Fruit and Bonfires in a French Garden
Our old house in France sits on a hill, with a view to the west over the garden and orchards. The garden consists mainly of grass and old fruit trees, which are draped with dead branches and ivy, and knobbly with fungi. There are three different kinds of plums, three apples, a pear, a peach, a quince, a fig and an apricot. Behind the big barn grow vines: three with white grapes and two black.
However, we don't spend enough time there to look after the garden. Sometimes, when we arrive, the grass is head height, and clogged with all sorts of weeds. The vines rampage down the slope, mixed with blackberry brambles. This time, the weather had obviously been dry and cracks had opened in the earth. The pear tree had lost its leaves early.
Most of the big purple plums in the commercial orchards had already been picked. However, we saw the farmer drive his tractor through the orchard, with a device attached that looks like an inverted umbrella. This clamps itself round the tree trunk and shakes it, so the fruit falls into the umbrella. In our garden, there were a few mirabelle plums left: small and pinkish beige but very sweet. We picked two bowlfuls of white grapes, but the red ones had withered.
The ground round one of the apple trees was covered with red apples. However, when we cut them up, they nearly all had traces of caterpillars inside. Last year, two big branches broke off the quince tree in a storm, and I thought there would be no fruit this time. However, it had a good crop of big quinces, so we tried making apple and quince chutney. We gave jars of home-made chutney to both our English and our French neighbours, though I'm not sure what the latter would make of it.
Having cut back bushes through the year, we'd made a big pile of branches and twigs on the lawn. A bonfire was needed. We knew that making bonfires was not allowed in the summer months, which is fair enough, as they could easily spread. However, we were told that bonfires were now banned altogether. In the end, we went to the Mairie and spoke to the secretary, who has dyed blonde hair and a pleasant smile. She said that nobody would mind a little fire. We started with a small fire but the twigs burned easily, so we added more and more, making trips up the lawn to the big pile. By the time we had finished, all the rubbish was burnt and we were exhausted. Nobody complained.