Thursday, 20 August 2009

Return to the Japanese Garden.....!

After all the fun of our French holiday, I had to come back to earth with a bump and get on with treating and sealing the wood for the tea house ... so I decided to do another tea house themed post in the hope that I might actually move the blog into real time, rather than flirting with the work we did last summer!

However, in order to get us there, let me take you back in time .......... yes, to last summer, 2008.
The top pond was done - the rocks were all in place and I'd snuck a bit of planting in when Himself wasn't looking! The majority of the stream was completed to our satisfaction, but the last couple of feet below the bottom bridge to the bottom pond still only had rocks plonked on them to keep the slabs from moving.

My next task was to finish moving the vast pile of top soil that I had dug out of the pond and dumped by the laurel. This had made the land at the side of the stream way too high, so the soil had to go - again! One day I'll work out where I'll ultimately want soil or rocks or whatever and put the stuff there in the first place rather than shift it all several times!

In the first photo I'd begun digging out - but I was being a bit cautious about the soil near the streamside rocks. I didn't really move that bit of soil very far - surprise, surprise! I backfilled behind the pond liner that edged the stream and made sure the stones were securely in place. I then pushed soil down all the gaps and made it level with the tops of the rocks so that they looked more bedded-in and permanent.

I shifted about 8-10 inches soil depth over an area of about 15 feet by 8 feet. That's a LOT of soil! I only went as far as the pile of stones by the tree - but it was plenty far enough! Today I've been digging out and moving (sigh!) the last of the soil by the tree.

The pile of tree slices with the red box on top are Himself's solution to keeping the pond filter out of direct sunlight ......... I'd have just put a bag over it, but hey!

Although many things have changed in the Japanese garden since this time last year, neither the stream below the bridge nor the bottom pond have - yet!.............. they STILL aren't finished and STILL look exactly the same as in this photo!!!

Once I'd moved most of the soil I was able to level out what was left and put the stepping stones in place. I carefully placed them all, took the photo, dug the holes, sunk each one into place and got them all nice and level. The next time I looked, some idiot had put them all in a straight line!!!

Can't have been me .......... I don't do straight lines!

Japanese gardens are supposed to take you on a journey of discovery, with new things being revealed as you go along. You're not supposed to see it all immediately - a staight line of stepping stones meant that we'd be able to see the tea house from the bottom path. I knew full well that I'd have to dig 'em all up and reposition them ....... but it turned out that they were quite useful as a short cut as they were - so we left them like that until this spring!

Not a lot was done on the garden over winter - because it was cold and wet with lots of snow and we were doing the renovations on the inside of the house then. You know, I've heard about this thing called 'time off' ............ Anyway, by this spring (- yes, we've made it into 2009!!) we were ready to start again. I set a deadline for completion by my birthday in April. HA HA ! but then we looked at what there still was to do - it was never going to happen by my birthday, not this year's one anyway! Still ... ever the optimist!

We had to clear the topsoil from where the tea house is going to go. This coincided with having some huge laurels chopped right back lower down the garden nearer the house and me taking the opportunity to reshape the border which had expanded along with the laurel. Most, no - ALL the plants, shrubs and bushes in the border had died because they had been smothered by the laurel so the dead remains had to be cleared out - which I did during the week.

We roped in Calamity and the BeanPole to help. I marked out the new border with my trusty hose pipe and transplanted all the plants that were growing in what was going to be grass back into the border area. ( I confess - I also had a trip the the nursery earlier in the week and bought a few goodies so that the border didn't look too empty!)

They dug out the soil from the tea house base and transfered it down the garden to raise the level of the soil next to the new border. Somehow Calamity managed to persuade the BeanPole to do most of the digging and hauling the wheel barrow while Calamity did the easy job of spreading and leveling the soil!

The area was then seeded and Himself borrowed the brassica cage (which wasn't yet in use) and made a cage to protect the grass seed from the pigeons - and very successful it was too!

Whilst all this was going on, we also moved the fruit cage back about a foot to give us a bit more room at the back of the tea house - but there are no photos of that as it took me, Himself, First-Born, Last-Born, Calamity and the BeanPole to shift it, so there was no one to play photographers!

But look what I found in the pond that day - a natural frog spawn heart!

I was quite tired by the Sunday night!

Monday, 10 August 2009

Oh France, how do I love thee - part 2

Part of what I love about France is the feeling of somehow going home - I've been going there for so long that I understand the language, the culture, driving on the wrong side of the road, even some of the daft French rules! And, as one of the best things about being at home is meeting up with friends, so one of the joys of this holiday was meeting up with new friends - blogger friends!

Rob of 'Our French Garden in the beautiful Dordogne' lives about 2 hours drive away from where we were, so we went to meet him and his wife, Karen. I was suprisingly nervous ........Rob and I have been following and commenting on each others blogs for quite some time and you get to feel like you know someone when you do that, but meeting him face to face - scarey! What if he didn't like me, what if we didn't get on, what if we had nothing to talk about .........??!!

Rob, Karen and me on the terrace - don't you just love the colour of those shutters?!

I had nothing to worry about! Rob and Karen were wonderful, warm, friendly people - just as I'd imagined really! They welcomed us Gnomes with open arms, showed us round their gorgeous gardens and gave us a proper French 3 hour lunch in the dappled shade of the vine covered terrace as we all put the world to rights! It was a joy!

It was also a bit like having been doing a jigsaw without the picture and then being given the box lid with the picture on it ....... all the different parts of the garden that I'd seen on his posts suddenly all fitted together and made sense.

The picture below is the back of the barn and, if you click on the photo to enlarge it, in the doorway niche you can just see the Roman head that Rob featured a while ago.

This is the front of the barn/games room, which is opposite the main house and terrace.

Karen showing Himself and the Gnomelets the stream at the bottom of the garden - and explaining about the slightly hairy bridge that Rob negotiates with his wheelbarrow to go get mole hole loam from the field across the way!

Walking away from the house and stream we crossed the meadow and inspected Rob's pegola en route ...... remember that early post? Rob wasn't very satisfied with how quickly his plants were growing, but I thought they were looking good, strong and vigourous - so by next year he'll be moaning about having to cut them back!!! That's us, never satisfied - stuff either grows too slowly or too quickly!
The building in the background is the back of the barn. The niche with the Roman head in it is in the top right hand corner where the ground slopes up.

I loved these Cannas that Rob had grown in a circular stone planter on the terrace. I thought the combination of colours was fantastic - especially in bright sunlight. They were perhaps a little too close in colour to the shutters, but hey!
Rob and Karen's winter job this year is to repaint all the shutters in a gorgeous shade of green .......... I have volunteered my services to go and help!

So, all in all, we had a great time with them - and Rob (bless his heart) had even remembered that I'd like the Corydalis he'd featured in a post a while ago and had saved some seeds for me - and I've planted them already! The man is a star!

Rob and Karen also suggested that we check out a few of the local sights while we were in the area, so we went via St. Cyprien (and THE most beautiful house in the world - it was being re-roofed but still managed to look fantastic. We would have all moved there tomorrow!!) and into the Dordogne valley. It was a bit of a shock after the Dronne valley as it was wall to wall tourists and I could probably have walked across the river on top of all the canoes without getting my feet wet, but it was stunningly beautiful, with chateaux perched on hilltops in every direction we looked. We went to the Chateau de Milandes which, at one point, had been owned by Josephine Baker the famous vaudeville and Follies Bergeres star. It was everything a 'proper' French chateau should be - stunningly beautiful in an awesome location, a bit blousey and over the top, with fantastic architecture and beautiful formal gardens but it still had a happy feel to it. It also had a great falconry demonstration and a jolly nice little cafe with painted metal tables in the shade of huge lime trees!

One of the birds in the falconry display - an Eagle Owl I think?!

Same bird coming into land - with the magnifient landscape behind it. I don't think the bird was that bothered about the scenery though!!
This was a little doorway I found tucked away, looking just a little bit 'Sleeping Beauty' I thought!
If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you can have a look at the gargoyles either side of the door. They're great!
A view from the turret window - not bad eh?
And so we passed a glorious day in oh so many ways and, as the Gnomelets put it, "good choice of blog friends mum"!

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Ah France, how do I love thee.......let me count the ways (part 1)!

I love France. I've been going there since I was 13 - yes, THAT long! I've travelled the length and breadth of the county, fallen in love there, learnt the language by living with a family there, seen it change from a run-down, slightly tatty country to the vibrant place it is now, fallen out of love there, had my first experience of drinking wine there (but the less said about that little episode, the better!) and somewhere along the line left a bit of my romantic heart in the land there. sigh!

Here are a few of the reasons why I love it:

Lovely sweet cottages - this was the front of our gite.

with a nice pool to play in!

French markets and 'brocante' - second hand/vintage stalls!
Yep, I bought the jam kettle - 25 Euros ....I knocked him down from 30! Bargain...... possibly!!

I love the way they lay out the stuff for sale.

Gorgeous vintage china ........ but I fought the urge to buy and settled for taking photos instead!

....and of course a girl has to eat! 50 cents for a chocolate crepe. Last-Born thought she'd died and gone to heaven!

French architecture and shutters - the shutters fit with the romantic in me!

Mmmmh - dried hams and sausissons.

........pretty little side streets

......and lovely picnic spots!
What more could a girl ask for?
Wait and see!!!