Monthly Archives: March 2010

Wordless Wednesday: New dawn, new snow 31 March 2010


Do I blog or do I garden?

I set myself the target of posting a blog each Monday morning and so far I am not doing too well. The ghosts of university essays and grovelling apologies are rising from their graves and pointing their bony fingers at me.

Last week’s excuse was that ‘the iPhone ate my blog post’, this week’s is that I am too busy. I know – it’s pathetic, there are bloggers out there doing full time jobs, raising families, keeping their gardens in perfect condition and producing umpteen posts a week. I know who you are and I hate you all.

The simple fact is that I am a rubbish gardener. I never do anything at the right time and hence am always chasing around trying to catch up, and never more so than at this time of year.

Spring has not so much sprung as catapulted this year and, as well as the usual seed sowing and general tidy, I am desperately trying to get rid of all the weeds that would not be here if I had been doing my job properly last autumn. Just to prove how bad it is (how bad I am!) here is a photo of part of the potager – most of the greenery you can see is weeds.

Incidentally, that picture was taken from just outside the potting shed and thereby constitutes the first ‘view from the potting shed’ as requested by some readers. Now if you will excuse me I have Mea Culpas to say and weeds to pull. But I’ll be back later in the week.

Wordless Wednesday: Apricot and Rhubarb, 24 March 2010

How a warm wind blew us into the potting shed

That cat again

It has been an interesting week in the potting shed since the launch of the new blog. I was surprised and delighted by the response to the first post and to the two following photo posts. The comments were so generous and there were so many of them, from Canada, the USA, Hungary, even India, as well as Britain. I would like to thank all of you for your much appreciated encouragement. In the first eight days there have been over 300 views of the site; I have no idea if this is typical but I am very happy.

Raindrops on lupins

Mother Nature, however, does not concern herself with my new interest and has been busy in the garden, sweeping out winter, installing spring and making sure I am busy for the rest of the year. In the blink of an eye the lupins that were barely above ground are so large that I shall have trouble moving them to their new home. The delicate leaves hate the disturbance, but they look so pretty today, each one holding a pearl of rain water. The first daffodils are out in the orchard, a couple of weeks earlier than usual and the cowslips are just starting to open.

The first daffodils of 2010

We live at just under 800 metres altitude and the soil is slow to warm up in spring and night frosts are frequent. Normally the daffodils in my friend’s garden down in the valley are almost over as mine are starting to open, but not this year.

Temperature changes here can be sudden: two weeks ago ten inch of snow fell and overnight temperatures were still well below freezing. Last week the temperatures were consistently over 15 degrees Celsius*. On Wednesday it had reached 20 by lunchtime, with a cooling southerly breeze – perfect gardening weather. After lunch the wind suddenly became warm and the thermometer read 25 (77 F). This is due to a phenomenon called the Föhn effect which occurs when a fast wind hits the mountains. The air cools as it rises up the mountain then heats up rapidly as it rolls down the leeward side. This warm wind, known locally as the vent d’autan, is not always benign and I was reminded of our first encounter with it. Its arrival hastened our move into the potting shed.

We arrived here in Ariège in April 2006 and, until the wind arrived in late October, we were living in a large tent. We spent the spring and summer making and tending the potager, exploring our new environs and settling down to life in France. October was spent building an access road onto the land, installing service ducts and levelling parts of the sloping site in preparation for starting the garden. We intended to build the potting shed at some point and use it as a temporary home, but were in no rush as the weather was still very mild.

Then one night the wind started. As it increased in strength the tent was being buffetted badly, the poles started to buckle and there was a real danger of the whole thing just rolling over. We spent hours holding on to the poles as the wind howled like a wild animal through the forested hill side and slapped again and again into the tent. We must have look like landlocked windsurfers, leaning back on their boards to counteract the push of the wind on the sail. I collapsed into bed at 4 a.m., too tired to care what happened next. My other half (henceforth known as The Womble) manned the surfboard alone until dawn.

The wind finally stopped at noon the next day. The sky was hidden by a pall of red dust, the light was eerie and the air heavy. The tent was badly ripped, every pole was bent and it was clearly no longer watertight. The shed design was already on paper and within a week the tent was down and the potting shed stood in it’s place. We put a mattress on the floor and moved into our new home.

The potting shed and verandah

To give an idea of how ‘compact’ the shed was: it measured 4.8m by 2.5m, which is 12 sq.m. or 130 sq.ft. It had a kitchen, a high level bed, wardrobes and a storage area under the bed, specially designed to maximise the number of times I would hit my head. It worked a treat! After three years we accepted that the barn would not be converted into a house any day soon, so we have extended the potting shed. It is now almost 20 sq.m. (210 sq.ft.) and when fully fitted out will have a lounge and a shower room.

So that is how I came to leave England and live in a potting shed. Isn’t that what every girl wants?

À bientot


* a) the French don’t say centigrade, b) 15 is about 59 Fahrenheit and c) Apple Inc forgot to give the iPhone that cute little degree symbol

Wordless Wednesday: Seasons


Photo 1 : Crocus in full bloom while bergenia buds await their turn.

Photo 2: Dried blooms of evening primrose, phlomis, sedum and solidago, still holding the fort.

The Prologue

Welcome to the potting shed, where I shall be writing this, my first ever blog. In fact, this is where I do most things. This is where I cook, eat, read, knit, tweet, sleep. Yes, this is where I live. One of the few things I don’t do here is potting.

I had always wanted a potting shed. Real gardeners have potting sheds, with shelves lined with pots and seed trays, all meticulously scrubbed in winter ready for the new sowing season, with boxes of seeds in alphabetical order, with tools hanging on hooks, each cleaned at the end of each day’s labour, with a chipped mug for tea and a packet of custard creams* for that well-earned mid-morning break. I wanted to make a garden, so I wished for a potting shed. But, as the saying goes, be careful of your wishes. I got to make a garden and I got my potting shed. I just never expected to be living in it.

How I came to be living in a potting shed on a half-hectare field as far south as you can go in France without tripping over a mountain and landing in Spain, with no mains electricity, no mains water, no telephone line and an outside composting toilet will be the subject of the next few posts, while I wait for winter to loosen its grip and to let me get out into the garden and do something useful.

I would like too to share the process of creating this garden, the progress so far, our plans for the future and the day to day challenges, successes and lessons learned (i.e. failures) that are actually what makes gardening such a wonderful activity (remind me I said that the next time I have spent all day on my knees pulling up weeds and can’t stand up straight). I hope you will enjoy reading it and I look forward to your comments. The photos, for no particular reason, are of pollarded willows and my cat Pogo wrapping herself in grass.

One final thing: as I said, we are lacking the mod. cons that most of you probably take for granted (I would settle for some ancient conveniences some days), this includes a proper internet connection. This blog is being written from an iPhone, with occasional visits to the local internet café. Therefore, I will not always know if it looks OK on a full screen, so please let me know if there are any problems.

Thank you for visiting the potting shed and I look forward to seeing you again soon. Please bring your own mug next time and more custard creams.

À bientôt,


* This is the start of my campaign to be invited to write for the classy blog ‘Encounters with Remarkable Biscuits’