Tuesday, June 23, 2009
In the Garden, Part I
We've had our creative phases at Maison Conti. We bought the house in 2007 and even if it was in pretty good shape, it took us a full year to add the bathrooms, make a few changes, repaint everything and decorate. The terrace garden in front was one of the original projects. Marc and Jean-François who lived here before us, wanted privacy above all. The terrace, when we bought the house was a veritable jungle. The paving was an unlikely mixture of wobbly stones and gravel. It did have a bit of charm, but it was not practical for us. Besides we wanted to offer a place outside for breakfast and dinner. It had to be completely redone. We cut everything down, which seemed so radical at the time and laid a very nice new terrace with the help of our friend Jonathan. Our planting area, which amounts to a little raised border around the perimeter of the terrace, was thrown together quickly for our first year, as the outdoor space was one of the last things to be finished in June of last year, just before we opened. Our first year in business didn't allow us the time to do much about it. The creative projects for year two have been getting the studio together and getting our gardens organized. Yes, we have two gardens. As well as the terrace in front of the house, we have a little plot about a five minute's walk, up behind the castle. We purchased this separately from the house. Several of these charming gardens exist side-by-side by the old city walls. The locals are ardent vegetable gardeners. Our main objective for the garden up above, was to grow flowers for the house and salad fixings for our dinners. We had every good intention of planting a few vegetables and flowers last year. Most of what we did plant, however, became lost in a tangle of weeds and there just wasn't the time to organize it. This spring, inbetween the projects in the studio and the guests in the house, we managed to completely replant both the terrace garden and the garden up above. My next posting will be about the flower garden, but first about the terrace: We brought out the umbrellas last weekend. Although our clients have been eating on the terrace for the last month, last weekend was the first time it was so bright that the shades needed to be deployed. Of course that could have been because most of them slept until noon! They had been at a wedding until 5AM. Wedding parties in France are a serious affair! Our friend Marta helped rearrange our pretty planters way back in November. She tucked in the white pansies then too, and they're still thriving, although now they've been surrounded with thyme as well. On the terrace we have very sweet smelling plants and lots of flowering ones, mostly in white, pink and violet. We have climbing roses, jasmine, herbs, irises, pinks and lavender plants. We've planted star jasmine on the fence in front. It's really starting to grow, but will still take a year or more to provide a completely private space again. One thing we did plant in 2007 were sweet peas, because they are, without any doubt, my favorite flowers. The variety I bought are perennial, which I have never heard of in the U.S. This year they were definitely not part of the plan, since we were going for a bit more formal look, or at least not the rag-tag look that sweet peas bring. I had no idea, after several really cold months, frost and snow and unusually low temperatures this last winter, that those sweet peas would really raise from the dead. When they arrived, and took over the jasmine trellis, I just didn't have the heart of pull them out. Every garden deserves its rogue element! It was Marta who suggested we paint our planters the same green as the new trim on the house and fill them with seasonal flowers. We found these petunias a few weeks ago and they seemed perfect. They were, at the time of purchase, baby pink and white. Jonathan brought us back some Miracle Grow from England when he went to visit his family, since we had mentioned that it was a product we used often in the U.S. and just can't find in France. After one treatment, all the pink flowers turned a gaudy bright magenta and the white ones all but vanished. Quel mystère! Rick finds them a bit offensive but I rather like their happy way of saying "Look at me!"