frontdoor foraging in the garden-at-camont

“You could plant a stone at Camont and it would grow!”

I think of Vetou saying this 20+ years ago as I first started gardening at Camont. First a swath of  English-ish border plants lined the pathway to the canal: poppies, roses, lavender…

Next, Jhon Corbin- artist/matelot/friend, created a wine bottle border sculpture- Camont Woman-that filled in over the years with day lilies, delphinium, and more roses…

Until she was rousted from her slumber and the front path was ‘landscaped’. Sort of like trying to dress this old woman in a business suit of pine bark. Uck, it looked bad and didn’t work…

Over planting years came next. Weed-invaded textile ripped up, trees re-introduced, a jungle grew of crabapple, rosa banksiae, magnolia, almond, fig…

Are you getting the picture? Wild. Sauvage. Growing like stones… 

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The Golden Egg- chicken love.

These warm fall days inspire lots of things- flanning along the canal, browsing old magazines, sorting the summer pantry… but real work? No, thanks. I’ll look around and stay outside to do some garden chores.

It’s been dry since April.  I know this fair weather won’t hold much longer. Rain is sure to come. The chicken coop needs some end of season love and weather proofing,  so it’s off to the tool shed, hammer, nails, screws and ingenuity in hand. The best part is getting to spend an hour with the girls, clucking and clicking as they scratch, peck and lay their golden eggs.

With Julia preparing some winter crop beds, we’ll turn the flock into the potager and let them give us a hand. Should be a slugfest frenzy!

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Ode to a Sweet Bee- or how to relax a garden.

BeBe Bee Bee-atrice Born on #Tweehive day

BeBe Bee Bee-atrice Born on #Tweehive day

I’m turning sweet on you, my friends, here in my untidy parc sauvage,

my feathered orchard, my alive-with-critters compound.

Honey, you are a busy growing part of my French world

and the food we grow to enjoy here at Camont.

minty bee pinup #2

Within one season of changing my garden habits, Camont has transformed from a tidy, neatly edged ‘ Two-acre Park’ to a home forager’s paradise.  A dynamic counterpart to the humm & buzz, bird twitter soundtrack of late summer, I now share Camont with chickens, ducks, cat, dog and honey bees as well as hungry students.   This is what I did ( or didn’t do…) to transform a tidy and quiet garden to a haven for wildlife and not-so-wild food.

  • banished all use of weedkiller like Round-up
  • bought a great long handled, open hoe to weed
  • left the brush pile from late winter prunings instead of burning them. results: we welcomed a hedgehog into the rose garden.
  • created a ‘no-go’ zone around Camont’s border- letting the nettles, dandelions, purslane & wild mint run rampant.
  • seeded an old variety of deep red clover in fallow areas of the potager (I’ll do more of this next spring)
  • stopped mowing the ‘parc’ area in favor of letting it naturalize. Results were a handful on new wild cherry trees and walnut trees sprouting up.
  • bought a scythe- way quieter than a weed-whacker.
  • planted a new entrance orchard by the drive with undergrowth of purslane and other ground cover.
  • let everything in the garden go to seed in it’s own turn. Results: honey bees on the chives, lettuce and fennel seed heads.
  • encouraged small groups of feverfew and borage to spread out.
  • created a small pond for the ducks and bees to use. Result: every visitor got involved helping to shore up the banks and outwit the chickens heavy scratching.
  • weeded less, enjoyed more.

I learned to see the garden as a process rather than a final outcome. When one of my well-meaning but clueless grown students suggested I might ‘hire’ someone to do it all for me, I just had to shake my head.  She just didn’t get that the time I spend mowing, weeding, wandering, smelling, planting, and harvesting comes back to me many fold in my uber-awareness of my home and how I live. Now when I see a patch of wild mint, I look for a working bee, and think of iced mint tea with honey. Before I clear a pile of branches, I make an ‘Andy Goldsworthy’ shrine to a possible nest for teh slug eating hedgehogs. And most of all I look… look hard to see if the bees have enough flowering for food and what I can let go or plant for next year to encourage my first honey efforts.

hive honey plate

Fall is a wonderful time to ‘tidy up’ the garden…but not too much, please. For more tips on relaxing your garden…click here and support the #Tweehive swarming this Saturday sept 5th  in your own Bee-autiful way on twitter. Tweet me at @katedecamont.