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  • Writer's pictureJanetJoanouWeiner

Garden Lessons

This year, for the first time, I have a vegetable garden–a potager as it's called in French. Interestingly, the word for garden–jardin–applies only to what Americans call a "yard" or a flower garden. Oh, language! The nuances and cultural differences are endlessly fascinating.

June 23

Back to the potager… My husband constructed a raised bed out of old wood found on our property and had it filled with nice new dirt from the garden store. We later found out that the railroad ties we used (along with old telephone poles!) might be unsafe near food. The chemical treatment used on them can leach into the soil. Eeeek! After a bit of research, we decided they were ok as they've been laying out in the open for years and years. Hopefully, residual chemicals have been bleached and washed away.

In early May, we planted seedlings purchased from our favorite nursery in the next village down the road. I'm hoping to harvest seeds from this years' crop and use them next year. We'll see!

May 23

Two varieties of lettuce and zucchini went in first. Did we plant too much? Time will tell! This year it's all guesswork about how much we can eat and share.

A friend saved seeds from delicious cherry tomatoes she purchased in Switzerland. She'd grown them into seedlings and kindly shared some with me. They are now thriving! Who knew–well, everyone who has ever gardened before knows–they grew so tall!

June 5

I've enjoyed asking some local friends about pruning and staking those wildly growing tomato plants. And, I've learned that there is no one way to do so! Different gardeners give differing advice. Hmmmm…So I'll try to remember what I did, noting in my little garden journal what worked and what did not. I definitely need to gently tie them to stakes earlier on; by the time I did it they were growing off in multiple directions. And, I'm still sorting out which exactly is the "sucker" vine, especially in the early stages, and when to pluck it off.

So far, several little tomatoes are peeking tiny green heads out from under starry hats. For the size of the plant, it seems there should be more fruit…but we've had lots of rain (excellent!) and not as much sun as usual. Maybe I'm just impatient. And it's also possible I over-pruned and incorrectly removed what I thought were the sucker vines in the early stages. Lots to learn this year.

Last Sunday, I came across a beautiful potager up the road towards the mountains near us. The gardener was out working, and we had a friendly little chat. He said the nights are cooler this year and the days less hot (so far), affecting the fruit/vegetable production. His garden looks impressive and prolific to me; earlier, I'd seen him carry a whole wooden crate of produce up to his house.

My neighbor's prolific garden. I'd love to try artichokes next year...

On the way back down the hill towards home, I pass by the town's community gardens. I love observing the different ways people choose to plant their allotments. Some are wild and tangles, neglected a bit; others are carefully laid out, with charming additions to create a pleasant space. Throughout spring and into fall, there's always something new popping up, including hollyhocks and other bright flowers.

I've added a sweet potato plant in my potager, several butternut squashes, and some multi-color corn. They're all growing well, the squash extending their tendrils out onto the path and the corn shooting up before my eyes.

What a joy and blessing it is to participate in the creation of these beautiful and edible plants. Watching them grow and thrive is a daily delight. I love the scent of fresh tomato on my hands after I prune or tie the plants, even while the fruit is not yet grown.

Checking how the plants are all doing is part of the daily routine. One of my zucchini plants' "babies" keep dying on the vine. I've read it might need calcium, so I stuck a few "Tums" tablets into the soil near the main stem. We'll see if that helps. The rest of the plants are doing well and producing yummy zucchini (which we grilled last night–so good!) All of them have enormous elephant-size leaves, which amaze me with their continued growth.

Early on, I also experimented with seeds from little packets straight into the ground. The radishes have been growing well and providing crunch and color to our daily salads. Carrots are growing at a slower rate. The leafy tops have popped up, but they have a way to go.

Speaking of salad…oh la la! The lettuce growth is prolific! Since lettuce must be used fresh, it makes sense to have them mature at differing stages. So, next year, I will try staggering the planting.

I've learned you can whack them off at the stem and have a head that looks like what we buy at the market. You can also gently pull off the largest outside leaves to consume, leaving the center intact. Not too many or the lettuce might be offended, according to my friend! Growth can then continue, although they start to get a little bit tall and slightly less tender. But not bad, and I prefer keeping them going and providing us with super fresh, delicious salads as long as possible.

At the other end of the terrace, our training center also has a beautiful garden this year. Our lovely resident gardener grew seedlings from seed packets ordered from French companies. She learned what grew well, or did not, inside the Château during the cold months.

As spring approached–and receded multiple times–she brought the seedlings out to the greenhouse, which is, in fact, yellow. Then, after they grew a bit more in their new environment, she planted them in beds.

From one day to the next, they burst forth. As a result, we have an explosion of lettuces, cucumbers, and tomatoes on the way, plus beetroot—such a joy to watch all this growth.

She also prepared fields on a newly cleared portion of our terraced land and then planted her multi-colored corn seedlings. They are also growing like crazy. I can't wait to see and taste the result.

Speaking of tasting…there is nothing like a fresh vegetable, straight out of the ground. The other night, we ate zucchini picked within the hour, and it truly does not compare to store-bought. Almost sweet, a whole different taste experience. Plus, you can feel the vitamins flowing and absorbing almost immediately. Our souls and bodies were grateful.

And… I made zucchini flower fritters. Oh my goodness. They were delicious, if I do say so myself! You pick the large golden "male" (non-fruit bearing) flower, then wash them carefully as many ants and lil' creatures like to live inside. Remove the stamen and pistols and let them dry. Dipped in a simple batter of flour, sparkling water, salt, and fried in hot olive oil…yum! We've had them in Greece like this and in fancy French restaurants, stuffed with cheeses (which I didn't make as I'm lactose intolerant), so it was super satisfying to have them at home. And so easy!

Such pleasure and gratification to be found in the garden, on so many levels. The joy of watching seeds and seedlings burst and grow. I think we're wired to enjoy caring for living things, to experience the satisfaction of observing them as they thrive. Or problem solve when they don't.

I love the thought described in the Bible, in John 15, that Jesus is the true vine and his Father the gardener who tends to his plants (us!) With loving care, he prunes and props branches that need attention so that our lives yield a great harvest.

Our part is to remain attached, drawing life from the vine, resulting in "fruit."

Gardens in scripture are places of beauty, shelter, shade, and sustenance. It's no mistake that our first parents lived in the paradise of Eden, where every need was abundantly met. I think we long for this on a primal level, beyond our awareness.

So, for now, we enjoy earthly gardens and potagers, grateful for the glimpses of glory.

La vie est belle!

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Juliet Ross
Juliet Ross
Jul 06, 2021

You must have green fingers if this is your first potager, congratulations ! It all looks so delicious 😊😊 ps I love the fact you put some Tums in the ground for calcium - do you think they worked?💚💚💚

Jul 06, 2021
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Oh I don’t know if I have green fingers… I think this rainy, not-too-hot year has helped a lot!! I read about using Tums on a blog… the new zucchini seem ok but I won’t know till they’re a little more mature!! I’m really enjoying your paintings 😊

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