I have discovered later in life that there is nothing more enjoyable than garden restoration. A garden that is old, yet so overgrown you can’t even get a foot into it. To my mind, this is a playground for energy, planning and mental meditation.
Consequently, after moving into my mini medieval manor, the first project I tackled wasn’t the thickly painted wood beams, peeling wallpaper or lack of hot water. It was the chock full of weeds and more garden.
A little history
I love my tiny old house, but it was the garden that decided my purchase of the place. Who wouldn’t want a hidden away walled garden? The L shaped house makes up two sides of it. The old village ramparts another side. And the wall of one of the ancient medieval walkways disappearing under the gate in the rampart completes the fourth side.
I suspect long long ago that there may have been buildings in the old garden. There are hints where beams used to slot into walls. Of random dressed stone work (stone that has smoothed edges) indicating doorways or possibly fireplaces. The garden is a historians delightful mystery with its many changes over time.
One thing is certain, in the last 100 years at least it was used as a garden. And, as was typical in France during these times, would have been used to supply sustenance and a certain level of self-sufficiency to its owners. A tradition, I am happy to say, that is still very popular today here. And one I plan to continue, with a definite in keeping eye towards a medieval styled garden.
The first order of business was to clear the garden. It was well and truly overgrown with very tall weeds. So much so, it wasn’t possible to go into it. There was the beginnings of a short path at one corner. I began here and worked my way inwards, filling bag after bag with pulled up greenery to take to the decheterie – the local dump. The decheterie was open 3 times a week. I was there at least twice a day each time. There was a lot to clear.
Any rotting wood or branches were saved, added to a corner already filled with a cut up rotten tree. These will be re-purposed as the base for my hugelkultur raised beds. The rotting wood aerates and adds nourishment to the soil helping plants to thrive.
Weeds and their roots were dug out, though a few medicinal ones retained, like mallow, clover and nettles. Most will be transplanted where they can aid other plants in enriching the soil or keeping pests at bay. All plants have a natural use, particularly if they are good at seeding themselves. I have always subscribed to the fact that weeds are just a plant in the wrong place.
Dig, dig, dig
The garden slopes slightly, semi naturally. But it is also obvious that some areas were built up more than others. And in digging down for new pathways and planting fruit trees, I quickly discovered why. Rubbish. Or for those preferring American English, trash.
I wrote about the history of rubbish, as you do, in a previous garden restoration post. Essentially, rubbish collection is a new invention in the scheme of time. Previously, you re-used, re-purposed and when all else failed, threw in a corner of your garden. A sort of early version of composting. (Remember rubbish only truly becomes a 1st world problem with the invention of plastics.)
Now the garden is cleared. And various features have come to light. There had been hints of a pond buried under rotting irises and bay leaf shoots. (Another reason I fell in love with the garden, instant possible pond for the ducks.) This has now been emptied, cleaned and re-filled, and the bay leaf shoots pruned back.
A temporary duck enclosure was then built around the pond and shoots. Temporary, as I need to live with the garden for a bit to best discover how to make their home the best it can be. The meter high shoots add a nice respite from the weather, hiding spots and potential nesting places.
As bay leaf grows, well, like a weed, I will be able to prune the shoots back each autumn. This will of course give me more bay leaves then I can make recipes. But even better, give me bendy branches for wattling fencing. Something every self respecting medieval garden needs.
The next few months of colder weather will be spent digging out the soil for my raised hugelkultur beds, and filling in with the rotting wood. This will ultimately clear the last hidden corner of the garden, where all the wood had been dumped.
I’ve already discovered there is a low edge, so maybe it was originally a patio area and there will be stone or tiles underneath. Or maybe just more rubbish, as I can already see lots of bits and pieces poking out amongst the branches.
It’s heavy hard work, but the ducks make it thoroughly entertaining in their need to help. I only have to pick up the shovel and they recognise what is planned, and come running. Of course they are keen garden assistants. It has nothing to do with finding worms. Speaking of which, the worms in my garden are HUGE! A sign of a healthy garden. Hooray. And very happy ducks.
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