Memories of Provence in Spring

Memories of Provence in Spring
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.   Bountiful Provençal markets 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…

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Karen is the original founder and former president of Bonjour Paris. Follow her musings on Substack.