Living France - - À LA MAISON -

Whether it’s used to make a warm­ing soup, nutty mash or crunchy coleslaw, cele­riac is just the veg­etable to bring a dis­tinc­tive flavour in­jec­tion to win­ter dishes.

This knob­bly root is a hardy cousin of cel­ery, with which it shares a sim­i­lar taste, and can be har­vested at any time be­tween Oc­to­ber and March.

Sow cele­riac seeds un­der a prop­a­ga­tor in March or April and bring on the young seedlings in a glasshouse or cold frame, tak­ing care to pro­tect them from ex­ces­sive cold.

Har­den them off in May and then plant them in fer­tile and moist soil, prefer­ably in full sun, and wa­ter well dur­ing dry spells.

Re­move any side shoots and take off hor­i­zon­tal-grow­ing outer leaves to al­low the crown to swell. Har­vest as re­quired.

Pests af­fect­ing cele­riac in­clude slugs and snails, which feast on its young leaves, and cel­ery leaf miner. Keep an eye on plants for signs of the brown marks caused by cel­ery leaf spot.

Flavour­some va­ri­eties of cele­riac in­clude ‘Prinz’, which is re­sis­tant to leaf dis­ease and bolt­ing, and ‘Al­abaster’, which pro­duces a good yield. ‘Monarch’ is noted for its suc­cu­lent flesh and smooth skin.

My French gar­den

What was the gar­den like when you first ar­rived?

There was no gar­den as such. The 7,000m2 plot we bought in 2007 was en­tirely pas­ture, with a num­ber of ma­ture trees and hedges.

How have you de­vel­oped it?

Bri­tish ex­pat Peter Clark and his French part­ner Vin­cent Caplier bought a plot of land in Somme in Pi­cardy in 2007 and built an eco-re­spon­si­ble house and B&B. They also de­vel­oped an or­ganic gar­den and are now mostly self-suf­fi­cient Our first pri­or­ity was to consolidate the hedges in and around the property. We then pre­pared the lo­ca­tion of the fu­ture veg­etable gar­den, till­ing it straight away to al­low the soil time to de­velop be­fore the first plant­ing and sow­ing. Once con­struc­tion of the house was fin­ished in early 2009, we cre­ated beds and bor­ders of shrubs and

peren­ni­als along with wild flower mead­ows. As time has gone by, we have de­vel­oped the flower beds and added or­na­men­tal and fruit trees.

What grows well in your

area of France?

Pretty much ev­ery­thing! The cli­mate here is tem­per­ate with an oceanic in­flu­ence and reg­u­lar rain­fall, so we can cul­ti­vate most types of or­na­men­tal plants. Win­ters, how­ever, can be a bit harsh so we have to pro­tect less hardy plants.

What is your favourite thing to do in the gar­den?

It’s nice to wan­der around the

gar­den and ob­serve how sim­ple ac­tions and re­spect for nat­u­ral prin­ci­ples can have a really pos­i­tive im­pact on the species liv­ing there. In the last six years, we’ve seen marked in­creases in the bird pop­u­la­tion and the va­ri­ety of in­sect life. We never tire of ob­serv­ing our pond which has de­vel­oped into a real ecosys­tem, typ­i­fy­ing our ap­proach.

What are your tips for de­vel­op­ing an ecore­spon­si­ble gar­den?

Re­spect the ex­ist­ing nat­u­ral bal­ance and re­in­force it by en­cour­ag­ing ben­e­fi­cial in­sects and other or­gan­isms, for ex­am­ple, by plant­ing wild flower mead­ows. Also, en­cour­age the growth of hedges, which pro­vide nest­ing places and food sources for birds. Use net­tle ex­tract and other nat­u­ral prod­ucts to stim­u­late growth and dis­cour­age rav­agers. Avoid bad habits such as al­low­ing an in­fes­ta­tion to oc­cur and then reach­ing for an in­sec­ti­cide, even an or­ganic-ac­cept­able one like Pyrethrum; preven­tion is much bet­ter than cure. les­mazures.com

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