An organic gardener’s confession

terraces pre sprayI have been putting off writing this post for over a week. But I realised that if you studied my To Do list yesterday under the tasks to do in the vineyard, I would have given the game away.

For the first time on this farm I have resorted to weed killer.

Pause while Dan and Katherine fall of their chairs in shock.

I’m pretty appalled myself. I can’t believe I actually wrote that.

And amazingly, it was Nicolas Dessaulx, the organic farmer and tree hugger nursery man who suggested it.

We had just finished the first phase of work on the vine removal. Well, Nicolas was removing the vines. I was standing on a terrace above watching the back breaking work.  And he surveyed this enormous site and said, ‘you really ought to spray with Round Up to remove all these pernicious weeds before we move on to the next phase.’

wall bramble attackI had actually measured out the area in preparation for buying an enormous sheet of black plastic to cover the soil for a year.  But at over 330 square metres, I would have broken the bank.

And while I questioned Nicolas carefully about the gravity of his comment; he merely said. You are never going to defeat the bracken, brambles, wild mint, black thorn and grass in any other way.

It sounded defeatest coming from an organic gardener. But I must confess that I reluctantly agree.

Were it an easily accessible area where you could mow or strim and leave the grass to gain hold it might work.  But being in such an inaccessible site; down a steep slope and facing a tidal wave of bracken just waiting for me to miss one weekly strimming session, I know I will fail.wall smothered in brambles

I can’t strim this former vineyard every week for a year. I just don’t have the manpower. Or should I say, one woman power. This is an awfully big garden for one.  And with my two days of hiring in an outside helper he has turned my head over to the dark side.

I am going to leave the whole area fallow for a year. Just sowing grass seed and trying to defeat the invading forces. And yes. I went to my neighbour Jean Daniel to ask if he had any Round Up going spare.

There was a raised eyebrow at the request but he had half a bottle in the cellar, and I did the deed.

And then to compound the problem; I decided not to stop there.

When you stand at the bottom of the farm and look up towards the farmhouse you can see stone walls flanking every flat terrace. There are five main walls – about one hundred metres long, and three or four other complicated tall walls holding up wonky parts of the steep slope. I always mean to count them properly, but never get round to it.

wall weedsWell you used to be able to see these walls all the way up. And for some terraces the rocks are still visible.

I had thought that if I diligently cut back the brambles and grass on the walls twice or thrice every year, then I would defeat the weeds.

Seven years on. Almost eight. I have to admit defeat.

I just can’t win this battle.  And even hand weeding – thick gauntlets and strong secateurs – doesn’t do the trick. It’s marvellously satisfying; even if you come back ripped to shreds.

The bramble roots cleverly hide in among the rocks and then push out the walls each spring.

And why should I really worry about a few bramble infestations on the terraces? I do leave many thickets around the farm for the flowers and the fruit for the bees.walls full brambles

But the weeds bring down the walls. As do the self sown elderflowers which got the chop this week.

And I have a responsibility to this farm. People have been farming this mountain since the 1650s at least. And those walls are part of that rich history.

I feel so bad that a few years of my neglect will bring them down. And they are going to be almost impossible to build again.  (Unless I win the lottery and have a full time stone mason working here.)weeds vineyard edge

Now the practical among would just say ‘buy some sheep, or better still goats.’  And that is the long term plan. But I can’t keep livestock while I have to leave to go to London ten days every month.

The fences are in poor shape, and poor Jean Daniel does not need to add rescue escaping livestock to his list of chores. His own livestock – Ulyssee – is more than enough trouble right now.

ulysse beggingHere he is enjoying me working nearby. I’d much rather have happy animals eating their way through this grass and weed than me with a back sprayer gently gassing myself with poison.

So there. I’ve confessed. I could have avoided mentioning a day’s work of spraying; but this blog has to be honest.

I never shirk from admitting just how physically demanding gardening and landscaping can be. And this is just one part of the process of turning it into a garden. One I’m not proud of. But here’s hoping I will win back control and get back to more admirable forms of gardening again.