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Saturday, 31 December 2011

A very strange year

Gardening wise that is. Otherwise I think it was a very pleasant year! But as the point of this blog (at this moment in time; who know what I may decide to blather about in the future) is to record 'stuff' about my garden then it's that to which I am referring. A dry winter followed by an early warm and dry spring (the driest since goodness knows when), then thankfully a reasonably wet summer, followed by the driest autumn since goodness knows when. And then came December when the heavens opened and I have just recorded the wettest month since I started keeping records over 5 years ago. But only just.

This morning as I was ambling about in the drizzle, as you do (well, as I do), I noticed my purple Hellebore covered in buds with a couple of flowers open already! I'm not entirely surprised by this because the first year I planted it, it flowered away gaily in August and then again the following spring. So who knows, it could be late or it could be early! Here's a pic that I took on 9th Feb this year.

I also spotted the first snowdrop almost open - it's at that stage where the flower is there in full and drooping downwards but not quite opened up. That's when I consider spring to be sprung (ever the optimist!) or at the very least, the signs of a new season starting. But certainly the garden is way advanced in terms of bulbs all appearing, even tulips, whereas it hasn't yet quite died down for the winter. It, and I, don't know whether we are coming or going. I am having days where I feel raring to go and others where I want to hibernate.

The other things that don't know what season it is are the hens and duck! When faced with a glut of eggs the usual recommendation is to freeze some for those times during winter when they go off lay.... hmmmmm do they not realise tomorrow is the 1st of January? I have 6 out of 7 laying, not all every day, but generally getting about 4 eggs a day now. Help!

All sizes and colours -
the white ones are from the ducks

Finally, and as this is mostly a record for me, don't bother reading on if you are sliding around in a quagmire (I know who you are!!) and fed up with the wet stuff falling from the sky...... yes it's squidgy here too but I've been reliably informed it is as nothing compared to the real muddy places.....

My rainfall data

2007:  944mm
2008:  878mm
2009:  867mm
2010:  757mm
2011:  663.75mm (over a quarter of which fell in December)

Do you see a worrying trend with my terribly scientific records?

Now if you have read this far, and 'chapeau' as we say round these parts to you if you have, may I wish you a Happy New Year and hope that your gardens grow, bloom and blossom beautifully next year, and that your harvests will be perfect with just the right amount of everything, no courgette gluts, no blight and no slug damage! Yes we can wish but wouldn't it be boring if it was perfect! See ya next year xx.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Time to say goodbye....

..... to an old faithful friend. No, don't worry, it's not my wobbly old cat! This friend is even older than him. It's my favourite, holey, moth eaten old hand me down (or stolen more like!) jumper from my OH. I now have a new hand me down and I think old jumper's time has come. I was going to do it last winter but just couldn't bring myself to do it, but with my New Year resolve it is going to be chopped up into little pieces and composted, as it's pure wool. 

I already have one jumper currently decomposing; OH tells me he can still see bits of orange jumper as he turns the compost heaps. So, as old friend is older even than my relationship with OH (over 21 years) I rather like the idea of seeing my old friends in the ground as I hoe and weed and tend my veg. When you look at the photo I'm sure some bright spark will say I could have turned it into fingerless gloves but whilst I can knit jumpers I'm not very good in the sewing department!  (Well actually I was once, I got an A in my Needlework O-level, but I never took to sewing with any kind of passion, unlike knitting).

RIP old friend, you have served us both very well :-)

A quick note to Mac users

Having adjusted the margins on my blog, I had a check on my OH's Mac laptop to make sure it still worked OK on a smaller screen. It did, however I noted that the fonts looked different which affected the text wrap, slightly screwing it up in a few places. My OH informs me that Macs have their own fonts which are different - so please be aware because this is created on a PC, any text wrap problems you see are not due to me - any problems due to Blogger playing up, believe me I will scream loudly and you will know about it!

I do wish these blogs would look the same no matter what kind of computer or browser you use, but they don't. 

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Butterfly count 2011

I keep a bird list of all the species seen since moving here in 2004, but have never really thought about counting the butterflies I see in the garden. So here's a list of all that I can remember seeing this year.

Orange Tips
Red Admirals
Meadow Browns
Large Whites
Small Whites (those two are the good old Cabbage White)
Marbled White
Small Copper (1)
Wall Browns
Painted Lady (1) 
some Blues (not sure which, probably the common one!)
the occasional unidentifiable Fritillary
(Total 16 species)

and of the pretty daytime flying moths:

Jersey Tiger Moth (1)
Cinnabar Moths
Hummingbird Hawkmoths
Orange Underwing (1)

Not a very good list really - and this year I've not seen any Clouded Yellows which are normally abundant in September, only one Painted Lady, no Tortoiseshells and most worrying, hardly any Meadow Browns, which are usually our most common butterfly. I can only put that down to the early drought and as the caterpillar feeds on various grasses perhaps there was just not enough food for them. On the other hand there were far more Gatekeepers than normal (and yes I can tell the difference!) and they feed on the same things so maybe that's that theory out the window! I can't remember if I saw a Speckled Wood this year or not, but I usually see a few. 

Here's a collaged photo of some of the species seen this year (including an insect, not quite right for this blog post but the collage was already made as part of a calender I did for my Mum and Uncle for Christmas pressies!). Click on the photo to see a larger version of it.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Christmas chickens and flowers

I saw this in a Xmas craft market earlier in December and loved it. It sat on the dining table for about a week until I asked my OH to hide it away and give it to me for Crimbo. Which he did - and as I had totally forgotten about it I got a nice surprise pressie! There's a benefit to getting old and forgetful ;-)

As for the real chooks, their Xmas pressie was to be let out to destroy my garden, which they did with gusto. Freckles the duck hangs out with them every time now; she must be more lonely than she appears to be and seems to really enjoy their company.


Whilst my OH was cooking our dinner, I got out and did what I'd been hoping I would be able to do, take a photo of a geranium still alive and flowering on Christmas day! What a first! Although the garden certainly looks very wintery there are a fair few things still clinging to life with a few flowers here and there.

Ivy leafed geranium
Cranesbill geranium "Jolly Bee"
Gaillardia - this plant has flowered
non stop for at least 7 months!

Last but certainly not least, I have a veg patch full of borage not just flowering, but still germinating! I can't possibly start digging it up when it is still looking pretty - will just have to hope we have some proper winter weather soon so we can get the veg patch ready for the next growing season.

I have also discovered that my mum has had a look at my blog - thanks to my brother stalking me and finding out about it - so just want to say "Hi Mum! xx". But darn, I can't whinge about family now!!! *joke!*

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Home made decorations

I can hardly believe it is Christmas Eve already. This week has just flown by in a whirl of social activity (two words that rarely apply to our lives!), baking mountains of mince pies and mini pumpkin pies, shopping and decorating of the Xmas kind. 

So, in comes our little Xmas tree, out come the boxes of tinsel and related manufactured bling..... and then on a whim, I decided to make a few arrangements with natural goodies from the garden, which is quite rich in such things when one bothers to look in amongst what looks like a dead or dying winter garden. 

Of course it didn't help that it was pouring with rain as I was out snipping and clipping and I had to strew the house with newspaper and bits of greenery for 24 hours to dry it all out before I could start to 'do' something with them. By this time I nearly gave up and composted the lot but I'm glad I persevered. I'm no flower arranger but I'm quite pleased with what I have achieved and I think it adds a nice balance to the all too easy, bought, manufactured, plasticy stuff that adorns so many places at this time of year.

Variegated Photinia with red and orange Dogwood stems and pink and orange Spindleberry berries which I collected up the road. The dried chillies are my own too and the blue blob in the background outside the window shouldn't really be there - it's actually my OH opening the gates to friends who came to visit on Thursday! This is not a very posed photo (hence bit of curtain in shot) but the light levels are so bad at this time of year it is the only photo that doesn't have the flash reflecting in the glass!

A good old mix here of just about everything including the wonderful star-like seed pods from the plant I call wild rhubarb out of the ditch!

Finally there's our tree. Now I have tree envy as everyone else seems to have huge, green, healthy looking trees whilst ours is only green in two senses, the frugal sense and the eco, good for the environment sense. We bought it 5 Christmasses ago for the grand sum of €5 as a tiny potted specimen. Even then it wasn't the sort of tree to give anyone envy. Now it's been potted on several times, watered but forgotten to be fed and generally neglected for most of the year until the week before Xmas when it comes in for its annual makeover.

I couldn't get a decent photo of it at all; partly due to dreadful light levels and partly due to the fact it really isn't the kind of tree that photographs very well at the best of times! So I have 'enhanced' it slightly with a special effect or two, as I do have a soft spot for my not so green in colour little tree. 

Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, 19 December 2011

Veg Patch part 2

Because blogger is messing about and I couldn't post any more photos where I wanted them, and am seriously thinking of switching to a different type of blog because this is soooooooo hard to use - especially for someone with a background of desktop publishing who is used to being able to do text wrap and put photos in EXACTLY where I want them, this post has had to be made into two parts.

Late September 2011, tomatoes, chillies, marigolds and dill
Purple curly kale, PSB and nasturtiums

And now there is only one thing left to say..... AAAAAAARRRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

Veg Patch part 1

Or potager, as we are, after all, in France. I have gazillions of photos of my veggie patch over the 7 years I have been growing in it, so trying to find a handful to post is like looking for a needle in a haystack! But I have said I will start with some background, so what better than to show a few before and afters - not that there will ever be a finished veg patch as it were, as it is something that is constantly changing. 

I have a 5 bed rotation sytem and one smaller, triangular bed which has my redcurrants and blackcurrants in it. I am also very into letting things self seed, particularly nasturtiums, coriander, dill and the last few years (and I don't really get much of a say in the matter as they are thugs!), borage and magenta orach. All are edible, pretty and nearly all are beneficial to wildlife in one way or another. I will post about some of them individually in the future......

Before we bought the house July 2004 -
it was much weedier than this when we started digging it over that autumn.
I have kept that peach tree in the foreground which has grown hugely.
That first winter we dug and weeded
and enlarged and refenced
First growing season 2005 -
a good crop of yellow labels coming up!

Despite a very dry summer and no compost in the ground
we managed a good harvest that first year

Fast forward several years and
we now have posh old pallet edging.....
'Rustic' gateway with self seeded Nasturtiums and Verbena bonariensis

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Meet the menagerie

Chickens are difficult creatures to photograph. They normally either walk away from you or have this amazing ability to turn around so you end up with a photo of a dirty bottom. Or in the case of one of my newest hens, they take such an interest in the camera you can only get strange shots of their faces giving you a funny look.

Marleen - an enormous Bleu d'Hollande

Andrea being given the once over by Freddy,
on the day she first arrived

Snowy, my oldest hen,
a Light Sussex

Rusty and Clementine (Clemmy),
who I rehomed for a friend back in May

Outside in one of their runs back in the summer -
my 7th bird Cinders
is the grey one

Out to play in the big garden

Then there's the ducks. Or rather, the duck. Sadly my poor Daffy got taken by a fox a few weeks ago, after she'd been really naughty and refused to come in that night - there's not a lot you can do if a duck decides to stay on the water as you can't chase it in! We also lost Donaldina to natural causes back in the summer. So we just have Freckles left who still lays the occasional egg although her laying days are coming to an end. Here are all three enjoying the sunshine with some other water birds and their babies - can you guess what they are?!!

Baby moorhens

Freckles getting rather miffed
as a juvenile moorhen steals her grub!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

We have a stream again!

Great excitement yesterday after a wild night of wind and rain to discover the stream which feeds our lake had started flowing again! It's one of the highlights of the year here at Chateau Moorhen but it normally happens in October or November. Suffice to say I donned my brand new waterproof wellies and had lots of fun playing divert the stream until I sunk into thick, quicksand like mud and fell over! It will take a while to fill completely - possibly a couple of weeks, depending on how much more rain we get but the good news is that the level was already raised by about 6 inches/15cm, and I could see signs of lots of fish activity in the newly oxygenated and fresh water. Freckles the duck (the blob in the 3rd photo) had good fun playing in it too.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011


Last night on River Cottage Hugh F-W made an amazing looking sweet pastry walnut caramel pie - I've never wanted to make something so bad! We have gazillions of walnuts here from our 3 walnut trees so I am always trying to use them up - I make walnut bread often, always put chopped walnuts in crumble toppings and put them in a lot of cakes too. 

They say a walnut tree takes 10 years to start to produce. I didn't plant mine, they were already there and the year we bought this house was the first year the biggest tree had produced - a couple of nuts. Over the next few years it went from about 2 nuts to 15, then 50 to..... about 1,000 - yes, really, that big a jump! By this time the smaller trees were starting to produce too. 

I can't believe I actually advertised these two smaller trees on Anglo Info 6 years ago to anyone with a trailer or transit van who would like to come and dig them up! You'd need a digger and a huge truck now! It's just amazing how quickly they grow and the diameter of the trunk grows as rapidly as the height of the tree. The reason for wanting to get rid of the smaller trees was (sigh) because they had been planted too close to the bigger tree in the middle. Thankfully it's turned out fine with a bit of pruning although they do rather grow into each other a bit, and one isn't the prettiest of shapes.

 I'm so glad I kept the two smaller trees as they produce a larger nut - can't taste any difference but they are easier to find and pick up, and look, well, prettier!

Here's how they look now, nearly 6 years later - the two smaller trees on either side of the big one.

This is just a very small amount of the nuts I have collected this year - and yes I really, really had to stop myself from counting every single nut collected, which I have been doing until last year (1,859). Yes I'm a saddo!

And this little chap/chappess (in fact there may be two of them) who live in my garden help to 'propagate' by burying their nuts EVERYWHERE in my flower beds and veg patch and lawn - come spring I am weeding out walnut trees galore as he/she never seems to be able to find their buried nuts - but I can't be cross - how can anyone not love red squirrels!

Monday, 12 December 2011

More unusual wildlife on the lake this year

Every now and again in summer when the water level is low, we are visited by a Common Sandpiper.

 This year we have had a couple of 'firsts'! A juvenile Night Heron came and stayed for about a month. You can just about make out his spotty body hiding in amongst the branches.


Lastly, another 'first', we've been visited about 5 times during November and December by a Little Egret, probably because the water level is low.

Our birdie count for Chateau Moorhen now stands at 58!

The lake

These photos were taken on 6th December and shows how low my poor old lake is! It's fed by a seasonal stream which nearly always dries up in summer, but this is the latest the stream has ever stayed dry, normally starting to flow and fill the lake during the rainy season of October and November.

We have resident moorhens here. Parents have come and gone, youngsters have been born, grown up and moved on to pastures new but they are as much a part of the lake as the water is, hence the name of my blog and house!

Looking up the dry stream

From the stream end, looking towards the house

From the house end looking the other way 

In the beginning.....

Welcome to my blog! I shall use the rest of this year as an introduction to life at the Chateau and post some before and after photos of things like the veg patch, plus wildlife pics during our 7 years here. Then next year I will try to use the blog properly. The idea is to use this as a record for me but if anyone else enjoys the photos and any of my future blatherings, all well and good :-)