Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Cocktail Drinkers' Guide to Gardening: December

Born in Hampshire, England, James Clay is an artist and sculptor who settled down (somewhat) in St. Remy close to 20 years ago. Over time, 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 varieities of bamboo, flowering plants and shrubs. James knows everything about gardening in Provence. Plus, he likes to drink. So he combines both of his passions in this monthly column. It's a great idea, no? This month, the third installment, James suggests some great holiday gifts to delight the gardener in your life...and a classic cold-weather drink to go with. To read James' previous columns, click on his name in the labels at the very bottom of this post. Enjoy!

December: Manure and Mulled Wine

I don't know about you but I love both--and this is the season to enjoy them! Not only is it party time and I get to tell my "Joke of the Year" (as often as I can), but I get to spread manure too! I don't see why you should be spared my joke so here we go.

"What did the inflatable headmaster of the inflatable school say to the inflatable schoolboy who brought a pin to school?"

"You've let me down, you've let the school down and, furthermore, you've let yourself down."

I wonder why I like this joke so much? Probably because it sums up my educational background. School was such a letdown.

If you're a gardener then you already know why I love manure. If you're not, but your partner or friends are, then I have some original ideas for Christmas presents. Go along to your local nursery or garden centre and check out the manure they have in plastic sacks. Horse manure is the Rolls Royce of manures and is always generally available; if you prefer to make the grand gesture and can find a horse riding school, a small truck load of horse manure delivered to your loved one will thrill a true gardener to his or her core.

You'll be amazed by what we gardeners consider fantastic Christmas gifts...and here are a few more ideas. No gardener is complete without a good pair of secateurs; you can make up a basket of small gifts including seed packets, balls of string (I'm always delighted to receive string!), plant labels, bulbs, flower pots, etc. Don't forget the hyacinths, daffodils and narcissi that are already potted up and almost in flower.

We are lucky here in Provence to have great weather later in the year so we can still be outside enjoying the garden. My potted citrus trees have all been taken indoors by now to protect them from the frost. I water them very infrequently at this time of year but they still need a little now and again. It is worth cutting out any dead wood and then spraying them for red spider mite, which love citrus trees.

Like many French gardeners, I am totally won over by Bouille Bordelaise (copper sulphate). I'm sure you've noticed it everywhere in the region and afar. Years ago, I always wondered why some house fronts had a blue hue to them, not realizing that in fact the owners had sprayed their vines with "bouille" as it is commonly called and, by late winter, all the leaves had gone and exposed the stained walls. My first experience with spraying bouille was unfortunate as the wind changed direction and I found myself covered from head to foot in a heavy shower of blue.

At least I had the satisfaction of knowing I was safe from getting mildew. My gardener has taught me so much over the last 13 years and one of those things is that Bouille Bordelaise is indispensable, so add that to your Christmas shopping list!

Now that the subject of manure is out of the way, then let us turn to something that smells sweeter: mulled wine. This recipe is by the bottle of wine so just add more bottles to cater for as many people as you invite over.


3 cups of water
1 cup of sugar
12 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 lemon peel
1 bottle of red wine
1/4 cup of brandy

Bring water, sugar, cinnamon and lemon peel to a boil in a stainless steel pot, then simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the wine; now bring back to a drinking temperature BUT DO NOT BOIL. Then add brandy.

Season's Greetings!

Photo by Karen Trinko. To see and purchase her work, click here or go here:


  1. Really enjoyed this post - so witty, and I loved the inflatable schoolboy joke!
    Hope you and yours have a wonderful Christmas!

  2. This is so funny -
    I just found your blog via Bonjour Madame but earlier this morning I was thinking,
    "Oh my, Christmas is almost here, that means I can start planning my potager...I wonder how many bags of manure I will need this year?"
    How ironic.
    Love your blog. I'll be back. Adding you to my sidebar.

  3. Hello James and thank you for your lovely texts I have been reading with pleasure. Excuse me but I think it is bouillie bordelaise you're thinking, at least that is how I hear it. I am working in a maraichage bio, organic veggy garden in south Drome, and I can tell you I know the horse manure! My collegues say it stinks horribly but it reminds me of my grandfarthers farm in eastern Finland where I spent my summers as a small girl. To me it is the perfume of childhood. joyeux Noël!



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