Living France - - À La Maison -

Christ­mas din­ners sim­ply aren’t com­plete with­out Brussels sprouts. Whether ac­com­pa­nied by chest­nuts or tasty smoked ba­con, or served au na­turel, this small yet mighty veg­etable comes into its own dur­ing win­ter, when frosts add a cer­tain some­thing to its dis­tinc­tive flavour.

The Brussels sprout we know to­day was de­vel­oped in Bel­gium dur­ing the 1750s. Nowa­days gar­den­ers can grow sev­eral cul­ti­vars, in­clud­ing the early to mid-sea­son-crop­ping ‘Aba­cus’ and the sweet­tast­ing ‘ Trafal­gar’.

Sow Brussels sprout seeds in March or April and move young plants to their fi­nal grow­ing po­si­tion in rich soil in a shel­tered sunny spot from mid-May, making sure they’re well spaced. A top dress­ing of high­ni­tro­gen fer­tiliser in July helps to en­sure th­ese hun­gry plants get suf­fi­cient nu­tri­ents to pro­duce good-sized crops.

Har­vest sprouts when they’re about the size of a wal­nut by giv­ing them a sharp down­wards tug. Early va­ri­eties are usu­ally ready to pick from Au­gust.

Pro­tect crops from birds, es­pe­cially pigeons, and the cater­pil­lars of large white but­ter­flies, and watch out for cab­bage root fly, the lar­vae of which feed on roots. Diseases af­fect­ing sprouts can in­clude club root, which is a prob­lem par­tic­u­larly en­coun­tered by grow­ers with acid soils.

My French gar­den

What was your gar­den like when you first ar­rived?

It was a blank can­vas – a large square patch with path­ways around the four sides but with no fea­tures apart from a lean­ing pear tree and a few beau­ti­ful pe­onies, which still thrive in the rich soil. The gar­den was over­run with weeds and grasses from our neigh­bour­ing field.

How have you de­vel­oped it?

Terry Hall and her hus­band John bought a Bre­ton in a ham­let near Fougères in Ille-et-Vi­laine in 2003. Since re­tir­ing a couple of years ago, they have been able to spend more time cre­at­ing a gar­den to be proud of Work­ing on a small patch at a time, I have added ex­tra paths criss-cross­ing the gar­den that lead to a cen­tral gravel area. Here there is a gazebo which pro­vides wel­come shade.

My French neigh­bour, Ja­nine,

has pro­vided me with lots of cut­tings and seeds from plants that grow well in this area, which has been a real help.

How do you main­tain your gar­den when you don’t live

there all year round?

We can’t get over to Brit­tany as much as we would like, but we enjoy our days in our Brit­tany gar­den as of­ten as we can. Liv­ing in Portsmouth means that we can eas­ily get to France thanks to a great choice of ar­rival ports all within just three hours.

Our neigh­bours are very help­ful and keep an eye on the gar­den. We have been lucky so far with wa­ter­ing, as apart from

one very hot year, the gar­den seems to need very lit­tle ad­di­tional wa­ter­ing. We have three wa­ter butts to col­lect rain­wa­ter just in case.

What grows well in your gar­den?

Pop­pies, hol­ly­hocks and forget-me-nots self-seed ev­ery year and roses seem to thrive and grow over the arch­way, which pro­vides height to the gar­den. The laven­der and bud­dleia at­tract beau­ti­ful but­ter­flies and pol­li­nat­ing in­sects. In the spring, there are the daf­fodils, tulips and prim­roses, which came with the gar­den. We have two plum trees and two cherry trees, an ap­ple tree, a peach tree and a huge wal­nut tree in our small field that runs along­side the gar­den. We also have a soft fruit patch with rasp­ber­ries, red­cur­rants and black­cur­rants, as well as a mul­berry bush, which has yet to bear fruit. There is more than enough fruit to keep us busy making jam – over 30 jars this year! We have branched out into fruit cor­dials too with added Cal­va­dos, which goes down well with the neigh­bours.

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