Saturday, January 17, 2009

A French Dream

On Gardener’s Question time last week I heard someone enquiring about the possibility of growing a grape vine on a west-facing wall in Gloucestershire - I don’t think it was the Duchess of Cornwall, they’ve probably got a special orangery or something at Highgrove special built for producing dessert grapes- but the GQT enquiry was met with a bit of negativity amongst some of the panellists. Except dear old Bob Flowerdew, who is up for any horticultural challenge, of course. (I love that man. Who else could recycle old tyres and carpets to grow things in, and on?) Anyway, the general consensus (excluding Bob) was that it probably wasn’t a brilliant idea as dessert grapes rarely come to much in an English summer. Going down to Tescos and buying a pound or two seemed less effort, and would be more rewarding.

I rather endorsed their opinions. I can remember as a child a grape vine my father had in his greenhouse. I suspect it was already in situ when we moved in, but he was so taken with it that it remained, despite taking over the entire roof, and thus blocking valuable light off the tomatoes. The grapes amounted to diddly squit. In a normal Lincolnshire summer by September all we had harvested were pea-sized green things resembling bullets. In a heatwave summer we harvested pea-sized green things resembling rubber bullets. Sometimes my mother bottled them…..God knows why, but she was prone to a certain amount of bizarre behaviour when confronted by a gastronomic challenge. Needless to say, the bottled grapes were consigned to a dusty shelf in the cellar and there they probably still reside, fifty years and numerous house purchasers later.

But I’d forgotten all these childhood experiences until we first moved to France, eight years ago this month.

Our first little house was a delight. It was small and quaint and attached to a much larger house, and above all…it was free! We lived there for 2 happy years in return for ‘gardianage’ of the ‘big ‘house next door. We were surrounded by vineyards. An olive grove was planted right up to our terrace. It was ‘La Vie en Rose’.
Even more delightful was the wrought iron canopy which was constructed at the front of the cottage. Twisting in and out of the metalwork was an ancient grapevine. It had been trained up the wall and over the top of the canopy, and even in it’s winter bareness I could visualise it in the summer, spreading it’s luscious green leaves to form a shady bower, where we could partake of a long ‘dejourner’, and in the drowsy,hot afternoons while others ‘siesta-ed’ I could sit and write my block-busting novel!

Well, it certainly worked like that at the start… apart from the writing bit, that is. But as August smouldered into a beautiful mellow September the curse of the grape struck. Unlike my experience in England, there were more grapes than we could possibly eat, unless I bottled them, and we weren’t going down that road again, thanks.

Consequently as they ripened, and over-ripened they fell off, all over our little eating area, and worse, all over the door step, from whence they were trodden into the living room, where they stained the unglazed tiles unless we pounced on the offending objects before they could soak in. They also collected every wasp and hornet in the district. And France has some pretty evil hornets, I can tell you.
On a brighter note they did also attract the most beautiful butterfly, a Large Pasha, something which monetarily stumped the Captain until he found his ‘Butterflies of Southern Europe’. But even the glory of this bird-like butterfly couldn’t totally make up for the mess and the wasps.

It just goes to prove that some things are best viewed from afar, like on a birthday card, or a jigsaw puzzle, entitled French Cottage or similar.


Jane said...

I so agree with you - vines make a mess throughout the year. In the spring the blossom falls onto your plate as you eat your lunch under the vine! As you describe, the ripe grapes make an unholy mess and then the leaves fall and stick to the terrace when it rains! I live in Spain so I know.

Reader Wil said...

What a beautiful butterfly! Thanks for your visit.

Reader Wil said...

I just read your story about the grapes being trodden in! That must have been quite a problem. You write well. Yesterday I had no time to read because I had visitors, but now I have!

Jo said...

Too right about the leaves in the wet weather,Jane.And they're so big and slippery they can turn the terrace into a skating rink. But you know what? If I viewed a cottage in my serch for a smaller house, and there was a grape vine over the door I bet I'd be a sucker for it again!

Thanks for your visit and kind words Wil. Hope it's not too cold with you today.