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
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. eco-gites.eu