When we went back, in a fit of nostalgia, to our old farmhouse in the Bourbonnais last summer we were delighted to find it in better order than ever, the garden spruce and the house brimming with the family who bought it from us eight years ago. They gave us lunch at a long table in the shade of the plane trees we planted 20 years ago, a pleasure I didn’t think we’d ever have.
‘Is my (very) old Land Rover still going’, I asked, ‘may I take it for a spin?’ I wanted to do my old circuit of my plantations and ponds, to see if my new tracks and the alleys I made though the woods were still navigable. ‘If we can come too’ said our friends.
They were more than navigable, in fact in much better shape than when we left. As I drove they asked me about every twist and turn; why these trees here and those there (they are mainly oak and pine); how I discovered this spring or made that pond – and why that one had collapsed into a muddy puddle.
But best of all were the questions from the 18 year old daughter. She wanted to know the names of the trees and where they came from. She wants, she says, to be a landscape designer, wants to study in England – and tells me my work is her inspiration. Imagine what that does for the morale.
This week she emailed me some photos of the little valley where I planted American trees that colour cheerfully in autumn. There was deeper soil and more moisture there (in an area of generally gritty, unhelpful ground). I planted sugar and red maples, pin oak, scarlet oak and willow oak, some larches, Cryptomeria japonica, bushy vine maples and spindle. The fireworks are only just starting, but they are already converting one bright French girl into a future paysagiste. I am a lucky man.