My French garden: winter in Alpes-Maritimes
The Côte d’Azur’s short mild winters mean that Phoebe Thomas is still able to spend plenty of time outdoors, enjoying the bright, but cool, shorter days
Winter on the Côte d’Azur is short and mild and for the most part, absolutely lovely. We don’t get endless days of grey, drizzle or even much rain – the sun continues to shine and midday temperatures can climb as high as 18°C. Very occasionally we can get a little snow and in Roquefort-les-Pins, only 12 kilometres or so inland the nights are chilly, falling to as low as -4°C with a rare frost. This means of course that the temperature variant from night to day is big and this creates the biggest seasonal challenge in the garden.
Over the years we’ve planted a few plants which prefer hotter weather than we have in the winter though they thrive on the coast, (bougainvillea, agaves and a palm tree) and in order for them to survive the winter nights some of them have to be protected at this time of year. This perhaps is the only real job in the garden at Lou Messugo as winter starts; we have to cover the bougainvillea and palm tree with a protective gauze.
Another chore that has to be done every winter is chopping wood. We built our house seven years ago on a plot of land that was forest and therefore had to cut down a great number of trees. As environmentally bad as this sounds, the land was earmarked for development so if it hadn’t been us it would have been someone else and we have actually since planted more trees than we felled. The result of this is probably a lifetime’s supply of firewood. I feel like we’ve barely made a dent in the stockpile so far and
There’s another reason that winter doesn’t seem to last long here and that’s because of the mimosa
we still have piles and piles of logs wherever you look in the garden. Splitting them into useful sizes keeps my husband busy, fit and warm from about November to March. I’m not known for my ability to use an axe, so this is definitely one area that I stay clear of!
As there is relatively little to do in the garden in the winter, you’d think we might not be out in it much, but you’d be wrong. Looking through photos to use for this article I came across pictures of alfresco meals on the terrace over and over again. We eat outside throughout the year including some memorable breakfasts in shirtsleeves with friends around Christmastime. Our terrace is covered in wisteria and a grapevine which we planted for shade in the summer and light in the winter as they both drop their leaves. It’s south-facing and beautifully sunny in the winter and one of the real delights of living in this wonderful climate is being able to spend so much time outdoors.
So that’s what we get up to in the garden in the winter, but what about the plants themselves? I mentioned before in my autumn article that most of the trees in this area are evergreens but even the deciduous trees drop their leaves late. Our regular oak trees lose their foliage just before new leaves bud right at the end of winter, into early spring. This means it doesn’t feel as wintry in these parts as it does further north in France as many of the trees aren’t bare for long. But there’s another reason (as well as the ever-present blue skies) that winter doesn’t seem to last long here and that’s because of the mimosa. Mimosa, or wattle as it’s known in its native land, Australia, from where I am (half) from, blooms in late winter heralding the arrival in my mind, even if not officially, of spring. We have three mimosa trees in the garden and in particularly mild winters they start to flower in early January, but I find it’s more normal for the first golden orbs to be out at the end of the month, just in time for Australia Day on 26 January. They flower through to March brightening up the garden and streets around. I adore mimosa; it’s possibly my favourite flower and we are so lucky to be surrounded by it.
Finally a word about citrus trees. Winter is when lemon, orange and mandarin trees bear their fruit and this area has a perfect climate for them. We are doing our best to grow some ourselves but our little lemon tree isn’t one of our success stories! And I won’t even mention the mandarin. Luckily our neighbours have endless supplies we can help ourselves to, but really we’d like our own to thrive. Perhaps we’ll have more luck this year.
Phoebe Thomas and her husband Jean-François moved to Roquefort-les-Pins in 2007 where they now run a gîte. loumessugo.com
ARE YOU A KEEN GARDENER?
Email us at email@example.com