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

Living France - - A La Maison -

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

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