November in central France


Sign made of Apples

Sign made of Apples

We are still recovering from Wednesday; we were up early to greet the first group of workers who were charged with the removal of a sad, ailing Copper Beech from the front garden. It gave us no pleasure to see it come down but the poor thing had been butchered by EDF employees keeping the overhead power lines clear of branches. I counted at least three different species of fungus growing out of the trunk and from the roots and we thought it best to take it down in a controlled way before it did some damage one stormy night in the future.
The tree surgeon we used was good value and very good at his job. He could reel off a list of all the chateaux he works for, maintaining historic trees in the parks and gardens of the Loire Valley. We sought him out mainly for the cleaning up of the Sequoia in the back garden, a task that needed love, care and professionalism if the venerable specimen was to look its best: this was no job for itinerant tree-cutters! The conifer is thought to be around 150 years old and is one of three in the village. It was hit by lightning 60 years ago and now has three stems from halfway up. A lovely tree with a circumference of over seven meters, it is home to huge numbers of birds and bats and is worth every cent of the one thousand Euros we paid to have it attending to.
Within moments of the arrival of the arboricultural team the plumber pulled into the driveway, closely followed by the white vans of builders and decorators; the first day of the renovations had begun! Plans and quotations were consulted, last minute changes agreed and they were off, ripping out pipes, knocking down walls and achieving more in a morning than we had over the last two months. Offers of hot drinks were treated with timid incredulity but there was no confusing the time at mid day. At the sound of the 5-minute warning from the church bell, all tools were dropped; the workers cleaned themselves up and were away back to their homes by twelve, for their regular two-hour lunch break.
Meanwhile there was the little matter of a delivery from the UK to deal with. For reasons far too wearisome to bother you with, we have had our lovely office building at Wyevale dismantled and shipped over to France. The log cabin, which had only been erected at the garden centre a few months previously, arrived as a full load of wood and ancillary pieces and was unloaded by forklifts borrowed from the envelope-making factory in the village. I was dreading the lorry’s arrival and the difficulty of dealing with 10 tonnes of materials, but with the support of our neighbours and the good humour of the driver all went well and it was on the ground in time for lunch. The pieces now sit in the front garden, covered in black polythene and awaiting permission from the planners to erect it behind the house.
For light relief we dropped in to a local flower festival after a visit to a client last Saturday. Villentois is a pretty limestone village, in a deep river valley and on the edge of an ancient Oak forest, with its own derelict castle and mushroom farms cut into the white stone cliffs.

In the mushroom tunnels of Villentois

In the mushroom tunnels of Villentois

For the last 20 years the good people of Villentois have held a flower show in one of these tunnels and it is a popular and quite unique event. Supported by many local florists, landscapers and growers, displays are constructed in underground passages once packed with trays of champignon d’ Paris. Chelsea, it is not, but try getting a meal down there on the Friday and Saturday night; the impromptu restaurant was fully booked within an hour of opening for reservations! Being France, the show needed a theme for the artists to work around and this year it was “Women through the Ages”, giving plenty of opportunity to quote George Sand, a local author with strong views about men.
Flower arrangements ranged from the amateurish to very clever while the landscapers clearly struggled with the conditions. Other exhibits included sculpture (including live carving of the stone tunnel walls), porcelain, paintings and jewellery, all from local craftspeople. There was a strong smell of wine in the air and the bar was well supported.
We are still getting used to the novelty of weekends off and on Sunday afternoon drove a few miles north to the Cour-Cheverny apple festival. I had heard there was a conservatoire of old apple varieties and hoped we would be able to buy some trees for the garden. Chantal meanwhile was keen to taste the local wine, the only appellation using a grape variety called Romorantin, named after our local shopping town across the river Cher and on the edge of the Sologne. We are holding back our opinion of this grape until we have tried further samples: they can’t all be that bad! We came back with no wine and no trees but, in spite of the rain, enjoyed our trip out.
Summer bedding displays having been removed I assumed our village would manage only a small winter display. Not a bit of it. Just before All Saints Day huge arrangements of Chrysanthemums were erected in front of the church and the town hall and over the following few weeks thousands of Pansies and other winter bedding plants have been planted alongside the major streets. Gangs of workers have been removing fallen leaves and this done, most of the street trees have been pruned back. For a population of around 2,500, Chabris’ parks department compares well with the larger towns in Hertfordshire.
I would love to be able to describe the build-up to Christmas, with the inevitable festivals, markets and cultural events heightening the excitement. At the time of writing (in mid November) even the supermarkets have only just started to gear up. I am delighted by this, never having been pleased to see the Christmas sweets arrive at Tesco at the end of the summer. We are looking forward to our first Christmas in our adopted home and will report on it in due course.
We have had our first few requests for vouchers for garden design courses next year, two from France and one from the UK. The interest from the French is very pleasing as I had never expect it, but it puts pressure on me to make sure I can teach in French when the time comes. There have also been enquiries for garden design as a Christmas gift so in spite of all the economic doom and gloom it looks like we will be busy next year.

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