Plants in France

As I’m back in the UK (not for long, as we return to France this Thursday) I tend to look for all things French that I have around me to give me some inspiration for a blog.  Then I remembered some cuttings that have been languishing down the side of the house so they wont be in direct sunlight.  Not much chance of that here, I hear you cry!  imageAnyway back to the cuttings.  There are several but the largest two and the smaller one at the front on the left were taken last year from wild Elder bushes on a little road that leads to my friends house.  These wild Elderberry shrubs seem to grow all over in the hedge rows in our part of France.  My friend has copious amounts growing around her front door and as I have lost so many plants to drought, because we cannot water the garden, I thought that cultivating native/local plants, that do survive hot dry months, would be the best thing to do.  (Although we are thinking of putting in some sort of basic irrigation system once we have an outside tap)

Rose always wants to know what I’m up to when I’m in the garden.  After all it is her domain.  Looks cute doesn’t she.  But, if you are a vole, mouse, baby rabbit or small bird, this is the face that greets you just before you die.  She’s a killer.imageSo the Elder cuttings are doing well.  They will travel to France with us when we next take the car through the tunnel in either October or at Christmas.  The best time to plant them will be then as it will give them a chance to get some roots developed before the hot weather next summer.

The generic name of the Elder is Sambucus.  In France the Elderberry shrub(s) is called “Sureau” or “Les Sureaux”.

And as I’m writing this, the weirdest thing is happening.  A small bug is meandering across the screen of my Mac.  And, it’s behind the glass.  What’s going on.  Anyway back to the blog.

In our garden here in Blighty, I have three black Elderberry shrubs.  They have beautiful deep burgundy leaves and provide much needed colour to our otherwise very green garden at this time of year.

Elder shrubs have been an important resource for a very long time.  From the Greeks to the Romans and the Britons to the Celts, it has a huge range of practical uses. Elderberry wine is said to have curative powers. Taken hot it will help in the early stages of a cold or ‘flu, and is also good for a sore throat. This is due to the viburnic acid contained in the berries which induces perspiration and helps to “bring the cold out”.

Make it simply by stripping off the ripe berries with a fork until you have three gallons of berries. Pour over 2 gallons of boiling water, cover and leave in a warm place for 24 hours. Strain through muslin and press all the juice well out. Measure it and allow 3lbs (1.3kg) of sugar, half an ounce (14g) of ginger and quarter of an ounce (7g) of cloves to each gallon (approx 5 litres). Boil slowly for 20 minutes, strain into a bucket, adding the yeast when it is lukewarm. Pour into demijohns, standing them in a warm place while the yeast works through the sugar. Bottle when it stops. It’s really best to leave it for at least a year, and 2 or 3 years is even better.http://www.whitedragon.org.uk/articles/elder.htm

The Elder flower and berry seems to have been a cure all, from preventing mosquito bites to chilblains and bronchitis.  The berries also make a dye which was used by the Romans to dye their hair black.

The Elder was a mystical plant associated with the spirit world across Europe.  In particular a tree spirit, called the Elder Mother.  To be able to use the magical properties of the tree, prayers and offerings would have to be made otherwise the Elder Mother would not be happy. Because the Elder is very easy to propagate from a cutting and grows so quickly it is therefore associated with regeneration and rebirth.

Because of these spiritual links the Christian church ‘demonized’ the Elder tree, as it did many of the magical plants of the Druids and other pagans, and said that Elder wood was used for the crucifixion cross and that Judas hung himself from an Elder tree. Elder was given a bad name and now had powers of both good and evil. Bringing Elder into the house might cause misfortune or even death to family members and burning the wood meant summoning the Devil.

The word “elder” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “æld” meaning fire.  According to one source this may have been due to the hollowed out stems being used to blow on the fire. The stem has a soft inside that can be easily hollowed out to form a tube. These were then used to make whistles and pipes.

In 1629 a Dr Martin Blochwich who died aged 27 published a reference book titled The Anatomy of the Elder. In this book, which has become a standard reference work, Blochwich described the cultivated plant in three units that occupied a total of 298 pages.

  • Unit 1: The botanic of the elder with an explanation of the origin of the name, as well as where it could be found, its growth and characteristics.
  • Unit 2: In six chapters Blochwich described the preparation of vinegar, chalk, compote, oil, tablets, ointment, juice, syrup, spirit, water, wine and sugar made of elder in detail and gave recipes.
  • Unit 3: Thirty-three chapters about the treatment of diseases that occurred frequently. Recipes have exact descriptions for the production of medicines made of elderflower, elderberry, elder marrow and elder bark, as well as numerous references to the opinions of famous doctors of antiquity and the Middle Ages, which gave the practical doctors during Blockwitz’s day instructions how to use various elder preparations internally and externally. The conditions dealt with include breast and uterine diseases, frostbite, tumours, infectious diseases, diseases of the lungs, stomach, intestines, spleen and gall bladder, mental illnesses, stroke and paralysis, consumption, unclear fever and pain, poisonings, injuries, worm attack and toothache.

Elder continues to be commonly used in herbal remedies and drinks.  It is the flowers and berries that are most used as these are the safest parts of the plant as the bark and leaves are toxic in the wrong dosage.

River Cottage Elderflower cordial

Ingredients

Makes about 2 litres

  • About 25 elderflower heads
  • Finely grated zest of 3 unwaxed lemons and 1 orange, plus their juice (about 150ml in total)
  • 1kg sugar
  • 1 heaped tsp citric acid (optional)

Method

Inspect the Elder-flower heads carefully and remove any insects. Place the flower heads in a large bowl together with the zest of the orange and lemon.

Bring 1.5 litres water to the boil and pour over the Elder-flowers and citrus zest. Cover and leave overnight to infuse.

Strain the liquid through a piece of muslin and pour into a saucepan. Add the sugar, the lemon and orange juice and the citric acid (if using).

Heat gently to dissolve the sugar, then bring to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes.

Use a funnel to pour the hot syrup into sterilised bottles. Seal the bottles with swing-top lids, sterilised screw-tops or corks.

Serving suggestions

Add a splash or two, undiluted, to fruit salads or anything with gooseberries or dilute one part cordial to two parts water for fragrant ice lollies.

To find out more about the Elder tree, simple google it.  There’s loads of info out there or grab a copy of Dr Martin Blochwich’s book, available from Amazon.

Oh, and before I completed this blog, Rose had caught yet another vole and my son’s run out to see if he can save it.

Aaaarrrrgghhh, blasted wifi down AGAIN😡😡😡

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OK, so I’m starting with grapes. Not sure why, just had a lot of time to take snap shots of the garden as we just couldn’t get a decent WiFi signal at the beginning of this week. Whaaaaaats up!  So now we’re back in Blighty I’m updating my blog.  This was the picture on our return to LBA early on Thursday morning.  What no sun!  We’d got so used to 30 degrees that 12 just didn’t cut it.

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Anyway back to the building work.

You need the right tools!  This magnificent red contraption (a dry wall lifter) is a must when you are fixing plasterboard to the ceiling.  Hubby and I were chuckling, just imagining ourselves doing this job without the correct tools.  I know there would be lots of cursing and blaming each other!!!  Just as well our builder is putting the ceilings up.

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This would have been hubby and me with the 4 x 4 propping up the board and one of us having a very achy arm/shoulder the next day.

imageUpstairs we now have a toilet and the shower tray has been installed.  We’ve also  purchased the shower, awaiting installation, and the sink/unit which has been installed temporarily, this we bought from IKEA last year.

We’ve now chosen the tiles for the en-suite, together with the wooden floor for the bedroom but because of the French holidays, we won’t be able to order these until September, so who knows when they’ll be fitted😦

Downstairs we’re going for a traditional French style tile and not sure of the pattern yet. Again this won’t be available until September. It would seem sensible then, to wait and decide on the covered area and patio tiles when these have been laid.

Watch this space👀

Rome ne s’est pas bâtie dans un jour

We’ve arrived to gorgeous weather.  It’s going to take us some time to acclimatise, although we have been having a bit of a heat wave back home in Blighty too.  It’s all hands on deck today with the building work as we have friends coming to stay for a week on Thursday.  We need to be sleeping in the new bedroom in the extension.  So it’s a case of the loo being fitted now, painting being done and then a temporary wash basin going in as well.

We’ve been madly mowing and strimming.  My son spent most of the first day we were here mowing the lawn as he was so board.  The minute we arrive he’s like, “what are we going to do” and we are like “we’ve just driven for 18 hours we want to snooze and do nothing”.  Bit of a miss-match going on.

All the plants that I put in at Easter have died and gone from this:

To this:

We will probably have to invest in some sort of watering system if we want to plant again or make sure we plant in October/November.  Although, the garden centres don’t have the same selection of plants at that time of year.

The exterior of the extension is now completed apart from the crépi.  The interior is still a work in progress.

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Paul is enjoying the new view from the bedroom window.

Now we need to choose flooring and tiles.  Allons-y!

Quatre différentes formes de maisons dans Le Lot et Garonne

Back in the UK and it’s not long before my thoughts return to France, and of course our little house. Last week I came across a new Chanel 4 program called “Escape to the Château”. In the program a couple are seen purchasing a chateau for €250,000 and attempting to restore it for £30,000. What a joke😫, in my experience, any type of building work in France is really expensive. My nephew is in the process updating his pool and tells me he wont get much change out of that amount.  From what I know of our extension costs, I’m confident that you can purchase a property much cheaper than you could have it newly built.  However, having said that once you have chosen and purchased your French home it becomes, somewhat of a baby that you want to nurture and develop.  Or, maybe that’s just me!!!!!!!!!!

So I’m going to share with you, four different types of properties you can purchase in our department of the Lot et Garonne, from newly built bungalows to grand châteaux.

Our house is a very small modern bungalow, plain and simple. But as my readers know it is in the process of getting a make-over through the addition of a new pigeonnier.

For many young working French families in our area the modern bungalow is the property of choice if they decide to branch out away from the rural family home. They are relatively cheap to build, well insulated and therefore cheap to run. Some are built as part of a small group of similar properties called a lotissement. On their own, like ours is, they can sometimes be referred to as a villa d’architecte.  Much more exotic title than bungalow.  However, any contemporary villa built in the last 50 years often has this title.  They can look like a box or take on a weird angular appearance.   Now if you’d asked me before we began our search for a French property, what my ideal would be, it certainly wouldn’t have been a modern one. But we fell for this one which was built as a gite in the grounds of a larger newly built home. It has a wonderful view over grape vines and prune trees beyond.

And it’s on mains drainage and not the dreaded fosse septique with all of its rules and regulations.  I know most of France cope perfectly well with these poo removers but I’m afraid from our experience of looking at some of the older properties quite frankly they send shivers down my spine. ~Anyway, we chose modern……. but what else is on offer?

Villereal farmhouse

What’s not to love about an old French farmhouse (Fermette/Ferm)? Yes, I swoon too. Crepis free pierre stone and the ubiquitous Wisteria gently caressing the shutters and front door.

And, I doff my hat to anyone who can (has the balls to) turn this …..

needs renovation

into this……..

renovated farmhouse

I adore the genoise roof line, the huge fire places and, of course, the old well in the garden. But what about being lady or gentleman of the manor. The maison de maître…

classicmaisondemaitre

The master’s house or maison de maître has a symmetrical façade with a central front door.  Many built in the 18th or 19th century were the home of the squire or minor landowner of the area.  They are not unique to the Lot et Garonne or Aquitaine region of France and they can be found all over France.  They are known for their formal and practical layout. They have high ceilings and each floor will often have four main rooms with the ground-floor reception rooms opening off a central entrance hall.

These houses were a status symbol and today, the larger ones are often incorrectly referred to as châteaux.  The owners, who will have had land, will have made their living from agricultural rent.  Following the French Revolution the maison de maître became the home for gentlemen farmers and vintners.

And of course, we can all imagine ourselves owners of a French château.  Can’t we?

For example this one is only 395,000 Euros.

chateau1395

This one is 595,000 Euros.

chateaupau530,00euros

And none of these are more than a 1,000,000 Euros

The grandeur, the elegance, the splendour.  A château is impressive, in appearance and style.  It can be a country residence surrounded by an estate or a moated, turreted seat with royal connections.  The word chateau or “chastel” dates to the 18th-century, therefore a chateau is not strictly speaking a ‘castle’. A castle would be a château fort. Castles were built in order to defend those contained within their walls and date back to much earlier times, as far back as the 10th century or earlier.  A castle would have battlements, fortified walls and arrow slits, being built to withstand a siege.

After the Revolution, the term came to describe any spectacular country house with towers set in its own landscaped grounds. They can often look like the maison de maître,  elegant with symmetrical facades, but with greater dimensions, land, elaborate stonework and cornicing. A château may also be a winemaking property, of which there are many close to us around Bordeaux.

In the meantime I’ll make do with my own little tower!

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Nous revenons

I always struggle to find something to blog about when we’re not in France and to be honest I don’t usually have the time to think about my blog when I’m back in Blighty.  Work and mum stuff take over.  But, I’m all excited as we are heading back to ourlittlehouseinfrance for the half term hols next week,  so as usual I have a stash of things in the spare bedroom that I intend to bring over to France with us.  I always have things I want to bring with us but the pile has got considerably smaller over the years.  Four years ago, it consisted of beds, mattresses, bikes, trampoline et al, now it is usually much smaller things, for example next week I will be taking these things with us.

So let’s go through them. There’s a cute bird box that I found in Morrisons.  I did purchase two but one is for our English garden.  On the list of jobs to do at home is to put this up in the garden.  The one I take to France will end up on a tree quicker than the one at home.

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 I’m also taking this garden implement.  It’s called a Fishtail Weeder and it’s used to get rid of dandelions, I got it from TK Max.

OK, OK , so I’ve been searching French style home on Pinterest!!!!!  Anyway I don’t want to spend a lot of money so when en Blighty, I pick up bits from local charity shops and here are two recent finds that I think will go down a treat in the French house.  And, if they don’t they can come home and go back to the charity shop.

OK, so clothes.  We now have lots of clothes in France but I thought this beach top and the stripy Parker would make suitable additions.

We do have a washing machine but I quite often do a spot of hand washing, as things dry so quickly on the line, so a bottle of hand wash is needed.  Then, our garden, so important that the plants get a good feed and water while we are in France.  I do try and get horse manure and have a contact who is happy for me to collect horse poo when I need it.  But in case I don’t get time to collect any this holiday I’m bringing 4 bags of plant food to sprinkle around the garden to give the plants a help in hand.

We like to make a chilli occasionally and always struggle to get hold of jalapeños.  So this time I’m bringing 2 jars with us.

There’s always time for a good read, so this time it’s the following books coming with us.

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We’re doing the drive all in one again so that’s 18 hours in the car.  So sugar free snacks are important.  These are new so will try them out.

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And finally, I have a poorly shoulder, so I’m bring some Ibuprofen cream (£1 at Pound Shop).  Can’t afford not to be able to garden.

ibuprofen

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dans le jardin

I’m going to begin this gardening blog with a picture of a gorgeous pooch.  Aaawwwwwgghhh!!!!!!!!!!

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And now to the garden and the plants.

This Phormium, I brought from our home in the UK.  We have a large plant at the front of the house in the UK which came originally from a few leaves that appeared in my mother in laws, neighbours garden.  She wanted the large leaves digging out and I asked if I could have them, I hoped it would be a Phormium, and it was and is.  In the UK and now in France.

I’m still buying plants and I have the workers to plant them.  Tee hee, well grandma and Paul.  JOKING.  The garden was such a blank canvas and because we have to leave them before they are established, we’re willing each tree or shrub to survive and grow quickly and so fill the space.  Unfortunately, the soil is clay and close to the house it’s very wet and boggy and then when the rain stops, in the summer, it bakes solid.  So plants have to be very adaptive to these conditions to survive.  Still some plants really thrive.  So this trip we planted a white flowering Viburnum.  The bottom right picture is of a Wisteria that we purchased here in August last year.  So I wasn’t sure it would make the winter, but it has.

The top image is of a series of small box bushes that we have planted at the edge of our pebble garden.  These bushes were purchased from Lidl in Pineuilh for 1.60 Euros each,  I thought this was really good value.  They may not survive though, as it is so boggy in this part of the garden.  Fingers crossed.  I purchased a common Lilac tree from the plant stall at Duras market.  This is very small but has already started to flower.

I also purchased a Yew tree.  Birds love the berries.  The Red Robin was a cutting that I took from somewhere here in France, I can’t remember where exactly.

I want these gates.

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And I close with another picture of our lovely Bella.

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