Kitchen Garden Guides

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Feast For All The Senses


When I arrived at Les Fontenelles in the first week of August it was obvious how much work Ian had put into the summer garden. Look, there's even Bari cucumbers !

As well as all this, the salad garden, which has some afternoon shade in summer, was full of lettuce and my favourite taste sensation, fennel flowers.

image Next to be harvested were the potatoes. It had been very dry and the crop was disappointing but the potatoes were excellent and lasted us for more than 2 months.

We had to eat Charentais melons daily, to keep up with the bounty and on top of our own melons, old M.Gary, who farms some of Ian's land, kept leaving us more at the back door!

image On and off over the next few weeks we spent hours sorting bean seeds for next year. And the dresser in the kitchen was lined with other seeds we collected from our own and other fruit and vegetables given to us. The weather was hot and very humid and I took on the job of chief pool cleaner, having to spend time in the pool, scooping out leaves and vacuuming the bottom. It was a hard life but someone had to do it !

image One of the gite guests did this beautiful little water colour of Ian's row of cherry tomatoes in pots. Luckily he left out all the messy bits! Oh to be able to paint like that....

Next to ripen were the figs, grapes, apples and walnuts.... so much produce and so much to learn.

image The birds didn't eat the figs, unlike in the Adelaide hills where the parrots would have devoured them, but the squirrels ate or collected the walnuts, which was very new to me. Ian says he has about 20kg of walnuts now, despite our daily efforts to eat them. They were the best tasting walnuts I have ever had.

image We collected 3 boxes of fallen apples and took them to Rene who crushed them for us and took some of the juice for payment. We froze it in one litre bottles.

The very worst of the apples were later rotovated into the next empty bed in the vegetable garden to help add some organic matter to the hard clay.

image A plate full of home grown fruit plus some of the peaches we picked from the little park in Beaumont.

Autumn is a time of abundance.

Lacanau Ocean

Before I left France, Ian and I had a week in Lacanau Ocean; this does not mean in the Lacanau ocean but rather that we were at the Lacanau which is on the ocean, as opposed to the Lacanau that isn't ! It is a surfers' paradise in summer and one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline I have ever been to, which is something coming from a woman who has spent 51 years on Australian beaches !


We stayed in an apartment overlooking the sea for a very reasonable price for 7 days in October. It was warm and sunny mostly and we ate every meal on the balcony. We slept every night with the doors open, to the sounds of the waves pounding the beach.


Funniest thing was the fact that I was obviously not the first Australian to think this is a great place.......

image image

Evidently the apartments we stayed in can house 16,000 people when full in summer but during this whole week in October we only saw 2 other rooms in use. The development along this Atlantic coastline of France is very well controlled and when you are on the beach, you can barely see the buildings but, at the same time, from the apartments you can see the sea but not the beach.... very clever.










The waves were often huge; much higher than the surfers out catching them. I am not normally scared of the sea but this was big ocean stuff; much bigger than we get in the gulfs in South Australia. One day the tide was out further and the swell greatly reduced so I decided to go for a swim. Well, after my head thawed and my heart began to beat again, I just made it back to the apartment in time for a strong hot chocolate.

One day we packed up lunch and went for a walk to L'etang de Cousseau, a small lake in a nature reserve, accessible only by foot / bike. It was about a 10km walk, all in all, through some lovely oak forests, with ericas in flower and lots of ferns and plants I didn't recognise. Along the way we feasted on the delicious fruits of the arbutus or Irish strawberry tree which were laden with their sweet, red berries.

image These delicious arbutus fruits were much sweeter than any in Adelaide
image The oak forests were so green and lovely, much better than this photo shows

image Blue ceramic tiles depict the bird, animal and plant life around the lake
image We sat by this oak tree, next to the lake for lunch

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Where to from here?

I need to make some money.... so yesterday I started looking at my skills, small though they may be.... I woke up at 5am this morning and by 10 past I had plan !

Yesterday, I thought I'd like to write for a gardening magazine; including some anecdotes of gardening in another culture and language. Who would publish my stuff? And anyway I want to write a book and not give my writings to a magazine. I have started the book, by the way, and that is a work in progress.....

imageThis morning I had the idea to sell stuff from Hugh's garage; like a garage sale, but including cakes, desserts, pies, breads, jams, seedlings, plants.......and maybe some French tablecloths I brought back with me..... and gardening advice. Hugh could add some of his specialties and we could call it "Mother and Son" or "The cook, the chef and the gardeners" (based on 2 popular local TV shows) or just "Hugh's place".


And I have taken some great photos of this and that, both here and in France and I would just love to print some and sell them as gift cards or even creatively framed. I got some great ideas for doing this from an artist's studio in France. I could even see if some people I know would like me to sell some of their gorgeous handcrafts.


I could set it all up in Hugh's great little lock-up garage..... I am going to need another fridge/freezer.... and Hugh's oven is not that good.... I need a little business card and some labels.... and a couple of nice signs..... and lots of customers !! Maybe I could also have a stall at the Grange market on whatever weekday that is on.

It would just be an ad in the paper for a garage sale and signs out on Port Road...... every weekend..... and just see what happens.

Am I mad? No, please don't answer that..... I already know !

ps  this is my new favourite font.... sorry if you don't like it Hugh !

Monday, November 2, 2009

So, what's been going on?

It has been a long time since I have felt a passion to write. When you change your life your world turns somersaults and backflips until you find a mental space to call your own again. Then just when you think you are on the road there, you come to an enormous round-about and start spinning again, unsure how and where to exit to find peace. Then it is time to go somewhere familiar, somewhere you know will nourish the roots of your soul and allow new shoots to grow and lead you to the light again.

And so I have come to the shack; far from France, alone and unannounced. I am sitting at the window, watching a neighbour gently rowing a little dinghy to her favourite fishing spot.There is a cool, light breeze and the exquisitely clear water is almost silently lapping the shore.


I went to bed at 8pm, exhausted, and woke at 7am, refreshed. The sounds of the sea in my ears, the salt in the air and comfort in my heart have massaged my soul all night and released the tensions and worries. I have read an article in the (Australian) Organic Gardener magazine and suddenly and unbelievably I feel compelled to write, for the first time for a year or more.

What is it I have learned in these last 51 years? What is the meaning of life as I see it? The equation is simple: Love in your heart plus soil on your hands equals inner peace and happiness. One without the other is not enough. Substitute anything else for either and you will suffer from an addiction as sever and unrewarding as drug addiction.

Inner peace is difficult, if not impossible, to define. To have it you need to be able to recognise that you feel content, safe, satisfied, loved and loving. I also need to feel I have space and to feel free.

One day in France I reached inner peace. The story of my last 3 months in France cannot be told in a few lines. But basically it is that age old one of 2 people in love, tearing their separate lives apart to be together and their struggle to weave the tattered warp and weft into a strong, long-lasting and beautiful new fabric. I am back in Australia to let the warp catch up to the weft so that when I return we will both be following the same pattern.


It had been a hectic first 2 months for us, with the gite to look after (like a bed and breakfast/ holiday apartment in one end of our house), dozens of people for me to meet, the KGI weekend to prepare for and friends coming to stay. What a way to begin a new life together!

Where there's a will, there's a way, they say, and my willpower is fierce! I worked from sun-up to sundown, all the time missing the things that had previously given me a solid ground to stand on. While I cooked for 20 guests, while I weeded and sowed and prepared the garden, while I painted rooms, while I shopped and slept and cleaned, I had only a suitcase of belongings. Everything I needed to use belonged to someone else. On top of all this, everything was so much harder and took so much longer in another language. The spice rack in any supermarket is arranged in alphabetical order but what if you don't know the French for cloves?

We worked hard together and Ian was wonderful but we had no time for sharing and sorting our thoughts and we each had to manage as best we could until our commitments were finished. That day finally came and I awoke feeling ecstatic that I had actually made it through; not just through the busyness but also through the intense and difficult inner struggle to accept everything around me as my new life.


In the vegetable garden that morning, while Ian went off to get a wheelbarrow, I stood up from planting some seedlings and had an overwhelming sense of inner peace. There began half a day of happiness for me before my world began to fall apart. Ian's struggle had led him somewhere else, with a different set of problems to sort through and I had not been there to help him on his journey because of all the demands on us by others during those 2 months. It was devastating.


Neither of us had the strength left to deal with anything. Words would not come and thoughts would not form. There was only pain and anger and resentment. I booked a flight back to Adelaide, unsure what else to do. The day before I left, the words began to flow, the love held true and understanding followed. As Ian stood on the train station platform with tears in his eyes, I so wanted to get off the train and for us to just go home together. But I didn't. Despite all the expense, coming to the shack was the best thing to do; it always is, always.