Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Garden's Progress

I like to drink a glass of wine in my garden at the end of a fruitful day
, the setting sun outlining forms in golden silhouette. I can stare at my plants, contemplate their progress, the miracle of their colors and forms. My garden is a place of magic and hope, a place to dwell, a place of quiet affirmation.

Wind blows across the pasture bringing seeds from unruly weeds. During the week they begin to creep in. When we arrive on Friday night the feeling is usually a little bit like facing the sink full of dirty dishes after a raucous dinner party. Will the weeding ever end? Then we set to work, and in short time, tugging up this and that, prying the spiraling fingers of savage wild growth away, we get it back to where we like it.

Since it is our first year, Loïc and I decided to go with a number of small beds, cloistered areas to tend to a smaller number of plants, like a botanical garden or experimental laboratory plot. This way we can lavish each plant with attention, keep up with the learning curve, and not have to spend too much time and money getting the bed's soil just right. We're in it for the joy it brings, and anything we get to eat is a bonus. We can get bigger later if we want, by moving the borders of the beds. Speaking of borders, our first concern was finding proper ones. We found non-toxic linseed oil autoclaved borders made for potagers and they were our only expense aside from seeds, costing about €80 ($120) for the whole garden. The stones are original from our Savoyard chalet roof, replaced last year.

arugula flower and a delicious mouthful from the task of thinning the carrots

When I first planned the garden, I didn't know how easy it would be to move plants around. I realize now that planning a garden is a tentative task, even planting is never set in stone. We discovered, for instance, that some of our kohlrabi seemed to be flourishing way ahead of the ones we'd planted elsewhere in the garden. Then we realized they had been placed next to tomatoes. This juxtaposition is noted in many of our references as a problem, since kohlrabi saps the life from tomatoes. If they grow too fast, they won't taste good, either. I moved the kohlrabi to another bed and grouped the tomatoes all together. They complained at first, but were bright and happy with the rhubarb chard the next weekend.

Taking a walk through the beds, we have: Eggplant, green beans, peppers, brussels sprouts, a watermelon plant, nasturtiums which in French are called capucine, cilantro, chervil, garlic, yellow onions, chives, carrots, lettuce, parsley, red onions, shallots, arugula, a bed of mixed greens, rhubarb chard, leeks, kohlrabi, a permanent bed of Mara des Bois strawberries, tomatoes, basil, sucrine lettuce and round red radishes. Outside the beds along corners in the wide pathways, I have planted oregano, sage, rosemary, lemon verbena, tarragon, dill, and extra dwarf nasturtiums. At the end of each path on the high side near the sunflowers and dahlias, I have put a cardoon plant at the end of each path. They are very popular in Lyon, and I look forward to preparing them the Lyonnais way.

The gourd hill had a rough start, because I changed my mind at the last minute and decided it should go on a slope located by the compost. We put out our tender pattypan, butternut, delicious pumpkin plants that in French are called potimarron, zucchinis, widely spaced with room to grow. They were all promptly eaten by snails, of which there are a profusion in the compost heap. We started again but had little hope. One difference was the use of some organic pellets to make the snails and slugs lose their appetite. We had just about given up on the lot, when all of the seeds we planted sprouted and grew fast. Now we're faced with this business of thinning. Never easy. Another factor is that one of us poked about 20 kohlrabi seeds into the ground all over the slope when we'd lost hope and they've all exploded into healthy plants too. My neighbor thinks it's cabbage. "Handsome cabbage patch you have there!" he says. I correct him but he doesn't hear it. "Yep, that's some nice looking cabbage." Sometimes I wonder if he planted it. Neither Loïc nor I remember planting it. I might have thrown some seeds down in frustration...


The dahlias were a windfall, from the "magic flower lady" at the St. Antoine market of Lyon, where I shop during the week. We always go to this woman, who sings "did you know that flowers are magic?" over and over, in rhythm and harmony with the church bells that ring from time to time in the mornings. One morning she was offering a huge clump of dahlia tubers for €2 for the lot. I asked her what color they were, as if I cared. "Surprise!" she beamed. The clump filled a huge grocery store shopping bag. We tossed it in the trunk and dragged it out into the garden that evening. I spent a good hour wedging the vast knot of tubers apart with the old Parmesan knife I'd bought from a man on the street in Sicily, and burying them, one by one. It was good work. With each one that went into the ground, my little troubles melted away. Even if they don't come up for some reason like poor soil chemistry or slugs or something, I know I will have gotten my €2 worth. The hope for flowers is one of my most delectable painful pleasures. For me it sometimes ranks above the flowers themselves.

tomato flowers and our first haricots.

We're cutting herbs and greens already. Last weekend we enjoyed some flavorful young chard and arugula. I also prepared a dish using les fines herbes from my garden, which made it that much more satisfying. I am allowing some coriander to go to seed, but trying to keep the chervil from bolting by razing the lot every week. I get big bunches every weekend. The arugula made several delicious salads and went into a savory bread, and this weekend we found that it had bloomed. It's interesting to see the pretty flowers that these greens and herbs can produce.



Blogger racheld said...

Such delicious prose, Lucy---as tasty as the small green promises for the table.

I can see, hear, smell your garden, and feel your anticipation; the coming-anew on a weekly basis is oh, so much more surprising and fun than an every-morning walk-around, as you CAN notice the sizes of things, and the covering of the ground in diameters not seen before.

I've borrowed for my journal's Summer entries the sentences beginning with "Wind blows across . . ."---so laden is it with the truth of the gardener's heart.

I anticipate with you, and look forward to all the fruition and the cooking and the joys of your ever-surprising, never- disappointing table.

6:49 PM, June 21, 2010  
Blogger Scazza said...

lovely, idyllic... Lucy where is your garden? Behind your house in Lyon?

9:53 PM, June 21, 2010  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Thanks Rachel & Scazza. Rachel, you are always catching me in the middle of an edit! I re-integrated the wind blowing through because you liked it. Scazza, our garden is up in the mountains, in the French Alps, Savoie. 2 hours from Lyon.

10:16 PM, June 21, 2010  
Anonymous Dillon said...

Enjoy the magic Lucy. Wait till the rocket, chicories,parsnips...... reseed themselves and the garlic makes it's own delicious carpet.
A lot of fun. Also just before rain, take rootlings of your herbs , esp thyme, rosemary and savoury and plant them everywhere. They're beautiful and tough. I've got about 30 bushes of each herb from just one original plant.
Sensational pics.

11:23 AM, June 22, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lucy, love the garden! Thanks for shoring. McTenn

7:12 PM, June 23, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i love this post. i have just come indoors from working in the flowers and visiting the veggies up top realize there is much much to do - but first some iced tea, a small bit of cheese and cumin crackers and perhaps even a tiny nap. but then, hoe in hand, back up i will go! thank you for this lovely post, the garden is divine but the wee one in the chair is the very best part.

10:30 PM, June 23, 2010  
Blogger Mediterranean kiwi said...

altho we have a garden, and it is very furitful, your garden makes me jealous - this kind of lush greenery is not possible where i live

11:04 AM, July 08, 2010  

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