Grillés! Frazzled!

Our back “lawn”

That describes both me and the garden. If you know a good rain dance, please share it with us. According to the SF (resident statistics expert), July was the driest month since we began recording the rainfall 16 years ago. Only a measly 3.5 mm managed to fall in the whole month, which is nothing. The last appreciable rainfall occurred five weeks ago, when it bucketed down during a summer thunderstorm.

The thermometer topped 38 C (100.4 F) here during the last two days of July. Fortunately, we are due a respite from the heat for a few days.

Heat-diversion tactics

When driving through French villages, you might have noticed that the shutters are always closed, and nobody is about. This is because everyone is indoors sheltering from the heat. In the depths of winter, they are sheltering from the cold.

I have to say, we don’t close our shutters. I can’t bear being indoors without natural light. We do keep the doors and windows shut, though, which keeps the heat out. Stone walls and tiled floors downstairs help.

In parts of southern France, the shutters have sections that open independently, letting in some air and a bit of light.

Shutters on apartment buildings in Ajaccio, Corsica

A climate of extremes

After 23 years here, we are used to the climate, which is quite different from the UK. We have seen record low temperatures of minus 18 C and record highs in 2003 of 43 C. Recent winters have been milder, but we spend more on heating here.

Drought conditions, August 2003

The fact that there are seasons is a good thing, although it can be decent or dire weather at any time of year. In winter, when we are huddled in front of the wood burning stove, we can’t understand how we dipped ourselves in the pit of water outside. In summer, when the canicule (heatwave) bears down, we can’t fathom how we could ever sit in front of that red-hot metal appliance.

But you can ricochet from one season to another with little in between: from damp spring to blistering summer in a day. And long observation has taught us that the weather can get stuck in a rut (a technical meteorological term) for weeks on end, as it has this summer.  

Adaptable garden

All this, of course, has implications for the garden. No good planting an English cottage garden here or investing in plants and shrubs that can’t cope with drought or extreme heat or cold. Even those that are resistant are suffering just now. They need sustained rain on the leaves, not just well water at the roots.

However, it’s surprising how resilient nature can be. The lawn only needs a sprinkling of rain to green up again. In the legendary long hot summer of 2003, the trees found their own survival method. They dropped their leaves, thus conserving precious water. Successive droughts will weaken them, though. The walnut trees are particularly susceptible.

One of our walnut trees, suffering from drought

I went around the garden today and made a mental inventory of the plants that don’t seem to need any water at all, those that are hanging in there and are worth saving, and the ones that we may lose.

Unfortunately, a liquidambar tree, which was a present to the SF on a significant birthday from the association restoring a local chapel, is showing distinct signs of distress, and is probably dying from the top down. It was very pot bound when we planted it, and we were unable to disentangle the root system, so it has probably never been able to push its roots down to the water table. Lesson: plant bare-rooted trees in future.

Liquidambar in distress

Having said all this, the SF informs me that the rolling twelve-month rainfall (i.e. from August 2019 to July 2020) is still over a metre. This is more than the average rainfall here. The trouble is, it either comes all at once or not at all. In October, November and December last year, it hardly stopped. And in June this year it rained almost twice as much as normal.

During an unexpected shower in the furnace of 2003, we ran outside and danced in the rain. We may well do that this year when it comes. A good thing we are not overlooked by neighbours.

You might also find these of interest:

Canicule: the Dog Days of Summer

Dry Gardening

Drought in Southwest France

Copyright © Life on La Lune 2020. All rights reserved.

14 comments

  1. I feel your pain over your garden – it’s the same story in Saint-Chinian! Everything (apart from the dreadful weeds growing in the pavements) is feeling the lack of rain. My garden has pretty much only plants which will survive extreme conditions, the only plants that get watered are the vegetables and small fruit, for the rest it’s sink or swim. I am lucky that I’m on clay and that seems to hold water fairly far down. So far the trees are suviving, as is the wisteria, but I’m in two minds about the latter! The cooler weather yesterday and this morning was wonderful!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Even the weeds aren’t growing here! That’s the one good thing about it. I’ve planted shrubs and plants that will tolerate extreme conditions, but even some of those are looking a bit peaky. We had a few drops of rain yesterday – almost derisory! It has been cooler the past few days, though, which is welcome.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. We finally got a respite from the heat and dry conditions when a storm broke in the Haute Savoie on Saturday night. The garden is breathing again. As for the shutters, as someone who really hates the heat, I am happy to keep them shut and live like a mole during the hottest days. I find it really helps to keep them closed during the brightest hours of the day and only open them again when the sun is off. Also keeps the flies down. But my husband is just like you — can’t stand it!

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s been cooler here the past couple of days, but forecast to get hotter during the week. I don’t mind the heat too much, except when it’s humid with it. And I must have light!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Houses in the North of France where the climate is similar to the UK do not have shutters and I was told by a policeman that this is because people used them to avoid snoopers eg police and taxmen who once had a duty to report on peoples’ life styles etc I would be interested if anyone else has ever heard this explanation and if it might be true

    Liked by 1 person

    • A lot of people don’t report improvments to their homes which would increase the property taxes, so perhaps there’s a grain of truth to it? A bit of trivia: the mayors have the power to enter any house, should they wish – presumably for that reason!

      Liked by 1 person

      • We were the “beneficiaries” of unreported improvements by previous owners when we moved here. Mayors have certain responsibilities in relation to public order, which may also give them the power to enter any house. You start to see why people keep the shutters closed!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. It wasn’t forecast but we had thunder and lightning roll over us from the west this afternoon and a short but heavy downpour. The Indian lilacs seem to be undeterred but the buddhlia is drooping and its flowers turned to seeds. Every patch of green had turned brown…must be summer in the Lot. Bon courage xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • It clouded over here mid-afternoon yesterday and became rather windy, which told me we were on the edge of a thunderstorm system. But it never came here. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised: it happens every year. How parched my garden looks was rubbed in yesterday when we went for a socially distanced outdoor dinner with friends. Their garden is beautiful, but then they do live by a river with wonderful soil.

      Liked by 1 person

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