MONITORING of the oil tank level continues daily. It’s a nerve-racking test, deciding when to place an order, whether to splurge on the central heating an extra hour, or remember that there are still much colder days to come; in addition, the price of oil could fall. And Donald Trump could accept having lost the election.
The other day, an hour after some friends came over for coffee, some relatives dropped by. Their timing was perfect. Not only was there a plate of pies, but the living room was comfortable. Warmed by a crackling log fire and time-delay radiators, it was like an advertisement for country living, where glamorous and laid-back owners stretch their bare toes up to the flames, undisturbed by the draft blowing in. goes through most country doors and between floors without carpeting.
Finding themselves bathed in heat, our guests were shocked. Never before had they experienced such comfort at Hoolet. Of course, they were well aware that if they had arrived 24 hours later the pies would have been gone and they would need mittens until the fire turned into a blaze.
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If I haven’t cracked up and called for an oil delivery by the time you read this, then I’m made of stronger stuff than I think I am. When we first moved into the chalet, the previous owners left a note suggesting we might consider ordering oil soon, as was the case.
When I checked the gauge, there was just enough to fry an egg. The frost was so thick on the ground that it looked like snow, and inside it wasn’t much warmer. Ending our online search for leggings and balaclavas, I was on the phone with the nearest oil depot within minutes, and the next day an oil tanker arrived. Rarely have fossil fuels been better received.
Others in the village have the luxury of an indoor monitor, so they avoid the indignity of crouching outside next to the tank and guessing how many days they have left. Our container is in a particularly icy place, occupying a corner near the side door, through which the Siberian winds whistle like wolves.
There is nothing beautiful about these tanks, but before it became shameful to consume this most harmful fuel for the environment, I could have imagined a calendar depicting rural tanks, modeled on these posters once popular picturesque Irish or Tuscan gates. Some would be hidden under disheveled roses, others austere and utilitarian like a painting by Edward Hopper.
Hoolet Cottage’s 1350-liter tank is holly green, with a hatch like a submarine seal. Neighbors disguise theirs – black, green, nile water – ivy or cotoneaster. Inspired by them, we planted a six beech hedge, designed to soften its appearance. This summer, at age three, he will have reached his required height. Now we just have to get out.
Hedges have been a concern of mine lately, as the fence at the top of the garden is showing its age. How much more interesting, we thought, to have a mixed hedge in which birds and hedgehogs and the like can feed and nest. When it was time to plant some bare rooted trees and bushes, I opened my new gardening journal and started taking notes.
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This book was a Christmas present, and far too good for the very ordinary thoughts that will soon fill it. I’m tempted to pretend I’m Vita Sackville-West, making plans for an imaginary garden that will draw crowds long after I’m gone, and keep a team of full-time gardeners.
Back in the real world, the prospect that greets me each morning is a tattered work in progress. The only flash of color right now is when a pheasant struts through the grass. But even when winter has passed and the flowers begin to brighten it up and hide its imperfections, it will never be looked after. This garden is not made for perfection, and suits its mess.
Even if something more formal was achievable, I wouldn’t want it. It’s not just the maintenance that would be demanding and beyond my skills. Here, with our view of rugged woods and lush fields as we approach the hills, nature has and always will have the upper hand. I see our gardening efforts as a way to give him food for thought and see how he responds. Best of all are the birds and creatures that turn that blank canvas into a house.
After consulting books on the hedge, I opted for a mixture of blackthorn, hornbeam and hazel, for their sloes, kittens, nuts and rustic habits. They will be good companions for the old hawthorn who will keep an eye on them. The only difficulty I could foresee was keeping the trees at the height of the fence, rather than allowing them to reach their full reach, thus negating the view.
With that decision made, I walked outside to begin the groundwork. Knowing that a trench had to be dug, Alan joined me.
The rain started soon after, and the wind picked up quickly, snapping the string we had threaded between the canes like a skipping rope. While debating the width of the trench, I found an instructional video that left us disheartened. It seemed like we had to use a small shovel, and the amount of labor required was reminiscent of laying the foundation for a garage.
Ignoring this, Alan sliced through the sod, making an outline of where to dig later, but when his spade hit a rock and the rain turned to sleet, we packed our bags and headed for the inside.
Apparently there are shortcuts when laying a hedge – it’s clear that there are a lot of people like us who are easily dissuaded – but the risk of losing certain trees by skimping on effort is high.
The conclusion we came to was obvious. It’s a professional job, which immediately excludes us. Some tasks that I am willing to do to the best of my ability and adjust or repair as needed, but with a hedge there is not much room for error. The idea of a row of indented teeth, jumbled up, or a row of new specimens struggling to catch up, isn’t appealing.
I suspect that Capability Brown, a resident of Hoolet, will receive a text message soon, as soon as I order oil.
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