Have you read “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”? It’s published as a children’s book but it’s really philosophy. The story of my garden completely fits the pattern of one thing leading to another.
When I thought about my garden before arrival I’d expected to find it as I had seen it on my last visit: well-tended by a neighbor. I wasn’t looking forward to telling them that I would be taking over my garden since I would be staying for a year.
Instead I found that the garden had already been taken over, by weeds; not just grasses and common weeds but mean weeds as well, such as prickly berry bushes and nettles. It was a jungle out there, literally.
I started working in the garden by necessity. I couldn’t get into my house upon arrival because of a van (see Surprises and Differences). But as time wore on there was another reason I decided to focus more of my efforts in the garden than in the house. (Which will be revealed later.)
After taking a long hard look at what lay ahead of me I set off for the local Quincaillerie (hardware store) and bought some clippers and large trash bags (fortunately I already had some heavy-duty work gloves) and went to work.
It was slow going at first. There was an unusual heat wave and lack of rain for the season. I worked mornings and evenings. The first few days I returned early evening but it was still too hot. After getting my phone I started checking the weather pattern on line. In summer the hottest part of the day hits about 7pm; where as in Southern California it usually began to cool by 5pm. Since it didn’t start getting dark until after 10pm in June, I adjusted my work day accordingly and returned to work around 7:30 or 8pm and worked until dusk.
I can’t access my attic door yet (due to work stoppage after The Nightmare) consequently getting to the garden is an effort in itself. I have to walk about 3 houses down, around a corner, up some stairs, around another corner, then up a very steep path. So planning ahead is important, such as remembering all tools and water before heading out.
The first few trash bags I filled got hauled back that route to the house for future dumping until my neighbor (with the van) offered to let me dump the garden trimmings onto a pile in his yard for future burning (still allowed in France). Up 36 steps, from my garden entrance, and a little ways into his yard was a major time and energy saver for me; besides the fact I no longer had to worry about dumping.
Towards the end of the first pass in the garden the weeds decided to fight back. I thought I had cleared the berry bushes until I found more hiding in the back corner. As I snipped the stalk of a nettle plan it fell back brushing against my arm which caused me to jump and bump into some berry thorns. At least it was near the end before the last of the jungle took its revenge.
I ended up leaving a few of the ground-level weeds when I declared the first pass complete. It was due to rain the next day so I pushed to finish off the critical clearing. Boy! Did that feel good! It was dirty, tiring, but rewarding work.
There was plenty more to do after that. I began clearing the ivy on the garden walls. Some pulled off easily while other places it held on tenaciously and I had to clip it back as far as I could. In a couple of weeks, after a few small rain showers, I was able to return to clearing the ground. The regrowth showed me where I needed to dig to get the deeper roots out, which was the focus of the second pass. Then I returned to clearing the ivy from the walls.
I was able to clear all but a small strip at the top of the wall. I need a ladder to get that out and decided for safety sake to wait until my daughter arrives instead of heading up a ladder while on my own.
Next I cleared the growth along the stairs leading down to the attic door. That was a breeze.
Once I reached the bottom of the stairs I had to remove a tall but spindly tree that was growing in the gap between the hill the garden is on and the back wall of the attic.
Fortunately there was a rock directly under it causing the taproot to grow sideways instead of down, but it still took some maneuvering to get it out. There was a bit of ivy growing along the walls on both sides of the gap but it all came out rather easily.
It may sound like I should be nearly finished now – but nooooo! That would be too easy.
It was pointed out to me that my jardin privée (private garden) at one time probably had a garden privy. And the most likely spot for that would have been in the back corner. (That area had been used for the compost heap by the previous gardeners.)
I realize that any “remains” of that feature will have long deteriorated, but since I plan to have a vegetable garden, I don’t relish the thought of harvesting for my table from that particular location.
The happy result of that revelation is that I’ve decided to turn the back corner into a seating area. I am now in the process of digging down a few inches to level the ground and lay stones for that purpose. I plan to use the stones from the curved stone structure (mentioned in The Nightmare) getting them out of the fireplace where they’re currently stored. – Thus killing one stone with two birds or something like that.
In the process of digging I’ve discovered pebbles, some broken dishes and glass, as well as a couple of bones and what looks to me like some kind of teeth. So, adding yet another task, before leveling the soil into planting beds I want to do some sifting of the earth.
The stone walkway, at the edge of that gap, will require some professional attention to stabilize it and repair one large stone that already fell. I will take advantage of my daughter Mary’s French skills when she’s here and we’ll arrange a meeting with some French stone masons for that task. Hopefully the work can be scheduled and completed before the end of the year.
Mary will also be helping with some work in the garden and other tasks as well. (There’s nothing like a working vacation.)
The current regrowth is all small ground level weeds that should be easily managed and can end up in a compost heap. So the only remaining trimmings that need to be removed are the rest of the ivy.
The weather is already cooling and it does get down around freezing here in winter. I might put in a few winter vegetables but the major planting won’t occur until next spring. By that time everything should be ready to go.
The final garden project will have a seating area of around 2.5 m2, a sturdy walkway at the edge, stairs leading to the attic door (which will open into the attic), all edible plants including some flowers, and the wall facing the back of the house will have some spaces that will be used for growing herbs.
In the meantime, when weather isn’t great for outdoor work, I still have plenty of indoor work to get done – with a little help from my friends.