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Tales from a Normandy Smallholding

gardening by the moon

Author Sue Coleman has lived in the beautiful Pays d’Auge region of mid Normandy for 11 years and has learned from her French neighours about growing produce, keeping livestock and generally working with the seasons to gain the most from the land…

Contrary to popular belief it is not true that all of Normandy is always wet. It is certainly not as soggy as Brittany and never as cold as Picardy and the eastern regions. There is a lovely temperate climate similar to Sussex, southern England, which sits opposite the fashionable seaside resort of Deauville, but as the seasons are beginning to blur and change shape with climate change, nothing seems to be as reliable as my octogenarian neighbour Odette, remembers.  However, she still manages to get the first lettuce seedlings and keeps a good supply of vegetables coming throughout the summer and swears by the art of ‘Jardinage par la lune‘, gardening in harmony with the phases of the moon. This method of growing fruit and vegetables is very popular amongst the rural Normans and in order to fit in I buy the Rustica magazine diary of the same name which instructs one what to grow and when in an easy and colourful way.

It seems to have some basis in fact, if the moon affects the tides, reproductive cycles and emotions of animals and humans then why not accept that plant life gets a kick out if it too?

I love growing my own vegetables. There is rich clay soil in my part of Normandy and whilst ideal for mineral loaded grazing as indicated by the prolific number of thoroughbred studs hereabouts, it makes early sowing out of doors sometimes risky. Too early means too cold and wet, later when the sun gets going it dries out to concrete consistency strangling early growth. Once your seedlings have grown, their first leaves seem to soak up the nutrients and really get going.

Normandy countryside

I love to wander the few hundred metres up the chemin to visit my favourite neighbour to talk about gardening and herbs.  I have raised everything from lime basil to rosemary, lemon balm to sage, about twenty different types so far, with tarragon, fennel and lovage already firmly installed in the old cartwheel roundels that I set in the potager. This year, Odette introduced me to Sorrel.  To be honest I always thought it was just a cultivated dock and never took it seriously. She plucked a leaf and pressed me to taste it, what a lovely fresh lemony scent filled my palate, of course she then pulled me up a plant and scribbled a recipe on a scrap of paper for sorrel soup.  I haven’t made any yet but I have added the leaves to fish as she recommended and it adds a lovely flavour

You can always learn something new if you keep your eyes open in the countryside, this week I saw a beautiful fat caterpillar on the fennel bushes that I was about to cut back, it grows almost wild in my front flower beds and gets a little out of hand at the entrance door.  I looked the little fellows up on the internet and discovered that they are swallowtail butterflies, so I let them be and the fennel has gained a reprieve.

Author Sue Coleman is a keen gardener, poultry keeper, horse owner and dog lover.

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