The Potager Project

p6770535Our eldest daughter Izzi is in London, and Millie, our number two, is in the Channel Islands. The other three children are here with us, thankfully at home with a large garden. We all video chat regularly, virtual meals with a smart-phone propped up on a mat in the middle of the supper table have become the ‘norm’. Rules have been broken, phones that have always been forbidden during meals are now allowed, but only under these exceptional circumstances. I know we all moan about the internet, how it has changed things and how people are far too hooked on social media, but right now it is a true life-saver for millions of people. Roddy’s sister often ‘goes down’ to her local Yacht Club at 6.00pm for an apéro with friends – not in real life of course, but in our brave new virtual world.  So if you live alone, or if you are self isolating or feeling really low, never underestimate the power of a good chat – talk to someone!

Likewise you might like to embrace the extra time you have on your hands with a long term project. A British newspaper recently put out an article on things to do that help during confinement, and completing a project of some sort was one of them. It suggested we “Find something that will keep you busy, distracted, and engaged to take breaks from what is going on in the outside world”.

When the lockdown in France was first announced, I moaned that we hadn’t found the time over the winter to build the greenhouse we had planned. I pleaded with Roddy to make me something temporary, to knock up a quick glasshouse in a couple of hours! Impossible I know, but Roddy is not nicknamed McGuiver for nothing; he can make me just about anything, it might not always be beautiful and perfect but it is always functional and solid. However, this latest request was beyond even his capabilities, purely because we had no spare glass just hanging around and all the shops were due to close in an hour. Enter our neighbour, who just happened to have 8 windows he’d picked up for free and who willingly gave them to us. We do have the best neighbours ever.

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Two hours later my temporary makeshift greenhouse was built.

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It’s neither fancy nor big. But it’s doing sterling work. My tomato seeds are thriving,  and the cucumbers are now just starting to germinate. The four tomato plants I grabbed the morning before lockdown are in flower. The courgettes have trebled in size.

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The little glass hut has been a godsend and a packet of seeds goes a very long way and costs very little.P8260858

But that was a quick project and although it continues to provide a place to bring on tender seedlings it doesn’t need any further work. The garden takes up endless time, but these are mostly routine tasks and I felt we needed a big project as a family. The teenagers needed to get outside, get their hands dirty and make their muscles work. We always do things as a team, we rally together, we’re particularly good at that as a family, and so I came up with an idea.

As anyone who has followed me for any length of time will know my vegetable garden is of great importance to me and a place where I love to work. I get immense pleasure from being able to feed the family with fresh produce that’s still warm from the sun, and love watching our guests helping themselves to tomatoes, lettuces, cucumbers, courgettes and aubergines for their lunch or supper.

 

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This year I ‘stole’ one of the beds in the potager to start a new cutting-garden. I love fresh flowers in the house and I wanted to have an abundance this summer and rather than robbing the borders I decided to sow an area dedicated to blooms that will fill vases. But that meant I had lost some space where I normally grow vegetables, and a little ‘recompensation’ was needed.  Our potager is protected by a huge stone wall which faces west. Flanking the wall is an abundance of abandoned ancient stone. This in turn was covered with decades worth of ivy, nettles and weeds. I know it is a haven for insects, but we have plenty of wild areas in our garden and we guard them furiously. This was a few square metres that we could reclaim. I put forward my suggestion that here we could make a wonderful new large vegetable bed and was met with faces each masked with a look of horror. But I persisted, it would be possible and it would be fun!!

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I rallied the troops and we set to work. We played music, we laughed, we swore loudly as huge roots threatened to defeat us and as our legs were stung by nettles. Roddy’s back ached as he heaved heavy stones. But it was fun.

IMG_3893P8260924And it still is, it’s an ongoing project, but I hope within a couple of weeks it will be finished. We’ve come a long way!

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IMG_3899P8260923Then everyone can begin planting there with me. Then we can start on the other side, which is even worse!!

Whatever you are doing and wherever you are, just remember this crisis cannot, and will not, go on forever. Take some time for yourself to read, to relax, or to start a new project. If you don’t have an outdoor space just sit by an open window, breathe in the fresh air and feel the warmth of the sun. Roddy swears the air has not been so clean and pure since he was a child. But at the same time, remember it is also okay and totally normal to feel utterly defeated and down. I am not a physiologist nor do I have any medical background, but I do know that we all go through ups and downs. At times I feel nothing but utter despair, but I force myself to remain positive to remind myself how lucky we are.

What I also find bizarre is that sometimes I just wander outside aimlessly, I have so many things I want to do, jobs lined up, small and big projects. And yet occasionally I lack the motivation to get any of them underway; there is suddenly no time limit, no deadline that forces us to crack on and leap into action, no sense of urgency. Sometimes I can’t seem to find the enthusiasm to get going, although I know I must and in the end I do. This is totally new to us all and so I hope my posts here and on Instagram and Facebook don’t come across as too saccharine sweet or as though I am acting as if nothing has happened. I struggle as much as anyone else, I worry for the family not here with us,  and the elderly I know, and I worry that our business has just been utterly crippled and that our income has dwindled to zero overnight. It’s all incredibly stressful. But, I also know the importance of staying positive, of helping anyone we can, I know we are so much better off than so many people, we have space, we cannot complain, and I know the power a smile and a friendly voice can generate. So although everything is far from normal I continue to post our daily ‘normal’ life here in France. So stay well, stay safe, and big hugs from all of us. We’ll be thinking of you all as we take an apéro in the sun this evening. xx

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PS; on another note, last night we watched the Queen movie “Bohemian Rhapsody“, altogether as a family. I know we’re about two years behind everyone else, but that just about sums us up really and we’re not big tv watchers anyway!! It is absolutely brilliant and I highly recommend it to anyone who has not yet seen it. A fabulous two-hour distraction.

 

56 thoughts on “The Potager Project

  • So I’m not the only one struck by the inability to attack my to-do list. Thank you for the encouragement!

    • I think it hits us all, a certain lack of motivation despite being busier than ever, in my case. It’s also good to know that we all experience the same feelings, it’s good to talk. Stay safe and big hugs xx

  • In awe, as always, of your family’s resourcefulness, work ethic, and depth of knowledge in all subjects. Roddy’s windowpane greenhouse is amazing! And how wonderful it is to see that expanse of old stone wall uncovered and open to the sun again after decades, perhaps even a century. For another project, how about pitching literary agents on the idea of a coffee table book of your brilliant photos and commentaries about your family life and French lifestyle? In the post-Covid-19 era to come, I would think many would especially enjoy reading a curated collection of Our French Oasis posts, learning from your nature-based decorating and cooking tips, and absorbing your fine philosophy of life and parenting.

    • A wonderful post about the need to get involved but I totally disagree as the new greenhouse is charming! Here in Australia our nurseries are still open (we are further behind in this process than France) but all the vegetable seedlings have sold out catching out everyone not thinking of seeds. I think everyone hoped to bring that nurturing part of growing things into their lives and though many avid consistent veggie growers have been miffed they can’t get their usual supplies I think it shows people’s concerns to provide comfort for their family and the need to “nest”. Stay well and safe x

      • Thanks so much Ann-Maree, I told Roddy and he has a big smile on his face. I think you are doing much better in Australia than we are here, now it is impossible to buy anything other than a weekly food shop which we do online. But we are so lucky and we make do. Hopefully a better world will come out of it. Stay safe and big hugs xx

    • What a lovely and sweet idea Ellen, and thank you so much. I wouldn’t even know where to begin to be honest, but thank you because the idea alone is so uplifting and encouraging. We are however in the process of a similar project which is nearing completion and all will be revealed in the coming months I hope xx

    • Your posts are a perfect blend of reality and the difficulty we are all facing. My sister’s birthday was yesterday, so we had a family video conference birthday party, complete with cake, candles, singing, and silliness. It was great! We are all well. Some of us are fortunate enough to be working from home and we are all sharing our experience an ideas on how to creatively occupy our time. Thanks so much for sharing pictures from the garden. I love the little greenhouse Roddy put together! Stay strong. Much love to you all. Xoxo Nancy

      • I love the virtual birthday party, Jack’s 18th is in a couple of weeks and I know it will be in lockdown because I am quite sure it will be extended, it would be stupid if it wasn’t. We all have to do what we can. Stay strong and still hope we see you next year xxx

  • Thank you for this Susan, it’s the perfect morning read with my coffee! You have the gift of making everyday tasks sound interesting and fun, love that! I too love Ellen A’s idea of a book, think about it. Stay safe & healthy!

    • Thanks so much Denise, we have a similar idea, but not nearly so grand in the pipeline which should be completed in a couple of months now, I will keep you posted. Thanks so much and please stay healthy xx

  • Thanks to Robert! I really enjoyed the family’s version of Les Miserable ‘s song. So many parents are coming up with unique ways to keep the children busy and happy. Good for them!!

  • your posts about your garden and family are a breath of fresh air…i feel sad for anyone who doesn’t enjoy working in the garden…the little greenhouse is adorable and so creative! being in nature and the sun for vitamin d during these different times soothes the soul and uplifts the spirits…bravo to you and your beautiful family …you, as always, are an inspiration

    • Thanks so much, I find the garden always very inspirational even during normal times. We are lucky to have green space and nature offering a helping hand. Stay safe and big hugs xx

  • First of all, Roddy’s definitely a keeper…unless he’d like a trip to Arizona and you could spare him for a bit once this is all over. 🙂 Secondly, that stone wall is awesome! As we managed to get our move in before things got more restrictive, we’re now in Arizona with plenty to do indoors: think boxes and trying to decide where everything should go in a completely different rental house! 🙂 Technology is also a boon to us readers right now in a terrible time when libraries are closed! But e-books are still there to be checked out (and I may have a box or ten or more of books currently residing in said garage.

    Be well!

    janet

  • You are ONE AMAZING family! What I like best about you, is your unbroken spirit and never squashed positive attitude. I love you tremendously. Seeing a family where the children help along such as your kids do, working together, you are a true sunshine in these darkish times. And then Roddy: He clearly is the BEST(est – EVER). Look what he produced for his Love! This is outstanding, beautiful, practical, team-work, once more – and of course you have lovely neighbours, you are lovely neighbours to them too!
    I do wish you wonderful guests once more the minute this nightmare will be over. Until then you’ll have plenty of wonderful, fresh, organic veggies and fruit, lovely eggs, and the joy of being together, cats and dogs, ducks and chicks at your feet – life could be worse indeed.
    Have a big hug from us and do take care, stay healthy and strong!

    • Ahh well Roddy is indeed the best. He also says the older he gets the more he enjoys working with his hands and woodwork in particular, so he is loving it too!! Hope you are both staying safe and well big hugs xx

      • You are such a sweet and well matched couple. And you do have the most amazing family – well done, my love. Thinking of you, always.

      • Isn’t gardening so healing? Some people don’t have a garden and I think of them missing out at this time but even some potted plants are a godsend. Hope we all get back to some normality soon. Keep up your positivity😊

        • I wish I could make mine a communal garden to share with everyone, but of course that is against the rules. So I suggest even a couple of houseplants are better than nothing, The healing power of plants really is true. xx

  • Thank you Susan. We ARE so fortunate. We CAN see our young if only on a screen, we CAN talk. We don’t have to rely on censored letters as the only form of communication to those we love and are daily worried for. Your greenhouse is a TRIUMPH! My HB2 has donated two pop-ups that he had bought to house radio telescopes (yes, honestly) to my new kitchen garden. We will be here a year longer than planned so we might as well make the most of it. You are an inspiration. I am grateful to have you back in my life after my enforced exile. How ironic that it is now when we are all in enforced exile, n’est-ce-pas? XXX

    • I really need that email and an explanation please! Just love the idea of using the pop-ups in the garden, we replaced the shower doors in one of our bathrooms this winter and the old ones are curved and Roddy wants to use them as a cloche in the garden. It was the plan but the weather warmed up so quickly there was no need. Now I am enjoying watching the first of the tiny cucumber seedlings appear, this greenhouse is new and so exciting and being right outside the kitchen door it means I can check on things non stop!!! My new obsession, almost. xx

      • Perfect. Wish we were as advanced here …. our daffs are only just beginning to flower! Veggies are just being sewn but once the warmth takes hold it’ll all go bat crazy – the seasons are bonkers here! xxx

        • Our daffs are over, except for two which suddenly decided to defy the local rules and come into flower now! So I snipped one and put it in a vase in the kitchen! Thanks so much for the email, thank you thank you, so happy to have news and now I will reply, but I am no better with the backlog and time!! xxxx

          • Oh I am relieved that the email found you ….. I have been having a mystifying time with it …. I don’t understand technology and have no clue why but things kept disappearing as though a large mail eating fish was swimming through it with it’s mouth agape! Our daffs are always for HB2’s mum who loved them more than any flower. I shall snip a vase later because they are actually now bursting forth. It’s incredible the difference a day makes at this time of year!! Xxxx

  • The tomato plants are exemplary, as if grown outside rather than in a greenhouse. I dislike growing them in a greenhouse because they etiolate. No matter how much sun the get, they look like they were grown in a greenhouse, an come out a bit wimpier than I like. Fortunately, our climate does not dictate that they be started inside first. There really is no point in starting them inside. What are the Channel Islands? I must look that up.

    • I would love to grow ours outdoors from the start but it is still too cold during the nights at the moment. However, once we plant them out in early May they thrive, and we get tomatoes until at least the end of September and a huge bountiful crop normally as we get plenty of sunshine and dry summers. The Channel Islands are a small group of islands off the coast of Normandy, but are British.

      • Since writing this, I went out to see how my garden did through a downpour earlier today, to find that much of the seed that I sowed directly was eroded away! So much for sowing directly outside! Well, at least it not too late to replace them.
        There are Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barabara, Ventura and Los Angeles Counties in Southern California too. That is why it got my attention.

  • I loved this posting. We often ask ourselves how your lovely family is doing/what you are doing during this “time-out” from Gigi’s training, etc. It is always good to see photos of your family working or playing together.
    We are “sheltered in place” but do put on our gloves, masks & long sleeves to venture out to shop for food & necessities but as little as we can get by with. We have had to have Lisi in to the ER clinic a few times. I am sad to say her cancer has returned very quickly after her now, second surgery & we are simply giving her palliative care. Also little Kitzel now has a heart murmur, grade 3 that came on suddenly. I expect that they have both made their last French explore.
    Give our warmest greetings to the “poulet” man at your market & we hope one day to be able to visit you again. Warmest love to Roddy & the off-spring & nose licks to the pups. Stay well & may God give you peace during this difficult time.

    • I owe you a long email Sandi and I shall write it today or tomorrow. I am so sorry for the little ones, please give them big hugs from me, they are both so adorable. I can’t wait for days when we will visit the market again, it seems such a long way off right now. We have a fabulous Sunday morning market in the village now, or rather we did have, of course it is now suspended. We also were about to celebrate the opening of the new boulangerie in the village which has doubled in size and was to include a small epicerie as well. Hopefully that will still all go ahead at some stage in the future. Gigi is still training hard, fitness and tennis in the garden with the ball machine, five hours a day schedule still, hats off to her for her motivation, dedication and determination. The biggest hugs to you both and stay safe xx

      • You captured what we all are feeling, at times “utter despair “ and then reminding ourselves of our blessings. My daughter is just outside of NYC in New Jersey, both hotspots.

  • I’m glad you can still stay positive among your financial stress along with the worldwide panic and fear stream being broadcast everywhere. Your garden project sounds challenging but projects like those are great for keeping us focused on them and away from worry and stress. I love that you are able to share dinner with your absent children. Take care!

  • Greetings Susan,
    it is so nice to hear about your life in France during this strange time in all our lives. Each day melts into another and I am finding very difficult to focus on productive projects, but know that i should take advantage of the time in the best way possible. Then, before i know it, after cooking more meals than usual and always thinking how to stretch the food, so as not to go to grocery except every ten days, I sink into a comfortable chair with a book or my computer. Alas, I feel guilty for wasting a good day.

    I think it has helped you to have some helpers to make the time go by with companionship. I am gratefully fortified by my Miss Kitty who is a wonderful companion, even when she is sleeping. Husbands are another breed completely and can be so annoying when underfoot too long. Oh well.

    Now, speaking of husbands……Roddy is a gem of a carpenter and very resourceful…..Tell him, I agree, he is wonderful,
    a real keeper. Terrific job Roddy!

    I thank the technical world for FaceTime, so that we can see our son in visual time, since we are many hours away.
    And I thank God for sunny days and breezes which invigorate me.

    Just a comment for Tony who asked about the channel islands……if you want to learn about the islands and extreme
    hardship and survival with grace, read “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer.
    Guernsey is one of the islands which were occupied by Germany for many years. It is an unusual title but a great story
    which could make all of us stop complaining about our individual hardships during this time.

    I wish all joy filled days and good health……..Patty

    • Hi Patricia, I just have to add that the book is the best. I loved it and then out of the blue the movie was on television last night. Thank you and stay safe. Susan xx

  • Thank You for your posts! Always true to how you feel and uplifting. Positivity is king and much appreciated. Happy Easter to you and your family.

  • Hi Susan
    Wow what an amazing looking Glass House, loved it. Roddy excelled himself.
    Can I say your wall should have been exposed years ago, it’s beautiful. I think it’s so beautiful, an amazing feature to your garden that not to many can boast they have!
    I have been the same at home as you. Normally I struggle to start or finish anything but I have been so motivated and energized to get things done that I’ve been putting off for quite a while, hence I’m only catching up with my emails now!
    Keep up the great work you are doing and may you and your beautiful family stay safe and well.

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