My French gar­den: sum­mer in Cal­va­dos

Sum­mer is a time of plenty, says Rosie Hill, who works hard in her Nor­mandy gar­den to en­sure a good har­vest

Living France - - À La Maison -

Sum­mer in Calav­dos, Nor­mandy means I can bid farewell to frosts and wel­come warmer tem­per­a­tures. We do get some rain but the stereo­type of it al­ways rain­ing in Nor­mandy is wrong so we reg­u­larly en­joy long, warm days when, in the height of sum­mer, it doesn’t get dark un­til 11pm.

We can also bid farewell to the empty gap – that pe­riod of few har­vests be­tween win­ter and sum­mer – and now I have fruit and veg­eta­bles ga­lore. The first rush of sum­mer har­vest­ing brings some of my favourite pro­duce: soft fruit. Start­ing with straw­ber­ries I soon find my­self har­vest­ing cur­rants, goose­ber­ries, tay­ber­ries, rasp­ber­ries and Worces­ter­ber­ries.

On the veg­etable front I am bring­ing in bucket loads (lit­er­ally) of broad beans, early pota­toes, beet­root, let­tuce and cour­gettes. I grow far more than we can eat at once so pre­serv­ing the har­vest for later is nec­es­sary. Some is frozen, some bot­tled and pre­serves are made. I get so much ful­fil­ment lay­ing down supplies, and open­ing a jar of bot­tled rasp­ber­ries on a dark Fe­bru­ary day can re­ally raise your spir­its.

The poly­tun­nel is now com­pletely full. I grow 10-14 va­ri­eties of toma­toes as I love the range of colour, size and flavour this brings. If you have only ever tasted a red su­per­mar­ket tomato you re­ally do need to grow your own and you’ll be in for a taste sen­sa­tion. Other poly­tun­nel good­ies in­clude pep­pers, chill­ies and aubergines, and with the cour­gettes from out­side we do find we eat a lot of rata­touille now.

While I don’t have much of a flower gar­den (thank

Sit­ting out­side en­joy­ing a home-pro­duced meal is hard to beat

the ducks for that), I do grow flow­ers in the veg patch with sun­flow­ers and glad­i­oli be­ing my favourites. I also plant sweet peas and morn­ing glory to grow up the bean poles and other an­nu­als for cut­ting. In the poly­tun­nel I have French marigolds and poached egg flow­ers as both help re­pel pests. Af­ter har­vest­ing, three jobs take up much of my time – weed­ing, wa­ter­ing and pest con­trol. It doesn’t seem to mat­ter what the weather is like, the weeds just grow like trif­fids as soon as my back is turned. To help re­duce weeds I cover the soil so plants like pota­toes get a thick mulch of grass cut­tings or straw, and pumpkins, etc, are grown through weed-sup­press­ing fab­ric. This also helps re­tain water and I try to only water young or very thirsty plants.

In the poly­tun­nel it is a dif­fer­ent story al­to­gether and I need to water here ev­ery day, some­times even twice. I do have a well but that of­ten runs dry so then it’s back to me­tered water. For in­di­vid­ual plants, like toma­toes, I sink plas­tic bot­tles with holes drilled into the base next to the plant and water di­rectly into these. In this way the water reaches deep down to where the roots are, so less water is wasted and the sur­face re­mains dry, thus re­duc­ing weed growth. That’s a win-win in my book!

Fi­nally, there is pest con­trol. I don’t use any pes­ti­cides so I rely on other meth­ods: var­i­ous bar­ri­ers stop pests get­ting to my plants – I en­cour­age pest-eat­ing crea­tures such as la­dy­birds and I man­u­ally re­move those pests I find. Luck­ily, un­like my gar­den in Eng­land, we have fewer slugs and snails here and we have a healthy bird pop­u­la­tion that eats them up.

But pest con­trol is still a never-end­ing bat­tle and while oth­ers may marvel at cab­bage white but­ter­flies flit­ting past, I am out there look­ing un­der leaves for their eggs!

Sum­mer is there­fore a time of plenty – plenty of work but plenty of pro­duce too. Sit­ting out­side, with wildlife all around you, en­joy­ing a home­pro­duced meal is hard to beat.

That said, you can take your life in your hands with some of our wildlife; the swal­lows think it is a good idea to nest in the pig house and ev­ery time you walk in you risk be­ing di­ve­bombed by one of these aerial ac­ro­bats – and that hurts! But for all the in­sect pests they eat, I’m happy to for­give them!

Rosie Hill, her hus­band Si­mon and their two sons live in Cal­va­dos and run a fam­i­lyfriendly eco-gîte.

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