchen; in my mind it has two names and two jobs but today it is wearing its gardener’s hat! One of the best things about old houses in France is that they very often come with a host of outbuildings and the moment I saw our house, this little old structure captured my attention.

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Spring, why are you being so Shy?

P7370535I am itching to get on with spring, but Mother Nature seems to have other ideas. I’m planning which vegetables we will grow this year, dreaming of picking tomatoes warm and ripe from the sun and peas and beans, peppers and aubergines. I’m quite desperate to get out into the flower borders too and put some new ideas into action –  alas, so far I’ve really been reduced to writing down my thoughts on paper. This typically involves lying in bed while I imagine the end result, which I then realise “won’t work” when I come downstairs in the cold light of dawn to stare out of the window through the sheets of rain; with my plans scuppered, I have to come up with other arrangements, and although I am no artist, I have most definitely now learnt to appreciate the benefits of taking photos and sketching diagrams on paper!

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In Need of Some Winter Cheer ?

P7340238Before we go any further today, I made you a cup of coffee. I am not sure how you like yours, so I just made two the same. I have to admit, no matter how hard I try and no matter how many years I have lived in France I simply cannot give up my milky  cappuccino style coffee. I don’t usually go the whole way and sprinkle cocoa powder on the top, but I thought as you were joining me we would push the boat out and do it properly! Read more

The First Days of September

P6780273Some seventeen years ago, when we were starting out on the journey of schools with our children, meeting mothers and parents at the school gates for the first time and starting a completely new phase in our lives, I remember one mother who I had quite recently met bringing her daughter over to spend an afternoon with Izzi. It was a beautiful summer’s day and the girls played in the garden for hours. When the girl’s mother came to collect her in the evening she gave us a huge bowl of raspberries; they were from her garden and she had just picked them and I remember thinking, how I would love to be able to do that some day. And I still think of that moment quite often –  it’s what has inspired me to always grow an excess amount of everything. Read more