Sunday 31 May 2009

Poppies and returns

The poppies are out, and seem to be at their very best right now. Some pics below.

We have just said goodbye to a weekend party of guests who came for a family reunion. They were so pleased with their stay that they have already booked to come again next year, and for a longer stay. Can't be bad.

Pattie's Plum is always a favourite

Aurora is as bright and fresh on the eye as sherbet is on the tongue

The red poppy "Falklands" has pinked edges. As do pinks.

Friday 29 May 2009


It's time to introduce you two local characters: Marie who runs the restaurant just down the road, and Noël, her chef there. Between them they prepare lunches and evening meals for the tourists who visit the caves and the river valley, and they also cater for the numerous private parties who book the restaurant for family events, birthdays, etc.

We shall be running some week-long cookery classes with them later this year, designed to introduce English family cooks to some of the traditional French delicacies of the region. We plan to be tasting wines, cooking complete meals using ingredients like local creams, cheeses, cider and stronger apple-based drinks, and visiting local food producers such as the chocolate factory and wild boar farm.

Should be a fun week. We are working out some adverts for the UK press at the moment. Watch this space!

Marie runs the restaurant

Noël is her chef

The restaurant

Tuesday 26 May 2009

Great big steaming heap of manure

The best thing about horses (in my view) is that garden plants like the manure they make. The second best thing about horses is that they make lots of it.

A lovely lady not far from me has two horses, and she has been carefully heaping up their droppings in a corner of her field, for a couple of years. It's wonderful stuff, well rotted, ideal for the garden. I have collected a few loads before, in my trailer, and arranged, this time with my Dutch gardening enthusiast friend, to visit again.

Collecting it is not without its hazards: last time my car got stuck coming out of the field, and the wife had to come and rescue me, bringing a pair of steel ramps to get me over the steep slippery bit. My Dutch friend was having none of this, leaving his car outside the field while I drove in (armed with ramps this time, just in case).

All was well. We filled my trailer and wheeled several barrow-loads each out of the field to his waiting car and trailer, and took them home. Now he wants to go industrial and hire a lorry and digger and collect the whole lot in one go. Economies of scale (and of effort) do make this attractive, but originally, I had, essentially, an inexhaustable supply that I didn't have to store, and could collect whenever I wanted. And it was free. Hmmm. Be careful what you wish for.

A trailer load for me

Some barrows for him

Sunday 24 May 2009

Saturday 23 May 2009

Blue in Blue

The lake lay blue below the hill.
O'er it, as I looked, there flew
Across the waters, cold and still,
A bird whose wings were palest blue.

The sky above was blue at last,
The sky beneath me blue in blue.
A moment, ere the bird had passed,
It caught his image as he flew.

This poem by Mary E Coleridge was set to music by Charles Villiers Stanford, and the song comes to mind as I contemplate the shades of blue in these iris.

Some time ago, on a certain Summer's evening, you could wander onto on the banks of the river Cam behind the colleges, and sit and wait for the arrival of a choir, seated on a raft of punts. And as the sun slowly set and darkness fell, they would sing for you ancient and modern songs, of which the above was one. And the end of the concert, in the dark, with lanterns lit, they would disappear back down the river, the only other sounds being the night insects and the splash of punt poles. Quite magical.

Beautiful lady

Perfumed and beautiful, Ena Harkness adorns my wall.

Monday 18 May 2009


I don't take any great exception to having slugs and snails in my garden: the grass snakes, toads and birds eat them. But they cause devastation if they get into the wrong place, so I don't have any problem about putting down slug pellets either, to keep them off my plants when I'm not there to do it myself.

This magnificent specimen, a good three inches long, was trundling over my veg patch while I was working on it today, so he got a flying lesson just after this picture was taken.

Sunday 17 May 2009

Les Belles Chaises

It's a simple enough idea, but can lead to some great creativity. A little reason to bring people together, around an exhibition of decorated chairs. You can decorate whatever kind of chair you like in whatever style. You bring it into the centre of our little village of St Pierre sur Erve, and set it up in a tent specially provided for the purpose.

We started at 1.00 PM, and it went on till 6, and ended up with a chat over beers or kir in the bar. Very nice.

Last year was the first one, and this year being the second one, it's probably traditional by now. There's a few examples below, but really it's a social occasion.

Here's one with the theme of Africa

This is the wife's collection of miniature chairs from the museum; a "mini belles chaises" in fact

I just thought this head was dramatic

These chairs in different styles were laid out in a pattern but the wind blew them over. I think they look better this way :)

It looks comfortable, but is it art? Actually, it's the chair I took to sit on, with my reading material :)

Saturday 16 May 2009

Flower Show

There is a big once-every-five-years flower show going on in Nantes this year, so, given the ongoing garden development here at Domaine des Hallais, we decided to go and take a look.

It was two hours drive away, which seemed a long way, but then I remembered that I used to think nothing of doing the two hour drive from Staines to the NEC when I was working in England. Leeds at 3 and a half hours did seem a long way, but the NEC? Nearly on the doorstep.

A fascinating display. Formal and informal gardens built by private gardening firms, or from sponsored civil bodies like the city of Seattle, twinned with Nantes. I came away with only two new plants: what I can only describe as a wodge of Agapanthus; somone had dug up an established plant and split it with a spade, and a few roots of Incarvillea, a plant that goes by the common name of chasse-taupe in France, because moles don't like it. I have had some moles in my lawn so maybe these will help.

Here are some pictures from the flower show. Some random pictures to give you a feel for it, though of course there is much more to see than these.....

This garden creates an air of mystery as in Arthurian legends

This industrial wasteland garden appealed to me because it reminded me of scenes from the computer game "Half Life"

There were plenty of orchids on display

This abstract pattern of orchids, in crystal vases, placed on a mirror was effective

This one seemed somehow Irish to me :)

And this vegetable umbrella, one of several was..... well, different

Tuesday 12 May 2009

Fire-Breathing Dragon

My wife runs a miniatures museum on site, and one of the buildings featured is a Wizards' Academy. It is guarded by a dragon in the basement. He's there to look after the treasure, and keep the tax inspectors away, of course, but just for fun I tell the younger visitors that he's for the central heating.

The real fire-breathing dragon on site is the wood-burnining boiler manufactured by Heizomat, which really is used for the central heating. It is powered by shredded wood chips which are delivered by a giant lorry into a big (30M cubed) bunker. About 33% of mainland France is given to forest, and wood-fired heating is encouraged by the government here as sustainable and carbon-neutral (over the lifetime of the tree)

It has a maximum power output of 100KW, and can heat the two gîte buildings and also the pool, even in the depths of Winter. I gave it a good clean-out today so that it can perform reliably over the Summer period, heating the pool and the water for washing.

The fire-breathing dragon

The plumbing

Monday 11 May 2009

Impressed by Google

I'm impressed. I just incoporated a Google map into my gîte website. It was remarkably easy to do. Here's the map below. And if you click on the blue pointer, you can get a travel itinerary to or from Le Domaine des Hallais and your chosen location. Neat!

Afficher Position of les Hallais sur une carte plus grande

Bygone sounds (For Jonathan)

We found ourselves at an old forge on Saturday, where an enthusiast demonstrated how to sharpen a pick-axe point for us. So here is the now rare sight and sound of an blacksmith at work. (I'll get the image turned the right way up once I work out how)


Saturday 9 May 2009

Plant swaps

My Dutch friend gave me some twigs from his Buddleja plants at the start of Spring. After some time propogating them, I was pleased to end up with a total of 15 rooted plants in three colours: Blue, white and yellow. Buddleja are known for attracting butterflies, so I am looking forward to seeing my bushes covered in the peacock and other butterflies common in this area, later in the year.

Meanwhile, 15 plants is more than I need, so I had to work out what to do with them. The result: four I have planted already, five I have left to plant, three (one of each colour) I have given away to Marie who runs the restaurant down the road, and the last three I took to a plant sale and swap at the Jardin des Renaudies, about an hour away.

I wouldn't normally go that far for a plant swap, but the gardens are lovely, so the wife and I spent a pleasant afternoon bantering with the stall holders, choosing some nice plants for the garden, finding new homes for my Buddleja, and of course, enjoying the gardens.

Some rooted cuttings

Here's a few pictures of the gardens, but pictures never do gardens justice.

The haul. Not a bad result!

Monday 4 May 2009

Garden News

We bring you live, up-to-the-minute news from the garden channel here on the Corner of France blogspot, from our roving reporter.

Poppy "Medallion"

Creeping Thyme in bloom

The first Potentilla bloom, no bigger than your thumb

Sunday 3 May 2009

What a party!

We just had some guests at the gîte for the weekend for a 40th birthday celebration. A great party, with a wonderful atmosphere. Everyone got on really well, talking 19 to the dozen, making good use of the pool, the champagne and the surroundings. It began with lunch on Friday, increasing in pace over the weekend, culminating in a grand meal on Saturday night, followed by a disco. The guests left for home, tired by happy, after breakfast on Sunday morning.

It was a challenge, because our normal maximum number of people for a dinner is 24, but this party had 28, and for five courses instead of the normal four. And since this was a special birthday, we wanted the meal to be special too.

The dinner menu ran like this: Terrine of salmon with cream and cucumber, served with a dry white Bordeaux, followed by scallops on a bed of rice with gently spiced butter and vermouth sauce. The main course was stuffed fillet of pork with lettuce and peas and croquet potatoes served with a wonderful madeira sauce and accompanied by a 2005 Bordeaux red. A course of local cheeses then followed with a light salad, and finally the birthday cake was served with a sweet Bordeaux white.

Once the meal ended at about 11:30, people wandered over to the disco which was set up in the big conference room, and danced until about 4:00 AM. What a party!

We commissioned the cake from a local boulanger, who did a fine job.
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