Sunday, 3 June 2012

Peter Mayle has a lot to answer for.

Two days ago there was no path
Some of you probably know who Peter Mayle is but are wondering why I have it in for him, others perhaps don't know who he is and are curious as to what he's done to me.  For the record Peter Mayle wrote "A Year in Provence", one of the first "new life abroad books" and from him came dozens of others; "Driving over Lemons" (Chris Stewart) and "Extra Virgin" (Annie Hawes) to name but two.  Like thousands of other people I read those books and longed for the chance to live such a dream myself; and then we moved to the Lake District and I got my chance and that's when I learned it's not quite the same as they tell you in the books.

Trust me, this is the "after" shot.
We've been here just short of 18 months now and, if this were one of those books we'd have tamed the wilderness that is the garden, gotten ourselves a goat or two, harvested our first crop of olives/ tomatoes/ other home grown produce and be spending our evenings sitting around on the patio enjoying home grown meals with our neighbours, supplemented by local wine and freshly baked bread, whilst swapping amusing anecdotes about our experiences with the local tradespeople.

So what's the reality and how is it so different?  Well for a start I wouldn't exactly describe the garden as "tamed" just yet.  Where Peter, Annie et al seemed to have endless days at their disposal for creating their corner of pardise, I'm having to fit it in around 1 and 1/2 jobs and alongside my attempts at breaking into freelance writing.  They clearly had some sort of steady but undisclosed financial income to support their new lives; we had to sell our CD collection for our monthly shop. (I'm not complaining, just saying.  Well, actually I'm making excuses for not having done the garden properly yet.)

My favourite little nook.  Site of a spring in
wet weather (see Steve's pics below.)
Anyway, back to the garden.  We bought this place as it had the largest garden we could afford because we like a little space around us; but you know what they say, "with great gardens come great responsibility".  We'd been told that it was a "low maintenance" garden but I don't believe such a thing really exists; with each season comes a new challenge.  At the moment I'm battling sycamore saplings which pop up at an astounding rate accompanied by a rich assortment of weeds.  It doesn't help that I'm horticulturally inept,  When I visit the local garden centre in search of weedkiller and they ask what sort of weeds I have, the best I can come up with is "red ones, you know, the ones with the small green leaves..." Their pitying look says it all.  I've actually come up with  few rules for weeds which would help me enormously.

1. Weeds should be ugly and easily discernible from flowers.  We are the proud owners of some very pretty weeds, but they all have to come out apparently.

2.  Only one weed at a time per garden.  Along with our blue weeds and red weeds we also have bindweed and sticky weed and I only have one pair of hands.

Just need to train them to only eat the weeds.
3.  Weeds should grow at a discrete distance from all other flora.  Embedding themselves in amongst "proper" plants is not playing fair, neither is wrapping themselves around them.  You hear me bindweed?

To help reduce the amount of weeding I need to do I've reclassified some borderline weeds.  For example Wild Garlic and Wild Strawberries are allowed to grow along my paths so long as they don't mind sacrificing themselves for the odd meal or two.  I've also decided that the tall grass with the interesting stem is an "Ornamental Grass" and thus can remain, at least for now.

Our very own spring; well, occasionally.
On the bright side we have managed to grow some of our own produce.  Last year we produced an inedible crop of runner beans and a crop of peas which, although very tasty, could barely be eeked out to half a portion. We also inherited 4 prolific apple trees which quickly exhausted my supply of apple recipes, so this year we'll be making cider, lots of cider.  Who knows, maybe this time next year we'll have caught up with the Mayles/ Stewarts/ Hawes of this world and will be enjoying dinner in the garden with our neighbours or, more likely, we'll all be indoors getting roaring drunk on cider whilst the rain pours down and the weeds run riot unchecked.  Perhaps not quite so inspiring to write about, but nevertheless idyllic in its own way.


  1. I agree - I think the first batch of intrepid relocators such as Mayle were rather well off before embarking on their adventure. It's different now of course with so many people longing to follow in their footsteps.

    The trick with the gardening is to get yourself banned from it! On a 'weeding' session in Cyprus I once dragged out a fledgling Bird of Paradise and was about to destroy an orchid when I was banished indoors. Worked a treat. ;-)

  2. Ha - thanks Karen! I like your style. May use the gardening tip next time!

  3. I love your reclassification of weeds, particularly the ornamental grass. The prospect of sitting in the house drinking cider doesn't sound so bad!!

  4. I'm thinking of reclassifying the entire garden as a "nature reserve" and leaving it to its own devices...

  5. Enjoyed your blog! We moved to a village in East Sussex from Hackney some years back, so I have some experience of the moving to the country idyll... Now back where I belong, with the other Town Mice!

  6. Thanks Judith - it's a huge change isn't it? I must admit I absolutely adore it and have no intention of returning. Used to visit Hackney a lot and loved the huge mix of food shops; guess that's one thing I miss about town life.

  7. Really enjoyed this -certainly agree about wild garlic which I use in nettle soup -another weed that grows well in my garden

  8. Thanks Rosemary. I thought we had nettles but turned out to be Lemon Balm. Smells a lot better and much easier to pick! :-)