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Embracing life in France with home grown produce

By Sue Sargeant, Passionate Gardener

A Potager is one of those “must-haves” in a French garden and is a traditional part of life in rural France, particularly as homes with sizable plots of land are available. So, if you have always wanted to be part of the good life, now is your time.

There are so many health benefits from choosing gardening as your hobby, not least being outdoors, meeting like minded people and enjoying the fruits of your labour. However, there is no such thing as a free lunch. If your aim is to be self sufficient in fruit, vegetables and cut flowers, all of which you can grow by your back door, then here starts your labour of love.

You have the time and the space to grow and there are no rules, well just a few tried and tested ideas.

Sue Sargeant

The Plot

First of all the plot doesn’t need to be huge to give a reasonable range of produce. You can even start off small by growing a few plants in pots, section off a small area in the garden, or even plant vegetables in your flower beds. Herbs do really well in pots or even a few “cut and come again” salad crops.

Getting started

This can be the biggest step but start small and aim big. There is no doubt that once you have caught the “veggie bug” you will crave more space to grow all your favourite crops. Be realistic though; how much time do you want to spend tending the plot, how much food do you really need ?

I find raised beds to be ideal for growing vegetables because you can keep the crops rotated easily, weeding is less of a problem, and there is no need to dig. You just have to keep topping up with compost and the defined edge (we used stone) stops slugs invading your crops. The beds are rested over the winter after a top up of compost and covered with either leaves or black plastic to suppress weeds. This covering also keeps the soil warm ready for sowing in the spring.

We choose the crops we really like to eat, especially tomatoes, peppers, chillies, leeks, garlic and a few herbs. We grow lots of different varieties of Tomatoes and freeze them for sauces and soups. These Noire de Crimée are our favourites for cooking and freezing. They crop well but need good support as at the height of the season they resemble small trees.

Raising your plants from seed can be very rewarding and if you can swap plants with friends it will give you a wider range of produce. One packet of seed may have far too many seeds for you, particularly if they all germinate so be prepared with your pots and compost, ready to pot up the seedlings as soon as they are looking health. They make perfect gifts for friends and neighbours. I usually say a small seedling with three leaves is ready for potting on.

Now is an ideal time to plant your vegetable plot with your Summer crops but, if a Potager is not your thing, here are a few ideas for the next few weeks.

Softwood cuttings

These cuttings can be a bit of a challenge due to the softness of the young shoots but they do root very quickly if you follow these simple steps. I normally take cuttings from Salvia and Penstemon in June and they usually root in a couple of weeks.

Container planting

Traditionally, the 1st of May has been the day for planting containers in France, usually with Geraniums. For the last two years I have tried my hand at raising these from very small plug plants.

There is no doubt this is a very cost effective way of producing lots of plants but it is very time consuming. So now I will just stand in line with my neighbours at our local market to buy my Geraniums without the worry of growing them on.

 

 

First published in the May/June 2019 issue of The Local Buzz

Images: Shutterstock and Sue Sargeant