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French Gardening for Dummies Part 2

French Gardening for Dummies Part 2

French Gardening for Dummies Part 2

It's getting to that time of year again where I start thinking about what I am going to plant in my vegetable garden for the summer.

I love it, gardening, and while I’m not all that good at it I love the planning, the nurturing and the tending. There's nothing better to me than picking something I have grown in the garden, and eating it the same day. To me it brings a whole new meaning to freshness, flavor and satisfaction.

Every season I plan my garden, source out seeds and get excited about the prospect of abundant juicy and delicious produce grown by yours truly.

I have a small green house where I start seedlings early otherwise, due to the mountainous climate I would have to purchase plants from the market or garden centre. I get a sense of achievement by nurturing my trays of sprouted baby seedlings and watching them grow. It gives me the feeling that I know what I’m doing which, of course, I do not. Truth be known, the greenhouse is the warmest place to be in the spring so that’s where I make my home.

Last year was awful weather wise here in the Pyrénees. Cold and wet until mid - August when the sun came out and the temperature went directly up to 28° c where it stayed until the end of September.

Talk about one extreme to another. My garden, along with my confidence, got destroyed.

But it wasn’t all for my lack of gardening prowess that my garden got destroyed. I had a little help from the powers that be along with some good old-fashioned rookie schooling.


I live in a rural, fertile area where everyone has the best-looking veggie patches I have ever seen. Hedges are trimmed I swear, with the aid of a level, and lines of vegetables are so straight it’s as if they were digitally planted. My garden, however, is not like that and leaves a lot to be desired. To keep up appearances and village status this year, I have work to do.

You see my problem is that the seasonal nature of my business, as a B&B owner, affords me lots of spare time during the winter months and next to none in the summer when I am flat out B&B-ing from April until October.

Apart from the daily maintenance of my patch I have to deal with an army of monster sized slugs, snails, ants and other critters dying for a slice of my veg.

The slugs in the Pyrénees are a hearty bunch. They are a monstrous 3 inches long, come in black and brown models and look like they belong in a horror movie. I once culled 50 of the monsters that were cruising around my lawn one morning, and yes I did have a ring of slug pellets around my garden that didn’t stop them.

Add to that inherited soil blight, afternoon wind storms that can flatten even the heftiest bean pole and torrential mountain rains followed by intense 30°c humidity and all in all it's a job to get anything to grow. None of this, to me, is conducive to maintaining a successful and upstanding veg patch. How the locals do it I have no idea.

So, I just have to face the fact that I don't have the time to grow a complete vegetable garden. It's only taken 5 years to figure out that I will be forever met with discerning looks when talking to the locals about my lush “potager”. I know it and they know it; I’m full of shit!

I have compromised; my dream of a garden brimming with heirloom greats, organically grown and tasting unlike anything you can ever buy in a supermarket has, let's just say, faltered.

I have to buy "blight resistant" seeds for things like tomatoes that succumb to blight. Potatoes are out. Most things will not grow from seed directly in the ground so when I can I start as seedlings and move on. However that doesn't work so well with things like parsnips and beets.

Instead of having 3 types of beans I have to use hardy, easy growing varieties like runners that have a better chance at life.

I tried container planting but the ants made themselves at home in the base killing the root system.

I try not to use pesticides and can to stay on top of things until my truly busy time hits when it's one of the first things to go. The bugs love it when I’m busy elsewhere

French Gardening for Dummies Part 2

My list of my successes and failures from last year is pretty impressive:


Tomatoes - Planted double the amount of seedlings expecting blight which came but those that survived were prolific until the end
Cucumbers – a plethora – too bad my husband hates them
Runner beans  - enough to see us through the whole summer, even had to freeze the glut
Butternut squash – I’m still eating them – it’s February


Courgettes – one or two – everyone can grow courgettes, except me, it would seem
Beetroots – hazelnut sized, great if you’re into miniature veg.
Swede – all leaf, no swede, great if I had cows
Parsnips – no show this year
Onions – did a good chive impression
Aubergines – one, 2 inches long
Corn - 8 ears, the rest flattened by a mini-tornado. Yes, a mini-tornado
Basil - a bit - something was eating it
Acorn Squash – none, maybe I forgot to plant them
Leeks - not a chance, epic fail
Bell Peppers - none
Jalapeno Peppers – two, but they were great!
Lettuce - lots early season but they didn't have a chance after July when the 3 inch monsters arrived

Tomatoes, cukes, beans and butternut it is then for this year. I may throw a radish in though, surely that will grow.


However, last year just when I thought I had done everything wrong by trying to be a super gardener and plant too much I was confronted by the "gardening police” (see article) again.

“Oh here we go” I thought “More head shaking, pointing of fingers and tut-tutting in the direction of my wannabe garden”

Turns out though that both “gardening police” (along with most of the locals) had lost their entire gardens either by blight (maladie) or the mini-tornado (I must say that after “la tornade” I was out at first light trying to save what was left of the garden. This may have helped in the success of what did grow).

I didn't have the heart to tell the ladies that, in relation to them I had a fairly decent lot, all be it tomatoes, cukes, beans and butternut. They had chastised me in their delightful French way earlier in the year for planting too early and it was still fresh in my mind.

I was more adult about the whole thing, to be any other way would be disrespectful. I made out like I had lost most of my garden too and that it had been a terrible year, when all the time I was inwardly delighted that something had grown in my garden at all.

From time to time I gave them offerings of tomatoes and cukes always making a point of saying I didn't have much and wasn’t it an awful year tut tut. I was trying to make them feel better but I know I was a condescending cow. Take that “les Bleus”!


So, with confidence (and ego) restored I’m ready to go again for another year.

Last year’s failures long since forgotten and the monstrous critters out of sight out of mind. I’m planning a full planting of all the things that didn’t work plus the veg that did. Whatever, go big or go home, in for a pound and all that.

Although here's the thing: If you are a busy person but want to grow your own don't try to go all out straight away. Keep it simple, choose 2 or 3 things that you know you like, will eat and that will grow despite being a bit neglected.

If it is misshapen or has a few blemishes, it will still taste better than anything you can buy out of the supermarket.

Do as I say, not as I do

I say all of this but as I’m typing I’m also thinking what else I can sew that will grow in my harsh environment. Time to get the book out! 

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