Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Steve Moves Home

Regular readers may remember our Siberian Iris 'Steve' and our annual account of what he's up to. For those readers who may be concerned by the title of this post, don't worry, he hasn't left home, just been transplanted into a new pot.

Steve in his new pot.

He's multiplied quite a bit and was filling up his previous pot, which was also prone to drying out. Steve doesn't like being dry for too long, so we've put him in a lovely blue pot that is bigger and doesn't drain terribly well. He is enjoying it, but is obviously not going to flower this year. The previous occupants of the blue pot were some Snakeshead Fritillary (obtained ethically, from a nursery at one of the London Royal Horticultural Shows). Unfortunately Lily Beetles have eaten the Fritillaries. Lily Beetles may be gorgeous, but they are a menace in the garden and one of the few creatures I am prepared to ruthlessly squash.

The pseudo-Steves party on despite the rain.

Anyway, as usual the pseudo-Steves are doing their bit to beautify the back garden, determinedly flowering in the endless pouring rain of the past few days.

Monday, 30 May 2016


Mondays in Milan / Les lundis en Lombardie

This painting by Bernard Zenale (or somebody in his sphere) depicts a flagellation. The painter and architect was born in the 1450s and died in Milan in 1526. The Flagellation dates from 1515-20 and is oil on wooden board. It hangs in the Castello Sforzesco in Milan.

He seems to have become a master painter and member of the guild of painters at a remarkably early age (maybe as young as 15, but certainly by the time he was 17). Although not originally from Milan, for most of his career he was based in the city. Leonardo's arrival in Milan was hugely influential and as a result Zenale's style changed markedly around 1500. By 1513 he was working primarily as an architect rather than a painter and was appointed to the Duomo project in 1519, becoming chief architect in 1522. You can see his architectural interests reflected in the painting above, and his use of perspective is skilled (he even wrote a paper on the subject). He appears to have been a wealthy individual, owning two houses and some land near Milan.

Our posts on Mondays are all about the northern Italian city of Milan. To read more click here.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

The first time we saw our house

Ten years ago today we drove into Preuilly specifically to look at a couple of houses we had seen advertised on the internet.

The first was an interesting collection of three buildings, none of which had functioning bathrooms, and none of which you could reach from the others except via a courtyard shared with a fourth building. Far too confusing for us! (But not for someone else, who bought the collection, and has placed one of the houses back on the market).

The other was a building we were told by the estate agent was too small for us, so needless to say it was the biggest house we looked at. It is also the house we now live in.

I am not sure what was going on in our heads at the time: we both owned digital cameras, we almost instantly decided this was the house we wanted to buy, but we took only two photos of the exterior and none of the interior.

 We did take some more photos of Preuilly sur Claise (4 of them),
one of which is currently the header of the blog

We wrote about the whole life changing three day weekend in one blog post five months after the event.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Our first proper pictures of Preuilly

After spending an evening at the Gerbe d'Or in Loches talking about the boulangerie (see yesterday's post) and deciding that the only option would be to demolish part of it to make a courtyard, we decided that we were being silly, and that there were sure to be other options.

We had decided we liked the feel of Preuilly, so the next day (a Sunday) we spent the morning in the Brenne, then drove to Preuilly to have lunch. We lunched at l'Image, the first of many pleasant meals we have had there over the years. It was Mother's Day, so we were lucky to get the last free table in the place.

Our first proper picture of Preuilly. 12h38, 28 May 2006

Our second proper picture of Preuilly. 12h39, 28 May 2006. If we had known
we would still be here ten years later we would have taken more photos

The meal was enough to convince us we really did like Preuilly, and to return on Monday check out other houses on the market.

You can read an almost 10 year old account of this buying trip here

Friday, 27 May 2016

And Now it's Ten Years

They may not be the world's stunningest© photos, but they are three of the first photos we took in Preuilly sur Claise, ten years ago today. They are photos of a house we didnt buy, and here are the reasons:

We thought it was a bit weird. Turns out that compared
to other houses we looked at, it wasn't.

It didn't have a staircase of its own, but rather a staircase shared with the
almost fallen down house next door. Next door's bedroom door is on the left.

It is right on the main road. We didn't know then how busy the road
can get (we saw it on a Saturday afternoon), but it was a lucky escape.

The other reason we didn't buy this particular house is that it had an enormous semi-cellar (110m2) with one very small window, and a sub cellar beneath it. We did seriously think about the house, but we decided in the end that we just couldn't work out something sensible to do with all those rooms/half rooms/cellars.

All this means that the bottom photo is the first photo we have that shows anything of Preuilly sur Claise. It was taken at 14h50 on the 27th May 2006.

You can read an almost 10 year old account of this buying trip here

Thursday, 26 May 2016

A Sign

I'm posting this just because I thought the sign was charming. It fits in perfectly with its surroundings.

2 points if you can tell me where it is.

Answer: Martizay. 2 points to The Titteringtoness who was spot on.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Rivarennes in the Rain

Rivarennes is a small village on the River Creuse in the Brenne. I was invited to go over there to check out the surrounds and the appointed day turned out to be thoroughly miserable weather wise, but thoroughly enjoyable company and scenery wise.

Nottingham Catchfly.
I am super pleased with this photo of Nottingham Catchfly Silene nutans (Fr. Silène penché). They are night flowering, and the flowers only last a few hours. Normally when I see them the petals are rolled back on themselves and the flower is dying. Because it was such a dull moist day they were in good condition for once and I got this nice shot of them with artistic droplets of water. They are a common plant here on flinty chalk soil, growing in dry sunny places.

Built in the 14th century to control the river crossing, the Chateau de la Tour was captured by the English in 1370. It is privately owned.

Eileen on the track through Les Chézeaux.
Eileen and Andrew are the energetic new owners of a tiny house, a large garden and a parcel of woodland in Rivarennes. They asked me over to check out the nearby nature walk of Les Chézeaux, which we were hoping would reveal lots of orchids. Later in the year there will apparently be Martagon Lilies Lilium martagon (Fr. Lis martagon) flowering too. The latter is a species on the north-eastern edge of its range and there are only ten sites in the Brenne where you can see it (most of them near Rivarennes and the surrounding villages along the Creuse).

The oldest house in Rivarennes.
This house, known as Le Pavillon, may not look very special but it is a 14th century tower house. There is an inscription above the door which refers to the killing in the church of a local lad by the lord of the chateau in 1626.

Jachère fleurie.
This lovely patch of jachère fleurie has been sown in the water meadow on the edge of town. When I visited it was dominated by Dames-violet Hesperis matronalis (Fr. Julienne des dames) and Oxeye Daisy Leucanthemum vulgare (Fr. Marguerite). Both plants would be native to this spot and the reason this jachère fleurie is better than the average non-native cosmos heavy effort is that Indre Nature have an office in Rivarennes. Apparently they have had to put a sign up asking people not to pick the flowers. It hasn't been very successful though. People are regularly sighted bearing away armfuls of flowers. Infuriating!

Grass Pea.
The pretty little Grass Pea Lathyrus sphaericus (Fr. Gesse à graines rondes) is uncommon, but there was a nice patch of them growing by the bike path. I've only ever seen single plants before.

A mutant Monkey Orchid.
In the end we only saw one species of orchid in flower, which was disappointing. There was a Lady Orchid Orchis purpurea (Fr. Orchis pourpre) which had been picked, and some other orchids not yet in flower. All we saw in flower were Monkey Orchids Orchis simia (Fr. Orchis singe), at least one of which had been picked, and one of which had a mutation and was 'limbless'. They should look like this, with 'arms' and 'legs' which remind one of a monkey.

Notable Plants to be Seen at Rivarennes:
Broad-leaved Whitebeam / Sorbus latifolia / Alisier de Fontainebleau (M-J) 
Peach-leaved Bellflower / Campanula persicifolia / Campanule à feuilles de Pêcher (J-J)
Small Teasel / Dipsacus pilosus / Cardère velue (J-J-A)
Narrow-leaved Helleborine / Cephalanthera longifolia / Cephalanthère à longues feuilles (M-J)
White Helleborine / Cephalanthera damasonium / Cephalanthère blanche (M-J)
Bird-in-a-Bush / Corydalis solida / Corydale solide (M-A-M)
Berry Catchfly / Cucubalus baccifer / Cucubale à baie (J-A)
Plantain-leaved Leopards Bane / Doronicum plantagineum / Doronic à feuilles de Plantain (A-M-J)
Small-leaved Helleborine / Epipactis microphylla / Epipactis à petite feuilles (J-J)
Narrow-lipped Helleborine / Epipactis muelleri / Epipactis de Müller (J-J)
Irish Spurge / Euphorbia hyberna / Euphorbe d'Irlande (A-M-J-J)
Bloody Cranes-bill / Geranium sanguineum / Géranium sanguin (J-J)
Isopyrum / Isopyrum thalictroides / Isopyre faux-Pigamon (M-A-M)
Fingered Sedge / Carex digitata / Laîche digitée (A-M-J)
Toothwort / Lathraea squamaria / Lathrée écailleuse (M-A)
Violet Limodore / Limodorum abortivum / Limodore à feuilles avortées (M-J)
Martagon Lily / Lilium martagon / Lis martagon (June)
Great Wood-rush / Luzula sylvatica / Luzule des bois (M-J)
Yellow Birds-nest / Monotropa hypopitys / Monotrope sucepin (J-J)
Robust Marsh Orchid / Dactylorhiza elata subsp sesquipedalis / Orchis élevé (M-J)
Early Marsh Orchid / Dactylorhiza incarnata / Orchis incarnat (M-J)
Military Orchid / Orchis militaris / Orchis militaire (A-M-J)
Wych Elm / Ulmus glabra / Orme de montagne (M-A)
Herb Paris / Paris quadrifolia / Parisette (M-J-J)
Hard Shield Fern / Polystichum aculeatum / Polystic à aiguillons
Soft Shield Fern / Polystichum setiferum / Polystic à soies
Primrose / Primula vulgaris / Primavère acaule (M-A)
Oxlip / Primula elatior / Primavère élevée (M-A-M)
Wild Liquorice / Astragalus glycyphyllos / Réglisse sauvage (J-A)
Common Bistort / Polygonum bistorta / Renouée bistorte (M-J-J-A-S)
Early Squill / Scilla bifolia / Scille à deux feuilles (M-A-M)
A ragwort / Senecio erraticus / Séneçon erratique (J-J-A-S)
Wild Grapevine / Vitis vinifera subsp silvestris / Vigne sauvage (M-J)

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The Key to Growing Roses

I assume the keys are to make the rose droop attractively.

Etoile de Hollande, one of my favourites.

These photos were taken in Chédigny on 9 May, when the roses were just starting to come into bloom. Their rose festival is the weekend of 28-29 May.

Monday, 23 May 2016

A Copy of a Copy

Mondays in Milan / Les lundis en Lombardie

This painting will look familiar to many readers, especially if they are familiar with the works of Leonardo da Vinci in the Louvre and the National Gallery in London. This is a copy by Marco d'Oggiono of Leonardo's Virgin of the Rock (London version) painted in 1510. Marco was a skilled jobbing painter who had a successful career painting all the usual suspects. There is considerable debate about his dates, but he may have been born in a village near Milan c.1467 and may have died in 1524 (or possibly 1549...). His father was a well regarded goldsmith. Marco is believed to have died of the plague. (Given the number his associates who died of the plague I am amazed that Leonardo managed to make it to die in Amboise of old age...)

Sometime in his early twenties Marco met and began working with Leonardo or with his workshop. By his early thirties he had established his own independent workshop. His approach was to repeat successful or popular subjects again and again, and he produced many copies of Leonardo's work. This painting hangs in the Castello Sforzesco in Milan. It is tempera and oil on a wooden panel.

The back of the painting.

Our posts on Mondays are all about the northern Italian city of Milan. To read more click here.


Law and Order: Strikes and blockades at several fuel refineries have lead to shortages all over France. Yesterday when I stopped off to buy fuel in Descartes neither supermarket service station was operating and the refuelling bays were roped off, with signs saying they would reopen today. The closures are presumably to stop people panic buying and filling up jerrycans. The service stations would normally operate as self-service on the weekends, but there are concerns that unsupervised people will take more than their fair share of fuel.

Prior to my attempt to buy fuel I witnessed what I assume was an asparagus thief being nicked. As I drove along the road between Pouzay and Nouâtre I saw a police car intercepting another car on a farm track in the middle of some asparagus fields. I've not heard of asparagus rustling before, but I would not be surprised that someone attempted it on a quiet Sunday in the middle of nowhere, and most years I hear about some sort of vegetable larceny. I'd be interested to know how the police happened to be there. Did the asparagus farmer call them?  Did the police just happen to be passing? Do the police patrol the asparagus patches during the season? (This last seems the most likely to me.)

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Birdwatching at the Beach

My family at the beach. Typically, they are not swimming or sunbathing, but birdwatching. That's my sister, aunt and mother on the left and my brother-in-law, father and uncle on the right.


Quiz Update: PrédelaForge was the winner, gaining maximum points by correctly guessing that the plate contains mache, beetroot, faisselle and pig's ear. Thanks to all who participated.


Loire Valley Nature: A new entry has been added for the digger wasp Argogorytes mystaceus, an important pollinator of Fly Orchids.

Yesterday we were issued dire warning about a storm starting at about 5.00pm and containing rain, thunder, lightning, hail, Morley's ghost and the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

We knew it was serious because we had an orange weather
warning telling us to be very vigilant

Even la Nouvelle Republique got into the act

In fact, the weather yesterday was so benign that the three minute rain squall we had at 22h56 came as a surprise, as did the two minute shower just after midnight. For the sake of the wine makers I hope this was an across the board experience.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Brenne Carp for Lunch

Martizay is the first village in the Brenne that we come to if we follow the River Claise upstream (to the east). Every year on May 2 they have a Goose Fair. Most years there are goslings for sale and people genuinely come to buy them. But it's a big fair, full of all sorts of stalls, many of them locals who are earning a living in the Brenne countryside in unexpected ways. This year I spoke to an man who is growing Elephant Grass so he can harvest it and sell as a mulch for gardens and as bedding for animals.

Carp being cut into strips known as goujons.

One local group were offering goujons of carp with chips for lunch. Yum! we thought and after a very pleasant apéro with friends Chris and Sue, joined by Chris bis (who is a blog reader we've met in the Brenne before) and a whole group of local Anglos that we had never met before we made a beeline for the carp tent.

Cooking and tasting.

The carp came from a fish farm at Pouligny Saint Pierre. It came in strips in vacpacked fillets which were battered and deep fried by the team in the tent. Although carp does not have a very good reputation in the Anglo world, here it is considered good eating. You do need to know how to prepare it though and it is one of those foods that I don't bother doing at home, but will jump at the chance to eat it at a restaurant.

Not our lunch. We ate ours before I remembered to photograph it. 
I had to interupt Chris and Sue's lunch to get this photo.

However, because I showed an interest I was given the batter recipe:

200 g farine (flour), ¼ sachet de levure (that's about 3 g of baking powder), 3 cs huile (tbs oil), sel (salt), 25 cl bière (250 ml beer). Mix it all together with enough water to make a thick batter, leave to rest a couple of hours before using. Batter is pâte à frire in French.

The fish is not native to this area. It arrived in the Middle Ages when Benedictine monks realised there was a business opportunity to be taken advantage of. Around half the days of the year it was forbidden for Christians to eat meat so anyone who could keep up a reliable supply of fish would get very wealthy. The Benedictines set about making fishponds all over the place. The fish, European Carp, were imported from Eastern Europe, and they thrived. As a result the Benedictines became great hydro-engineers and, as predicted, extremely wealthy.

I wrote about the history and management of the étang at Le Louroux in 2010. It is the largest hand dug fishpond in Europe.


Another mention of our caravan. If you want a very cheap (and we mean a negotiable 100€) caravan, drop us a line. You'll have to collect it, but that's all.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Chocolat Menier

Five generations of the Menier family built an empire from the first blocks of chocolate between the July Monarchy of Louis Philippe to the beginning of Charles de Gaulle's Fifth Republic. Now the company is owned by Nestlé and the Menier family run the Chateau of Chenonceau, but in 1893 Chocolat Menier was the leading chocolate manufacturer in the world.

Appreciated by a social elite from the 17th century and made famous by the Marquise de Sévigné chocolate was consumed as a drink and as luxury confectionary. But it was mainly manufactured in laboratories and used to disguise the bitterness of certain medications. In 1836 the manufacture of the first block (Fr. tablette) of chocolate would revolutionise consumption habits.

Jean-Antoine-Brutus Menier, founder of the family dynasty, was a real pioneer in the chocolate business. He invented the block of chocolate in the form of six semi-cylindrical bars. He also invented the famous yellow paper wrapper used by the Chocolat Menier company. His background was as a manufacturer of pharmaceutical powders but ten years earlier he had bought an old flour mill on the Marne at Noisel. For a while the production of chocolate took second place to the pharmaceutical powders because supplies of sugar and cacao were unreliable. By the time of his death in 1853 the factory was producing 4 tonnes of chocolate a year.

His 27 year old son Emile-Justin inherited the business and would take it forward to an era of mass production and consumption. In 1863 he abandonced the manufacture of pharmaceuticals and concentrated exclusively on chocolate. In 1856 he had 50 workers. By 1874 there were 2000. Aided by his mechanic who designed new machines he achieved new standards of product uniformity, hygiene and security.

The mill was rebuilt as a factory on rational lines designed by Stephen Sauvestre, the architect of the Eiffel Tower. Chocolat Menier was also a pioneering multinational, an early example of a fully integrated business controlling the entire supply chain, from the harvest of the cacao to the distribution of the blocks of chocolate to the stores. The company's cacao plantations were in Nicaragua and the cocao beans shipped to France on company owned ships. Likewise they owned a sugar refinery in the north of France.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Baignade Interdite

This inlet in the River Claise at Martizay must once have been their public swimming pool. Preuilly had something similar in the 1960s. Martizay's is no longer maintained and swimming there is forbidden. Preuilly's has disappeared entirely, filled in to make way for tennis courts and the swimming pool upgraded to a smart new concrete and tile affair still in use today.

'Bathing Forbidden. The local authority declines all responsibility in the case of accidents.'

I think it is unlikely they'll have too much of a problem with rogue swimmers given the state of the pool and the depth (or lack) of the water...

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

What's on the Plate?

This is my starter at a restaurant earlier this month.

2 points for each of the main ingredients you can see on the plate.


Quiz Answers: The items on the plate are mâche (lamb's lettuce, cornsalad), beetroot, faiselle (fromage blanc, cottage cheese), and pig's ear. I really wanted to call the post 'Making a Pig's Ear of It' but thought that would give the game away. Maximum 8 points to PrédelaForge who guessed all the ingredients correctly. See below in the comments. The restaurant is Chez Madeleine in Cour Cheverny, where the chef seems to be rather fond of pigs' ears as they appear on several menu items.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Jack and Martine

There is a well known tradition of slipping sly portraits of local characters and the sculptor's mates into medieval capitals and other decorative carving.

Every now and then modern sculptors working on historic buildings will join in the fun. There is a great example in the courtyard of Blois chateau.

When the medieval tower which leads to the Louis XII wing of the chateau was restored in 1990 the master sculptors converted the bare bottomed character on the right hand socle of the first floor window into a very recognisable representation of Jack Lang, at that time Minister for Culture and the Mayor of Blois.

Jack Lang is one of France's most well known and popular politicians. (Australian readers are probably a bit confused by now, as Jack Lang is also the name of a well known and admired Australian politician from the 1920s.) Both are interesting egotistical Socialists who haven't always made decisions the people on their own side have been able to back. Nowadays the French one is the Director of the Institut du Monde Arabe and a member of the National Assembly.

Opposite Jack on the other side of the window is a caricature of Martine Tissier de Mallerais, who after studying art history at the Sorbonne became the Director of the chateau in 1967, at the age of 27. She took on a chateau that had limited resources, and had not had a curator for twelve months. She had hardly any staff and no inventory of the clearly important collection. The locals weren't interested in the place although the tourists came. Her first tasks were to make the chateau relevant to the locals and to create an inventory. She formed a team of volunteers to make up for her lack of staff and got on with things. They even managed to purchase significant objects for the collection, sometimes acquired via the most incredible sequence of events.

But in 1989 Jack Lang became mayor of Blois. He was determined to replace those in charge of the cultural life of Blois and when in 1990 a post became available that allowed her to leave with dignity Martine left to become Curator of the chateaux of Fougères, Chaumont and Talcy.

Martine and Jack apparently had incompatible ideas about how the chateau of Blois should be managed and presented to the public.

Many thanks to Rosemary from Loire Daily Photo for alerting me to this piece of modern history.


Loire Valley Nature: A photo has been added to the Fly Orchid Ophrys insectifera (Fr. Ophrys mouche) entry. It shows a male digger wasp attempting to mate with an orchid flower. 

Monday, 16 May 2016

A Red One

Simon is still doing Mondays in Milan / Les lundis en Lombardie.

Finally, we get to a red car. A red Alfa Romeo - who would have thought it would take so long to get to a photo of one of them?

There you go: a photo of a red car. There is more of it here.

(I was going to make some sort of convoluted multi-lingual pun along the lines of "if you guess what the car is we'll have a disco", but it was too much like thinking)


Loire Valley Nature: A photo has been added to the Monkey Orchid Orchis simia (Fr. Orchis singe) entry. It was taken last April on the roadside near Humeau, where there is quite a patch which includes several species of orchid.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Saw Banksia

Saw Banksia Banksia serrata is native to the east coast of Australia. It is a small robust tree with rough bark and strappy leathery serrated leaves. The photo above shows a flower in its prime. The one below is the seedpod left after the flower withers. These seedpods give the species its alternative name of Old Man Banksia.

It was first collected by Sir Joseph Banks when he accompanied Captain James Cook in 1770 to Australia. The trees are resistant to fire and the cones only open to release seeds when exposed to smoke. It is used in public plantings in the area it grows naturally and is well adapted to Australia's phosphorus deficient soils.

Our posts on Sunday have an Australian theme. You can read others here.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

A Weevil With a Warning

This blog post isn't nearly as sinister as the title makes it sound. The weevil in question is Lixus iridis. The warning is that if I had relied solely on Michael Chinnery's excellent field guide to the Insects of Britain and Western Europe, as many people with an interest in insects do, I would have misidentified this beetle as L. paraplecticus.

Chinnery, with its wonderful illustrations and scope across many different orders of insect is great for quickly getting you close to an identification. It is deservedly the most widely owned and used field guide for insects in both Britain and France (it has been translated into French).

However, using it comes with a 'health' warning. Chinnery does not always choose the most likely species nor does he always say if there are any lookalikes. It pays, always, to check online if there are alternatives that are a better fit with the insect you've found.

The illustration of L. paraplecticus in Chinnery is a close match for my weevil -- a strange elongated creature shaped like a torpedo and completely covered in gold fuzz. Chinnery's commentary fits perfectly -- 'Elytra dark, covered in yellow scales. On stems of various umbellifers in damp places in autumn and spring'. Mine was sitting on a Wild Parsnip Pastinaca sativa in our orchard the other day.

But with years of using Chinnery behind me I knew that I couldn't assume I'd found my beast. I did a general check on the internet for L. paraplecticus which turned up quite a few weevils in this genus. Chinnery states that L. paraplecticus may be extinct in Britain. This turns out not to be the case, but there isn't much in English on the weevil as it is clearly rare in Britain.

So then I checked Le Monde des Insectes to see what this excellent French website, forum and gallery had to say. They had good photos of Lixus paraplecticus and several other Lixus spp and best of all, a key for the genus. For many groups, Le Monde des Insectes is the most accessible source of comprehensive and definitely the most trustworthy and accurate source of information. They work closely with the Office pour les Insectes et leur Environnement (OPIE), being the citizen science arm of this quango attached to the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA).

The key reveals that whilst my weevil has long pointy elytra tips, they are not long enough or spreading enough to be L. paraplecticus. Working through the key gets me to L. (Eulixus) iridis.

L. iridis is quite a large weevil, but with a weevil's distinctive long snout. It is covered in greeny yellow pubescence, which gets worn off as the beetle ages, so older specimens are the black of the underlying chitin. The species is widespread in central France.

In English Lixus spp weevils are known as yellow weevils. In French L. iridis is called le Lixus des iris. The word for weevil in French is charançon.

Friday, 13 May 2016

The Destruction of a Horse Chestnut Allee

Earlier this year I was shocked when driving through Boussay to realise that the allee of Horse Chestnut trees that runs from the chateau gate to the D725 road was being systematically cut down and removed.

I don't know who owns this rural track. I have always assumed it was the chateau, but it might not be. So far as I know walkers have a right of access to it but motorised vehicles were prevented from using it by a chain stretched across the chateau end.

The allee with the Horse Chestnuts in full leaf and flower, as they used to be.

I also don't know why the trees have been removed. I hope it wasn't because of a problem that is purely aesthetic. These were lovely mature trees, but these days Horse Chestnuts go prematurely brown in mid-summer, due to a leaf mining pest. The tree is native to the Balkans, but has been present in Western Europe since at least the 17th century. In its native territory it is attacked by leaf mining caterpillars which to some extent are kept in check by local predators and climatic conditions. Until a couple of decades ago the leaf miners hadn't made it to the West so the trees thrived. But now they are here with a vengence. They are impossible to control. Because of their very complicated lifecycle there is no point at which you can effectively intervene and break the cycle. The leaf miners don't cause the trees to die though. In fact they probably don't even stress them very much. The leaf miners just make the trees look brown and ugly when they should be looking green and lovely. It's a shame.

 The same view a couple of weeks ago.

The leaf miners have few local predators. Several Tit species will eat the caterpillars, but have been shown to reduce the population by less than 5%, so not enough to make much difference. Since 2001 the EU has funded a multidisciplinary research project into the control of the leaf miner.

The new view of Boussay from the south-east. It's a really big change in the landscape 
as previously all of these buildings would have been obscured by the Horse Chestnuts.

Another possible reason for removal of the trees is Bleeding Canker. This is the most severe disease of Horse Chestnuts and it has been on the increase since the beginning of this century. There is currently no effective treatment and eventually trees need to have affected branches removed as they become brittle and may drop unexpectedly. Many trees survive Bleeding Canker, but it may get to the stage where ultimately the whole is tree cut down before it dies. Around a third of Horse Chestnuts in France are affected by Bleeding Canker to some extent. There are some interesting new treatments being trialled in the UK where allicin from garlic is being injected into trees, and in the Netherlands where they are wrapping the trunks and heating the bark to 40°C which kills the pathogen but doesn't harm the tree.

There is a third possible reason the trees might be felled, and that is if the farmer has decided to extend his field and sees the trees as merely an obstacle to gaining another hectare or so of arable land.

It would be interesting to know why the trees have been removed and who made the decision.


A reminder: We are accidental owners of a caravan (which can be seen here). At the moment we are paying to keep it stored, but that doesn't make sense as we won't be using it as a caravan. We're not sure how well it tows, so you may need a trailer, although industrial quantities of WD40 may make it towable if you're not going too far. Give us a negotiable pittance for it, tow it away, and it's yours.

If you're looking for a garden office, drop us an email.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Seven Years Ago Today (Today!)

Our day in pictures from seven years ago. When I think about the day, it still feels like a big adventure.

There is an explanation (if one is needed) here.