Monday, April 27, 2009


Last week was just goregous in Paris: sunshine, blue skies, lovely cool breezes. Made me impatient to see my (would-be) garden again. A friend gave me some Dahlia bulbs for my birthday and I couldn't wait to clear a little space in the yard to plant them.

We arrived at the house late on Friday evening. Even though it was 9pm, the sky was still light and the air held the sweetness and warmth of late May. Went to bed full of anticipation. Woke up to a grey, lightless bedroom and the splatter of rain on the windows. Correction: the splatter of rain on the plastic on the windows. We're in the final stages of having work done on our house's facade, and so every window of the house is covered with heavy plastic.

To confirm the bad weather, I had to open the front door and was nearly knocked over by a freezing wind. Suddenly it was winter again. The rain came down fast, cold and sloppy all weekend. We huddled inside and built fires. Sounds cozy, except that we couldn't see out of any of our beautiful 6-foot windows -- all we could see was dirty plastic. I was bummed that not only could I not plant my bulbs, I couldn't even see the yard. A weird, claustrophobic sensation.

On the bright side, my husband Dawg did buy me a lovely wooden compost bin. It's huge (3x3x3 ft, I think) and will take awhile to fill, but I'm excited about it. (My freestanding heap will soon be taken over by weeds.) Poor Dawg spent quite a long time putting it together in the pouring rain and couldn't even finish because we had to head back to Paris. I wanted to take a picture of it but our camera battery wasn't charged and we didn't have the charger with us. Honestly...thwarted at every turn!

We have a theory (superstition?) that everytime we have a mediocre visit to the house the next one will be great. Our next trip out there looks promising!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Balcony plants: Care of Lavender

This blog will mainly be about the development of the garden at my house, but every now and then (like now) I will feel compelled to talk about the flowers on our balcony in Paris.

For years, we've paid scant attention to them other than to water them, occasionally prune the roses, and replant dead ones in the Spring. They've done pretty well despite our lack of attention, but now that I'm getting into the whole gardening thing, I'm getting a little more ambitious.

Last year we bought lavender and placed in a pot outside our bedroom window, hoping that our room would become infused with its wonderful, summery fragrance. Didn't really happen that way. We could smell it if we were bending over it, but that's about it. I don't know what we did wrong, but as we did nothing other than water it , I figure it could be just about anything. This year I did a bit of research on care of lavender. Surprise, surprise: in order for it to flourish, it needs to be pruned regularly so that the woody stem part doesn't take over and so that it doesn't develop an open center. Pruning should occur either in early spring, just after the first new growth but before the flowers blossom, or in autumn, before the first frost.

My timing was pretty good: I did my research in early spring, before the flowers developed. But when I looked at my plant, I realized there were lots of woody stems, the center looked open-ish. Was it too late? I don't know - I just quickly got down to business pruning. You prune lavender by cutting the plant back by about 1/3rd. Make sure that you don't cut into the woody part and that you've left green leaves showing. (If you cut too far and/or eliminate the green leaves, the plant may not recover.)

A few weeks have gone by since the pruning. The plant has definitely grown with lots of new green leaves (no flowers yet - too early?). But it looks straggly. The woody part still seems very prominent, and the center still kind of open. So, again I wonder: is it too late?

I've posted a couple of pictures of the plant below (click on the picture to enlarge). If there are any knowledgeable gardeners or gardener-types out there, I'd appreciate your input. Is there anything I can do to improve the look of this plant? If it's worth saving, I plan to re-pot it with fresh soil and maybe a bigger pot.

Any advice would be appreciated. I really want to get it right because I'm envisioning having lavender at our house just beneath the windows to our living room and kitchen. Mmmmmm. Could be heavenly.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Progress...or not.

Well. Things are moving slowly on the gardening front. For the past two weekends, Dawg and I have been going to gardening stores to buy soil test kit - but apparently that's not a priority here in France (at least not in this part of France). I found only one kit and that tested for pH and nothing else. Of course, after doing all my research, I have it in my head to have the most comprehensive testing kit possible, so that little box was duly rejected. But as that's all I've been able to find, it might have to do.

Another issue has been finding a compost bin. Either the stores don't have them, or they're these huge black plastic monstrosities. I would like a wooden one, purely for aesethetic reasons, though Dawg thinks it might not be practicable (I don't know why it wouldn't be though - and I don't think he knows either. I think it's because his dad, who is a fantastic gardener doesn't have a wooden one.) If there are any readers out there who have an opinion, I'd love to hear about it.

Next, we're looking to have our garden leveled. As I mentioned before, we've got really deep tractor tracks in our yard from when the roofer was there. The problem is - who will do it? People in these parts have a really mysterious attitude towards work. As we've learned from restoring the house, even if you have a big, expensive project, workers will hem and haw like we've asked them to do something illegal. Everytime we've asked neighbors who might be good for leveling our yard, they get all shifty and evasive.

For example, recently a women from the neighboring village dropped by our house to see how works were progressing. We know her fairly well, as we used to stay in her chambres d'hotes, when the house was entirely uninhabitable and we needed to stay nearby. Her husband would be the perfect guy to work straighten out our yard, and we know he has the right machinery. But when we asked her about it, she looked like a cornered rat and said, uncomfortably, that we'd have to ask him. Well, okay. But why the nervousness? Why can't she men tion a potential job to him? I have a feeling that finding someone is going to take awhile, which depresses me a bit. Our kid will start running through the yard, then get stuck in (what is for him at 20-months) a deep hole. It needs to be leveled.

But on the bright side, we looked out the window this weekend and saw a nice little surprise by the stone wall that we share with our neighbor.

We planted these years ago, when the yard was literally still strewn with chicken wire and broken glass. Dawg's sister, not knowing the true state of our house and yard, bought us daffodil bulbs to plant. Even though everything was a mess, we thought - what the hell - and planted them in the hard, winter ground. And to our surprise, they bloomed the following spring. I guess they've bloomed every year since, though we've been too preoccupied with the house and the baby to notice.

Anyway, it makes for a pleasant change to see something other than weeds and tire tracks in our yard. Can't wait until the whole thing is filled with flowers!