Sunday Garden Chat: International Edition

pat h Alans garden

From commentor Pat H:

Last week you complained that no one sent you any garden photos. As a long, long time lurker (though I’ve commented a couple of times) I thought you might like to see how gardens grow in the south of France.

My best friend Bonnie moved to the Languedoc in 2009 and makes me visit her every year. Since I’m old and (re)tired I’m able to stay for several months each time. (Life has been so cruel to me.) The attached photos are of the garden down by the river that she shares with Alan, a French neighbor in his late 70s whose family has lived in the village for generations.

pat h Bonnie tying up her tomato plants

These garden patches have probably been cultivated for at least 1,000 years–the tower at the top of the village dates to the 960s and there are the ruins of a Roman villa about 3 km away. You can still see the post for the sweep used to raise water from the river as well as the remains of an old pump. (Now they share a gas-powered pump that Alan keeps in his garage until he needs to refill the water tank so he can irrigate with a hose.)

pat h Canes old pump + stone post

When he was a vigneron (wine maker) and owned a lot of vines, Alan says never had time for a garden but he’s really gotten into it and his plantings expand every year, using tools that were his grandfather’s and digging in sheep manure bought from a supplier who takes orders every Fall. He plants by the moon (the new haricots verts were planted on Monday) and the only chemical he uses is sulphur. The tomatoes are being trained on canes from the river bank.

pat h From the garden today

Next to the front wall of the garden there’s a coop with 5 hens who enjoy their share of produce, including the too-large courgettes.

pat h 3 French hens

Bonnie’s share of the garden has never been large and Alan did her early plantings this year because she was traveling then. Her second crop of green beans (planted at the same time as Alan’s) are sprouting already. She plans to grow sweet corn and pinto beans next year (two essentials never found here and greatly missed).

pat h Bonnies baby beans

I’m also sending a photo of an abandoned garden whose very old owner died last year.

pat h Abandoned garden

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46 replies
  1. 1
    PurpleGirl says:

    Nice post and cool pictures.

  2. 2
    daize says:

    Beautiful. Thanks for posting.

  3. 3
  4. 4
    Luci says:

    What an impressive garden! Thank you so much for taking the time to send the pictures!

  5. 5
    Luci says:

    Oh… and I’m SO sorry you have such a cruel, cruel life. ;)

  6. 6
    cosima says:

    Here in Scotland we’ve had a beautiful hot summer with almost no rain — believe it or not. I’ve had to water our garden every couple of days. Our tayberries (cross between blackberry & raspberry) are almost ready, I tried one yesterday. The black & red currants in the fruit cage are drooping they’re so loaded down with fruit. We’re getting about one ripe strawberry a day. Hopefully while we’re off next week in Mull they won’t decide to ripen for the benefit of the local wildlife. This morning our daughter (she’s 8) picked some of our lettuce for me for breakfast. Some of it’s getting too big — we’re not eating enough salad, obviously. I’m hoping that after our week away in the Higlands & Islands that the rain will come so that the blueberries will be fine for picking in the fall. We have a lovely spot in the forest behind the house that we used to live in.

    This summer is an aberration, with its lack of rain and high temps (mid 80s), so I wouldn’t count on trying out courgettes next summer, much as I’d like to grow some.

  7. 7
    raven says:

    @cosima: I’m looking at you right now!

  8. 8
    Sara says:

    We should start a Balloon Juice South of France meetup. I’m over near Castelnaudary.

  9. 9
    kc says:


  10. 10
    Linda Featheringill says:

    I had to look up “courgette.” Zucchini.

    My garden is still here and still green, thanks largely to the faithful watering by the Daughter. It has been so hot that I’ve stayed inside.

    The heat spell has broken and I plan to go outside and take inventory after a bit.

    Lovely gardens, everyone. VERY NICE to hear about the garden plots in other places!

  11. 11
    raven says:

    @Linda Featheringill: I did too! I thought for a minute it was a small, older woman who like younger men!

  12. 12
    Linda Featheringill says:


    Cougar, courgette. What’s the difference? :-)

  13. 13
    geg6 says:

    Gorgeous! Ah, France! Was there once many years ago. Never got over it.

    Our gardens are going gangbusters. We’ve been eating cukes, zucchini, summer squash and green and yellow beans for a couple of weeks. And the tomatoes are within days of being ripe. What has really been a bumper crop is our raspberries. We’ve picked at least five gallons and they aren’t done yet. I love what all the heat and humidity has done for our produce. Seems the awful heat has broken and we’re about to have perfect temps (low 80s) for the next week or two, so it will be much more pleasant to harvest our bounty.

    And I’d also like to congratulate all the BJ commenters who made that Jake Tapper thread such a thing of beauty. Made my morning.

  14. 14
    JPL says:

    The pictures are beautiful.
    This year has been a washout on the garden. Who knew that plants like hot temperatures and sun. This afternoon, showers are expected again. The forecast for the next five days is for scattered showers with temperatures in the mid eighties.

  15. 15
    satby says:

    My garden is a jungle… the last week of low-mid 90s and heat indexes over 100 (plus the fact that I’m a redhead and don’t do midday sun at all) has kept me from getting in any but the most brief attemps at weeding at 6 am before the mosquitos drove me back inside. There are no paths between the sprawling tomato vines any more, weeds that my co-gardener buddy-friend declined to pull a month ago because she was positive they were kale (they aren’t) are overwhelming one side where we had planted squash, and I’m not sure how we’re going to harvest anything without hacking our way through with a machete. Last year of this crap, next year it’s my Earthbox and a few planters; I’m sowing buckwheat on the garden and letting it lie fallow. We always end up with too much produce anyway to eat fresh, and I’m not really big on canning. I still have stuff frozen from last year I haven’t gotten too. It’s like Hoarders: Gardening edition around here

  16. 16
    JPL says:

    @geg6: Since I turned off the computer early, I missed that thread. Thanks for mentioning it, because it was a thing of beauty. Earlier I had seen John’s tweet about Tapper though.
    The thread on Koda was a thing of beauty, also.

  17. 17
    Raven says:

    @JPL: we had a few weeks of great maters but the princess reports that there is a fungus amungus!

  18. 18
    JPL says:

    @Raven: The squash bores have discovered my plants but yesterday I was able to rescue some. I sauteed them with peppers and added chives for a little extra flavor. Hopefully, I get a few more before I have to pull out the plants. This year I’m trying green zebra tomatoes. They are nice with a few cherry tomatoes and olive oil and lemon.

  19. 19
    Punchy says:

    No surprise there’s a lot of chickens in France

    /WWII Vet

  20. 20
    gelfling545 says:

    My daughter, who took up cigarettes when she was in high school although neither her father nor I ever smoked – so much for that myth- switched to vapor this summer on her way to quitting entirely for the sake of her tomato plants. She found that they were getting tobacco mosaic virus and, while willing apparently to risk herself, she was not prepared to sacrifice her garden plants. Go figure.
    My tomatoes are setting fruit nicely which pleases me after last year’s disappointing crop. I have only 2 Juliet tomatoes but they look like being enough for a my use if they continue as they are. The cayenne peppers are also burgeoning. These I will pull out & dry on the plants in the fall, then use them in cooking until next fall. 1 tomato along with the cayenne & some calendula, nasturtiums & basil are in a large galvanized tub this year which I put on a plant trolly & can trundle around the yard as needed. I have planted my former vegetable garden (about 4×8) with a mass of zinnias which are a delight to the eye & so reliable.

  21. 21
    cosima says:

    @Raven — British Open? Haven’t been watching that, but will do today since it’s the last day. We moved back to Scotland about 5 months ago, and every day I’m in awe of its beauty. Rain or no rain, it is epic. Our little one is outside all day every day running around with the neighborhood boys (short of girls around here, which suits her fine). The garden was supposed to be her bailiwick, but somehow it’s been me in charge of thinning out our carrots (tops are getting tall, but still pretty puny under the soil), watering & everything else. It’s all good, so very glad to be back.

  22. 22
    currants says:

    @satby: I’m still laughing out loud–Hoarders: Gardener edition indeed!

  23. 23
    currants says:

    Thank you Anne, generally, for the garden posts (and thanks to all who share their photos). And thanks for the International Edition especially. We lived in southern France for a year–wonderful, except that gardening from the top floor of an urban apartment was unpossible (except for two windowboxes with arugula and parsley and radishes). Nice to see someone else puttering in one of the beautiful places we drove through!

  24. 24
    Poopyman says:

    Can I be friends with Bonnie too?

  25. 25
  26. 26
    SectionH says:

    Lovely report from France!

    @cosima: Most of my English friends aren’t calling the weather “lovely” at all. I guess (hope) it’s been better up north? I remember the summer of ’95. Hosepipe bans all over, and the hills looked more California brown than proper British Isles green. We sweltered in Glasgow, but it was worse farther south.

    I’ve been worried about various garden things lately (too long to go into, and hopefully most are minor, passing issues. Sure). The weather has broken a bit, and although it’s Midwest-humid, the temps have been quite tolerable, so we’re making progress on the front yard project.

    The squirrels continue to attack our tomatoes. We bought a “humane” trap but so far haven’t caught anyone. We’re seeing new Asian citrus psyllid activity on our little trees. The traps we use for the flies seem to wear out much faster in the heat, so we hope to get that under control again pdq.

    Gardening: not totally the triumph of hope over experience, but close.

  27. 27
    Guest says:

    I’d wish I had a garden – or even a farm. Cause with a small garden and enough space for one, you could at least grow some food, and offset what would otherwise put a major load on society.

  28. 28
    mcmullje says:

    I LOVED reading about the garden and seeing the pictures. Reminded me of my Italian dad who raised the most beautiful garden every year. I miss him so much but the smell of a warm tomato just off the vine or a whiff of fresh basil will bring him right back.

    Thank you – so beautful

  29. 29
    Summer says:

    With the experience I’m gaining putting together an NC meetup, I would be happy to organize a South of France meetup and be flown to attend to make sure that everything goes smoothly. Please don’t hesitate to ask.

    Last night there was a fundraiser for a new city garden started on a vacant lot on the east side of Durham where there are few grocery stores and many struggling neighborhoods. They sell produce at much lower prices than the farmer’s market and it’s been great, especially in a summer when a day without rain prompts questions of “so how about this drought we’re having?” and the tomatoes are tasteless and the okra disinterested in growing.

  30. 30
  31. 31
    Joy in FL says:

    That was fascinating. Thanks for the photos and descriptions.

  32. 32
    cosima says:

    I’ve not heard anyone talk about watering restrictions up here in NE Scotland. Have to say that as I was driving I was noticing that things here where looking dusty, as opposed to the usual shiny green, but still plenty green.

    We have some friends who are very serious gardeners, and they weren’t complaining when we were over there last week. I think that gardening here — at least in terms of veg & fruit — is a hail mary proposition. The weather is just too unpredictable to count on having a robust crop of any sort of fruit or veg. This year it’s not enough rain, next year it will likely be too much, and then this year the snow was much later than usual, and far cooler temps. In spite of all of the spring crazy weather we’ve got loads going on in our garden.

    Sure glad not to live in Texas any longer — we are one of the few people around not complaining about the heat.

  33. 33
    Violet says:

    Wow, this is gorgeous. Thank you so much for the photos.

  34. 34
    ruemara says:

    This is so beautiful and wonderful. I’ll trade a month of cookery for couch surfing in Ireland, South of France or London. And weeding time. Something to do to fill out my days when I’m not job hunting. New Zealand is also a good spot.

  35. 35
    opie_jeanne says:

    @Punchy: I hope you’re kidding. We visited France for the first time last fall and stayed in a little place called Saumur in the Loire Valley.

  36. 36
    opie_jeanne says:

    Thanks so much for sharing these garden pictures with us. I would live in France if it weren’t for my offspring.

  37. 37
    Citizen_X says:

    If those are supposed to be French chickens, then why aren’t they smoking?

  38. 38
    Xenos says:

    “Leben wie Gott in Frankreich.”

    My retirement dreams look a lot like that…

  39. 39
    Gretchen says:

    I solved the mystery about my tomato plants. I have tons of green, but still haven’t gotten a red one. Yesterday I saw my dog pull one off the vine and run off with it as if it were one of his tennis balls.

  40. 40
    BobGardens says:

    If squash borers are a problem try growing a variety that is less troubled by the little buggers.

    Trombone squash is a great alternative to zukes. Other types are available.

  41. 41
    BobGardens says:


    I have to keep the foxes from eating mine. They climb the fence to get their ‘maters.

    Strawberries, raspberries, apples, peaches. Foxes love ’em….

  42. 42
    E says:

    I live in Tucson. My soil is made of alkaline rock and sand, there is no water other than the salty stuff we get from the Colorado River that can barely keep a weed alive, and we recently went 40 straight days over 100F with night time lows in the 80s. Even so, we gardeners raise our hands to the sky every morning and thank God we don’t live in Phoenix, where it is worse.

    Looking at that garden makes me want to shoot myself.

  43. 43
    opie_jeanne says:

    @Gretchen: I have given up and am growing three tomato plants in the greenhouse: Mr Stripey, Brandywine, and Early Girl. Mr Stripey is covered with blooms but hasn’t set a single tomato yet, but the other two are loaded with nice large green fruit.

    The other tomatoes, Super Fantastic (I love that silly name), Juliette, Sun Gold, and Yellow Pear are doing just fine outdoors, and the first Juliette will be ripe tomorrow.

    I live just outside Seattle and went away on vacation just as we started a heat wave here, and I suspect that watering was not as diligent as I would have liked, so there was a little setback.

  44. 44
    SectionH says:

    Nice to see more posts this pm. I had to come back, even if the thread is dead, to report that we’ve trapped 2 – count ’em, TWO – ground squirrels this afternoon. Both have been driven to an undisclosed location and released. Mr S actually took some birdseed with him the first time, and left it in case the little squirrel went to ground close by and couldn’t find anything to eat immediately. But after noticing all the squirrel holes in the area, and the actual freed prisoner skedaddling over the hill and far away, we didn’t bother the next time.

    @E: It’s ok, some years one does just want to give up. When they built this place, they scraped the front half down to hardpan, and filled the back half with sand and clay which actually didn’t mix at all. And it’s alkaline beyond belief. I didn’t think it was possible to have harder water then we have in the Bluegrass, which sits on limestone, but I think they manage it here.

    My friend in Oracle tells me they’ve been getting some rain, I hope you have too if it’s helpful.

  45. 45
    justinb says:

    Mobile site

  46. 46
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    @Punchy: Surprised that you’re acting like a cock.

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