By February I am more than sick of winter. The winter blues have thoroughly set in and yearning for warm, sunny days reaches maximum levels. But the signs are there: The tops of spring bulbs tease at what is to come by poking through. Daylight is creeping in the right direction and the nights noticeably start drawing out again. Average temperatures are on the increase too. It may be only a very small difference, but when you’re freezing brass monkeys in the garden every degree counts.
Spring is only a few weeks away so get ready with your February Garden To Do List:


Did you miss your chance to plant spring bulbs in September/October? If so, you can buy bulbs in growth in pots in garden centres from around about now. Get them while you can. Stocks may be limited. The unusually warm weather we experienced last summer is said to have had a detrimental effect on the bulb harvest. I certainly found it very difficult last autumn to buy the bulbs I want for my clients often having to resort to alternatives, or going without entirely.


February may be your last chance to do this. See my December garden to do post here for details.



Hazel benefits from occasionally being cut down to just above ground level. It rejuvenates plant growth and simultaneously lets light penetrate the canopy to the planting beneath. Old hazel is thick, gnarly and kinked, and the canopy dense. New growth, or growth just a few years old, on the other hand has a dappled canopy. The stems are very straight and supple making young hazel perfect material for creating climbing and support structures in the potager. It can also be used to create raised bed edging, willow sculptures or hurdles.

Some other shrubs also benefit from similar treatment, either to give strong winter stem colour (although in this case it is better to wait until March before coppicing), or for larger leaves on regrowth.
Simply saw the stems to within just a few inches of the ground. Just remember that by doing so, you will lose this year’s catkins and hazel nuts. If deer frequent your garden, you may also wish to protect the new growth from browsing.
If you are unsure about pruning and you would like help with coppicing, please get in touch here.


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In October I pleaded with readers to refrain from stripping back the garden in autumn and to leave their perennials standing over winter. This autumn and winter we have had some sharp frosts in the Poitou-Charentes showing off the winter senescence at its best. Grasses and seed heads left standing look stunning backlit by the low sun.
Depending on the microclimate of your garden, February may be the time to get cracking with cutting back last year’s dead growth. Temperatures will be starting to rise, if only just a little, and the hours of daylight are on the increase again.
Indeed, some have already been at it – Sussex Prairies, a nursery in the UK, have already been having fun undertaking their annual HP cutback by setting fire to their beds. Some might regard the approach a little extreme. It is definitely not for the faint hearted, but anyone wishing to give it a try in the Poitou-Charentes might want to first consult their local Mairie byelaws to avoid landing in hot water with the local authorities.
The less arsonist amongst us might try the traditional approach of secateurs and shears. Simply cut the dead top growth back to a point just above the fresh new basil growth.

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In the case of grasses cut back to just a few centimetres. If there is new growth already coming through, cut to a point just above the tips of new growth. Grasses grow from the base, which means if you cut the tops off the new growth, the new blades will have flat tips for the year.

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Just one note of caution: Where grasses are concerned, it is important to know your grasses. Only deciduous grasses require this treatment. In the case of evergreen grasses (such as Stipa tenuissima, Stipa gigantea or Anemanthele lessoniana) these should be combed of dead material by hand. Simply run your hands through them and take the dead material away in your fingers. Some grasses can be coarse enough to cut your hands so do wear gloves when doing this.
Don’t forget to add waste to the compost heap. If your heap is looking a little squishy and slimy, this carbon rich material will add valuable structure to your compost. Turning the plant waste into your heap will evenly distribute the material throughout the heap. At the same time your heap will get a vital oxygen boost and keep the composting process from stalling.
Be careful when navigating your way through beds and when cutting back your perennials, particularly grasses; you may just find a hedgehog or two hibernating in the undergrowth. If you should happen upon a hedgehog it may be best to leave it in its winter slumber. Move on to clearing another area of the garden and return to finish the job in a week or two when hopefully it will have moved on.
If you are unsure about pruning and need help with cutting your borders to get them in shape for spring, please get in touch here.


Towards the end of the month, again depending on the microclimate of your garden, you might find that rose buds have begun to swell and start breaking into leaf. If so, now would be a good time to prune back to healthy, outward facing buds. Pruning just as the buds are breaking into leaf makes the task of identifying healthy stems much simpler.
For shrub roses, the aim is to try to create an open, vase-like framework. For climbing roses, the aim is to create a framework of stems tied into the structure of your choice (such as an arch), from which the new flowering stems will grow.
In all types of roses, prune out dead, diseased and damaged stems first. Remove any crossing or ingrowing stems that are likely to rub and cause future wounds & disease.
To maintain the current height of shrub roses, cut back by about a third to just above an outwards facing bud. If you want the plant to continue growing larger, then prune out less than a third. If the plant is too large, go harder.
I try not to worry about roses too much, I think its better to prune too hard than not at all. Roses are robust and it is very difficult to kill a mature rose by pruning too hard. If anything they get far too leggy and unproductive if left to get too tall and straggly.
As far as climbing roses are concerned, prune all side growths coming from the main stems you have trained in to your structure back to just one or two buds. Prune out any old or weak stems right back to the base of the plant. The plant will generate new stems from the base as a result, which can be selected and trained to replace old stems, or prune out as desired.
If your rose buds are not yet breaking, it may be better to leave this job until the end of winter in March.
If you are unsure about rose pruning and need help to get them in shape for spring, please get in touch here.


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Has your winter garden been just that bit too bleak and uneventful this year? Perhaps consider planting up any gaps to give borders some interest for this time of year. 

Hellebores are a classic herbaceous perennial for this time of year and one that I heartily recommend.
Shrub-wise, consider Cornus for winter stem colour. There are many types ranging from deep red, to fiery oranges and yellows, to yellow/limey green. For winter scent and flower consider Hammamelis. Flower colours range from pale yellow through orange, to rich rusty colours.
Planting design is one of the cornerstones of our business. If you would like professional advice on planting options, sourcing and planting, please get in touch here.


Since moving into our new home in Voulême a month or so ago, things have now started coming together and I am ready for business. So it’s the perfect time to start the blog and let you know what my plans are for it.

Gardening in France

I am new to the Vienne department in France and whilst I feel that my horticultural experience and preferred selection of plants will be adapted to suit the conditions here, I still have much to learn about the soil, the weather and landscape vernacular here. I am expecting to have some planting failures as well as successes as I learn more, but I guess that is part and parcel of the fun of gardening.

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Petrol pump labels are set to change in France and indeed across Europe as part of the European Union's bid to standardise the labeling system. Here's what you need to know.


The government has introduced an 80km/h speed limit on countryside roads in France from July 1st 2018 as part of its of new measures to make the country's roads safer despite opposition to the move.

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The Poitou-Charentes or Nouvelle-Aquitaine region as we should now refer to it, is well known for its Cognac, pineau and fine wines. However, Craft Ales?? Maybe in the not too distant future a little known micro-brewery in the Charente countryside will proudly be known further afield. “CharentAles" started brewing 18 months ago once the old stone house and barn had been renovated.
The brewery founder, David Parfitt,



Beaujolais Nouveau – that much-ballyhooed cherry-red colored vintage that's best served chilled -- is clearly not for wine snobs. This fresh and fruity red is the result of a quick fermentation process that ends up with a tasty, clean wine that is enjoyed by palates the world over.


The move to abolish Taxe D'Habitation for 80 percent of people living in France by 2020 has been championed by French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe alike.

And on Wednesday, France's Minister of Public Action and Accounts revealed exactly who the changes will affect.

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Under a morning mist along the banks of the river Charente a crowd of 100 eager, local enthusiasts gathered at 10h00 on Sunday 10th September. Not your normal Sunday morning and certainly not at that hour!! For this day was the third "Balade Découverte" in the beautiful and historical village of Verteuil-Sur-Charente.


Since 1957, Confolens has held a famous world music and dance festival: Confolens Festival, which attracts 150,000 visitors every summer in August. For a week, all borders are erased and all is colour, passion and sharing. Around 600 artists from all 5 continents and 350 volunteers put on shows connected with the arts and popular traditions of the world. A skilful blend of different cultures sets the town centre alight with folk music and dance rhythms.

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As of March 8 2015, the law requires that all homes in France must have at least one functioning smoke detector installed.

It is the owner's responsibility to ensure this is done, so if you're renting to someone, you need to make sure that a working, compliant smoke detector is installed.


This weekend, French voters will return to the polls for the second round of voting in the country's presidential election.

The election is being watched closely around the world for more reasons than one. Marine Le Pen, perhaps the most visible figure on the European far right, is one of two contenders for the top French political spot, but her rival, centrist Emmanuel Macron, also represents a significant




An interesting read if anybody is looking to apply for French nationality. Written by Mark Sampson in an article on the Completefrance.com website. 

Having lived in France for 20 years, Mark Sampson and his family decided to celebrate by becoming French citizens. He explains the process for those thinking of doing the same.

My family and I decided to apply for French citizenship in September 2015 when celebrating 20 years


What is Taxe Foncière?

The taxe foncière is the annual local land and building ownership tax and can be split into the taxe foncière on 'propriétés bâties' (property) and the taxe foncière on 'propriétés non-bâties' (land).

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Christmas and the New Year celebrations are now behind us, our Estate Agent in Ruffec is open again and I can't believe that the new cycling season is only a matter of weeks away. It starts in March but the time flies by and it will be here before I know it.


The galette des rois is a cake traditionally shared at Epiphany, on 6 January. It celebrates the arrival of the Three Wise Men in Bethlehem.
Composed of a puff pastry cake, with a small charm, the fève, hidden inside, it is usually filled with frangipane, a cream made from sweet almonds, butter, eggs and sugar. But more gourmet versions are available for us to enjoy, with chocolate, apple or

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January is often a time for change and in France it's no different with several new laws and price hikes coming into existence that will affect life in France.

Here's a rundown of main ones you need to know about:


The French government got condemned in February 2015 by the European Court of Justice for taking social charges from people who are benefiting from another health system than the French one. Therefore the French government has agreed to reimburse those people and I am pleased to say that all the people that BH-Assurances/Allianz has helped to claim got some money back!


Pétanque is a form of boules where the goal is to toss or roll hollow steel balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball called a cochonnet (literally "piglet") or jack, while standing inside a circle with both feet on the ground. The game is normally played on hard dirt or gravel and can be found in most villages no matter how small. It can be played in public areas in parks, or in dedicated facilities called boulodromes.


Well what a couple of busy weeks. We have now moved into our new premises just in front of the Mairie in a very central location in what was previously the ‘Pole Emploi’ centre. We had felt that the old office was a little too far from the main square for an Estate Agency in Ruffec. Not only that, but our office was a little too small at times for welcoming all our house hunting clients and being a team of 5 who were often there at the same time.


In the last two weeks both GBP/EUR and GBP/USD rates moved over 3% each between the highs and lows. GBP/EUR rates peaked at 1.2990 before falling to a low of 1.265 after the tragic events in Belgium. 

With the EU referendum now announced, and several major banks warning that the pound could be in for a 20% drop in value, Associate Director David Worthington provides some insight in to the types of contract offered to protect against adverse exchange rate movements.



With each of us in France apparently using 80 plastic shopping bags individually a year and 8 billion in the world in general the French environment minister, Ségolène Royal, has finally stepped in and said 'C'est suffit"!

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Christmas is upon us again , the tree is up and decorated, the presents are starting to pile up under it and the ‘Place de Ville’ in Ruffec is starting to look like a winter wonderland. Great for us this year seeing  that we are situated just opposite.

I love Christmas I still get exited every year about the glitters, the presents and the excess of food. I am not a religious person so Christmas for me is a celebration of mid-winter based probably on pagan rituals.

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All around the Poitou-Charentes region the time of year for the ‘Vendange’ (grape harvest) has arrived. Although not famous for its wine, the area produces some very reasonable and quaffable local wines as well as many fine Pineau des Charentes of course. Each local ‘vigneron’ (wine maker) will decide when his grape-laden vines are ready for the harvest.


Are you intent on buying a property in the beautiful Poitou-Charentes? If so, you may be interested to learn that buying Charente real estate will now leave less of a hole in your bank account. This is because the pound to euro exchange rate recently hit 1.4416, its strongest in 7.5 years, or since October 5th 2007.


Since 8th August this year there has been a change in legislation under the 'Loi Macron' (Emmanuel Macron is the Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs in France). Buyers of a property in France have the peace of mind of a cooling off period, known as "délai de rétractation".

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Under the regulation, after 17 August 2015, any British national who has property in France, or any other participating EU state (and who has taken appropriate action before their death) can choose either the law of the country of their habitual residence, or of their nationality, or choose one of their nationalities if multiple, to govern the devolution of their French estate.


Until very recently I had no interest at all in plants, flowers, veggies or anything remotely garden- related. When I was young I recall that my mum and grandmother couldn't pass a garden without commenting on how beautiful the roses etc were, and I just thought - "how boring" - but I now find myself doing exactly the same.



The much awaited Greek referendum took place yesterday and the Greeks have quite surprisingly voted ‘NO’ to the current bailout offer that was on the table.

Although this was a highly anticipated event on the currency markets it did little to affect the euro, with the single currency dropping 0.5% against the pound and 0.4% against the dollar.

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There is a definite sense of the passing of each season in the Charente, winter turns early in the year into spring which rapidly becomes summer.  Reluctantly the long summer meets autumn. Being a real country girl the seasons are important to me as I spend most of my working hours and free time outside.


Weather comes high up many people’s lists as a factor in choosing the right area to move to or to visit. France is a big country with many climatic influences, so it is hard to generalise but there are a few basic guidelines and resources that can help you.

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Since 2011 house sellers are required to have a survey of their septic tank undertaken prior to sale. This means that if the property has a septic tank, the Contract of Sale must include a “diagnostic d'assainissement non collectif”. Indeed if the property is on mains drains a report is still required to confirm that the property is correctly connected.

inheritance-willsMany people who already own property in France, or who are thinking of buying, will be aware that French law currently governs the taxation and devolution – who gets what when you die – of your overseas property.


Buying a property in France is actually a simple and secure process as long as you find a good agent who will guide you through the process.

It may sound simple, but finding the right area is where you need to start. We are surprised by the number of clients who have not carried out research on the region before coming to view properties.

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One thing that I love about living in the Poitou-Charentes is that you notice the changing seasons. You can get the first signs of spring quite early and quite often I have seen butterflies as early as the beginning of February. The autumn can be quite stunning with the beautiful colours on the trees.

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The 11th of November is always a bank holiday here in France and the Remembrance Services are held on this day irrespective of the day of the week on which it falls. Each year I take my two girls to the local service (which starts at 11h30) as it is so important for them to understand the sacrifice so many made for our freedom all those years ago. The local mayor reads a different patriotic speech each 11th November which is the same across France at every ceremony and of course the same as the one addressed by our dear (and much loved) Monsieur Hollande who does so alongside the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Paris.

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“McDonalds”, love them, hate them or simply accept them they are due to open their latest restaurant here in Ruffec at the end of October. The construction appears to be that of a standard McDonalds’ restaurant down to the child’s play area and seated garden area.


So it could have hardly escaped your attention, but "King Alex Salmond 1st of Scotland" is praying for a « Yes » vote in Thursday’s referendum in Scotland for independence from the UK. However, more importantly how will it affect your buying power in France or indeed your buying power if returning from France to the UK?


Whether you are just out for a stroll in the sunshine or are a keen bargain hunter the ‘Brocantes’, ‘Bric-à-Bracs’ and ‘Vide Greniers’ are a great morning/afternoon out throughout the summer in the Poitou-Charentes. 

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Well, Channel 4’s “A Place In The Sun” were back in this beautiful area around Ruffec. In fact it is hard to believe that two years have passed since Nathalie successfully found Karen & Keith Wilding their dream home in the Vienne department. It was therefore with delight that Christophe took the phone call from the production team last week requesting that TIC Estate Agents be interviewed as the local property expert in the next Poitou-Charentes programme.

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Last weekend saw the 23rd Flower Festival, again held in the splendid grounds of the château of Verteuil Sur Charente, 6kms from Ruffec. This year’s theme was against ‘Food Wastage’. Yet again (for the flower show) somebody upstairs decided that the weather this weekend in the Charente would be somewhat ‘changeable’ to say the least. One of the organisers, Jérôme Moreau, admitted that it had been one of the hardest to put on due to the inclement weather leading up to the event. (Soggy fields/paths & windy conditions to deal with when erecting marquees etc). I can assure all our house hunters that this is exceptional for this time of year.

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About an hour and a half drive from our Ruffec office and the interesting town of Rochefort is there to be discovered. On the Charente estuary, this 17th century maritime arsenal and naval dockyards once offered a sheltered port from the Atlantic coastline when constructed in 1664 (no relevance to my favourite beer) under the reign of Louis XIV. The navy has long since departed, but its grand history remains.

After a week away from the office spent in L’Herault (Languedoc), with my two girls, it was lovely to come back to a sun drenched Charente on Saturday afternoon. I am certainly do not have ‘Green Fingers’, in fact far from it, but on Sunday I was out treating the lawn to its first cut of 2014. There had been a light frost overnight, but by 10h00 we were spoilt with the warmth of the sun. The Charente seemed to be no more than a week behind L’Herault in finding Spring and with the sun on my back I was inspired to start pruning the budding apple trees (pommiers) and trimming the vines (vignes) back hard. This severe type of trimming (probably a technical word for it) had been done in the hills around Montpellier, so only fair to do so in Charente.

The great Belgian rider Eddy Merckx said: 'Ride as much or as little or as long or as short as you feel...but ride.'

Exactly - especially if you do it when living or staying in the Poitou-Charentes. When we used to come here for our holidays we used to love cycling off to the bakers in the mornings to get our croissants and French bread.

Only a short ride, but with hardly any cars on the roads it was something we could all do as a family and it was great fun.

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