Friday, September 25, 2009

The Cocktail Drinkers' Guide to Gardening #1

Born in Hampshire, England, my smart (brainy) and smart (elegant) friend James Clay is an artist and sculptor who settled down (somewhat) in St. Remy close to 20 years ago. Over the years, he lovingly created a gorgeous one-hectare garden, filled with fruit, palm, pine, and olive trees (he has 60 olive trees, all of them transplanted), plus many varieties of bamboo, flowering plants and shrubs.
James knows everything about gardening in Provence. Plus, he likes to drink. And he likes to write. So in this new monthly column, he'll serve up essential month-by-month garden tips... with drinks. It's so obvious, no?
If this all seems familiar to you, it's because you read something similar (by which I mean identical) on, where it first appeared. Without further ado, here's James' thoughts on September.
Column #1: Laws of the Lawn
I always breathe a sigh of relief come September. The major heat of the summer is past and, with luck, I've managed to get to this point without losing the lawn; I don't mean in the sense of having misplaced it, rather that it hasn't died on me. Whether you water by a sprinkler system or by irrigation flooding (the ancient and better way), it's always nerve wracking when you lose patches (and it’s ugly to boot).
It's common sense to water your lawn either late at night or very early in the morning. With the intense heat, the grass, if watered during the daytime, is liable to burn and of course the water tends to evaporate very quickly. I often think how crazy it is to water during a mistral with blasting temperatures--something one does see here in Provence, which constitutes the equivalent of burning money!
I wonder if you’ve noticed what I think of here as a second spring? By mid month, we enjoy a milder heat and what with the abundant water system installed by the Romans, there is a period of growth which is quite surprising. (To quote from the Monty Python film The Life of Brian: "What did the Romans ever do for us?" to which a character replies: "Wine, aqueducts, under-floor heating, roads"...the list is almost endless!)
Lawns in Provence are high maintenance and quite expensive to keep up so I always advise people (if they are determined to have one) to keep them as small as possible. Another tip during the hotter months is not to cut the grass too close but to let it grow longer than you would do, say, in the spring.

I’ve finally progressed to a tractor mower (my pride and joy) and they’ve become far less expensive over the last few years. I find mowing quite therapeutic and it gives me time to survey the garden as I trundle round.

Again, it is best to mow later in the day as the heat declines. The other great thing about mowing is that you can anticipate the coming evening and perhaps reflect on what might be delicious to serve your friends who are coming over to enjoy the cool of the evening on the terrace with you.

Cousin Neil and his delightfully witty wife Becky came to stay last month. Her stunning impression of Skippy the Kangaroo (remember the Australian children's TV show from the early ‘70's?) had people in tears of laughter; she managed to hold herself back when it came to the jumping element natural to that species! On seeing yours truly alight from his orange (YES orange) tractor calling for a drink, this funny lady suggested making a ‘Lawn Boy.' So here’s the recipe for this thirst-quenching cocktail.

Put three handfuls of ice and six shots of vodka in the blender, toss in a handful of fresh mint, blend until smooth, adding sugar to taste; fill with lemonade. Add more vodka if you like! Pour into a pitcher, serve in tall glasses--et voila! As your guests are chattering away, take a second or two to admire your freshly mown lawn (always a satisfying moment). My darling Ma would always say, "Keep the lawn cut and the paths weed free and the garden will always pass as well kept."

How right she was...Have a cool September! Cheers.


  1. Loved the post title.....of course I'm going to read it! He sounds like a delightful man and I picture a cocktail on the tractor? Am I right? His writing is delightful too!

  2. Oh course it makes perfect sense to water at night now that you explain why...

  3. James,
    I just found this column for the first time. Loved it.
    Julie, you're still doing a smashing job.
    Stephen Croncota



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