A year like no other, of course, and a severe challenge for the whole world….
Having had two holiday homes in the same area of Normandy before buying Le Hot in 2006, 2020 was the first Easter period for almost 30 years when we weren’t able to get to France. Friends who live near us in Manche were kind enough to send us photos to show that the house and garden were still all right, if a little ………woolly! Our garden in Eastbourne certainly benefitted from our prolonged presence due to lockdown, and it was the most beautiful spring and early summer. The roses had never been as good ! Though our scheduled opening for the National Garden Scheme had to be cancelled of course.
Arrival at last!
After four attempts to get a ferry to France, we finally made it to Le Hot on June 30 – the first time we’d been back since early February. It was okay! Much of the garden, especially the Cottage Garden, could best be summed up by ‘glorious romantic flowery chaos’ – paths had disappeared, the veg beds were empty, and most of the borders were full of weeds…
But the roses (as in England) were stupendous – thank heavens I’d done all that pruning in February! – 2 stork babies were almost flying, and our occasional mower-man had kept the main bits of lawn under control.
Getting stuck in
First jobs included filling the greenhouse with the alarmingly enormous tomato, chilli and cucumbers plants I’d sown during the spring in England, and crossing my fingers that they would be okay. I decided not to worry about uncovering the paths again in the Chambrot and Purple borders – I just let everything flop over them until the end of the summer. Basically, with so much to attend to, you have to pick your battles a bit, and those could wait. The Cottage Garden paths were a different matter – it was impossible to get round that garden at all until I had tackled them!
We had been due to have the garden open through the summer on Saturday afternoons in association with the CotentinCoteJardins, and though we had told them that COVID had made that impossible, they had obviously already sent out all the leaflets.
Thus, people started arriving from the first Saturday afternoon that we were there……..! By the second Saturday afternoon of our stay, our son-in-law Martin persuaded us that we might as well go with the flow and welcome the visitors. So we cleared away paddling pools etc. (our daughter and her family had arrived four days after us for a two-week stay – we were so happy that they could) and opened it every Saturday thereafter until early September. Social distancing wasn’t a problem in a big garden like this, and the visitors (almost all French – the whole world is staycationing this year) didn’t seem to mind the rather unkempt parts at all!
(We were indeed due to host another Pierres en Lumieres event for the Manche Tourist Authority but that has inevitably been postponed.)
Sadly, no other friends or family were able to come out to stay with us during the rest of our summer there, mostly because of the 2-week quarantine regulations on their return to the UK. We were so glad that we’d had the big party LAST year……. So socially, 2020 was an extremely quiet summer, our only regular outings being to go food-shopping on a Monday following by meeting a friend outside for a drink and a chat, and to hold a weekly Friday Lunch Club in each other’s gardens with one other couple…….
Plenty of hard graft
We had lots of time to immerse ourselves in dozens of jobs round the garden and house. Amongst other things, we:
- Cleared the lower/broken branches from the fir trees by the drive
- Cleared the whole barn pavement, and cutting the Kiftsgate rose on the barn right back ( might have to get rid of it – just TOO vigorous, even for the barn!!)
- Cleared all the ivy from the front of the house and the slate pavement
- Re-did the scullery in order to have a new boiler fitted
- Cut huge trunks and branches off the over-large bay tree on the ridge, and the hawthorn by the terrace
- Got rid of the raspberry bed – the birds always had the lot, anyway! – and turned it into more Cottage Garden flower space
- Put a paved floor into the woodland hideaway and landscaped the area a little
- Weeded the whole Rosa rugosa hedge which was being overrun
- Re-plastered and painted the internal walls underneath the back windows of the house, and re-touched all the external window-woodwork
- Harvested bucketloads of apples, pears, figs and grapes – all of which had a fabulous crop this year
- Cut down all the very long grass in the meadow ‘quarters’ in several sessions at it, and planted home-grown wildflowers in them, as well as some in the first part of the woodland area
- Constructed a fence between the car-park and the woodland
Did a million other things besides, of course, during a hot dry July (lots of water-saving needed!) , followed by some torrential thunderstorms during August.
We left in the middle of September, a fortnight earlier than planned, to take account of the required quarantine period in the UK – the great desire to see the family pulling us back home. It had been a very strange summer in so many ways, but we had NEVER felt more thankful for our beloved Le Hot than this year. And we have no idea when we might be able to get back there………………..