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Potager Envy

When we first arrived in the Gers eight years ago, we were always blown away by how generous are neighbours were. It was September, and a seemingly endless supply of tomatoes and other vegetables would arrive on a regular basis.

My urban step children were suspicious and were sure that this was some sort of malevolent plan. What did they want in return?

What could we give them in return? Money -a definite no-no. A bottle of wine – too lazy. We came up with a plan. Why not create an orchard – we’d have lots of fruit which we could turn into artisanal jams for people as gifts. There didn’t seem to be any fruit trees where we lived (funny that), so this seemed like the perfect solution.

We identified a slope of land with the backdrop of the Pyrenees as our new orchard, and went to the local market to buy our trees. After realising, the heavy clay soil was actually impossible to dig into, we asked our neighbour with a JCB to come and help. He arrived with his enormous machine, and proceeded to create holes with the digger, with such incredible delicacy, he was a master. The digger arm danced around, and landed at the precise spot we had marked for me to race around and plant the tree, just before the next one was due to go in.

That was eight years ago, but our dreams of bountiful harvests have so far fallen a little flat, with only the quince seeming to thrive in this area. So our neighbours have so far only received a poorly made quince jelly which was so complicated to make I have since tried to give away our giant quinces to anyone willing to try and cook them.

In the meantime, we have been carefully washing and storing jam jars in preparation for our jam making marathon. The cupboard is now bursting full of empty jam jars, so I am now down to only saving pretty Bonne Maman jars – harsh I know.…

After a not very successful attempt at creating a plentiful supply of fruit, we have been mulling over having our own potager. Our friend and neighbour Tristan tells us that nearly all local people grow their own vegetables, so if we’re to fit in we should really do the same right? The trouble is, everyone does it better than us, and if our attempts at an orchard are anything to go by, it’s not our forte.

It looks so easy when other people do it. Our neighbour Dede spends most of his time inside the house, apart from the couple of days he seems to stab the earth with a stick. A couple of months later, copious amounts of lettuces, tomatoes, grapes arrive. He seems to have the magic touch with anything he plants in his garden. Once, he decided to cover the Laurier Rose in a black plastic bag with chicken wire around it, to stop the dogs weeing on it. Rather than suffering from lack of sunlight, which I thought was the kind of essential for growth, six months later, after removing the plastic the bush is thriving.

Similarly our neighbour Peirot, has the most incredible potager, which is stuffed with gigantic vegetables, which thrive off the duck poo he adds to the compost. Every day we walk the dogs past his garden, and the prospect of doing our own potager becomes more and more daunting.

The same goes for our attempts to find mushrooms in the woods, which probably deserves a whole separate blog. When it’s ‘the season’, my husband and I trot into the forest with our plastic bag, only to come back with perhaps one cep which is half eaten. Our neighbour Huguette on the other hand comes back with huge boxes of chanterelles and ceps, and will offer us a whole bowlful like a magnanimous benefactor.

So what can we give back? Well, for the first year, probably due to the weather, we do have what looks like our first real harvest, so I’ll be getting out that jam pan, to try and prove my country credentials. We’ll get there in the end….