We have just over an acre of land here, at La Biochère, and as we have said many times before, everything is on a grander scale than in our little house and garden we had in England…. We’re lucky to have two lovely big barns, huge mature trees in the orchard and next to the meadow, with wide open spaces looking across the little valley to the woods and fields beyond.  But sometimes, such big areas can be a little bleak and can make one feel a little lost and/or overwhelmed when it comes to gardening or even just sitting and relaxing….


A case in point is the courtyard and the side garden.  The courtyard is a huge space and despite creating an island bed, soon after we moved in, it still feels like a big expanse of nothing much, especially in the winter months when the ground turns to mud as soon as we get any rain!  In the side garden, it took several attempts to remove the biggest growth of cotoneaster I have ever seen, extending almost halfway across the area between the end of the big barn and the bank at the edge of the adjacent field.


Last spring I made some beds and filled them with most of the plants we originally brought with us from England – they did pretty well over the summer, considering the high temperatures we had and the poor soil.  But, I had only managed to clear away the cotoneaster and a small amount of brambles that had established themselves all along the bank up to the Rowan tree….


Now, several months later and looking critically at these beds, we can see they are out of scale with the big barn and the house and there is still a huge expanse of ‘nothing’ in between.  Again, in the winter, it gets pretty muddy so it’s not particularly pleasant to walk on.

So, time to do some more work here.  We had plans to extend the beds further into the ‘nothing’ space, clear more of the brambles before they started growing again this season and to fence off the whole area, with gateways in and out, to finish it all off…..

Three weeks ago, we had a spell of nice weather and without having a set idea, I found myself in the side garden, making the borders bigger…..

A new circular island bed was always planned for, perhaps for a small ornamental tree, if we find one suitable, and here it is, breaking up that nothing space!  I didn’t need to hunt around for many new plants – most of the extra space in the borders was filled by splitting existing herbaceous plants already in these borders – they had put on a surprising amount of growth in one season!  Happily, a local village recycles garden waste into good compost and then dumps it in the village car park for people to help themselves – we managed to collect two trailer loads, which I spread all over these borders – it’s going to do the soil so much good!

Before I knew it, I was up on the bank clearing away the brambles from around the azalea and camellia….

It was easier to stack the brambles in the field before taking them down to the bonfire… although it was Edward who did all the donkey work!

While Edward tended the fire, I continued grubbing out brambles and managed to plant up some of the bank with foxgloves, daffodils and ox-eye daisies – it’s actually beginning to look like a garden!

So we’d reached a point were it was relatively tidy before our students arrived for a week’s Sejour….

A week later and we were back out there….  We decided that marking out the area for fencing would make it feel even more like a garden rather than a working farm, which is obviously what it used to be.  Making pathways more narrow was only part of the solution.  So I set about creating yet another bed, which would come up against a fence at the corner of the house – it wasn’t easy, as this area was particularly stony …


In addition, we felt one island bed wasn’t enough, so I added another two and extended the border from the end of the barn, past the corner to make a ‘gateway’ from the garden area into the courtyard…

Luckily we had enough compost to cover all these new beds before they were planted up…

Then it’s time to spread the manure that our farmer friend delivered in January – it was a bit of a race against time as before too long, the border plants will have grown too much to be able to apply the manure…. first barrow loaded, *!# to go!!

So, while I fertilise the beds, it’s over to Edward to start making the fences…. First post is set….

The rails and posts are all newly bought timber but for the garden area, we decided to re-use the wood from the pallets that contained our new roofing slates, a great way of recycling!  Edward did a lovely job of rounding off the tops before attaching them to the rails.  When we get some more good weather, I’ll be painting them white to tie in with the paint work and doors and windows of the house….


Eventually, there will be a gate in the middle, while a simple railing fence will be taken around the front of the house, along the terrace….

While Edward builds fences, I break off from muck spreading, to do something with the stone steps that were found in the bank when I cleared the cotoneaster.  They don’t really go anywhere but I think it would be useful to be able to get behind the border on the bank, so am planning to make a little pathway, leading away from the top of the steps…


By day two or three, we’re really starting to get somewhere – here all the beds have been spread with manure and some of the fencing has been picketed, while new fencing has been added to the top corner of the barn….


Overall, it’s made an amazing difference to this part of the garden.  It’s lovely to look out onto from the house and just feels so different, more contained somehow, more manageable….  The borders no longer look lost amongst the big open spaces and against the huge barn.  The next job will be to add the gates and gravel to the path areas to really finish it off.

But, work continues with the fencing along the front of the house.  Each doorway to the house will have a corresponding archway to break up the fencing and to allow us to grow plants up against the rails.  With only part of it done, it already makes a huge difference.  The terrace feels less open to the elements and the rails seem to draw the rest of the garden closer.  Perhaps because the yard is partially obscured, it doesn’t seem such a big open space now…

Buoyed up by how well the fencing was going up, Edward was torn between finishing the terrace fencing and starting work on the arches or to finish the picket fencing in the side garden!  The side garden won…

Which was great, because it meant I could start levelling off the pathway areas ready for the mypex and gravel to go down….


It turns out the trailer can take about half a tonne of gravel….

Three trips and we find we are just short to complete the garden, darn it!!…

But one more trip in the morning and we have enough to finish this part and gravel the short distance to the first barn door – now we shall be able to get to the barn from the house without getting muddy shoes!!!  A great job done by Edward, shovelling one and a half tonnes of gravel in an afternoon, while I rake!

Meanwhile, along the terrace, Edward has been making good progress with the rails and the first archway…


First archway up….

Second one started….

It was all going swimmingly until it started raining…. for several days….. high winds and torrential rain meant that work had to stop, frustratingly 🙁 Still, we have made great strides in a relatively short space of time and we are both feeling happy and excited with the way the garden and house are being transformed.  Hopefully we shall be able to get some beds made either side of the archways and plants growing in them soon – wisteria and honeysuckle are our first choices, for now…. ♥