Sunday, June 30, 2013

More displacement activity while weeding


Our bossy know-it-all gardening man, who comes to cut our hedges in the autumn, has taken it on himself to make us take our neglected side garden in hand, or rather to pay him to do so.  

When we first arrived here sixteen years ago, it was the only bit of garden the house had, otherwise it was pasture right up to the back wall - in which there were no doors, windows or openings of any kind.  Even so it was just a bit of top soil on a rocky base, with nothing round it save a few stones, where Victoire, the very old lady who lived her until she died a couple of years before we came, grew a few leeks and potatoes.  It caused people hereabouts some amusement that Roland, the village dog of the time, a sweet but rather independent character, used to pee freely on Victoire's leeks, which she happily then picked and put in the soup quite unperturbed, presumably after a a quick rinse in the cracked old stoneware sink in the corner which was for a while our sole kitchen water facility too.

It's next to an unlovely but fairly neat and very useful corrugated iron lean-to, which we've never got around to remodelling, though Tom's given it a good gravel floor and it's very orderly inside. We fenced the ground with a very carefully hand-made-by-us wooden paling, the kind of thing we grandiosely thought we had all the time and energy in the world to do in the early days, and planted some shrubs, but little thrived there except a an evilly-thorned yellow berberis hedge, which we planted in our ignorance and regretted ever since, and it turned into a dark, thorny, wasted corner.  

But our overbearing good-angel gardener has now ripped out most of the evilly-thorned berberis hedge and carted much of the cuttings to the tip, (though it's sprouting back from the stumps, it really is the Devil's shrub), and then he suggested we plant a flower mix instead of grass seed.  He could just stop by, treat and rotivate the ground in the spring, no worries, we'd only have to mow it once a year... 

So sometime in March a scribbled note appeared in the letter box 'Attention Moolie, le traitement a été effectué' (he's a man fond of dogs, which endears him to us). I know there are many who will frown at the use of herbicides here, but it really is quite difficult to get a good result in these cases without it, I think.  One could I suppose use a textile mulch and scatter seeds and a thin layer of topsoil on top of that, but I'm not convinced that applying a large area of permanent plastic to the ground is necessarily any better, and I've damaged the lawn mower too often chewing up the edges of that stuff. We generally only use weed killer very sparingly if it all, it bio-degrades quickly and is nowhere near any food crops here.  But mea culpa etc, and pace to all deep-green organic folk. 

A few weeks later he was back with his mighty rotivating machine, (big kit is also his thing), scooped up a load more berberis waste and took it away, and sowed and rolled the seed.  

As with everything he does, it ended up costing us rather more than we anticipated, but owing to some kind of strange function of the tax system here which favours jobbing gardeners who operate under some a special business régime, we can claim 50% of his labour costs (much the largest part of the bill) back off our taxes, which is nice.  

And to my mind, it's worth every eurocent.  The flowers are mostly Cailfornian poppies and those mixed coloured toadflax/snapdragon type things (I'm sure some of my more serious gardening readers can fill me in on what they're really called, once you've upbraided me on the use of weed-killer), but there are also some orange and yellow osteospermum and later I think there'll be a few corncockles. Some annual weeds stiIl came up with it, notably quite a bit of shepherd's purse, perhaps the seeds were even in the mix or in the sand he used to scatter it, and I still have to weed around the edges, but in spite of the caltrops of berberis thorns still lying in wait for my fingers, weeding here is no hardship, with my eyes on a level with a sea of swaying orange and purple, and of course I take plenty of photo-breaks. 
















 














24 comments:

Sabine said...

So there is place in the world where Californian poppies are not immediately eaten by slugs. I am hugely jealous. What a lovely flower meadow.

Chloe said...

Such lovely flowers :)

The Crow said...

What a lovely place to pull weeds. And take portraits of gorgeous flowers. You'll have hundreds of butterfly and bee visitors, I should think!

zephyr said...

How lovely!!!

i shall not--cannot--upbraid you re weed killer(i try as often as i can not to be a hypocrite). i've read/heard that plain ol' distilled white vinegar works really well on weeds (and is certainly cheaper)--but i would have my doubts about it thwarting tough, invasive woodies like berberis.

i do hope the mowing suffices and the beautiful flower seeds out number all the rest for years to come.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Bravo Monsieur-qui-aime-Moolie! The flower carpet is beautiful and must be a joy to wade into barefoot.

Joe Hyam said...

Your coloured carpet is more advanced than my strips of wild bee attracting flowers and I suspect would win a competition between us if there were one, which of course there isn't. But I am delighted to see that others are deliberately cultivating such a display. I hope you will have butterflies. We have bees but I have seldom known such a dearth of butterflies.

Francesca said...

What a beautiful flower carpet. The orange and purple look so striking and attractive.

Ellena said...

Lucy! I'm sitting here with my mouth wide open. How beautiful!
This is what I wanted a few years ago but my efforts were in vain.

Lucy said...

Thanks people.

Sabine - Hi, nice to see you. I don't know, we have slugs and snails a-plenty, but the poppies seem to do all right, there are often small colonies of naturalised ones around on road embankments.

Chloë - thanks darling!

Crow - thanks. Quite a few bees, but it's a miserable year for butterflies, one sad little tortoiseshell on the herbs the other day is about all I've seen.

Zephyr - hmm, and I've heard bicarb recommended too, and I sometimes use that or ordinary salt on stubborn weed roots in gravel and paving. I suppose both upset the acid balance, but I think in enough quantity to work on a significant scale they might well bugger up the ph of the soil worse than herbicide. One of the things I hate about it is the possibility we're supporting Monsanto, though I try to get cheaper generics if possible, but still. The berberis may require a whack of sodium choride (chlorate?)and some topical herbicide. This is war! In theory these mixes should self-seed prior to mowing and come back the next year, but in my observation the second year showing is not so good, and the weeds make inroads. I've found a big packet of similar seeds at a good price, and will ask the gardener's advise about topping up.

Nathalie - well in one's fancy, but I wouldn't risk the leftover berberis thorns!

Joe - as I say, it ended up a bit expensive, but it was a real blitz. I've got more seed for next year, and we would be prepared to do it again if necessary, it's such a joy, and very low maintenance through the season. It's a dismal year for butterflies so far, one poor little tortoiseshell the other day is almost all I've seen. There are a few phacelia in there which are in particular attracting the bees.

Francesca - the colours were a lovely surprise in fact, as we didn't choose the mix, and I expected one of the usual primary coloured ones with lots of cornflowers, poppies and marigolds, which are lovely too, of course, but this is a delight. It changes subtly in the evening or on duller days, when the poppies curl in on themselves rather and the mauves and purples stand out more.

Ellena - I think the gardener's blitz on the weeds and fairly intensive sowing were what was needed, and we had quite a lot of rain earlier too. I've seen various attempts at these plantings with varying degrees of success, and I've tried much smaller areas as well but without such ruthless preparation, and they've been patchy. I'm afraid herbicide probably does help!

zephyr said...

i wish the problem were only the moral dilemma of supporting Monsanto...it's the insidious dangers to myself and others that are frightening me to find other methods. Yes, the pH would change, which is easy to remedy...and i'm even more worried about what all of those things do to microorganisms that make soil healthy, which not easy to remedy. It's why i primarily use the stuff only on mulched paths and hand pull weeds from beds--except for dangerous thugs like poison ivy.

It's a big pain the tush however one looks at it.

All that said--what a delightful meadow you have this year!! Feel no fret, Lucy!! In the scheme of things, all this vegetation will give back to the soil.

zephyr said...

Another thought just leaped into my head on this topic: i must reach out and talk with the head gardener person(s) of the High Line in NYC--i'm sure that they have healthy methods for keeping things growing/progressing and knocking back weeds.

The joy factor of what you now have is so worth it...i'm eager to see what i can learn about keeping such a wonderful living painting going.

christopher said...

Thank you, dear Lucy, for brightening my night with California Golden Poppies and all those others. Those golden poppies are the state flower, you know and are technically not to be touched wherever they appear in California. That's a state law. My back yard here in Oregon has them growing wild too.

Roderick Robinson said...

I read this some days ago and didn't reckon there was much in it for me - even applying my infinitely stretchable criteria for relevance. Something brought me back and, naturally enough, since this is one of those stories listed under "heart warming", the re-read proved instructive.

It has to do with vocabulary: widen it and opportunities arise as a result. The fact is I've never bothered to find out what topsoil really is, paling once known has over the years fallen between ever-increasing synaptic gaps, and then there's berberis and a whole fanning out of techno-horti-blah-blah that can be deployed without necessarily immersing oneself in that strangely constricted universe called gardening.

I have been remiss. I have as a matter of principle denied myself words which I mistakenly saw as long-spoon words. Caltrop forsooth.

Yes I could have written about the "mighty rotivating machine" and gone on to that stuff about tax rebates - those arguably are part of my world. But I'd have lacked the ability to write the preparatory bits.

Words are not just the building blocks of sentences, they carry their own Velcro-fuzz that attaches them invisibly to other words. One mustn't ignore words or - an even more dangerous practice - alienate them.

Should you ever need a new strapline might I suggest: Box Elder, home of the big, big vocabulary, of allusions and of pain-free pedagogy. Needs a little work, but you get the idea.

Lise said...

C'est vraiment très gentil de nous montrer de telles beautés. C'est fleurs des champs sont magnifiques.
Pas le temps d'essayer de lire. Une autre fois sans doute
Bonne journée Bises

Rouchswalwe said...

Beautiful! I am worried about the dearth of butterflies here, too. I haven't seen even one yet this summer.

Steve said...

Enjoyed the post and photos.

Fire Bird said...

I do love those welsh poppies - we get yellow and orange ones along the lanes and in the garden and in the cracks between the flags here...

marly said...

Delicious! I am glad to see so many pictures, as it suggest you are not over-obsessed with the weedwork...

Isabelle said...

Those flowers are amazing. And ... bright.

Sheila said...

Breathtakingly beautiful! Joyfully radiant! Thank you for this! I came to your blog this morning just hoping for something to inject a bit of beauty and happiness into my day, and boy did I get it!

Crafty Green Poet said...

Wow, that's so beautiful....

Lucy said...

Thanks again, if anyone's back after all this time!

Zephyr - hope you get some useful advice. Overall, I reckon we have done more good than harm here, if only by planting lots of trees and shrubs and being fairly lazy about weed management anyway. Though I heard a radio programme lately which posited that native species such as nettles and brambles, growing more and more invasive because of unhealthy agricultural practices and land management, are possibly quite as bad as the foreign invaders everyone gets so worried aobut. It's fairly much of an intensively farmed green desert here, our drop in the ocean of herbicide will probably make very little difference.

Christopher - always lovely to see you. That's great that the poppies are protected. I'd guess perhaps our climates are not so dissimilar - wet and maritime!

RR - well, you seem to be the only one who's picked up on caltrops, but at least I'm educating someone about something! They were simple, effective and vile things; the design feature they share with the berberis spines is that they had spikes on three planes, so whichever way they fell, there was always a point facing upward, embed itself excruciatingly in horse's hoof or gardener's finger.

Lise - bises à toi! Aucun besoin de lire, profite des photos :~)

R - just a few more lately, I suppose a late cold spring is to blame, maybe. Heaven knows they aren't short of nettles as feed plants. We use a few topically applied slug pellets, but no insecticides, though what the farmers do who knows.

Steve, thanks. News on the squirrel front today!

FB - these are actually Californian poppies, eschscholzia, same family but not true poppies like Welsh ones. We have a few of the latter, but they are more delicate and fleeting. They remind me of Flaming June's dress in the Lord Leighton painting!

Marly - can't really get obsessed with weeding here, that way madness lies!

Isabelle - yes, kind of orange squash colour. We aren't over-concerned with tasteful plantings!

Sheila - bless you, that cheers me! Lovely to see you around.

Lucy said...

CGP - oops, you slipped in! Thanks, lots for the bees anyway.

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