Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Cocktail Drinkers' Guide to Gardening: January

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. There are few things James loves as much as gardening...and drinking is one of them. So it only made sense to combine both of his passions in this monthly column. This is month #4; to read previous months, click on James' name in the labels at the very bottom of this post. Enjoy!

Happy New Year from sunny Provence!

Yesterday we were having one of those 300 days of sunshine we get here every year which in January makes me feel very happy indeed. I am happy also that I have decided not to 'give up' anything again this year; I have always considered that a silly custom. Who on earth would want to stop drinking cocktails in January? There are summer cocktails, of course, but equally there are 'winter warmer' cocktails which are just as delicious--heartier and more robust.

I had lunch outside on the terrace; the temperature in the shade was very low but in full sunlight, lunch was a pleasant experience indeed. I then decided to do some digging. I have some small ponds which need clearing out and this is the time of year to do it. So, spade in hand, I attacked the job, watched by a robin who decided to keep me company. I'd forgotten how tame they appear to be; this one came so close I thought he was going to help in some way. There is something unusual about robins--they appear so watchful and benign and seem to delight in human company--that I found myself fancying that they incarnate the spirits of loved ones dead and gone. And so, in some way, he did help.

As the sun was beginning to set (and my back too), I packed in the digging and thought to stop by the pool house where I 'winter' my pots of citrus fruits: lemons, limes, grapefruits and oranges. During the greater part of the year they're outdoors on the terraces but are put away from early December to late March to protect them against frost. The lemons can be harvested even by mid- January and are already starting to fall from the branches. Time, I think, for a Whiskey Sour. These are just the ticket for this time of year, very healthy and full of vitamin C. I put the spade away and picked up a basket to collect some lemons. As I walked to the pool house, it started to snow. Now generally we get very little snow, if any, so it came as a huge surprise that so much should be falling. Needless to say the lemons were calling and, if not them, a whisky sour even louder. A little later I was to be found in the kitchen squeezing lemons for juice.

To make a delicious Whiskey Sour you will need:

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

2 measures Whiskey

Soda water to top up

Shake the ingredients in cocktail mixer with ice and strain into a small tumbler.

Add a good dash of soda water.

Decorate with a slice of orange and a cocktail (maraschino) cherry.

It was time now to light the fire and get back to my book. The snow was falling thick and fast. As I was just finishing my drink, the electricity went off...nothing rare in Provence, winter or summer. (For some reason only known to themselves, the E.D.F never thought of burying their cables so, as a result, any heavy weather results in blackouts). At least I had a good fire and the Whiskey Sour was keeping me pretty warm as well. But, three hours later, there we were, still with no power, no water (as even that is pumped by electricity) and it was off to bed by candlelight and to sleep. I cheered myself up thinking that it all felt quite cosy and Dickensian!

This morning, I woke to a Provence I could scarcely recognize, snowbound! It appeared 20 to 25 cms of snow had fallen overnight. I saw straight away that the olive trees had suffered badly--one or two have large branches broken off from the weight of the snow. I wonder what it must have been like in 1956, the morning after the big frost and mistral that killed so many olive trees in Provence. (If you've followed my columns, you may remember I wrote in November about why so many olive trees in Provence grow in a circular fashion around a dead inner trunk.) There was still no power and the house was beginning to feel distinctly chilly.

What to do next...? I remember when I used to dislike mobile phones while everyone else was delighting in them. I felt like someone from the last century (in fact I am someone from the last century). A quick call to my friend and fellow gardener, Didier, and he came to rescue us. Let other pens dwell on the difficulty of the rescue...

Gathering up some lemons, the Whiskey and my partner, we set off back to Didi's house.The whole countryside had simply disappeared under a blanket, no, not a blanket but a duvet of snow. Happy to be warm again, we are now planning a fireside get together this evening for all those who still remain without electricity (which appears to be quite a few). I am happy I remembered the lemons, that I had resolved never to give up anything for New Year and that I have some really good friends. You never know when any or all of them will come in handy!

Stay warm.

Photo taken in Marseille by James Wilf, via To see more of James' work, go here.


  1. Julie,
    Thanks for your email and for linking me to your blog. Your site is a wonderful corner of the blogosphere and I look forward to exploring your blog and your links. Stay in touch!

  2. Dear James, enjoyed reading your piece , your powerless experience sounds very similar to our own...we were without lights, central heating or hot water for 40 hours last weekend here in Malaucene. However the bigger tragedy was the devastation to our beloved tress...we've lost many major branches from our 300 yrs + parasol pines and our green oaks...we now need some advice on how to get them back in shape - have you any advice re experts in that field? Thanks, Philip at

  3. You are my kind of girl, Julie! I love Whiskey sours!!!!!!And I love your blog. I am adding you to the front of my bloglist with a link. I haven't forgotten, just busy up here in the sticks. Also I am going to give people a heads up about you!!!!!!Maryanne xo

  4. Had to make a whiskey sour after reading this. Yummy.

  5. Hi Julie, Happy New Year! I have tagged you for the Kreativ Blogger award on my most recent post.



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