Sunday, 6 April 2014

Getting outside again

Our garden hands

Cheerful Daffs
We've been very fortunate this winter - its been pretty mild but, being a sun loving out-doorsy type I still snuck off to Africa to work for a couple of months just to ensure I avoided any freak cold weather. Now I'm back home, the sun is shining and its time to get out into the wonderful world of Montmelard and take full advantage of this beautiful place. I began by also taking advantage of my Mum and one of my friend's mums -  keen to offer a helping hand they were decked out in gardening gear and sent off to clear weeds, prune fruit trees and point to places where bedding plants needed to go. 

Whilst I've done my own bit on the garden - cutting back wisteria, dead-heading daffodils, weeding the rose border, I also took time out to escape to the top of Mont St Cyr to search out the snow drops. It was the first time since living here that I missed the annual snow drop walk (too busy in the Congo) but I still managed to track a few of these favourite flowers down among the moss and boulders.

How quickly spring passes. Not 3 weeks after visiting the snow drops, the roses are in bud, the butterflies and bees are zooming round the courtyard and we've got red noses from sitting in the sun.

The bookings for holiday guests are pouring in and we're looking forward to putting faces to names and our courses are just about full. All very exciting. I hope the fruit and veg does well so we'll be able to offer the freshest of home grown produce. I know the rhubarb is already waiting to be picked and I'll enjoy a crumble later.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

New Year 2014

Daisy and Plum having a lovely time
One day you're happily blogging about harvest time, the next you find yourself in a new year with new plans and new adventures.

The last three months have whirled by - I've been off travelling to some pastures new (Nigeria, Venice) and some familiar (UAE). I've been catching up with some old friends (hello Susie, Wanda, Marina) and making some new ones, but one thing that has been reinforced is that there is no place like home (thank you Dorothy).

Eddie taking it easy
The Wizard of Oz is one of my favourite films and something I subject anyone here on Christmas day to watching (once they've sat through White Christmas, of course). So many words of wisdom that resonate with me - I rarely have to look any further than my own front yard to find everything I've been searching for.

My front yard is currently home to my chickens who constantly entertain as well as supply eggs; it is where friends arrive in cars and on foot bringing news, ideas and laughter; it offers views of the landscape I now call home dotted with friend's homes and well trodden pathways; provides a sheltered place to do my breathing exercises (this is the year of strengthened core and calm) and where Eddie cat rolls over for a tummy tickle at every opportunity.
Christmas baking

The courtyard will form the backdrop to colourful quilts in September and will see artists at their easels capturing the grey knotty wood of the barn door or lichen covered stones in October.

Strangers will step from their cars and take in the house and orchard for the first time, hopefully appreciating the pure air and stillness; roses planted last year will bloom and I shall smile to see their nodding heads in the border.

The Christmas lights will be taken from the front of the house tonight but solar twinkles will remain helping to maintain the magical nature of this place.
Happy New Year.

Snow man

Christmas cake - all gone now!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

A welcome harvest

Harvest time has arrived once again in Burgundy. Actually we've been harvesting for some time but somehow the strawberries, raspberries, redcurrants and peaches got munched before I had a chance to photograph them. 

 What makes this so exciting for me is my first walnut (the small green globe in amongst the foliage in the photo above). Apparently you can wait 10 years for the first fruit to appear - I've had the house for 6 and the tree was planted before I arrived. There was a lovely old walnut tree in the lane in front of the house and we'd pick up the nuts as they fell. Each year the tree tipped a little further into the field opposite, our arboreal tribute to the leaning tower of Piza - we had bets on which year it would finally topple. Then the farmer came along and took his chain saw to it! So, the timing of our walnut is spot on.
 I'm still getting to grips with harvesting mushrooms. Its great here - you pick the lot then go along to the local pharmacy who split the hoard into edible and those that will make you poorly. I'm not going to gather these but thought the colour was lovely.
 Any recipe suggestions for damsons? Not jam! We're so jammed out.
 The quinces are great this year after a very poor show last. Quince jelly and a host of other goodies to try this autumn. Off blackberrying now - crumble for tea. I'll combine them with some of the apples from this tree. Perhaps if I pick enough the poor tree will be able to stand upright again?

Thursday, 19 September 2013

As others see us

I think it goes with the territory that if you live in a place, see it on a daily basis, you become a little blind to both its charms and shortcomings. We ask our guests for feedback to ensure continuing improvements and also enjoy looking at their photos, their perspective on the space we have built up. Today's blog is a series of photos taken showing Les Cerisiers and surrounds through the eyes of others. Thank you to Stella Pitman for sharing your amazing photographs.
 This year we planted sunflowers in front of the house and around the arbour. The brilliant yellow and the sky blue (chosen to match Mark's eyes) made for a great contrast.
 I'm not sure whether lichen is a good sign or bad but the silvery colour and intricate form provide interest on an old apple tree.

 This little shrine guards and protects the winding road above our valley. The roof of our house is just visible to the left of the apex.
 One of many reasons for visiting KF des Ormes in Dompierre - the best chocolat chaud in the world.
 We were pleased with our display of hot red begonias this year - they've been providing colour since April and are still going strong.
 Clear, pollution free skies make for an astronomers dream - this full moon took our breath away.
 The house at night is still a thing of beauty - inside shared meals, chats around the fire in winter, or people snuggled in their beds.
 Cows changing fields or off on a jaunt by themselves. This is traffic country style!

 A bumble bee settled on the chocolate cosmos, dusted with pollen and having a whale of a time.
 The honey buzzards are more common here than sparrows. Birds of such majestic beauty but also creatures that provoke fear - chickens and other small creatures are always on their guard.
 The photographer, Stella Pitman, together with friends and family after a successful wine tasting with our good friend and local vigneron Roger Bonjour (centre back). A must do activity here at Les Cerisiers.
Early morning light in the orchard. I love this time of day - a world unspoiled and full of promise.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Can't get enough of Trees

I just love trees. Whilst I don't often hug them I do feel inspired to chat to them on a fairly regular basis. The lake at La Clayette is edged by beautiful birches and when the sun has been shining on them they feel warm as pony skin.

Combining two of my favourite things - trees and wool, this tree outside the Plassard wool shop is a delight which, when I have wool and time to spare, I plan to recreate. The cause of this colourful spectacle was International Knitting Day (9th June - put it on your calendar).

By stark contrast this rather bare tree dominated a vineyard with only its green trunk to suggest life at work. I'm hoping its just a late developer.

On the last day of their retreat here, Karen Ely ( and friends planted a Mirabel tree in our orchard. We're looking forward to abundant crops in the years to come.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The wonderful Dorothea Schulz

We were really excited recently to hear that one of our artist guests has just had her first solo exhibition at the German Bookshop in Brussels. Dorothea Schulz has visited us twice before and we're really honoured to be the proud owners of one of her paintings. I thought now would be the perfect opportunity to catch up with her and share her beautiful work with you.

Burgundy Dreamer: You must be thrilled at the success of your first solo exhibition – have you had a chance to reflect on what this has meant to you?

D: In the career of every budding artist comes a time when painting alone isn't enough; you want to share the fruits of your creativity with others. It is all well and good when Mom tells you:”I love your paintings” – she is biased after all! Getting recognition from others is enormously important. Selling a painting for me is not primarily about the money (though it’s nice to recover some of one’s expenses for art materials and workshops) It means that someone likes your painting so much that he/she is willing to open his/her wallet to be able to take it home!

BD: What is the attraction of painting with pastels for you?

D: I love everything about pastels; the tactility and immediacy of the medium, the brilliant colours – pastels have the purest pigments of all painting mediums because they contain very little binder – even the messiness. Once you've fallen under their spell there’s no coming back.

BD: How do you go about selecting a subject to paint?

D: I do my still-lives mostly from nature but with the weather in Belgium being what it is, I often use my own photo references for landscapes. I have been a keen photographer for a long time which helps enormously because a good photo reference is already half the battle. Another advantage: using my own photos means that the selection process for a subject that appeals to me has already taken place.

BD: Which of your paintings has given you greatest satisfaction?

D: Every new painting is a favourite for a time. It usually takes me several weeks to get unattached enough to consider giving it up for adoption i.e.  selling it. A few though will never be sold because they are too special to me, mostly paintings of family members (my daughter - above, or my sister’s adorable cat) or paintings which have a special significance in my artistic progress.

BD: From an artist’s perspective, what is it that appeals to you about painting in and around Montmelard in particular and southern Burgundy in general?

D: The quiet beauty of the landscape around Montmelard and the conviviality and friendliness of the hosts at ‘Les Cerisiers’ add up to such a feeling of well-being that creativity can’t but thrive. Coming there for a second time already felt like coming home. And there is such a wealth to discover in the Maconnais that I’ll certainly be back!

BD: Landscape, buildings or people, which is your preference?

D: I don’t have a real preference, my inclinations change with my mood. I must confess though that architecture as such is not my favourite subject, because I'm a rather impatient person and getting the perspective right takes rather too long for me.
But of course buildings do have their place as part of a landscape.

BD: Your work has featured on the front cover of a local magazine (see 'chateau' below), what was your reaction to this?

D: I was delighted and surprised! That painting had been purely a fun painting, not at all in my usual style and I hadn’t expected its ‘success’.Merci, Mme le Maire!

BD: Having sold eight paintings at the show so far and commissions on top of this, to quote you  ‘So now I am officially a professional artist’. What next for you in this new role?

D: I definitely need business cards now – and my own website. At the moment I'm looking
around the internet to compare different artist’s websites to see what appeals to me most.

BD: If you have a really big dream with regards to your art, would you share it?

D: I don’t have one big dream; mine are rather more modest. I hope that I‘ll continue to grow in my art, find loving homes for some of my ‘children’ - and never, ever get arthritis in my fingers!!!

As soon as Dorothea has set up her website I'll be sure to post the details here.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Eggs, eggs and more eggs...

There were a number of themes running through life at Les Cerisiers this Easter. One was family and friends - we had 11 of our nearest and dearest over to stay during the holiday weekend. Another was the colour pink - mostly as a choice for clothing, and finally eggs, which weren't such a huge surprise. 

The younger members of the assembled masses were full of energy so we (the over 20s) took it in turn to entertain them. Saturday morning found me assuming my Blue Peter presenter role and, equipped with glue, paint, newspaper and lots of glitter (pink again), presiding over egg decorating. If you ever want to make yourself feel quite faint do try egg blowing - its a blast!

The results of our labours were colourful and, even better, very messy. But once the eggs had had a chance for the paint, glitter and other adornments to set, the final display was nothing short of spectacular (or should that be sp-egg-tacular?)

The market at Louhans is one of our favourites. Not only is the town a wonderful place for culinary treats, splendid Burgundian architecture and an enjoyable cross country ride, but the market brings in traders and buyers alike from miles around making for a vibrant, exhilarating day out. We were on the hunt for two new chickens but the choice was overwhelming. After being side tracked a number of times by bunnies, goats and  guinea fowl, we finally settled on a couple of blue chooks. They will be introduced to you at a future date, for now its enough to know they're called Tyla and Bud. 

There is only so much fun you can have with real eggs and, finding Sunday morning dry and clear skied after a week of rain, the time was ripe for an Easter egg hunt. Thankfully running around in the orchard for an hour or so should balance out the calorific value of these shiny treasures. More smiles, more messy fingers, more eggs.