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December and January are the perfect months in which to reassess your garden – in terms of the previous year’s successes, your ambitions for next year and your plans for structural changes you might decide to make.
The leaves have fallen from deciduous trees and shrubs. They have all been swept up and added to your leaf mold bin ready to break down into next winter’s leaf mold. Many perennial herbaceous plants have died back and are either displaying winter stems and seed heads or have been cut back and composted. Annuals are, similarly, in your compost bins rotting down to provide mulch in about a year’s time. In the vegetable garden most of the harvest has been safely gathered in. Your garden is at its most stark and sparse. Add to this the peculiar quality of cold, low, slanting winter light and you have the perfect conditions in which to critically re-evaluate the design and balance of your garden and plan what changes you want to make over the next year.
In no particular order, here are four elements to consider when giving your garden it’s annual appraisal:
Study the lines of your garden. You will want any paths or arrangement of borders to lead somewhere – it may be to a practical destination (like the front door) or it could be to some focal point, such as a favourite pot, statue or water feature. You may also want your vista to draw the eye to borrowed landscape features (that is something beyond the boundary of your own garden). This could be a view, or distinctive tree – or maybe an attractive building on the horizon.
The edges of flower beds get untidy during the year, planting plans may change and existing plants mature – all of which mean that your beds may no longer be the right shape or size. Using a rope or hosepipe reshape the border. You can move the rope/hose around the new outline of the border and then stand back – look at it from an upstairs window, even - until you are happy that the shape is right. Next, go along the edge of the rope/hose with your border spade or half-moon shaped edging iron and dig out a shallow trench marking the new outline. Once you have done this for all of the borders you plan to change and you are happy with how they all relate to one another you can start to dig over the reshaped bed(s). Remove the top layer of turf with your spade (or a turfing iron) and re-use it. It can fill in bald patches in your grass, be used to build up hollows in existing lawn or you can create a turf stack. If you store the turfs upside-down they will gradually rot down and create some topsoil for future use. Dig over your new border at the beginning of winter, turning the earth over to bury any remaining grass. and any frosts will help break up the clods of earth and kill unwanted greenery.
Hard landscaping is the non-plant element of your garden – terracing, paths, walls and structures. These permanent features come into their own in the winter when much else has died back. Think about the texture: stone, brick or wood structures, gravel, paved or grass terraces. Try to marry the material used to its environment. For example, a meandering bark path through a woodland garden would be more sympathetic than one made of tarmac. Think also about practicality and purpose – a boundary wall is immediate and will give greater privacy than a hedge and whereas it costs more initially it needs less longer-term maintenance. However, if you are creating a barrier against the wind then a hedge will be more effective as it filters the wind while a wall will create turbulence.
These come into their own in the winter months when they are starkly revealed. Tightly clipped evergreens give colour and shape all year round and form a pleasing contrast to the comings and goings of bulbs and perennials during the year. Hornbeam, when clipped will keep most of its dead brown leaves throughout the winter adding extra colour and texture. Some deciduous trees have wonderful barks. The birch tree Betula utilis, for example has a ghostly while trunk while the paperbark maple (Acer griseum) has a spectacular peeling bark that turns orange/red in winter. Both trees also have attractive leaves and form which extend the interest throughout the year.
As you can see when you look at the great gardens of France, good design looks good all year round. None of us is going to have a garden on the scale of Versailles or Villandry, but we can ensure that our own patch of France has the bone structure which enables us to enjoy its appearance 12 months of the year.
This blog is taken from the gardening section of The Local Buzz - a magazine for the SW of France. You can find out more about The Local Buzz here: https://www.thelocalbuzzmag.com/
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Another instalment from Catherine about the renovation of their glorious manoir in La Creuse
My family and I found ourselves living in Central France, in La Creuse - department 23, in a large Manoir/Chateau. We were located in the foothills of the Massif Central, which can be very rainy (thus making everything lush and be able to grow wonderful produce) but it can also be very hot in the summer, and very cold in the winters - a continental climate. It had taken more than 6 hours to drive down to this area from Calais (far more if you get lost around Paris!) and we didn’t know a lot about the region, other than what we had researched and seen on the internet.
La Creuse is a really beautiful area, very rural, with some large towns dotted about and some cultural history about the stone masons and the work they did in Paris and the region, mentioned in the last blog. The Limousin region is renowned for its Limousin cow; a hardy, generally healthy and adaptable animal that could be as old as the whole continent! Old cave drawings of approx. 20,000 years old, show cattle that look incredibly similar to the Limousin cows of today. The Limousin cow is the original breed from which all other breeds are descended.......
The story continues here:
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We helped Catherine and Dale sell their house in France a few years ago. They have now moved to Spain, and in the meantime Catherine has started a blog about her time in France. It is very interesting and given that they bought this:
And we helped them sell this:
her blog might encourage a few other people who are setting out on their own dream. Here is what Catherine has to say:
"I wanted to share my blog with you, a funny collection of stories as my family and I moved from the UK to France. Looking at issues from moving with kids, working remotely, renovating an old Manoir and creating a gite, dealing with cultural and language situations in France and Spain, relationships, making mistakes and friends along the way!
I hope it might inspire some of you to reach for your dreams!"
And here is a link to Catherine's blog:
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We have attached a few suggestions which you may find useful and which may help make visits to a property as safe as possible as the estate agency industry moves towards life after lockdown. This is not an exhaustive list, but is a summary of tips we have found. As always, ensure as a priority, that you follow the legal guidelines set out by the French government and that you exercise caution and common sense throughout.
Both buyers and sellers should, in the first instance, satisfy themselves that they are able to take part in the visit. Consider your age, underlying health problems and how well you are on the day of the visit. If in doubt you could always ask a third party to undertake the visit on your behalf. If the risk is simply too great – postpone the visit.
Suggestions for sellers:
Ensure that you give a buyer as much advance information about your property as you can - the last thing you want is for someone to turn up and wander through your house when it is very obviously not what they are looking for. Use photographs, Google maps, telephone conversations and virtual visits via smartphone, tablet or an app such as Zoom or Facetime to ensure that neither you nor your viewer are at risk unnecessarily.
Plan the route of the visit. In what order will you show people each room? How will you navigate corridors and staircases? Will you go into each room yourself or will you stand outside smaller rooms and watch your buyer as they look around inside it on their own?
The less people involved in a visit the better. I would recommend that you insist that no more than two visitors take part in the viewing – and preferably only one of them plus either you or your representative. The virus is spread more easily indoors so the less people there are in the house during the visit the better.
Contact your buyer before their visit to explain how you require the visit to be conducted. If you like, you could send them our suggestions for buyers, outlined below.
Ask people to ring you when they arrive at your property so that you can be sure you are ready to receive them.
Before the visit starts open as many doors and windows as possible. By maximising a stream of fresh air throughout your property you will dilute the concentration of any virus in the air and so minimise the risk of inhaling it. Leave the windows and doors open for as long as possible after the visit has ended.
Please ask everyone to wear a mask for the duration of the visit and to sanitise their hands as soon as they have got out of their cars. They should sanitise them again before getting back into the car at the end of the visit. If they follow this practice they are less likely to spread the virus from one property to another.
You should also wear a mask during the visit. Avoid touching your face and practice social distancing. This means remain two metres away from your buyer and not standing face to face with one another. The virus is expelled from the mouth or nose of one person and is either inhaled by another, or, when it lands it can be spread by touch. Similarly, if you have the virus, every time you touch your mouth, eyes or nose you will collect the virus on your fingers – or, if you don’t have the virus you can introduce it to your own respiratory tract from somewhere else.
Ensure that your visitors touch nothing during the visit - the most notable things being door handles. Open the front door when they have phoned to tell you they have arrived. They should not have to knock on it. Ask them not to open any doors themselves. You should not make your buyer a cup of coffee or allow them to use your WC.
Do not exchange bits of paper. Information can be e-mailed or given to you verbally for you to write down. They can also download the brochure about your property from your page on our website.
Keep the visit as short as possible.
Suggestions for buyers:
Only visit properties you are seriously interested in. Use photographs, Google maps, telephone conversations and virtual visits via smartphone, tablet or an app such as Zoom to ensure that neither you nor the homeowner is at risk unnecessarily. If viewing with an agent, do not be persuaded to visit the infamous “wildcard property” – now is not the time for that sort of gesture. Every unnecessary visit puts you or the property owner at unnecessary risk.
Wear a mask, carry hand sanitiser and make sure you do not have to answer the call of nature while viewing a property.
Do not share a car with anyone other than someone you live with or who is already inside your social bubble.
If at all possible only one person should view a property. Every extra person present multiplies the risk of transmission of the virus.
Ring the property owner when you arrive at the property. Get out of the car, put on your mask and sanitise your hands then wait to be admitted. Do not knock at the door.
As you go round the property touch nothing (note door handles in particular) and do not exchange any paperwork with the property owner (or any third party if you are accompanied by an agent).
Maintain social distancing throughout – stay two metres apart and do not stand face to face with anyone. The virus is expelled from the mouth or nose of one person and is either inhaled by another, or, when it lands it can be spread by touch. Similarly, if you have the virus, every time you touch your mouth, eyes or nose you will collect the virus on your fingers – or, if you don’t have the virus you can introduce it to your own respiratory tract from somewhere else.
Keep the visit as short as possible. If the property is not for you, then say so and end the visit there and then.
When you leave the property, sanitise your hands again as you get back into the car. This minimises the risk of you carrying the virus from one place to another.
Everything we do in life comes with a risk and all we can ever do is mitigate that risk to the best of our abilities by understanding the risk we are facing and acting as intelligently as we can to counteract it.
We do not mean to put you off ever visiting another property again – or ever letting another stranger across your threshold. We will all have to learn to live with this virus if we are to continue with our day to day lives and adapt our behaviour patterns accordingly.
We hope these suggestions will help you to buy or sell your property with confidence this year. If you have any other tips to add to our suggestions, please let us know.
French Properties Direct
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Here is a quick method for calculating 100km distance from your home address.
Go to the website geoportail.gouv.fr
Click “cartes” at the top left of the screen and then choose “Plan IGN”
Enter your address in the address box and click OK to bring up the next screen
On that screen click the blue spanner at the top right side of the screen. Then click the “mesures” option
Click “calculer une isochrone”
Put your address in the box market “depart”
Click the “isodistance” option and enter 100km in the distance field
Click “calculer” at the bottom
The map will highlight a 100km radius of your address – you can enlarge it to get to the detail using the +/- box at the top right corner of the map.