Archive for the ‘…en Jardin’ Category


Poppy princesses…

May 19, 2010


From my perch on the stone wall, I watch the girls pick poppy’s with their Mamie.  The girls are not looking, however, for the open flowers.  They are on the hunt for the unopened bud.  Mamie has taught them how to make poppy princesses and they are determined to make a whole kingdom of these delicate ladies. 

This is how it’s done:  pick the unopened poppy buds.  They are oblong in shape and have a fuzzy, rough texture.  You snip them below the bud leaving a small part of the stem attached.  Then you open the nodule to reveal the red petals all crinkled and delicate like a lady’s crinoline dress.  The head is made from the poppy’s center after it has lost it’s petals or as the girls prefer- you pick a poppy and de-petal it.  The center is then stuck on the bit of stem  to form the head.   

The poppy’s, or Coquelicot, line the fields and the sides of most roads each spring, sprouting up like the dandelions in the backyards of Pittsburgh.  This year, our fields are barer than usual maybe due to the cold and rain of the last few weeks.  It’s only been a day or so since I noticed fields of poppy’s while driving. 

This delicate little flower that I’ve always admired is the symbol of both sleep and death;  sleep because of the opium extracted from it and death because of its blood red color.   The corn poppy is the most common in France and is considered a badge of war as it is most abundant in fields of distressed soil.  It was the only plant life to grow in the shell shocked northern fields during World War I.  I picked my first French Poppy in front of Mt. St. Michel 18 years ago on my first visit to France and I still have it pressed between the pages of the photo album.

A ‘discussion’ is taking place near the ‘castle’ or swing set as to which poppy princess should become the queen.  The search is on as it has been decided that the queen should be made from the rare pink poppy.  This ought to keep them busy for the next hour.


Pucerons, frozen lady bugs and bird poop…

May 14, 2010

Frozen ladybugs and live pucerons on a Mandarin tree leaf.

“It looks like a bird pooped on our mandarin tree,” I said to Raphael.      

He looked at me strangely, “Why not?  It’s outside where birds poop.”  He went back to digging the drainage ditch along the stone wall.      

“But it’s not a big drop like you normally see.  They’re tiny drops inside, along the branches.  And there are little bugs crawling around it.”       

My strange comment brought him over to investigate.  There is an advantage to being married to an agricultural engineer.  His knowledge comes in handy when I am clueless.  “That’s not bird poop,” he said brushing it away.  “It’s not poop at all.  It’s ladybugs that got caught in the frost.”  These grey and black smudges on my mandarin tree were the dusty remains of lady bugs that got burnt up in the freezing winter.  The bugs, he told me, are pucerons.  Pucerons, aphids in English, also known as plant lice, attack the grape vines as well other plants. “You need to treat this with insecticide,” he said.  I didn’t want to use insecticide on a tree I’m hoping will one day produce edible fruit and I found that a strange comment coming from someone who doesn’t use it on his vines and is an organic grape grower.  But then, I don’t want these pests killing my tree either.      

Recently I was in the Drougerie, not a drug store, but a store which sells cleaning supplies, paint, and other household odds and ends.  I was looking for a product to clean and seal old tile called tomette.  The shop owner gave me a bottle of savon noir liquid a l’huile de lin, or liquid black soap made from linseed oil, along with a list of things it was good for including treating plants for bugs.  This caught my attention as my yet untreated mandarin tree was still on my mind.  I asked if this could work on the pucerons.  Most definitely, she said writing down the formula of 20ml oil to 1 litre of water.     

Returning home, I found an empty spray bottle and mixed the formula.  This was a few weeks ago during the unseasonable heat of April, and seeing the shiny coating after spraying at mid day, I wondered if I was causing more harm to the tree.  Could treating the tree in full sun be like watering it in full sun?   I sprayed the entire tree concentrating of the leaves that were most under attack.  Two days later, I went for a second look.  Honestly, I couldn’t see a difference.  Nothing seemed to have changed, potentially a good thing since no new bugs seemed to be living on my tree.  But the old pucerons were still living among the lady bug dust.  It’s too bad the lady bugs didn’t survive the winter, it turns out they are a natural preditor to the aphid.  

I sprayed again thinking it needed to be treated more often.  The next time I went back, there seemed to be fewer bugs, or maybe that was just my hopeful imagination.  Spray, spray, spray.  

I haven’t had a look since we began this rainy period of May, a perfect time for the bugs to reproduce and attack my tree.  Since Raphael is busy dealing with the possible effects this rain could have on his vines, I’m wondering if my tree is suffering.      

Recently I discovered some new tricks – matches planted with the tip in the soil or tobacco, soaked in water for 24 hours, then filtered and mixed with vinegar and liquid soap.  My trees were not planted with matches in the soil but I may go shove a few in.  I’m not ready to try the tobacco mix as I’ve been told by more than one person to stick with the savon noir, it works.  I’ll let you know.


Le Potager…

May 4, 2010

It’s raining today.  In fact, it’ll be raining for the entire week.  Our summer-like weather has been replaced with March weather – great for the baby vines and our recently (partly) planted vegetable garden.  Despite the best intentions to plant early after last year’s late start and pitiful results, we’re late again this year.  On our behalf, I have to say, weather conditions held us up this season – the frozen ground into March followed by rain kept Raphael from getting the tractor on the field to turn the soil.  One advantage over last year, we fertilized the field with organic chicken poo which should help the plants mature.  In one day, we fertilized, plowed and did this…  

...For lack of proper terminology, I'll call this smoothing out the soil. Notice the two apple trees in the background. One gave us beautiful but few apples, the other gave us many, worm filled apples.


 According to Raphael, performing these three soil preparation tasks in one day is excellent preparation for growing our veggies and fruits.   

Plowing the soil. This is not Raphael but a neighbor who kindly lent us his one hour and his tractor to plow our field.


 Last year was our first go at gardening and the results were sporadic.  The tomatoes, potatoes and green bean were a success.  But the rest, if we saw any results, were puny which was partially due to the hot, dry summer and our well drying up.  Towards the end, Raphael was filling a tank on the back of the tractor with water from the bassin and pumping it onto the field.  This became our only option for watering the garden.   

The two green peppers that developed never got bigger than this.


Early watering techniques.


Watering makes the recruits crazy.


This year we have plans.  In addition to the chicken poo, we are hoping to install a homemade version of drip irrigation along the rows of veggies that will slowly drip water beneath the plants.  For many, including us, maintaining and watering a garden is a source of relaxation and enjoyment.  However, our garden is huge.  (When you have to use a tractor like the one above to plow your vegetable garden, it’s too big and watering it becomes a chore rather than a relaxing way to pass an evening.)  The field measures 2870 square meters.  Last year, just over half of this was planted.  This year we’ve expanded planting a new corner that we have high hopes for as it gets the morning sun and the ground seems more humid.  The tomatoes and salad, two plants that need to drink often, occupy this corner.  The drip irrigation will provide the plants with much needed water when we are unable to get everything sufficiently watered.   

Planting baby salad.


We work with another family building the garden which allows us to divide chores among available hands.  This year we’ve recruited two new helpers, Father Luc-Marie, a priest with the Beatitudes in a nearby town, and a good friend of ours, and Beatrice, a neighbor and former city girl who, like me, is fascinated with the process of planting green stuff and watching it grow into edible fruits and vegetables.  We’ve barely begun the planting and with this weeks weather forecast and it being already May, I’m wondering if we’re going to get half as much of the field planted as last year.  That salad and tomatoes I mentioned above, along with 13 strawberry plants, is all we have so far.  Time to get the recruits motivated.  

Angeline helping Father Luc water the tomato plants.


Spring showers…

March 26, 2010



This morning, I awoke to a shutter rattling wind which quickly turned into a surprising downpour soon followed by a spring thunderstorm – all before daylight seeped under the shutters to announce the day.  We are left with a light shower and lingering thunder, enough to keep Kitty from venturing outside to the building next door for breakfast.   

I’m pleased it’s raining despite the harrowing efforts to keep the kids dry on the way to school.  This rain is good for the shrubs I planted earlier in the week.  Each year, at the first sign of spring, I trawl the local gardening stores, admiring the rows of flowers, the enormous olive trees and the fruitiers heavy with juicy lemons and oranges, wondering why the small mandarinier we planted last spring has not yet born fruit.  I’m always tempted to take home one of the trees which is already bearing ripe oranges or lemons just to say I ate an orange that I picked from my own tree.  But there’s also something in watching your own tree grow to maturity and bear fruit. 

I’ve planted shrubs and trees as each exterior terrace is completed at our house/bed & breakfast next door.  The other day, I put in three flowering plants advised by my favorite garden store;  ciste pulverulentus ‘sunset’ which has rough leaves and blooms small fuchsia flowers in late spring much of the summer and Othonopsis which gives numerous yellow blossoms supposedly all winter (although the one I planted last year has not bloomed yet).  They are local varieties and grow well in the dry heat of Provençal summers.  Low maintenance, exactly what I need.  

Despite my love of flowers and gardens, I do not have a gift for gardening.  In an effort to cheer up our gloomy and somber living room, I bought some indoor plants that had ‘low sunlight’ written on the little ticket stuck into the pot.  I have no idea what they’re called.  At the time, I was more concerned with their care.  Low water, low light, plants I thought, impossible to kill.  I was wrong.  Over the past months, I have unfortunately and unintentionally put two of the plants in grave danger.  I could blame it on the environment.  Our living room is long with only one window facing north.  However, this isn’t the first incidence of plant homicide to take place in my house.  For our wedding, we received a lovely braided tree and for Olivia’s birth, my parents sent a large potted orchid.  Both died within a year under my ‘care’.  

I don’t understand what happens.  The orchid and braided tree were residents of our first appartement which was very sunny.  I kept the little cards in the soil and followed the instructions precisely.  I later learned that the tree may have died because I didn’t repot it into a larger container.  

The two current plants on the verge of death I recently took outside with the intention of repotting them.  They quickly disappeared and I’m assuming my mother in law has hidden them out of my reach while she nurses them back to health – she has a gift for that.  I haven’t seen the plants or the empty pots anywhere around the house this week.  Two others remain;  a vine tumbling down from the top of an armoire.  It has a yellow leaf now and then but seems to be doing well otherwise.  And something else for which I’ve forgotten the name.  It once had a large orange blossom growing up between its leaves now long gone.  It seems a hearty plant but I doubt I’ll see another bloom.  I’m tempted to buy more house plants but that might not be wise.  For now I’m concentrating on the exterior with which I seem to have better luck. 

Tomorrow, weather permitting, the shrubs and mandarinier will be joined by a second mandarin tree, a climbing rose bush and the flower bulbs I bought yesterday;  a Calla Lily called red majesty, Gladiolus which I succumbed to after reading the name of the color -wine and roses,  and a packet of wild flowers which I’ll dust over a nearby hillside and which, with some luck, will produce an abundance of pickable flowers for the girls.