Les poissons en France

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Climate Change?

.......or is it just weather? We have certainly had a bizarre few days. Monday +24 degrees, Tuesday a welcome day of rain, Wednesday morning zero degrees and even more plants devastated, plus a cold wind all day, Thursday even colder -2 degrees. We have two more days of frost scheduled. The warm Spring had encouraged early growth which I was pleased about, but now!! Two years of drought in 2015 and 2016 who knows what we've got to come. We moan that the forecasters never get it right  but is it surprising when our micro climate is so diverse.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Eyrignac Spring

We made a second visit to the gardens at Eyrignac on Sunday to see how things are moving on.  Whilst the spring flowers are basically over we were in time to see the tulips which are a lovely pure white and a classic shape ( called Triumph Superior - duly noted for next year!)
The Hornbeam hedging has come into leaf in the month since we last visited; it was interesting to see the severely pruned hedges starting to regenerate although they will take two years to regain their proper shape.
March 17th
April 23rd

In the white garden the first roses were blooming but the full display needs just a little more time.
There were only one or two signs of the frosts we had last week but there are more forecast for later this week!  Doesn't look promising for the flowers this year.

Monday, April 24, 2017

...but it helps!

Just the odd 10 tonnes of castine (chippings) to be moved down to the bottom of the back garden to fill in the'dry river bed' that was started about 9 years ago!!!
Plenty of cardio-vascular exercise in store.  At least it's all downhill to the river bed (in more ways than one.)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

You don't have to be mad ...

...but every new idea eventually leads to another bed to be dug!
At the end of last year the Design Committee decided that the 'wildflower' meadow wasn't working and thoughts drifted towards Piet Oudolf, the Dutch designer who popularised the use of grasses.  So, I started mowing the wildflower area, leaving two beds for the grass to grow naturally (and hopefully some wildflowers)
However, this simple idea became modified by the Head Gardener to include a bed with each grass block for some prairie flowers such as Rudbeckia.

So yesterday I managed to fire up the rotavator (after about 8 years!) and broke into the beds.
( have to admit it made me puff a bit!)

I'm not sure how quickly things will progress now, as we had 3 mornings of frosts (with a chance of more next week) and, what with this and our 2 weeks away in Taiwan, the production of seedlings has suffered.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Happy Birthday

As many of you will know it was my big 7..0 yesterday and I had a wonderful day. It may of course not be everyone's idea of a perfect day but for a gardenaholic,foodie who loves the countryside it couldn't have been better.

The idea was that we should visit a garden which we have wanted to see for a few years and as a bonus they have a restaurant with a menu which really appealed. As it would take a couple of hours to get there we left at 9.30 in glorious sunshine. However although I have painted this picture of an idyllic morning not everything was perfect. Yesterday, and for the two previous days we have had beautiful sunny days but they have begun with frosts which have systematically destroyed all the young growth and decimated the irises.

The garden is called Sothys (named after an Egyptian goddess!!!) and was developed ten years ago on land owned by the family who own the Sothys brand. We gather it is an up market cosmetic brand similar to Clarin, and as successful. Not my area of expertise! The garden is in the Correze to the north east of us in the direction of Clermont Ferrand. Although we were following the GPS I managed to miss a turning but as we had plenty of time we just let it devise an alternative route. As a result we found the most amazing countryside within a National Park....and we didn't see a soul. Heaven.
The garden and restaurant are set on the edge of a lake, absolutely in the middle of nowhere, and initially we had the place to ourselves, although it did not stay that way. If only all those others would buzz off.

Lunch lived up to expectations. May be it was because I was viewing it through the bottom of a champagne glass.
Eventually we tore ourselves away from the table to tour the garden. It is currently undergoing a lot of replanting and new hard landscaping so we were given free entry for later in the year. Our first impressions however were that they had suffered the effects of the late frosts very much worse than us....scant compensation. The garden is loosely based on the naturalistic ethos of the cosmetic company...very loosely!
 However we thoroughly enjoyed it, and guess what we came away with loads of ideas. I expect I will  still be redesigning the garden on my 80th.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Random Thoughts on Taiwan, Its Culture and Society

Taiwan is an island roughly the size of England where East meets West. The urbanisation is mostly in the North and along the west coast with the remainder mountains covered in sub-tropical vegetation. The capital Taipei is very densely populated with predominantly high rise buildings squeezed around the old housing. Modern development is very swish but it would appear to be the culture not to maintain property after construction so the old houses look scruffy and a coat of paint would make all the difference. However that is the Eastern way!!

The people are wonderful. We experienced so many occasions when people went out of their way to help us, sometimes miles out of their way!

We were amazed to see that EVERYTHING is written in Mandarin and English from metro signs to instructions on food packets. Actually several languages are spoken on the island in addition to Mandarin and English, Hakka, brought by Chinese immigrants, the original aboriginal languages and Japanese, a legacy of the occupation.

The density of cars and scooters is crazy. In particular the scooters which go at incredible speeds often with entire families on them – plus the dog.

With regard to their pets, they are amazingly attentive, just like the English. Even the stray dogs are friendly and look well fed and we never saw any of them raiding dustbins. May be it’s the influence of Buddhism.

People are very respectful of everything, oldies do very well out of this. Forming an orderly queue is obligatory. It’s a good job that the culture is to be obedient because the place is littered with signs telling you what to do and what not to do, e.g.” when climbing stairs take little steps”. I think Health and Safety in the UK is over the top but it is nothing compared to Taiwan.

Travel is very cheap with buses and metro trains very frequent. The long distance train we went on was very modern.

The Taiwanese are obsessed with cleanliness, no complaint there. We have never seen so many cleaners at work, it seemed 24/7.

We managed for nearly a fortnight with virtually no alcohol! Tea is their drink of preference and it comes in every possible guise from “Bubble Tea” a specialty with the addition of tapioca, fortunately we managed to avoid this, to tea made with the traditional ceremony.

Living in the countryside we never ceased to be amazed at the number of swish shopping malls with endless designer shops and international fast food outlets. Shopping is definitely an important part of life. In contrast to the immaculate shopping malls are the night markets. Very crowded and selling everything you’ve never wanted. We decided that they were more like fairgrounds than markets.

Food!! People eat out most of the time as it is cheaper than cooking at home where generally there are few facilities. The Taiwanese eat at any time, with no designated mealtimes although restaurants shut at 9 o’clock and we were asked to leave on two occasions. Of course we had some lovely food but generally it is a bit lacking in flavour for me and savoury things always had a touch of sweetness.

We were educated as to how useful mobile phones can be but, as throughout the world, the entire population go around with their heads bent looking into their phones. And then there are selfies!! Obsession is not the word. No wonder we have global warming, ”the ether must be so full of photos that they are blocking out the light!!!” Not only do they take pictures but they pose like models and it’s all ages not just the young girls. If a family are out for the day and wish to have a photo of something it will necessitate several shots as there are innumerable permutations of the family to be recorded. Wedding photos are the most “interesting”. The bride and groom dress up in all their finery, way before the wedding day, and tour around having their photos taken in all sorts of places, some very bizarre. This album is duly perused by all guests at the wedding reception. Do you get the impression that taking photos was not our favourite aspect of Taiwanese life?

Apparently Taiwan is the second best place in the world for recycling and it needs to be because the amount of packaging used is off the scale.

So as always there are pros and cons in all societies and their way of life is just different to our own. However it was wonderful to see Guy contented and happy living in Taiwan.

Taiwan Spring

Guy has been working in Taiwan for 15 months now and this has given us the reason to explore a totally new culture.
We flew out of Toulouse at 5 in the evening to arrive in Istanbul at 2 am Turkish time.  We were served with a main meal on the plane so we were taken aback when, on the flight from Istanbul to Taipei, at approximately 5.30 am Turkish time, we were given another dinner!  And, of course we had breakfast about 6 hours later.  Sleeping was difficult but on landing at Taipei airport it was 6 in the evening.  It was lovely to be met at the airport by Guy and his girlfriend Lucy who we took to immediately.

Our first day, Sunday, was taken easily, acclimatising ourselves to the metro, the numerous and frequent buses, the traffic, the shops and the food.
As you can see scooters are everywhere,
 As are the tea and coffee shops.  But it is nothing like the tea that we drink; it's made into a long weak drink in which tea is mixed with many other ingredients, drunk hot or cold, at any time of the day or night.
In the afternoon we wandered into the grounds of the main University in Taipei where it was calm and peaceful and full of flowering shrubs.  We had arrived just in time to see the Azaleas in flower.  There had been a month long Azalea festival for all of March.
Monday we were left to our own devices and went into Taipei city centre to take one of the sight-seeing buses so that we could orientate ourselves.   We took the opportunity to hop off the bus to see the Chang-kei Shek Memorial Palace.
There's the Mausoleum, huge open parade area and the National Theatre on the site as well as gardens.  It was packed with people and Sue struggled to watch the ceremonial changing of the guard which happens every hour.
That's Sue in the black! Guy met us from work and, after a meal, took us on a march through some of the old streets down to the river.
Guy was able to have Tuesday afternoon free and he took us to Yinnge, a suburb of Taipei which is famous for its pottery.  We went into the Ceramics Museum and then strolled down the 'Old Street' which is lined with tourist shops.  
We dutifully bought a couple of small vases !!
On Wednesday, Guy was again free in the afternoon and took us to the Expo Gardens so Sue could have a plant fix.  This was followed by a temple visit.  There are lots of temples in Taiwan, large and small, all incredibly ornate and colourful.

The next day Sue and I went again into Taipei and did another sight-seeing bus for a different part of the city before we met Guy and Lucy for a meal.  This involved another route-march to find a suitable restaurant!

By Friday we needed a quiet day to recover from the buses, metros, walking and hunts for restaurants.  However Sue wanted to go back to the pottery street as she had seen a vase for flower arranging but when we found it again, she then decided it was too expensive.

The weekend was a long holiday as Monday was Children's Day and Tuesday was Tomb Sweeping Day and Guy had organised a trip over to the east coast of Taiwan so that we could experience the wilder part of the island.  Lucy's aunt had got us some train tickets (which are in great demand for a holiday weekend) so that we were able to sit for the 4 hour journey.  Guy and Lucy had booked us all into a guest house, and laid on a car with driver for 2 days to take us into the National parks and the coast.
The guest house gave us a lot of amusement as we had a four-posted bed and everywhere was decorated with fluffy toys, shell pictures and plastic flower arrangements.
We really enjoyed seeing the 'wild' Taiwan; boringly Sue and I were continually stopping to look at the, to us, exotic vegetation, a lot of which we only know as house-plants!  Also, as I am interested in Bonsai, I couldn't get over seeing the streets lined with trees and shrubs styled and trained in classic shapes.
One memorable experience was a meal we had in a restaurant on the quayside of a small fishing port.  It was an old warehouse and it still looked like it!
Sue was rather dubious about the whole experience but when the food came up (very rapidly) it was a fantastic meal of fresh fish.  You can't judge a book by its cover!
We went back to Guy's flat on Tuesday evening and so Wednesday was a bit of a rest ... and retail therapy.  Very near to where Guy lives in Sanxia is a famous/touristy 'Old street' lined with small shops.  And I was delighted to find a shop selling all materials for Chinese calligraphy (which is my latest enthusiasm!)
The Thursday we girded our loins for the journey, (bus, metro, bus) to go to the National Palace which is a must-see destination for artifacts from the whole of Chinese history!  And we had to see the most famous object which is a jade cabbage, displayed in a cabinet in its own room with orderly queues to see it.
In the evening we joined up with Guy and Lucy who wanted to take us for a special meal for our birthdays.  We were taken to a very nice Japanese restaurant where we had a really good meal and were presented with a 'happy birthday' scroll.
The next day we treated ourselves and went to the Botanical Garden in Taipei.
This was made memorable with the number of people who helped us get around. Firstly an old lady, with virtually no English, looked at our map and then took us about 2km to our destination.  Then we couldn't find the entrance because of building works and another lady who did speak English took us to find our way in.  On leaving we were undecided on the right way to the metro station and a young girl stopped and then took us there.

The evening was special as we went with Guy and Lucy for a meal in a Chinese restaurant with Lucy's parents and her sister.
We speak no Chinese and Lucy's family speak no English so conversation wasn't too easy as everything went via Guy and Lucy.  (Guy is learning Mandarin and can hold simple conversations).  Lucy's mum teaches the Chinese tea ceremony and we had an impromptu lesson.
The last weekend, and on the Saturday we went with Guy and Lucy to a National park about an hour north of Taipei.  So, more hiking, lots of flowers and sulphurous steam activity from an old volcano!
We returned home on Sunday; our flight left Taipei airport at 9 pm.
Home on Monday 2pm French time, after 26 hours door to door!

A lovely holiday with Guy, good to meet Lucy, an interesting culture and different food experiences.  We can see why they say that Taiwan is a great country for expats!