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Monday, May 23, 2011

Spring Transformations

Lately, I've been hard at work doing the typical spring cleaning and reorg, both inside and out. In particular the garden has required a good deal of time.

The welcome catalyst has been the impending visit of a very dear friend from the US come July. So a lot of the tasks that, in true French fashion, I've been willing to put off until another day, have now taken on a new sense of urgency.

To my neighbors' relief, that includes retooling the garden beds that border the street in front of my house and lead down along to the garage (a freestanding building). Neighbors were bewildered when I cloaked the weedy crabgrass-infested section with black plastic 18 months ago, my lazy way of killing off what was beneath and enriching the soil with the resulting decay with very little labor involved on my part.

I'd yanked off the plastic two weeks before getting around to actually doing anything with it. Income-based work, which has a habit of presenting itself in various urgent, last minute projects, always throws my attempts at organizing my time into a chaotic frenzy of 14-hour days flanked by client inactivity. But the materials were standing by patiently, namely, several flats of flowers (talk about being an optimist) and the 21 sections of stone border waiting to be set. But first I had to dig out the trench and line it with a loose medium in order to set it.

I ignored the sage advice of a decades-long Martizay resident. She'd pointed out that the roughly four inches of soil in front of the gutter was technically not mine to play with. Instead, I should line up my border with the edges of my house and garage. But that would defeat my intent to reduce weeds and keep the soil from drifting and obstructing the drainage. So, crossing my fingers that the maire would not find out (or object, if and when he did), I used the relatively straight line of the concrete gutter to align my stone pieces.

Luckily, one neighbor, Philippe, took pity on my pathetic attempts to chisel through cement-like, dry, caked soil and stone with nothing more than a trowel. Philippe is recently divorced and not about to let a complete language barrier stand between him and a conveniently single female of the same age on the same street. (That's another story.) He appeared with a pickaxe, and a heavy duty chisel and stone mallet to chip away at those rocks that were too huge to dislocate. Those readers of my previous newsletter know that, after one sojourn in Italy, I'm no stranger to a pickaxe! (Although I swore I'd never wield one again.) What a godsend that turned out to be. However it would not solve all my problems.

Two-thirds of the way down one side (the gate and steps bisect the bed), as I was chiseling down along the gutter, I hit an obstacle. A large obstacle. A circular obstacle. A huge concrete disk lay buried below the soil line, abutting the gutter. Eying the seam that led from it to the middle of the street, I realized it must have something to do with my drainage line to the sewer. So I did what I invariably do when presented by a seemingly overwhelming DIY challenge--I went next door and asked my British neighbor. Chris is currently renovating his house to sell so he can abandon temperate Martizay in favor of returning to cold, damp England. Chris had a tile cutter, he assured me, although on its last legs, and promptly cut my two stone pieces to comfortably sit atop the disk. (Insert huge sigh of relief.)

Weary, I finished that half of the bed, aware that it would probably be at least a week before I could muster up the energy to tackle the other side. However, in keeping with my impatient nature, once one side was set, I promptly leveled the soil, planted it with flowers and transplanted succulents, tulip bulbs and other odds and ends scavenged from other parts of the garden, mulched and watered it.

If it was going to take me a week or more to return to the task, at least I could give the neighbors a preview of coming attractions!

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