The Cocktail Drinker’s Guide to Gardening

The Cocktail Drinker’s Guide to Gardening

A good month for gardening…

There’s a great paragraph in a book by the French authoress Colette called La Naissance du Jour (literally “Birth of the Day”), in which she describes how after a long lunch with friends, she and her pets reclaim the terrace as the calm and tranquility of the late afternoon creep once again over the garden. That’s how I feel, come October, when all the summer guests have finally left and I can get back to my life here- and my garden.

Like most men and all gardeners, I love a good bonfire and autumn is the time for that. All the collected debris of the garden from the summer months can now be burned; the summer ban on bonfires has been lifted and we can get down to a good afternoon’s pyromania. I do have a compost heap so that has saved a lot of the debris that has built up, but as there are so many infections around these days it is wise to burn anything you feel could infect other plants.

This month is really great for planting. The earth has had a good soaking by now and there is no risk of frost. I shall be planting Perovskia (labiatae) or Russian Sage: the best variety for here is Blue Spire. I wonder if you know it? It provides a really fantastic alternative to the ever-present lavender, and plant grows to a height of 1.2 to 1.5m or 4 to 5 feet, ideal for the Mediterranean climate (not much water needed) and I think even more stunning than lavender. It’s a great space filler and it flowers far longer (two months from mid-June on and sometimes again in the autumn). I put in some forty plants three years ago and the results have been spectacular. During the winter months it holds its beauty as the stems turn many shades of red through grey. As with lavender, it needs cutting back just once a year but, unlike lavender, this takes place in the spring and should be cut almost to ground level. If you do have a large area to fill, I can’t recommend it highly enough–in fact just find space for it, whatever! If you haven’t yet visited the Pepiniere de la Praderie (Route de St. Remy, Maillane, 04-90-92-60-42) off you go; they stock Blue Spire but it’s great just to get a little bit of inspiration browsing there too!

I’ve already mentioned one author, now here’s another of my favourites- Dorothy Parker of “One Single Rose” fame, an habituée of the famous Algonquin Roundtable in New York. She spent far too much time drinking rather than writing. I discovered, on a pilgrimage to the cocktail bar in said hotel, that her favourite autumnal tipple was in fact called ‘The Algonquin’ and thus is very apt for this month’s voyage through cocktail land. Like all the best cocktails, it’s very simple and really wonderful on cooler October evenings. Take one teaspoon of baked apple (or apple sauce for us non-kitchen people), one lump of sugar, a healthy measure of applejack (apple brandy or Calvados) and grated nutmeg. Mix the first three ingredients in a tall glass, fill with hot water to taste (depending on how strong or weak you like your hot alcoholic drinks) and finally sprinkle with nutmeg. So go to it!

Born in Hampshire, England, James Clay is an artist, sculptor and landscape gardener. He lived in London, Hollywood, Mexico, Spain and Ireland before settling in St. Rémy 16 years ago.

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