May 24, 2006
How does my garden grow?


I mentioned earlier that this is The Year. The Year That I Have A Proper Garden On The Terrace. I've done my best, awful cold Paris weather notwithstanding. A few days after I wrote about finding tomato plants at the market, I finally put together the present my mother brought me from the US earlier this year: one of those nifty planters you see in the Sky Mall magazine on planes which grows tomatoes UPSIDE DOWN. This allows you to put herbs (for example) growing UP from the same dirt.


Actually, I can see the point of this: no need for stakes to hold the plants straight, no worry about tomatoes resting on soft moist earth and rotting. And double use of your dirt.

We shall see how it goes. If the sun doesn't come out (and stay out) soon the experiment will fail, but it won't be the fault of the tools. For the moment, we get at least an hour or so of sun every day and a good dose of rain. The temperature is far too cold, but so far the plants don't seem to mind.

So in this photo: in the upper part we have lemon thyme, rosemary, tarragon, mint and oregano. I will undoubtedly add parsley though it remains to be seen whether I can raise it from seed or resort to a plant. On the underside of the planter, there are four tomato plants. And in the planter on the right? Six more tomato plants, two tomato seedlings (they finally sprouted!) and three violet plants that have not yet found their permanent home. The man who sold them to me at the Salon de Saveurs told me to wait until the roots are well established before replanting. Anyway, I haven't yet decided where to put them.


Here you have - mostly - some of the flowers in my new garden. I've decided that with 23 square meters I can spare a few planters for purely decorative plants. Don't get me wrong - vegetable plants are very decorative too. Strawberries with their cheerful white flowers, the flaming zucchini flowers, beautiful purple rosemary blooms are all lovely. But they don't compare with plants which are grown purely for the flowers. So the peas are flanked by Campanula on one side and daisies on the other. I'm still holding onto the sad hope that one day that Anna's lilac bushes (which came to me through Charles - these are well-travelled bushes) will some day flower again. And I have four long containers with a mix of petunias, geraniums and nicotania plants. And, of course, thyme and rosemary. Oh and I am most excited about the rhubarb which you can almost but not quite see in the baby bath on the bottom left of the photo, along with something labelled "balloon flowers" (?)

For the moment the planters of petunias and geraniums look a bit sparse and young but I'm hoping they will thrive on worm tea and fill the containers so that I don't have much weeding this summer.


Last year, the zucchini was in a planter next to the one above with the tomato plants. Four plants thrived for about six weeks, snaking around the planter and putting out gorgeous flowers. And then, suddenly, they just withered away. I don't think it was the size of the planters, as I have successfully grown zucchini in smaller ones. I am thinking the problem may be the fact that the planters are recessed under a bit of roof and so don't get the maximum amount of sun. This year I moved the planter to the corner of the terrace that gets the most sun and put in it one zucchini plant, three basil plants (you can see that one died), one Thai basil and three sprouting potatoes.

I've never actually planted potatoes before. So I didn't know if I should plant them deep and cover the sprouting leaves or shallow so that the leaves are already in daylight. I experimented: four in the baby bath well sunk and four in the zucchini planter with tips poking out into the sunlight. These are potatoes that sprouted in a basket in my kitchen and were destined for the garbage. (Worms apparently don't like potatoes or they would have gone into the wormery.) So if they turn into elegant potato plants, great. If I get some new potatoes out of them, even better. And if not - well they will enrich the soil without going into a landfill. My friend Daniel tells me that potato plants are very pretty; he grew them once for esthetic reasons and wasn't able to tell me about what happens below the soil.


Here you have my baker's rack of herbs and strawberries. I bought this shelving unit a few years ago for the terrace for about $30 and have loved it ever since. It's metal and rust-free, sturdy enough to take a few plants and - I think - very decorative. I figured that even if it only lasted a year or two it would be worth the initial cost. And that was about four years ago and it looks as pretty and sturdy now as it did then. It has coriander (which I usually kill much more quickly than this), four strawberry plants, thyme, a bucket of marigolds and, on the bottom, a planter of dirt and spinach seeds. I really hope the spinach comes off as I love the stuff. On the right: more lilacs and soe lavendar.

So, overall, not a bad start: 10 tomato plants, 4 strawberry plants, 3 thyme plants, 2 rosemary plants, 8 potential potato plants, tarragon, mint, oregano, one rhubarb plant, the hope of spinach and a variety of flowers. I'm a happy gardener, though it remains to be seen now green my thumb actually is. In any case, it is all organic and local and it starts my day off with a smile when I take a little tour and see what new leaves have appeared overnight!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at May 24, 2006 4:15 PM Print-friendly version

Your terrace garden is lovely! I'll keep my fingers crossed for your violets; the blossoms are lovely in butters and goat cheese, in salads, and in omelets, too. This week my garden is filled with Johnny Jump-Ups, the tiny yellow-and-purple violets that grow everywhere in this part of southern New England.

Posted by Lydia on May 24, 2006 at 10:09 PM

Wow, Lydia, thanks for the tip! I actually only bought the violets out of nostalgia, not because I knew they are edible. I've been living in the city for over 20 years now, but have fond memories of picking them in the spring every year when I was a child. The same goes for lillies of the valley, which I have (unsuccessfully) tried to grow many times.

Posted by Meg in Paris on May 25, 2006 at 1:03 AM

Ah, and lilies of the valley grow like weeds here. We use them for ground cover, because they are prolific and the deer don't like them (maybe they're poisonous?).

A woman in one of my cooking groups gave me a great tip for something new to try in my herb garden, and this should work really well on a terrace, too. Separate the cloves of a head of garlic that has already begun to sprout -- the heads that always end up on the bottom of the garlic basket and send out green shoots before you realize it. Use organic or other unprocessed garlic. Take each clove and stick it in the ground (or a pot), with the green sprout just above the surface. In 60-90 days, you'll have garlic scallions (green garlic). They look like scallions but taste like garlic! Harvest before the cloves begin to form into garlic heads, and when the greenery above ground looks just like a scallion. I'm trying it this year for the first time.

Posted by Lydia on May 25, 2006 at 8:47 AM

Lydia, my grandmother's house was surrounded by lillies of the valley, which is why I'm nostalgic about them. She used to call me when they were in bloom so I could come over and pick them. Unfortunately, here they force them in greenhouses so that they are all in bloom on May 1st - for some reason they are traditionally offered on that day and that day alone. I think that's why they immediately wither as soon as I plant them. Also, I'm not sure whether they actually do well in planters. I've put them in a nice deep one this time but they don't seem happy. So we shall see!

As for the garlic, I have indeed tried growing it a few times. Actually I can get the garlic you describe at the market this time of the year and made a very nice garlicky chicken stew with it recently!

Posted by Meg in Paris on May 26, 2006 at 2:39 AM

Beautiful! I am envious :)

Posted by Alisa on May 26, 2006 at 3:41 AM

Oh, lovely! Keep posting updates on the tomatoes--I really want to see how that business of growing them upside down works. I may have to give it a shot next year.

Lilies of the valley are poisonous, btw. They smell lovely, but they are not for eating.

Violets and violas (Johnny-jump-ups) and pansies, nasturtiums, roses, daylilies and bergamot flowers are all edible and beautiful.

It all looks lovely, Meg. Keep up the great work!

Posted by Barbara on May 26, 2006 at 11:14 AM

Oh, and balloon flower is platycodon.

Posted by Barbara on May 26, 2006 at 11:16 AM

Barbara, thanks for the warning about the lillies of the valley. Providing they survive (which is by no means certain at the moment) I'll keep a sharp eye on the boy around them. Not that he's shown any tendency to eat any of the plants yet, but once he sees me picking tomatoes and strawberries he may get the idea!

Posted by Meg in Paris on May 26, 2006 at 11:18 AM
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