As spring progresses, the itch to plant seeds and tend a garden grows. I have windowboxes – one of the few in my building to do so. In it I have the herbs necessary to make dishes taste fresh and delicious, and edible flowers to enjoy and use for garnishes. And I show you how to use these (windowbox or garden) treasures in LIVE CLASSES.
Avenue de Breteuil
I went a step further recently, with my gardening desires. Paris’s 41 square miles includes much greenspace – think le Jardin de Luxembourg, les Tuileries, and all the little parks and gardens one stumbles upon while wandering the city. One of these is a long stretch of grass that stretches from the Hotel des Invalides practically up to the foot of the Gare Montparnasse. The best little morsel is along the Avenue de Breteuil which is punctuated by a statue of Louis Pasteur, several play areas for children (always full), a spot where sheep graze on a regular basis, and plane trees that are planted on either side.
Around many of the trees is what is referred to as a “pied d’arbre”, “foot of the tree”. This is a square meter of soil that the city of Paris leaves to private citizens to cultivate. An enterprising resident who gazes down on these gardens of Breteuil, whom I will refer to as M. Jardin, created an “association,” to cultivate the “pieds d’arbre ” because, recently retired, he had a desire to cultivate a few himself. He built little wood fences around each “pied d’arbre” and tacked up small signs with his email address on them and soon created a community of gardeners, to which I now belong.
Permis de Végétaliser - Permit to Plan
Before I could belong, however, I had to get a “permis de végétaliser” or a permit to plant from the city of Paris. This involved a number of hours filling out forms, which I did incorrectly of course until someone at the office of “permis de végétaliser” walked me through how and what to put in the form. One of the things I had to promise before signing off was that I would care for and keep tidy my “pied d’arbre,” to which I agreed wholeheartedly.
Days passed without response until I got the email: “Vous avez été accorder un permis de végétaliser. Félicitations!” which meant I’d gotten the permit, with a number that I need to memorize in case I’m stopped by the planting police, who may ask me to justify my presence at my “pied d’arbre” with trowel and watering can.
It’s My Square Meter
I couldn’t be happier with my square meter of Paris soil. I can plant whatever I want. The parameters I need to respect are few, with the most important being that I will water, and that I will not become upset if someone picks my flowers. As M. Jardin pointed out to me, in his perfect English, “This is public space, people will pick your flowers, maybe your berries, probably your cherry tomatoes,” he said. “They can, because the space belongs to the people, them.”
Tools, Weeds, Kids
Accepting all of this, I went to survey my plot up close. Right across from a playground, it is alive with birdsong and the laughter (and arguments – wow, French kids argue with their parents all the time) of children. It was also filled with weeds. I opened the toolbox nearby, which doubles as a bench and which Mr. Jardin built, to pull out a shovel and a pitchfork, and went after the weeds. The soil was achingly dry but not profoundly deep and the weeds had shallow roots, so it wasn’t such hard work.
Everyone Is an Expert
What I loved, as I dug and pulled, were the comments of passersby. Most were very complimentary, in the form of “Bravo” and “Courage, Madame!”. There was much advice too, from “It’s too early to dig up the soil.” To “You should use the pitchfork.” To “Oh la la, Madame, you don’t have someone who can do that for you?” I love experts.
Love in a Mist
As I removed the weeds, I discovered several Love in the Mist plants, which are also called nigella, and which give the black seeds that are often sprinkled into and atop Indian food. I love this flower and would have planted them had they not already been there. Also, there is a weed with the most gorgeous purple flowers on it. It’s a toddler attractor, so for now it stays.
Populating with Friends
Little by little I’m populating my “pied d’arbre” with friends. I have planted sweet peas, calendula, and nasturtiums. I’ve also planted potimarron, which I intend to train up the tree trunk if I can figure out how to do that.
La Belle Vie
in the soil, albeit in a very public place. But that public place is lined with trees and beautiful Haussmanian buildings, has a gold-domed building at one end of it, and a very long stretch of leafy green garden on the other that stretches almost into infinity. And when I’ve dusted off my hands, put away the tools, tidied up in general there’s a coffee, beer, or other beverage awaiting me at the café on the corner. La belle vie, quoi (the good life!).