Thursday, December 20, 2018

Elms recover - for good!

In a rather lost corner of La Chaise meadows, land properly titled Les Fontenelles where there are indeed a few wet weather springs, there is a curious (to me) square of land that has been defined by the fencing.   Half is grassland, half is scrub trees.   Gradually we decided that a quarter of the trees were elms that were suffering slow death - probably from Dutch Elm disease that was prevalent then, the 1980's.

Fortunately for the trees they were far enough from the house, not an important area for the future golf course and of no interest to the sheep.  Every year the spindly elms would put out a few leaves,then die back. Every year one thought: should do something about the trees and each year it was unimportant.
Lo!  We flourish - or nearly

Occasionally I wondered Why so many young trees in one corner, Why the square patch of rather poor grass. Never came up with an answer.   Sometimes masterly inaction is the best solution. This year, nearly forty years later,  perhaps the elms have outlived the disease.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The short life of a small oak

Obsessive, compulsive gardeners have many enemies - grass is a major one as it persists in growing everywhere it is not wanted for ornamental purposes whether in gravel-strewn paved or cemented walks. Those who are trying, sporadically, to 'garden' in what used to be woodland, also have to cope with tree saplings.    These are much harder to pull up, their roots seem deeper, tougher, not even killed off by mole tunnels.  The back 'lawn' at La Chaise is a field of two/three leaved oak saplings that have been mowed.

Some trees are nourished by the parents even - or especially - after death.   Here an oak sapling cannibal nursery.

A couple of years ago an oak sapling installed itself in the chicken house wall. Its first year I thought 'how photogenic, how cute'.   The second year I began to imagine what oak tree roots could do to a rough stone wall barely held together by ancient mortar.  The third year I would tentatively pull at it to see if it would let go. A trickle of dried mortar said not. Ever courageous, ever busy - the decision was postponed.

Look at me!   About to be a tree in the wrong place.
 Instead I pondered how on earth an acorn could have got into a crack, any crack, never mind that particular one, in a stone wall.   Chickens could not have done it, the beaks are too small to keep acorns whole.    Perhaps one of our many red squirrels (yes, please note boast, we have several pairs of red squirrels insofar as we can tell one from another) decided it would be a good hiding place.  And, since the sapling already showed about ten leaves, it must have been there some time, at least three years. So no traces of rodent scratches left after the torrential rains.

It might have been the grandchildren - but I have never seen the boys show any interest in acorns.   Sometimes they post them down mole holes and jump the mole hills flat.  The rain storms had considerably curtailed their outside fun anyway.   When the rain stopped, the sun and warmth returned and their attention turned to the pool.

The warmth gradually became excessive and pool time was postponed until later and later in the day. Even the chickens started to sulk and hide under bushes. Egg laying was definitely off.

This is what the sun did.

It solved my problem but I was still a little sad.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

My house has new corners.....

- new corners has my house.    

In all truth I should not use the plural because my house is only supposed to have one new corner. But that would not scan.  Indeed, I do not know in reality whether the house has its new corner yet.  It was supposed too be put in this September.  We thought it better to be elsewhere whilst the work was done. As the above picture shows:  it is work on a new corner of the Shepherd's Cottage - there only one corner stone had to be replaced.

This is the split in our wall which demands new corner stones - due to age and weather damage, not least the iron gate catch that heated and cooled at a different rate to the stones. Spot the invading, wall eating ivy...

As far as we know this is the first time since its building some 200 years or so ago that stonework has had to be replaced.  The reasons why one corner only (that is written in hope) has to be replaced are multiple but come down basically to the nature of the site and the type of construction.  Add in recent weather extremes

La Chaise new house, as it was in 18 whenever,  was built on a clay soil slope, probably with stones from the fields though the corners would have been made of quarried stone as were the door and window openings. There is a an old quarry at La Tour Blanche which is not very far away and which is purported to date back to Roman occupation times. But I suspect/know the new stone will come from a truly local quarry much nearer, it was not specified on the estimate.
This is the terrace we had built to try and anchor the base of the house - only it is the upper part of the walls that is heading down the hill

The forty centimetre +/-  field stone walls were/are held together by a mixture of clay, mortar and prayer. A previous owner added a fine outer layer of cement, we added an inner layer of 'crepi', a style of cement. Then added paint.

The fact that clay swells with rain and dries with heat, that the house had a very heavy Roman style red pottery tiled roof, did not help the stability of the construction.  We have made the roof lighter by successive re-tiling efforts but the house is still 10 centimetres wider at the top of the original walls than at the the bottom, all ten on the downward slope side.    It is held together by massive iron ties running through the attic and attached to an S in iron on the outside.  We added a massive triple T to hold the old and newer (relatively) downside walls together.

And this is what happens when the small tractor backs into the terrace...our first meetings with new stonemasons.

We have found a new stonemason to do the work on our house, and the others at La Chaise.   He says since the weather fluctuations, heat/wet/cold he is overworked.   His name?   Simeon Pierre - honest - a very local artisan.   His son is at school with our grandsons....

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

return of the wild orchids

It is wonderful to come back to the Dordogne in May after a long wet and cold winter.  Spring was suddenly unusually warm and now everything is in flower - roses, roses everywhere. There is a two foot high wild sage stem on the slope up to no: 8 green.

But the greatest news is that the wild orchids are back, the first wave of lazy purples, pyramid and scented orchids deep in the long grass near juniper bushes. The small meadow blue and brown butterflies, the occasional large white, hover around.

For some time now, ever since the juniper bushes on that rocky slope of land we refer to as 'Greece', started to die we saw less and less orchids.  There appears to be a strange form of symbiosis between junipers, orchids and ants, so the nearness of ant heaps and orchids to juniper roots would seem to indicate.

To my joy I saw the first orchids underneath young junipers along the fence of the horse fields.

The horse fields are still truly wild - because none of the La Chaise based golf fanatics have put a green on them.   Also it is several years since horses last pastured there and our 28 odd sheep and a random number of lambs in season make little impact on the two hectares.   Vetch and clover flourish, some cornflowers can be seen and, of course, 'horse-flowers' abound, known in other languages as 'lion's teeth' for their serrated leaves, edible when very young.