Dancing Tomatoes

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. 

Pied d’Arbre

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. 

Got It!

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!).

10 thoughts on “Dancing Tomatoes Garden”

  1. Just a couple of blocks away from my home, there are public parcels of land (miniature) that individuals can sign up for to plant a garden. You pay an association fee. I notice that as the years have gone by the fences (or should I say barriers) have become taller in order to keep scavengers out.

    1. Debbie – we have many gardens like this too, but the pieds d’arbre are a bit different. I wouldn’t say that one could actually garden, and the only scavengers are of the human variety! We are supplied tools and water and, as time goes on, some camaraderie.

  2. Hi Susan, what a marvellous idea your pied d’arbre is. The folks in France seem so advanced in their thinking about producing fresh vegetables. I live in a apartment here in Sydney with some very nice communal gardens. But we are NOT allowed to plant anything for ourselves in the gardens. At one time I suggested filling in the swimming pool and making a vegetable garden.
    Wow I was even threated with legal action if that was done. So enjoy!!
    Paul from Aus

    1. Paul – wow, didn’t realize Australia was a litigious society! I think your idea is great and sustainable. The French are into beauty, and it extends to giving people little plots to cultivate…I love it!

  3. Cynthia Crumlish

    Hello, Susan: chapeau for the garden! And for the nigella, which we call kalonji in Ayurvedic cooking. Lots of health benefits!
    Feeling very weepy and nostalgic about the sale of your Normandy nest. The memories you created there and so generously shared with all of us are definitely enracinés and it hurt a bit to get your news. Wondering how your children feel about letting it go. Sentimental slob that I am…
    As much as I truly appreciated your live cooking classes I had to withdraw. Seeing that rabbit on the cutting board did me in. NO JUDGEMENT ON YOU, mais du tout. Hoping to glean tasty bits of your vast knowledge through YouTube presentations, etc.
    Hey! Just learned from the Mountain Rose website that Charlemagne was a big fan of chicory and grew a ton of it in his garden.
    Bon courage on the sale of your legendary home and trust that the new owner will honor the vibes.
    Cynthia Crumlish
    Your biggest fan in Philadelphia

    1. Cynthia! We will miss you! You know, rabbit is such a fundamental part of French cuisine that I enjoy sharing that with students. It’s always part of farm cooking, and restaurateurs love it for all the reasons that I mentioned in the class, but of course it’s almost shocking to people who grew up with Beatrix Potter! So I completely understand! But stay in touch with us/me because you’re so smart and so filled with knowledge. I just worked on an Indian cookbook with a friend, and while I’ve always had nigella in my garden and often used it in cooking, I really got to know it and found it almost uncanny that of all the “leftover” plants from the previous gardener, that was one! Merci pour le courage!

  4. What a wonderful concept and undertaking. Your little Paris jardin is sure to bring you and the locals much joy.

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