Monday, September 6, 2010

The Cocktail Drinkers' Guide to Gardening: August/September

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 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 pretty much everything about gardening in Provence. Plus, he likes to drink. Plus, he likes to write. So each month here on, James serves up essential gardening secrets with appropriate seasonal drink suggestions. Here’s what sprang from his fertile mind this month.

The 'dog days of summer'…what should one do in the heat of the afternoons? Find the coolest, shadiest place you know and take a book…

It’s been an incredibly hot August and holding more than one thought in my head has been rather more difficult than usual. I’ve been trying to multi-task (don't you just love American English? It can be so handy!), which would include entertaining guests, running to the airport, shopping five times a week, and generally doing far too much plate shuffling and waiting table.

Strangely--and probably unlike most people--I find gardening totally relaxing and a huge relief from the aforementioned chores. A long day spent in the garden picks me up, as opposed to a two-hour trip to a 'grande surface' or hypermarket, which leaves me asking myself if, in fact, I need counseling and a course of anti-depressants.

Early August was when I sharpened my shears and attacked the lavender beds. By that time they weren’t looking their best and, rather like us, when a haircut is overdue they begin to look rather messy. The idea is to cut down the spears and take the plant back to its original dome form. Once you've clipped one or two you’ll easily get the hang of it. This year, I’ve pulled up most of the lavender as it has 'passed its sell-by date. Six to eight years is as much as one can expect lavender to look good; after that it becomes woody and thin, which then attracts nesting wasps and, believe me, those are not pleasant surprises to come across when you’re clipping away!

I shall replant lavender in October or November. Being an impatient soul, I tend to buy year-old plants but you can buy lavender 'pied nu'--young plants without soil sold in bundles in the markets. 

I read somewhere that the Romans used lavender in their baths so one year I tried it too. The result was fantastic, really relaxing, but don't do what I did and simply throw the lavender heads directly into to the bath as you’ll find that they block up the entire plumbing system. And the unblocking of drains is not at all relaxing.

Speaking of drains, that reminds me of my brother-in-law who, one August, kindly volunteered to check out some dreadful odor emanating from one of the bathrooms. My sister and I left him to it, he in full-length rubber gloves, and headed off to the local shop to pick up some cranberry juice.

This month’s cocktail is in fact named in honor of my brother-in-law for his courage in dealing with that incident! So here's “A Brother-in-Law.” Don't worry, this months recipe is simple (not unlike my brother-in-law), as it’s been far too hot lately to spend much time in the kitchen. You’ll need a large bottle of chilled vodka, loads of cranberry juice and eight to ten limes. Take a tall tumbler and fill with ice; pour over it a generous amount of vodka; top up with cranberry juice then add the juice of half a lime and mix well. Not complicated but truly delicious on a warm evening in early Autumn.

Pip Pip!


  1. Try this cocktail that I would serve to my late husband.
    Muddle several basil leaves,
    add a simple syrup.
    squeeze lime juice
    add it and vodka,
    put in cocktail shaker with ice cubes and serve.
    You adjust the amount of vodka and juice to your taste.

  2. I love this series. Vicarious gardening in paradise (as Johnny would call it). Thanks for posting these, J.

    By the way, we've started writing about some of our recent culinary experiences in France, including

  3. So interesting and avec beaucoup d'informations ce blog!

    Merci et salut!

  4. Do you know what would happen if you don't cut the flower stalks off of the lavender? I've been asked this by several people as I labor every year to cut it all back. Will it bloom again the next year if you don'?

  5. Hi Linda,
    This is from James: Some people love the blossoms and don't want to cut them off which, of course, we all understand! But it's really important, especially when the plant is smaller, that you give it a really good hair cut, about two inches above the wood. By year two, your lavender plant will double in size. Trim in the spring and the fall; that promotes growth from below and you'll get a lot more flowers on your lavender. By year three, your plant will grow two-thirds bigger. Read more here:



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