Tag Archives: winter

Yet another snowy blog post

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Living and gardening in Ariège is never boring. After five years here I don’t feel that I understand what a ‘normal’ season is. I know that it snows in winter, spring is wet, summer is hot and everyone agrees that autumn is the best season. But beyond that broad brush there is little pattern. Perhaps I need another 20 years here, perhaps global warming is messing things up or maybe mountain weather really is unpredictable.

February certainly had the most prolonged period of cold and snow that we have experienced, the worst in 25 years according to my hairdresser. Our Propane gas bottles didn’t work from late evening until the sun had warmed them next morning, but a thermos flask and a bit of ingenuity with the wood stove supplied the essential early morning cuppa. The water butts (our only on-site water source) froze solid – and I do mean solid – so we had to import water from the village, where we also collect drinking water. I did try this method too:

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A lot of snow makes a very little water!

When the thaw started two of the butts split while in another butt I found this beautiful block of ice:

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But we had lots of sunny, if cold, days and eventually the temperatures rose and the snow melted. From -17°C suddenly we had +19° but even that hasn’t managed to clear the snow in the part of the courtyard garden that doesn’t get any sun. But, when you have a nice bottle of Chardonnay and no fridge, snow can come in handy:

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It has been so nice to get out into the garden and the greenhouse this week after nearly four weeks of cabin fever. The snow has done little damage that I can see.

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The crocuses are looking so cheerful, the emerging leaves of the daffodils are all a bit bent but they will doubtless sort themselves out. The peas have flopped a bit but the broad beans in the next bed are standing erect and firm. Several evergreens have a few branches with dead leaves on them but again nothing serious.

The witch hazel has suddenly burst into flower and smells – well what does it smell of? I’m not sure if I like it or not, but I make regular detours to pass and smell again.

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The worst damage is to the lawns and grass paths and is only indirectly due to the snow:

This is mole damage. They seem to tunnel at a particular depth and don’t distinguish between soil and snow, so when the ground is covered in snow they gouge our these grooves in the grass. It happens every year but this time it is really bad. I’m just glad I’m not in charge of lawns!

Another post-thaw find was this poor rhubarb lying on the ground.

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I had read somewhere that you should dig up a rhubarb, leave it overnight in the frost (I have no idea why) then plant it in the greenhouse for a really early crop. So I dug it up, left it to get frosted, forgot it for a while, then it disappeared from view under the snow for a month. After all that mistreatment you would think it would be dead, but no, there were tiny shoots showing. I apologised profusely to it and replanted it in lots of lovely manure in the greenhouse. After three days it looks like this:

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Which just goes to show that even terrible gardeners sometimes get better than they deserve.

And the weather forecast? It’s going to snow again tonight. Oh, joy.

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Beating the laurels with a besom.

Birches in the Winter Interest garden

The snow continues to fall and the temperatures do likewise. The road is impassable despite daily scourings by a local farmer with a snow plough attachment on his tractor. His is the only vehicle we have heard in several days. A layer of ice under the snow has turned the road into a skating rink. It is hard to see how that will change until this cold weather lets up, which France Météo predicts will not be for another week. We are cosy in the potting shed, warmed by a wood burning stove and a large stock of wood. We have enough food to see us through, unlike the poor creatures on the bird table who don’t realise that they are tucking into the last of the seed and fat balls.

Top-hatted pot by the greenhouse

The garden looks delightful under its cloak of snow, covering the bits that never got tidied before winter struck. Several parts of the garden are separated by laurel hedging, some planted nearly five years ago, others only last spring. Their large evergreen leaves hold a lot of snow which in dumps like the current one cause the branches to bow down and sometimes to break. One poor plant a couple of years ago lost every branch right down to ground level. I replaced it and shoved the headless root into the nursery ‘just in case’. It is now a very healthy plant, nearly as tall as its replacement. Laurels are true survivors! But these breakages leave gaps in the hedge which take a while to fill and hedges are all about separating spaces. So, to avoid too much damage I knock the snow off before it gets too heavy.

Picture the scene: me in as many layers as I can manage, snow boots on feet, ski gloves on hands, beret pulled down over my ears, giving the laurels a jolly good thrashing with the besom. You could, of course, simply shake the branches, but, since snow is a) very cold and b) very wet, I prefer the ‘besom at arms length’ technique.

Young laurel weighed down with snow

What I have noticed this year is that the mature plants can probably look after themselves now, their branches are thick and strong and an occasional break is not going to compromise the entire plant; it is the younger ones that really need it.

I shall be quite sorry when I don’t have to do it any more, I enjoy watching the snow dropping down from branch to branch, having to jump back when I’ve been a bit too enthusiastic. It’s fun, a bit like a solitary snowball fight for gardeners!

I had to take a few photographs of course while I was out, snow is so photogenic, then it was back to the potting shed for tea and carrot and walnut cake.

Phlomis looking very pretty

Mother nature gives the hammock a snowy duvet

Winter has arrived in Ariège

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I have been trying for days to write a post about reducing the amount of plastic packing I acquire. This may be an important issue (it is to me) and there may be people who would like to read about it (or not) but it is not terribly exciting. It is boring me and I’m writing the thing.

So it is on the back burner for a day or two while I show you some nice pictures of snow and waffle on some more about sprouts and micro greens and … what’s that you say, tell us about the plastic?

I have little that is new to add to previous 52 Week Salad Challenge posts. My sprouting is most successful when I stick to mung beans, chick peas and alfalfa; my attempts this week at beetroot, broccoli and aduki beans have been a total failure, presumably due to old seed, although in the case of aduki beans I would say that frankly they are just red mung beans with attitude, which is to say I always have trouble with them, whatever I try to do. So I’ll stick to the Gillian-friendly mungs (which, strangely, are called soja in France).

My micro greens growing under the roof light are still underperforming quite spectacularly, apart from the dead ones. I am soaking some peas today which will be sown and added to the micro greens graveyard nursery tomorrow.

Winter seems to have arrived at last, due, according to France Météo, to cold winds from Japan, which makes a change from Siberia. It snowed all day yesterday, this morning the sky was clear and the temperature was -10°C, which is ‘flipping chilly’ in anyone’s book except the Siberians. As soon as the sun was up this morning I donned every bit of warm clothing I could find, grabbed my iPhone and took a few photographs of the garden. The one at the top is the kitchen terrace and beyond it the hill called Arp.

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This is part of the area we call the Winter Interest garden and it was living nicely up to its name this morning.

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Here in the Round Garden is a beautifully whimsical seat designed and built by Alec.

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The coppiced willows look superb against the blue sky, the wavy shadows on the snow give extra interest.

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These two pictures made me smile. The laurel leaves look like spoonsful of snow and the arm of the bench on the right – well I’ll leave that one to your imagination!