Archive for the 'Gardening' Category

Surprise inhabitants

Posted in Gardening, Journal at 21:08

Peat winch, Lofoten, Norway

Just over two years ago, not long after breaking my wrist, I moved into a new place in a Parisian suburb that has a lovely garden. My first January in it, a few bluebells sprouted. A year later, half a dozen bluebells grew in the same spot – I reminded myself I had better think to dig up the bulbs and divide them, but I didn’t until this January.

While it only looked like about a dozen sprouts above ground, this was what I ended up with. I potted several, planted others in a decorative row, still others in a sunny corner patch, and the remainder went into their original spot in front of my kitchen doors.

The wee leafy plant is a young spider plant (also known as “airplane plant” in the States). It’s a trippy (non-toxic) one for cats, and as soon as it’s large enough will become a swatting toy for the furballs.

Paris gets colder and grayer than Nice in winter, but I’ve enjoyed it ever since coming up here. It reminds me of home; cold, damp winters and my favorite, fog. There’s nothing quite like fog over the Seine, crossing swans here and there, listening to geese honk along it, and saying “hello” to the crows who hop around searching for bugs in foliage.

Gardening in October

Posted in Gardening at 18:58

Cambria (Odontoglossum) orchid

With a northern exposure and on an inner courtyard, my patio has a sort of micro-climate that differs from Nice’s in general. Humidity tends to stick around, there’s no hot direct sun, and it doesn’t cool off as much in the evenings either. I haven’t had any luck growing the usual shade plants that need regular watering, and there’s just not enough sun for most native species to thrive. Both types of plants simply rot from the humidity, since they’re not able to dry out with the help of drier air or hot sunlight.

It took me a while to find something colorful that does well, and I discovered it on a whim, not at all out of research or planning. Back in May, I crossed a display of orchids for sale in my local supermarket. There had been plenty of such displays over the years, but for once, a plant caught my eye, and I bought it for its colors. One of the reasons I’d avoided orchids for so long is that I’d heard they were difficult to care for, but I figured with all the plants I had lost over the years, I might as well give a pretty one a shot, and though supermarket plants aren’t ideal, at least it was less expensive than orchids elsewhere. I finally looked up orchid care, and was delighted to find out that they thrive in high humidity, loose soil, and indirect sunlight. Mine kept its flowers for several months, all the way through August, and has been growing very happily on my patio. Ever since, I’ve looked more seriously at orchids in garden and flower shops, discovering this one yesterday afternoon at a yearly outdoor market put on by local shops.

Cambria (Odontoglossum) orchid

This is a Cambria, which is a generic name for hybrids; this one is related to Odontoglossum. Its deep colors are a great autumn addition. Today I repotted its big sister, the Phalaenopsis, and planted the daffodil and iris bulbs I’ve had for several years now. While the irises and daffodils grow well enough on my patio, they don’t always bloom, so I’m really going to be gung-ho about attractive orchids from here on out! Color is so nice to have in a garden. Greens are also great, and I have plenty with my succulents and now some new air plants, also found at the market yesterday.

Tillandsia - ionantha and bulbosa

An Ionantha rubra on the left and a fun Bulbosa on the right, on top of my very happy hanging succulent. Air plants are also called tillandsia.

Patio table - October 2012

My patio table holds most of my smaller plants, to keep them out of the reach of curious, playful paws. That’s also why you see broken pot pieces on one corner… it keeps Miss Sprightly Susu from jumping onto the table and nosing around the plants – she likes to take apart succulents. The plant with the huge green leaves is that same Phalaenopsis! I can’t wait to see its next blossoms. There’s also a large pot on the right with a small aloe vera plant, one I found thanks to some cultivated aloe vera in Sophia Antipolis growing too many shoots for their own good – I was able to take this small shoot home.

June patio garden

Posted in Gardening at 13:45

Spider nestling in succulent

Entering my fifth year in this apartment, there has been a lot of trial and error discovering which plants are happy to grow on my patio and which aren’t. Facing north, I get a good deal of indirect sunlight, and Nice has a Mediterranean climate, which translates to a lot of humidity, hot summers, and mild winters. Regular shade plants get a bit overwhelmed by the muggy heat, while plants native to the area don’t get enough direct sunlight. Succulents like the one above are quite happy, however, and they have been my steadfast garden companions for years now.

This spring I bought some Asian lily bulbs, since they like tropical sorts of weather and indirect sunlight, and just over a week ago, I decided to risk a storebought orchid, as the plants also do well in this type of climate. My first lily – I planted three bulbs, each has buds now – finally bloomed yesterday, and I’m tickled pink with how beautiful my patio is already. To think, several more blossoms will be coming soon!

Asian Lily


Panther preparing to pounce

Lily and orchid

Spring is arriving

Posted in Gardening, Nice at 17:55

Luxury dog

While this furry canine may not seem to have a strong link to flowering prune trees, daffodils and irises, all heralds of spring, in fact, I photographed her (or him) next door to Graineterie Fiol, a seed and plant shop in Vieux Nice. It’s the time of year to plant seeds for summer growth. Yesterday I picked up some chives, Romanesco broccoli, Saxa radishes, violets, and coleus, a decorative plant, then planted them today. Radishes grow quickly, and this Saxa variety should be ready to eat in less than a month, after which I’ll plant some more regularly. The broccoli take longer to mature at 3-4 months, and I’ll be able to cultivate the chives for quite a while. The violets will decorate the fence border, and the coleus should be a nice addition to my potted plants. Both are plants that do well in the shade. Despite living on the French Riviera, I don’t get a lot of sun, since my apartment’s terrace is a northern exposure. This is a good thing here, however, since it makes a huge difference in summer temperatures at my place. The only downside is that I can’t grow any of the showy flowers that require full sun.

Another sign of spring’s arrival is the annual Carnaval, held around Mardi Gras each year in Nice. As a humorous link between my Oregon hometown and my current home in Nice, I snapped this shot of Brice de Nice holding a “Nice” brand surfboard. Nice’s Greek name was Nikaïa, from the Greek goddess of victory Nike — you can probably think of a related sports brand. It was founded in Eugene, Oregon.

Brice de Nice - Carnaval 2011

Watering cats and growing pumpkins

Posted in Cats, Gardening, Home improvement at 15:53

Two weeks ago, I removed the glass shower door in my bathroom. The surrounding floor and walls were starting to rot, and I knew the door blocked much of the airflow needed to dry out the rest of the shower properly, so I decided to just take it out myself and put in a shower curtain and rod. While taking out the door, I discovered that the previous owners hadn’t waterproofed any of the seams… which is mainly why things had been rotting. However, it did make it much easier to remove the door, since all I had to do was unscrew it from one wall and pull it out of the other (it hadn’t been bolted in on both sides). As a reminder, they hadn’t waterproofed the floor beneath the tile shower they installed either. Every time I discover something like this, I’m glad I bargained down the price on my place — I had been very hard-nosed about it since some of the electrical work they’d done was borderline dangerous, which I suspected meant the rest of their “improvements” might be similar. Score one for intuition.

Putting in a curtain really improved the airflow, along with letting in a good deal more light… and a certain water-loving Maine Coon mutt! The video above shows Kanoko playing with the falling water this morning. I could keep him out by shutting the bathroom door, but his never-ending delight brings a lot of joy into my day, and so some old hand towels have now become Kanoko’s shower towels, and he’s happy as pie with the arrangement. When we finish showering, he saunters out alongside me, purrs while being towelled, then contentedly preens while I get ready for the day.

I mentioned some surprise seeds all sprouting in the last post — my pumpkin patch is growing well. All four are still healthy, those two are the largest. And they’re still just young’uns!

Spring in my bit of Nice

Posted in Gardening, Nice at 13:55

Patio, end of April

After an interminable winter of rain — and I say that as a native Oregonian who enjoys the rain! — the sun has finally begun to emerge from the clouds, and plants are finally growing. Ever since October we’ve had dark, windy, rainy, and even snowy weather the likes of which no one has seen in living memory. It was so dark that my daffodils and irises never bloomed; so much colder than usual that seeds that typically sprout in March have only begun to grow just now. And yet we’re still getting rain every day, with very rare exceptions. (Every. Single. Day.)

This winter I bought a few pumpkins to make pumpkin soup. With the last two, I realized that since they were organic, I could try planting their seeds. I figured that only some of them would sprout… well, all of them have! And I planted four! What am I going to do with four full-size pumpkin plants? For now I’ve repotted two of the seedlings in a planter; the other two are already in pots that should keep them happy for another month or so. Provençal pepper seeds I planted a month ago have just begun to sprout as well, and I’m looking forward to tasting them in autumn.

Renovation on my apartment is continuing too. I started pulling up linoleum in the entry last week, and have nearly finished. It will be nice to have an entry no longer in a state of flux.


Posted in Gardening, Journal, La France at 22:36

A few weeks ago I became one of the many “lucky” folk to catch the H1N1 flu (“swine flu”). For the first time in my adult life, I understood how someone could die from the flu. Not to sound alarming, mind, just that on the fifth day of a high fever, bad cough, and exhaustion, I was so sore and tired that I barely had the strength to cough well enough to clear my throat to breathe. And that was with medication, and I was in pretty good physical shape before that. Flu vaccinations. It hurts less to get one than to get this flu.

While I was ill, the French national police knocked on my door. At first I wondered if I were in a movie, seeing the plain-clothed gentleman present himself with blue-white-red-striped official ID in hand and firm look on his face: “Bonjour madame, police nationale.” He was looking for one of my upstairs neighbors (the eldest son of his parents, who also live there, along with their two younger sons and the eldest son’s daughter), who has a warrant out for his arrest. Delightful. I swear my apartment is in a nice neighborhood overall. It would seem I’m just in a bad micro-part of it.

I finally recovered to the point where I was able to get back on my mountain bike yesterday at noon. Taking in the fresh autumn forest air on the rocky hills was wonderful, and raised my spirits. Then, this morning (on foot, not on my bike), a car driver decided that she would rather risk killing or handicapping me than lose ten seconds at a stop sign, which also had a clearly-marked pedestrian crossing. She accelerated — yes, accelerated, to my horror as I kept trying to signal “stop” with my hand and even shouted at her — then swerved to the side of the road to go around me, missing me by a few centimeters. I spent the rest of the day taking short breaks to pull back from my desk, wiggle my legs and look at them, happy they’re still attached and in good working order. Before that, however, I called the police. Again. It’s to the point where I recognize the dispatchers’ voices now. Good to know in this part of the world where there is no shortage of drivers who have a sense of entitlement the size of their hurtling metal narcissism machines: if a driver runs you down in a pedestrian crossing, you can write down/memorize their license plate, then go to the gendarmerie and file a complaint (porter plainte), also giving a description of the car as possible. The police will then contact them and handle it from there.

I could write a book on interactions with the police and gendarmes in France. I’ve now dealt with pickpockets, a drunken upstairs neighbor who would tip over his furniture at 2 in the morning while watching football, a mentally ill East German woman who’s hit her children, husband and niece, insults everyone in French and threatens to poison my cats, an upstairs neighbor who threatens his own mother (yes, I had called the police on him a couple of times — the national policeman’s visit didn’t entirely surprise me), and dangerously irresponsible drivers. Have a complaint? I probably know how to file it. In French!

Besides that, though, I found some beautiful chrysanthemums at a florist. They reminded me of Chinese and Japanese paintings. Earlier I had potted daffodil and iris bulbs I’d dug up and stored this summer, and am pleased that all of them are starting to sprout. From the two daffodils and three irises I had originally, I now have four daffodil and seven iris plants. Work on my apartment is also coming along, although very slowly.

Hyvää juhannuspaïvää

Posted in Gardening, Journal, La France, Nice at 11:20

Light catcher
Juhannuspäivää is the name Finland gives to midsummer. On midsummer day, Finland and the Scandinavian countries have huge communal parties that are immense fun, and so on 21 June I always have warm thoughts of Helsinginkeskus (Helsinki city center) overtaken by youths in graduation sailor caps, dressed in overalls and, well, drinking. Lots of drinking. For at least 24 hours straight.

This is my patio as it looked a few moments ago. In a month or two I’ll finally get my tax refund and have paid off the majority of the non-mortgage loans I had to take out in order to furnish my apartment last year. (My previous apartment was a furnished rental, so I had practically no furniture of my own and, especially, no appliances.) To pre-celebrate, yesterday I got myself something I’ve wanted for the longest time: a deck chair! It’s a solid oak frame, sold by Habitat and on sale once a year — which happens to be now. Once the tax refund has well and truly arrived, my next purchase will be a small oven, since I’m going mad without one. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a gluten (wheat, oats, etc.) and casein (all animal milks) intolerance, which means I can’t just order out for pizza, for example, and nor can I buy regular pies and cakes. Gluten- and casein-free baked goods are sold frozen and require an oven to cook them. Homemade pizza, freshly-baked lemon and apple pies… I can hardly wait.

Meanwhile I’m making do with delicious market finds. Today there were vegetables grown in Nice for sale, so I got some courgettes trompettes (flower zucchini) and an aubergine. I also got a type of melon I’ve always wanted to try, called le puits d’amour, “the love well”. Last week I tried a Charentais Carlencas melon, which was the most divinely delicious melon I have ever had the pleasure to savour.

I do have an update on my mentally ill, abusive neighbor: a few months ago she once again put crap (literal crap) on my patio and screamed at me, so I called the cops on her. Three VERY large gendarmes (national police, not local) took statements from another neighbor, myself, and the culprit. Two of the policemen had a private chat with her. When they returned they were visibly unnerved and said she was clearly off her rocker and among the most abusive people they’d had to deal with. The good news is, whatever they said to her had a strong effect: ever since, she hasn’t dared to speak to me, much less touch my patio (apart from some benign things like broken pens and paintbrushes). It has been wonderful to be able to use my patio. I do still keep a close eye on the kitties, of course. Her divorce should be final soon, and according to the police, she’ll have to move, since being unemployed (and unemployable in her mental state), she likely won’t be able to afford to buy out her husband’s half to her apartment. We’re all hoping that’s the case.

The life of lemons

Posted in Gardening at 13:46

My lemon tree has been overflowing with flowers lately, filling my terrace with a pleasantly tart and pungent odor. I had no idea how lemons grew until getting my tree a few months ago, so thought I’d share, photographing lemon development in three stages. All photos are from today. First, the flowers — older ones whose stamens will form lemons on the left, and a new blossom on the right. Open blossoms only stay this beautiful white for about a day or two:
Lemon flowers

Then the “baby” lemons about two weeks after flowering — you can tell they were stamens not too long ago:
Baby lemons

And finally, lemons that have been growing for several months now:
Maturing lemons

Kitten or cat?!

Posted in Cats, Gardening, Journal, La France at 12:28


Kanoko turns four and a half months old about now. Here he posed for the camera this morning, and I photographed him blissfully scratching a yucca stump a bit later. Originally I’d planned to pull out the big yucca, but Kanoko loves its stumps so much that I’ve kept it. It’s now regrowing leaves from the tops of the stumps.

Since Malo passed away only two months ago, I still remember how big he was, and can hardly believe that Kanoko has nearly reached Malo’s size at such a young age. Kanoko’s face has really filled out, his whiskers (chopped off by the people who abandoned him) are nice and long now, and his tail is beautiful. He certainly does look very “Maine Coon”. His paws still seem to be growing more quickly than the rest of him! (There’s a photoset of Kanoko that shows his development since my kind neighbor asked if I’d take care of him two months ago.)

There are also pictures of the bougainvillea and other plants on my terrace, including a baby rose plant that surprised me when I found it this morning. My cyclamen are looking to be beautiful again this year, and my lemon tree has been blooming up a storm lately: lots of lemons to come!

As for the crazy neighbor who threatened to kill Kanoko, all has been well since I went to the police, and put up the finer-grade wire on my terrace. I later gave the police report to people in her building, who spoke with their building management about it — it’s far from being the first report that’s been filed against her. Ever since, I’ve made a point of using my terrace normally and ignoring her whenever she came out. She’s stopped going outside very often and no longer bothers trying to scream at me (she never talked normally, only screamed — it’s not an exaggeration that we call her “crazy”, it truly seems that she is mentally ill, which is sad). So Kanoko is fine, I’m fine, and it’s wonderful to have such a quiet terrace.