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Our Project: a retreat in the Cerdagne


By Xela


Finally, on Friday, we shall have the keys for the property in the Cerdagne. This is it:
It doesn’t look very big but it is big enough to meet our needs. This has been a dream for several years and now we are about to realise that dream, it seems unreal some how.
As you can see, the garden is fairly exposed, it faces the Spanish Pyrenees to the south, so it gets a lot of sun even in mid-winter and has superb mountain views front and back..
Until last month we had only ever seen it in winter (hence these photos are all rather bleak), usually under a blanket of snow, so we weren’t sure what was growing there. My partner isn’t a plantoholic so my contribution to the project will be maintaining the garden as best I can.
I believe the tree is a hornbeam. It serves well as a feeding station for the birds in winter and I am sure we will appreciate the shade it must cast in summer.
There is a gate in the wall near the car, that leads to rising steps through a small rockery to the lawn. The rockery and steps are formed with slate held in place by the odd dollop of concrete … I know, inclined to be slippery so will need ‘sorting’. Irises and a lavender bush dominate the rockery
and we have seen tulips nosing their way through the soil. I believe there are other spring bulbs too, but not sure what yet. We have seen poppies below the lavender and this centruthus ruber is growing out of the retaining wall. Snow in Summer [Cerastium tomentosum] covers much of the bare soil.
A little Christmas tree marks the top of the steps
( It looks quite tall in this photo but actually it barely reaches elbow height!) From there two paths lead up towards the building, one skirting the Leylandii hedge and decking and the other separates the edge of the ‘lawn’ from a rose bed before heading up a couple of steps and across the upper garden directly to the front door.
More irises are growing in the rose bed but last month the bed was choked with Snow in Summer [Cerastium tomentosum] and grass-weeds. The first time we stayed here there were two roses but one has since died and practically disappeared. I am hoping to see the survivor in flower this week, I don’t know what colour it is yet. I can’t wait to restore order in this bed and in due course add some pretty, hardy perennials, dianthus maybe or perhaps some low growing cranesbills, and challenge the weeds with pretty ground cover plants.
The path is little more than a dirt track between the rose bed and the ‘lawn’, we have thought stepping stones there would cut down the muddy footprints in the hall without changing the informality of the path too much. In the upper garden the path consists of gravel over a porous membrane. Several deep rooted weeds have forced their way through the membrane; I plan to use weedkiller on them and then plant the holes with thyme …. my vision is to create a sweet smelling entrance using perennial herbs, rosemary, bay and such like.
To the left of the door is the sheltered area of decking that I mentioned earlier, and to the right a narrow bed separates the building from a small area of ‘lawn’.At the moment this honeysuckle is struggling to enhance the doorway I think it needs a helping hand. It shares the border with more irises. We have no idea yet what colour they are either. I had hoped they would be in flower like the many others we had seen on the journey there last month but these were well behind. I suspect they may be very old and hence blind, hopefully they can be revived with a little TLC.
At the end of this border there are some rough steps leading down from the upper garden to a smashing little sun trap. It seems likely that this seat will be staying …. a fresh coat of paint may well make it more inviting. The climbing rose alongside is looking rather neglected, I wonder if it can be revived too, and what colour the blooms will be.
The boundary between the garden and field is a rather boring wall topped by fencing. No doubt the new owner will opt to create a natural hedge in front of the wall, it would be lovely to have a mixture of evergreens, with some spring and summer flowering specimens and berries too for the birds in the snowy months.
At the far end of the garden is a built in barbecue, also in need of some restoration, but first the wild rose next to it will need to be tamed. There are two plants quite close together, maybe self-seeded. Between them is a wisteria struggling to see the light. It seems the intention was to train it along the fencing to hang down on the road side of the wall, a nice idea but it will need some help. Further along, behind the washing line, an ornamental ivy is dominating the space. My partner dislikes ivy intensely so I think that plant’s heyday will end, but I doubt he will manage to get rid completely.
Most of the garden was laid to lawn but it hasn’t had much attention for quite a while and now there are more weeds than grass. I shall do my best to remove the weeds and then scatter grass seed …. not the optimum conditions or time of year but it has two chances.
On top of the garage (between the road and the building) is a terrace, accessed by more steps from the gate. At the moment it looks quite barren and uninviting. We would like to make it a pleasant place for dining outdoors maybe shaded by a vine or something similar, but that will have to wait a while.
Well, there it is, a skier’s retreat with a modest plot of land to keep the hobby gardener occupied. It is an exciting project although rather daunting too. Wish us luck, won’t you!

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A grand spot - how much time do you plan to spend there?

14 Jul, 2013


It's very exciting :o) Good luck ! I'm sure you'll enjoy staying there and doing the place up. I hope you'll show us some photos of your progress ...

14 Jul, 2013


Originally the plan was to be there for the ski season Steragram, and to take shorter breaks during the rest of the year as necessary, but we expected the youngsters to have flown the nest long ago. Instead we find we find our youngsters belong to the 'boomerang' generation ... they go and come back! So we shall see. Currently the plan is that five of us (and maybe girl/boyfriends) will be there for Christmas .... but who arrives when and how long for depends on work commitments, pet passports, personal funds and means of transport etc.
Hywel, I intend to keep my phone charged up and ready to snap every step ..... full of good intentions! Lol.

14 Jul, 2013


Good luck !

15 Jul, 2013




may we see your progress please..

from jane.

15 Jul, 2013


Not sure there will be much progress this coming weekend, Jane .... there are thunderstorms forecast every day in the Cerdagne from now 'til next Tuesday! I shall probably just be weeding between showers, but I intend to take some 'before' and 'after' photos.

16 Jul, 2013


graet dramatic thunderstorms awesome...

well happy weeding, after photos i know will be wonderful...

from jane...

18 Jul, 2013


Glad I had the foresight to bring weedkiller with me!
The seller, bless him, cut the grass with a strimmer in readiness for our arrival and sheared the leylandii so it looked a tad presentable when we arrived. However it was difficult to see where the borders ended and the lawn began, the 'Snow in Summer' and lawn grass had grown into eachother..... and most of the grass seems to be couch grass which has travelled freely and entwined itself among the roots of every other plant in the garden.
Much to do at the moment but will post another blog about progress soon.

23 Jul, 2013


that sounds a bit like my lawn was too and in some places still is.
look forward update on progress.

from jane.

23 Jul, 2013


Hi Xela
I'm catching up with blogs ..
I hope this special project is going well :o)

10 Sep, 2013


How is your project "french garden" going?
If you have the time and inclination cld you post some pics please.

24 Nov, 2014

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