All Posts · French Life · Garden in the meadow · Renovation work

Taming the wilderness

Arriving back from England was another shock to the system. Leaving your home for a month seems to throw your well being out of kilter for quite a few days. Maybe exhaustion from the the two day journey including a cancelled train and a detour to another French town didn’t help, but London is as far removed from little rural Auge as the ocean bed is from the furthest parts of the Milky Way.  The contrast can jar the senses.

I love London, but I adore my country retreat here. Maybe that’s the dilemma. I have for the past three years been pulled away from our renovation project and I am aging too…bad back, stupidly short-sighted eyes now deciding to go long sighted meaning two pairs of glasses and more grey hairs and not just where they should be..on your head!!! Funnily today Tony said today that when your young you worry about having to wear glasses. Now older we panic when we can’t find them….vanity is replaced by practicality. My Dad would get enraged at losing his glasses, not realising that more often than not, they were pushed up on his head!

With my mother’s illness pulling me back to London likely in a month, all I can do is take on small projects, leaving Tony to press ahead with the barn. We downsized garage plans due to French red tape. Over 20 metre square, the copious dossier regulations can be daunting.  We are good at red tape..I was an accountant for over twenty years, but as you age, your need to live your days seems to make form filling seem a quicker route to your grave.  In other words..sod it, I need a life!!


Three years ago this view greeted us..but it was freedom. Freedom from city costs and crippling, let’s work till we are seventy, mortgages.  The weeds, brambles, rats in the attic and eight legged creepy crawlies were just little temporary setbacks. This was our future home. And we had land and this quirky  little bunker house was the perfect attelier. When I first saw it, it reminded me of a German border post.  In 2015 we basically dug these buildings out of the land. Land chews through these French rural ruins at quite a pace and it seems some of us find this ressurection challenge utopia. Brits do the Franch barn thing…and yes with little dosh! Couldnt be any other way really.

It’s a hard slog with no regard for the weather. Back breaking and damages has left us both a little battered, but coming back now in 2018 I realize we have broken through and from ruins, a home is emerging.  Over the next few months I will show some of our projects and some tips along the way for all you mad renovators and dreamers.

Here is the same patch of land,  tamed and soon to be home for a couple of geece.  It’s freezing this week, heavy rain and high hurricane like winds  but we are building our chicken coop and finishing the goose pond…more of these projects later.

Blogging, photographing, renovating and trying to plan my future business at times makes me panic.  We have a tonne load of work to do and I am inclined to procrastinate and sink my head in the sand if I can and hope it all goes away.  But chickens arrive Friday and they won’t wait. They will be excited to see their new enormous pen,  chase each other round the run and organize who will be Chicken Number One. I am sloshing green paint around tomorrow and hopefully it won’t be so windy as today.  I have green fingers and a bright red nose!


The trees here are birch and give some great summer shade.  Since the photo top, the removal of evasive brambles strangling their route systems which are surface rather than vertical, and adding fences to protect them from harsh winter winds and equally harsh summer heat, they have tripled in height. Autumn mulching round their bases and some strategic pruning to raise their canopies (that’s cutting out lower branches), allows more air to circulate, bring light and the trees thrive.  I have an oak that needs some attention and the lime in the centre of the garden has had a huge overhaul last autumn, thinning out strangling branches and getting the canopy of leaves into a decent shape to create much needed shade.  I love tree surgery and with a brave heart and sharp tools you can really help trees to mature handsomely.  I feel responsible for these ancient characters and will be planting moreover the next few years.  The French cut many for firewood and I too burn wood.  I feel ashamed by this admittance but one project we would like to explore is growing our own burn timber.  I have to put back what I take…only then will I feel innocent.

Well it’s late, and we are having our daily two hours before bed writing, reading and listening to music. Tonight it’s Joan  Armatrading, Beck and Incognito.  Evening music for a tired chicken coop painter.


Bunker house renovated after a very sad start. Now it’s La Petite Maison. And below is how we “camped” in the house whilst we lived in France . But don’t worry, we did decorate and installed a temporary kitchen downstairs. But it’s still hot water or toilet.  We have a porta-loo and a small wall mounted boiler for showers, and finally this year a wood burner as the last winter here, we absolutely froze.



The brambles are the most evil plant on the planet and forget sentimentality over brambles jam. For the rear of the house, after a week of blistered hands and torn skin, Christian took pity and brought in the heavy machinery. It saved us hours of work and the brambles war was won.

Bramble killing – cut down to about an inch off the ground. Leave for a month to allow new shoots to develope. At this point spray every plant with neat “round-up” or other specific bramble weed killer. Do this on a hot dry day to optimise absorption into leaves.  Repeat four days later. After two weeks the brambles should be black. At this point dig up the root system. It is an interlocking mesh with hard modules from which emanate about three to five horizontal roots up to eight feet long. There is also a sneaky vertical root.  As you cut and heave these out, the plants lose their interlinking ability and come out far easier. Be persistent.  Next season, around May, stragglers will sprout again. Repeat weed killer, and more digging out.  Some gardeners say they are still slaughtering brambles seven years later. Ours have gone in approx one year, give or take a few stubborn patches. Be vigilant in keeping brambles from reappearing especially in remote parts of the garden.  If all else fails…get a goat!



25 thoughts on “Taming the wilderness

      1. Much better, thanks. We started going to the gym more and we bought a new bed with memory foam and some kind of cooling cell. It made a big difference. It’s hard getting old. I share my Tramadol with one of dogs who is getting arthritic at 9.5 years old. Seriously, she has her own script. 😆

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I slept on a memory foam bed for three weeks. I don’t think it made much difference. My back is painful all the time. Sitting, sleeping, walking. But then I am not taking any medication. Recent consultant said yoga and exercise to strengthen stomach muscles. At some point you can both carry sticks!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I’ve been doing a kind of yoga and stretching for many years. The yoga evolved from how I did stretches. It’s more like Ray’s Yoga. 🙂 Our new bed made a big difference. I’m sorry to say this, but you may be at a point where you need some spinal fusion. That’s really what I’m trying to avoid.


      4. I’m Judi. That’s terrible. If you are in constant pain it may be time for some kind of surgery. I can say that it’s usually successful. If you have seen the past few days of Storyteller, you’ve seen Mardi Gras Indians. Their suits weigh about 125 pounds. One of my Indian friends had spinal fusion surgery last year. He sat out last year while he was doing physical therapy. This year he is right back out on the street.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I just love reading about your life in France! You’ve really struggled and put the work in and my goodness how you’ve transformed it. Can’t wait to see more pictures …. please! You’re living my dream ❤️❤️


    1. Thank you. Best way to make the dream reality is to make a not so good decision and the result means drastic changes to resolve it. I would have liked to have had no stress in that event, but I am now in a happy space give or take a few back twinges along the way.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Cant wait to see pics of the Chickens. I feel i had a hand in the plan!! Its such a difficult time when your looking after a parent and having to go back and forth, dont forget that you need looking after too and take some time to rest and watch those funny little feathery friends sorting out their quarrells.


    1. Oh my goodness!!! These chickens in two days will have a house better than mine. Lots of pictures will be posted as I am sure there will be some hierarchical squabbles that will be very amusing.
      If the chickens form a Union and get too demanding, I will call on you as planning spokesperson to settle matters! And yes I am taking time out between busy work days….cooking is my go to relaxing method. Yesterday was quiche and fajitas-with chicken…sorry guys. But I won’t be eating mine.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I too tend to “sink my head in the sand if I can and hope it all goes away.” You are incredibly intrepid for taking on so such a grand renovation aside from your other projects! Your birch trees look beautiful and I am eager to see what the rest of the garden will look like under your care. Is the firewood you burn for your stove? And if so, is there an alternative like a pellet stove that would work? Best of luck with the homestead.


    1. Yes there are pellets but my stove is a timber burner. I love gardening so it was a big decision to set half aside for the feathered family. But I shall be planting round them and we can all share the fruits of the Labour. And the geece can be my grass trimmers!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Renovating, creating a dream is taxing, debilitating and tiring, emotional, draining and eroding but it is also elating, uplifting, full of pride and sod it we did it moments. What you have achieved so far is remarkable. What you will achieve in the end will make your hearts sing. Your mother’s illness is a curved ball meaning less time in France for now but it is only for now. It is a bump in your road but your road is leading you home. Enjoy the chickens …. and the geese when they arrive. Et bon courage 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes tiring is the word for this week. High winds, cold numb fingers, back absolutely screaming today and a wish that when I open the fridge in a minute there would be a big slab of chocolate cake to fuel me to the chicken coop completion finishing line. I think our neighbours think we are very odd people. We build chicken coops and goose houses, workshops and gardens but we still haven’t begun our home. But there is a method in the madness. When the barn is complete we know the rest is just pottering and enjoyment. I don’t think I would be in the mood once snug in my favourite chair with all my books to tackle land clearance. Dead heading a few roses and planting wildflowers seeds will be just fine.


      1. Broken biscuits, cocoa powder, melted butter, sugar (golden syrop too if poss but otherwise melt Brown sugar for the same effect) add anything else you like …. nuts, dried fruits etc, give and mix it all together. Spread in a rectangular dish lined with papier sulfurisé and refrigerate. Hey Presto … no cooking and a hit of pure chocolate pleasure at will. Perfect for aching frozen chicken warriors 🐔🐓🐔🐓

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I am on it this weekend. I do oat based cakes that need no baking. I make a sticky dough with oats, carrot juice and finely chopped nuts and seeds. On top drizzled chocolate or Apple puree that’s home made. Sometimes add dates or prunes to the oat mix. What’s nice is to add all into a wok and heat for just five minutes to help the flavours meld. A dash of honey for a bit of sweetness.

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      3. Delish! I’ll make a batch of those very shortly! I realized that actually honey rather than melted brown sugar would be a better substitute for the golden syrup assuming you eat honey (I fall foul of vegans all the time, these days 😱). I used to make batches of the chocolate stuff all the time when my children were growing up – we got bags of broken biscuits from the grocers (I expect that’s illegal now) and it made for a popular sweet treat after school … now I make them for my husband and it’s an equally popular sweet treat after work, gardening, decorating or whatever else he’s been up to (and me, of course 😉)


      4. I adore honey and was going to import from Romania. It tastes of the summer meadows and wild flowers, mint and honeydue too. We have a lot of honey we bought back and it’s from local beekeepers. The stuff in the shops shouldn’t be called honey…most is glorified sugar syrup. Nothing wrong with beekeeping if done properly. Next time a vegan gets up your nose, ask them if they drink bloody almond milk!!!

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