Sunday, June 28, 2009
In the Garden, Part II
If you walk out our front gate, pass in front of the church and follow the small route to the left, you come to the Bar/Tabac. From there, you will mount the little street to the left that leads steeply up a narrow route with small cottages on either side. Francis, the former mayor and his wife Catherine are just to the left. When he was a younger man, his butcher shop was there too, but now the store front has become their living room windows. The cat lady, the one without teeth, lives on the right. Soon enough you will pass Mr. Theil's house. It's the one with the stone wall around it, enclosing a large garden and three-story house. As you pass, you'll notice the locked wooden door just below the level of the road; It leads into Mr. Theil's wine cave, reputed to be the best for miles around. One can only dream about what it holds! On the right is the big vine covered house which belongs to the Parisian family. They come during the summer. They set up a big table on the large lawn in front and eat their mid day meals, looking out across the old walls to the valley below, verdant the year through. After you've passed their house you're at the top of the hill and there the jardins ouvriers begin, the workmen's gardens. There are several of them lined up on the right, bounded by the ancient walls of the city on the downhill side and by the road and castle walls on the uphill side. One of the first belongs to the very nice man who gives us gardening advice. He warns against planting during the wrong phase of the moon and tells us that we must respect the Sts. Glaces, the saints of the frost. They don't pass until mid-May, so don't be tempted to plant your tomatoes before then, never mind if the weather is warm and the sky is clear. His garden is absolutely weed-free. When I comment about it, he shrugs it off. "You just remove them when they're still small" he says. It sounds so easy. The next garden belongs to Mr. Villette. His daughter lives half time in Paris and half time in New Jersey, but she visits her parents in Montmirail several times a year. Her friend Gerard is often a guest at Maison Conti. He lives in Singapore. When he visit's Martine's family, there's no room for him to stay, so we've had the fun of getting to know him. Mr. Villette represents what I think of as the miracle of French genetics. I am always so bemused when I meet the children of some of the simple French country folk. Mr. Villette and his wife are short and stout, part of the hearty rural stock who have worked the land for generations. Their daughter, who is a sophisticated and very well-educated business woman, towers above them and is willowy like many Parisian women. How can the one generation produce the other? It remains one of the deep mysteries of la vie française! Mr. Theil, even though he has his house and walled garden just a few steps away, has the next jardin ouvrier. Patrice works for him, creating new structures for the beans to grow up on or designing new methods of watering. A little road between Mr Theil's garden and the librarian's garden leads downhill to the village's medieval medicinal herb garden. It's next to the cemetery. The librarian has a flower garden. Her father-in-law once ripped all her plants out and replaced them with rows of radishes, beans, potatoes and lettuce. He couldn't understand the point of growing flowers. After all, you can't eat them! Patiently she explained to him that she liked flowers and anyway it was her garden! Back came the flowers and meandering little pathways, even some garden sculpture. What a rebellion! Jonathan's small garden comes next. His rows of vegetables are perfectly straight and maintained to perfection. Finally, the last garden along the road, is ours. We share it with Michel. He had been using it when it was owned by Jean-François and Marc before us and we didn't need to have the whole thing, so we offered to let him keep the one half while we redesigned the other to our own purposes. Like the librarian, we wanted flowers and straight utilitarian rows were not what we had in mind. In March we dug up everything and laid out a rectangle, bisected it with paths running from corner to corner and sowed them with grass seed. We defined each of the four quarters to be one color family: red, orange and yellow in the back, blue on the side next to the shed, rose and purple on the street quadrant and white on the part facing Michel's vegetable plot. We've been planting this and that for the last two months and things are beginning to grow up. Next year will be better, of course, but even this year it has a lot of charm. We have a secret understanding with the librarian. She knows we're her kind of people. And the other villagers, they wouldn't expect anything else from us étrangers! They can appreciate us, even as they find it a bit mad to be using perfectly good earth to grow flowers. The boulanger said our garden was "trop beau", which is a very high compliment. Gil said it was "super chouette", and he's the village gardener, so who wouldn't feel proud? One of the tourists passing by remarked that we had a "jardin model!" Merci beaucoup!