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This spring I’m enjoying my Paris garden rather than preparing our Provence dream house for the annual onslaught of vacationing guests who lolled around the pool as their hostess (moi) made sure their every wish was satisfied before booking and welcoming the next round of guests. Such temporary tenants helped support our blessed and beloved house in the vines. Today I watch jardiniers extraordinaires tend with pride to “my” garden just a block from my Paris apartment, gently patting the mounds of compost as if encouraging the cuttings to grow strong. It reminds me of how the plants in our Provence garden were just as often plunked instead of lovingly placed in the soil.
How I loved our roses and peonies; and how I hated deadheading them. Guests loved our spring flowering gardens, but we were rarely in Provence then and so we mostly enjoyed flowers from the local market.
I wish my husband had been less ambitious when it came to his planting escapades. He enjoyed poring over seed catalogues and talking to plant vendors at the Vaison-la-Romaine marché terroir, just as he enjoyed softly cooing in coaxing tones to each and every seedling planted. But with over 400 local vendors waiting with fresh fruits and vegetables, baked goods, truffles, olives, honey, arts and crafts and other locally produced Provençal goods, there were no practical reasons for gardening except as a hobby. And our garden required more work than we could manage while commuting between two French homes and working full-time jobs.
As for the potager, don’t get me wrong: I respect all gardeners, especially those with a knack for nurturing an organic garden without poisonous pesticides. Our Provence garden was so productive that it fed our guests and us as it raised feelings of dread and guilt. I tenaciously weeded when at the house; but I worked in Paris and there were travels that kept me away from Provence. I dreaded returning to the inevitable waiting weeds that magically sprouted several inches in a night after soaking Provençal rainstorms.
The garden spoils
It’s not that I didn’t love eating three types of lettuce, carrots, tomatoes and haricots verts. Zucchini grew faster than imaginable. Determined to use all, I stuffed them, sautéed them, baked loaves of zucchini bread and even brewed a mean soup that fooled a lot of people who didn’t like the vegetable. Not even a hungry family of ten could have consumed it all; but I drew the line at pickling. It wasn’t as if I didn’t try to share our bounty; neighbors often ducked into doorways upon spotting me approaching with an overflowing produce basket. They had their own and then some; inevitably I felt guilt about our success at farming.
Reality challenges romantic dreams of owning two residences in France
As J.P. Morgan supposedly said, “If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it.” That quote had personal meaning when the pool man came for pre-season maintenance as we hoped he wouldn’t find an expensive leak or tell us we’d have to use (expensive) city water to top off the (expensive) pool. We couldn’t find well water, although we learned later that our lot was in a flood plain undisclosed at the time of purchase but revealed when we listed the property for sale. We paid experts to drill in search of water and even hired a local sourcellerie who waved a wand in search of water. Alas, the wand never waved back; our hunt for water it was a no-go reminiscent of a Marcel Pagnol film.
Beautiful memories endure
Still, sitting here in my Paris garden, I recall many nostalgic moments from that period of my life. Having cited all of the negatives of owning a second home (in reality, it owned us), some of my most precious memories took place there. My son and daughter-in-law’s wedding was a milestone in so many ways. Watching my oldest granddaughter run on the grass and pick strawberries was wonderful. She still talks about our drive up to Mont Ventoux, where she immediately discovered three candy stands. She chatters about the candy summit without mentioning the stunning mountain views that reward Tour de France cyclists and white-knuckled drivers who take on the twisting hair-pin mountain curves with rockslides and few, if any, shoulder barricades to stop your car should you swerve to avoid the fallen rocks.
Endless wine tours of the Côtes du Rhône region were a pleasure. I tried but never quite mastered the wine tasting technique of “swirl, sniff, sip, taste, spit most, swallow some” and sometimes we hired or drafted a designated driver for safe passage.
We attended many spectacular outdoor Vaison Danse programs and opera performances with 7,000 others seated before the enormous stage at Théâtre antique d’Orange, the Roman amphitheater in Orange. Some shows contained surprises, like the time when the mistral hit in the middle of a performance of Verdi’s Aïda, nearly blowing the star off the stage along with the conductor’s score.
Next season: a return to Provence
One chapter of my life has closed; there’s a time and a place for everything. My husband passed away a few years ago and I no longer have the house in Provence. While reflecting on the past in my Paris garden today, I realize I still love Provence, just not the hard work of owning a home there. So this year I’ll get my Provence fix by renting a house for a couple of weeks. After all, Provence is only a tad over two hours away via the TGV between Paris and Avignon. Once there I’ll take a rental car for a leisurely amble up to Mont Ventoux to buy candy for my granddaughters. I’ll be a guest who enjoys the fruits of another landlord’s labor and I won’t have to prune unless I feel like it. And I predict next year I’ll be even more excited about returning to Provence. But today I’m content dreaming of Provence from the comfort of my Paris garden.
(c) Paris New Media, LLC
Marché terroir by ©Jean-Louis Zimmermann
Links above will guide you to travel offices and sites to help you plan your own Provence travel.
Auto Europe is perfect for a combination car-rail trip. You can pick it up in one location and drop it off in another, which gives you maximum flexibility in planning your custom Provence tour.
Hostellerie du Château des Fines Roches is a 4-star castle with Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyards at the terrace edge—isn’t that exactly what you traveled so far to see? Located just 10 km from Avignon, it’s a good jumping-off point for car travel of Provence, vineyard tours and Provençal markets. Gourmet restaurant on-site; terrace and swimming pool. Please find your guaranteed best deal from our partner, Booking.com, a Priceline company that guarantees to match the price should you find your same room for less.
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