We’re back in France with Bebe, and this week we’ve moved to the garden…
Anyone who like me has spent years living in the city without any outside space bigger than the window-sill will know what it feels like to long for a garden. Just somewhere you can open the backdoor and sit on the step with a cup of tea, maybe a glass of wine or that 6 o’clock gin and tonic. Or even just to idle away an hour in the sun with a book.
For the last 30 years I have looked out enviously over the rooftops of SW10 into other people’s gardens, courtyards and roof terraces but if I wanted to escape into a green oasis of my own I had to make a dedicated journey down 4 flights of stairs to find a quiet corner in a busy park. Not exactly my idea of Arcadia.
Well, be careful what you wish for. When we started on our Adventure Before Dementia here in France, I suddenly found myself the owner of not one but THREE gardens. That’s a lot of garden for someone who has only ever had a window box.
Chez Gigi is encased in a secret garden composed of three stepped terraces falling from the tree-clad rock face that was the original fortification of the town; there is a tiny riverside garden over the way complete with a stream running from a natural well (where people come to collect their weekly water supply) and I have a jardin along the lane the size of a football pitch which is really a Very Big Allotment with 5 caves and a well. Scary …….
I always wanted an outside space that was a green and secret place and if you’d asked me for a wish-list of the garden I’ve been dreaming of for 30 years it would read: mossy paths and ivy-covered walls; tick. Winding stone steps; tick. Vines; tick. Italianate urns and a statue; tick. And serependitiously, it was all there waiting for me, hidden behind the garden wall at Chez Gigi. A truly green and secret place.
I am sure TWR readers are a band of accomplished gardeners but like everything else in our Adventure, it’s another learning curve guaranteed to keep T.O.M and I on our not so agile toes. No one told me a garden is a bit like the Forth Bridge. Or three Forth Bridges in my case. As fast as you water and weed, it’s time to start all over again. Who knew deciding what to plant and where to plant it was so complicated (especially when the instructions are all in French)? That there were specific potting composts for everything from geraniums to camellias and ne’er the twain shall meet ?
And while I have been dreaming of blowsy peonies, pillowy hydrangeas and trailing wisteria, my more practical neighbours are busy consulting the lunar calendar and planting out their leeks and courgettes, tickling up their tomato plants and bedding in their strawberries. Forget lawns and flowerbeds, here the national obsession is pour Le Potage.
Sadly the 24 lettuce I planted two weeks ago have already gone to the great salad bowl in the sky so I am hoping for more luck with my bedding plants. Surprisingly, for someone who has more technicoloured coats than anything in Joseph’s wardrobe, I don’t want colour in the garden, craving instead the serenity of all-white flowers with the odd accent of cool blue and lilac so have been getting down and dirty with white and purple pansies (who can resist those pretty upturned faces), golden-eyed daisies, orange blossom, silvery lavenders and hydrangeas. My usual pots of shop-bought herbs have given way to a small herb garden giving me a constant supply of thyme, basil, oregano, rosemary and tarragon.
And not to mention the new retailing opportunities gardening has opened up. Gardening gloves, secateurs, gardening books, wellies – all available at our local supermarket which also happens to be a one-stop-shop for the dedicated gardener, selling everything from 6ft high fruit trees to garden benches and trays of baby lettuce. Even a weed exterminator kit for T.O.M. And the town’s annual Jardin du Passion may not exactly be the Chelsea Flower Show but it gave me the opportunity of purchasing my longed-for wisteria. ……
Now spring has finally sprung, it is amazing to watch the garden change on a daily basis as ferns unfurl and the vine leaves slowly uncurl in the sun, while plants I didn’t know we had – like lily of the valley – have suddenly blossomed from nowhere.
So finally after 30 years of wishing, I have somewhere to sit and have breakfast en plein air and plants to nuture, feed and weed. Even a washing line to dry my washing in the sun. Happy days ……..