Down here hedges are important. Given the 300 or so days of sun a year we are blessed with, people spent a lot of time in their gardens. So at the risk of inflicting pain on those of you living where summer has yet to arrive, it’s quite common to eat breakfast, lunch and supper out on the patio. And of course there’s always the swimming pool. So privacy and hedges assume a considerable importance. (Besides it’s really quite a good idea to keep the wild boar out of the garden, not to mention the swimming pool.)
When we purchased our house in Taradeau we looked at lots of things but frankly we didn’t look closely at the hedges We did notice – and it was pointed out to us by the previous owners – that despite having the road into the village in front of us and the access road into our little estate at the side, it was rather secluded. The seclusion was due to the thick and high hedges, mostly made of various kinds of cypress, with a rank of towering oleander by the gate.
Once installed in the house we realised exactly how big the hedges were. At one point they were around two metres wide and sprawled outwards to the extent that they were technically overhanging what is the road. (This was pointed out to Alison by our charming municipal police lady who, when she is not doubling up as the lollipop lady, clearly fills in her day by checking on hedges.)
Further examination revealed that actually trimming the hedge back would be of little use because it had been left to grow for so long that the inside was nothing but dead branches. There was only one solution: call for Edouard! Edouard is the energetic alpiniste tree-feller who we employed earlier in the year and who gives the lie to the oft-repeated claim amongst expats that the locals don’t know how to work hard. He speedily arrived and confirmed what we had surmised: there was an awful lot of work. Probably thirty metres of hedge needed to be chopped down.
There was also going to be a problem: how to get rid of the chopped down hedge. Waste disposal in France is rigorously managed and individuals are only allowed to dispose of so much waste a year before being charged a large amount. In our area we have an electronic pass card to our waste disposal site which we have to check-in with; they weigh the vehicle on the way in and on the way out. The amount of waste you have deposited is then electronically totalled on account by some machine somewhere. Fortunately we had not only our own waste disposal authorisation card but also (and here’s hoping that our police lady does not read this blog) the card from the previous house owners so we knew we could dispose of a large amount.
Working continuously from 8 o’clock in the morning till 4 o’clock in the afternoon – and for some of that time the temperatures were hovering around 30 degrees – Edouard attacked the hedges. The results were three truckloads of waste, probably totalling over 2½ tonnes, that went to the waste disposal centre without debiting our own account. The good news was that at the core of these hedge monsters were mesh fences in good condition.
Further good news was provided by the discovery of a number of small shrubs which miraculously had managed to grow inside the shadows of the hedge. We still have around ten metres of overgrown hedge to deal with between us and our neighbour but now is not the season for dealing with that as it overlooks their swimming pool. And if privacy means anything, it means the right to swim in some measure of seclusion.
With the hedge removed we realised that we had gained an extra 30 to 50 square metres in the garden. The result however was rather bare and exposed and we have come to have a certain respect for the French concept of privacy. So it was time for further visits to the local bricolage or DIY shop (advice to house purchasers in France: get a loyalty card on day one at your local bricolage shop – you will use it). After great deal of testing and consultation we have gone with a double screening of natural brushwood with an inner plastic screen. It’s effective but a little bit bare so far; nevertheless over time we hope that plants will grow up and soften it a little bit (we’ll wait until autumn to plant any new ones). Plants grow very well here. That’s the blessing of Provence, but as we found out with the hedges, also something of a curse.