Smoke in the Air

People are really into their gardens here, and by “garden” I mean what I would call a “yard”. I figured out this wordplay recently. To me, a garden is a part of your yard where you grow flowers or vegetables, but here “garden” means the area surrounding your house and “yard” is a measurement. This is just one of the verbal mistakes that I make here on a daily basis. I am at that point with many words where I can no longer remember which term is American and which is British. Yard? Garden? Might as well be safe and say “your flowers are lovely”.

Sweet peas from the garden
Sweet peas from the garden

Our next door neighbor is retired and her main occupation in the summer is her garden. We benefit from some of the things she grows – this summer we had raspberries, zucchini (courgettes) and wonderful green beans. She also grows flowers and bushes which seem to need endless attention.

Our lovely landlady planted our garden mostly with trees and bushes, so they don’t need as much attention. She did plant some Sweet Peas that my neighbor insists that I keep cutting so that more will grow. I don’t quite see the logic there, but cut them and put them in the house (where they look nice, then die, then I put them into the compost out in the garden).

After 20 years in Santa Fe where things grow slowly, if they grow at all, I am shocked at the rate of growth here. Every month I have to go out and hack down the vines growing on the fence in front of the kitchen window so that I can have a view.

In July we had some friends from Italy stay in the house while we did a trip to France. They had a friend from Scotland down to visit. She is a “master gardener”. Master gardener from Scotland and master gardener from next door met together over a tree in our yard that neither of them liked, so they pruned it severely. My landlady, who had big plans for that tree and was letting it grow before doing a major trim, was not happy. I had a similar experience with my hair last year in Colorado when I asked for a trim and instead got a crew cut. Luckily, like my hair, the tree will grow back and the memory of these disastrous short cuts will fade.

Cottage Garden
Cottage Garden

What remained from the pruning was a huge pile of branches which our neighbor informed us we had to haul down the road to a field where a neighbor was making a heap of things to burn. The heap was huge, about 10 feet across and 20 feet high. So as to not burn down nearby Woodchester Park, they waited until it had rained, to make the grass damp, then set the heap on fire. Smoke and the smell of smoke filled the neighborhood.

Last night someone else was burning their garden remains and the neighborhood filled with the smoke. Even with all the windows closed, the smoke smell gets into the house. Cough. This has been happening every few days for the last month. Our neighbors seem to spend the summer growing things, then they cut them all down and burn them. Next year – repeat. Perhaps I don’t totally understand life in the countryside.

We walked by our neighbor’s “yard” today and I saw that he is building a new heap of things to burn. We asked him if anyone ever starts a forest fire here with these garden fires and he said he had never heard of it. He told us there was a “gentleman’s agreement” that you don’t start a fire until after 6pm to protect your neighbor’s laundry from the smoke fumes.

Fire is a Whole Different Thing in Colorado

Last week a wild fire swept through the mountain communities just a few miles from our house in Boulder, Coloardo. The Fourmile Fire was started by a small fire that was not put out correctly, just like the ones that are frequently burning here. The mountains of Colorado were dry after a long, hot summer and high winds came along and turned that smoldering fire into a major wildfire that destroyed 169 homes.

I spent the week reading the local newspaper online (the Daily Camera), following conversations from Boulder on Twitter and emailing our friends who are living in our house. We watched as the fire spread, as a cloud of smoke covered Boulder, as a large area around the fire was evacuated and as our neighborhood was put on notice for possible evacuation. I saw photos of fire fighting helicopters loading up with water from Wonderland Lake, the area where we went for our walks this winter.

After an idyllic summer in the Cotswolds I was yanked back to reality and the possibility of losing my house and things in Boulder. But the fire was contained and our north Boulder neighborhood was not evacuated.

I am still smelling smoke. Lucky for us, even after a long, hot summer, it is still too damp to get a forest fire going here.

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Pauline Kenny

Pauline Kenny and Steve Cohen are US expats living in Dorset. We moved to the UK in 2010. Read about our move. If you would like to talk about travel, please join us on the Slow Europe Travel Forums.

8 thoughts on “Smoke in the Air”

  1. I love the heap-burning Gentlemen’s Agreement. Such a civic minded population.

    I guess when house-choosing in the Cotswolds, it pays to anticipate wind direction? (*hack, hack*)

    Very good news on the Boulder house…I can’t imagine having to follow that from thousands of miles away…but at least you could!

    1. Hi Nan! I think there is no avoiding these smells – the neighborhood fills with smoke. Also important when choosing a house – our 3 level house now casts a shadow over the front garden where we used to sit in the sun even in the evening. That is why you need sitting out areas in the front and the back (which we have – so now we sit in the back).

  2. Pauline, I really enjoyed reading this–I guess the underlying humor appealed to me. I have a great mental picture of the two “gardeners” taking care of the tree and the aghast landlady. I am on her side–last month Ken had one of our trees massacred but knew to wait until I was gone. Equating it with your haircut was a good twist.

    I know you are enjoying your time there–wonder what you will do when these 6 months are up?

    1. Originally it was going to be five months – our flight home is the end of this month, but I will change it. After being here a couple of months we realized we wanted to stay for a year at least. That brings us to next May and I can’t see going back to Colorado just when a wonderful English summer is about to start. So, we are taking it six months at a time. And we just bought a car.

  3. This made me laugh! The logic of gardening is puzzling, even to gardeners sometimes. I envy you those sweet peas though. I love them, but they don’t like California unless you manage to guess exactly the right day to plant them early in the spring so they can bloom before it gets too hot.

    1. Everyone has sweet peas here. I remember them from when I lived in Toronto, but had not seen them in years. They are a lovely flower and they wind up these support stands made of twigs. Very pretty.

  4. Hi Pauline

    The British climate is so damp it doesn’t have the same fire risks as hotter, drier climates; it also tends to lack the high winds that fan fames. So there’s little risk of starting a forest fire with a garden bonfire. Bonfire smoke is one of the quintessential smells of a British autumn!

    And since you’re staying on, you’ll be there for Guy Fawkes night in November! All the bonfires you could wish for 🙂

    1. Hi Veronica! The dirt here is very different from what I am used to in New Mexico and Colorado. Even though we had two months with no rain, the soil still feels damp and smells “earthy”.

      Another quintessential smell of a British autumn – manure being spread on the farm fields. An overpowering smell!!

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