Summer gardening

Oh good, dawn is coming up. That’s pleasing.

Do you think as we get older our bodies say things like ‘I’ll give you six hours sleep and that’s more than enough’ ? Going to bed at 11 seems to always mean I ping awake just after 5am and that’s it for sleep. My brain moves into To Do list mode.

At least I get to hear the owls in the forest at this hour. And the deer moving across the mountain.

I do so love my new office with the French windows opening onto the east side of the mountain.

I made a decision yesterday not to discuss the heatwave. Moaning about the hot weather is just not going to be a Thing. It is what we have and what we will experience so I just have to get over being surprised.

It reminds me of that lovely expression:

So from now on it’s not you are suffering a heatwave, you are the heatwave.

And this lack of water issue is one we have to live with. With modifications.

I am not sure I mentioned that we have very little town water right now. All residents have been told that no more watering of any vegetable gardens is permitted at all. Until the end of summer. Restrictions of all sorts, and as our water is all on a meter they can tell if anyone is breaking the rules and we will be fined.

Luckily there is still 13 cubic meters of water sitting in our underground supply. But it’s going to be a close run thing to save the whole garden over the summer if the source up in the forest does not replenish.

We usually have to rely on switching over to town water at some stage in the summer most years. So this year is a bit of a shock for everyone. It all happened in July.

The three reservoirs of water we rely on are almost dry. The pipes to pump up the water from the aquifers are too narrow to cope with the 24 hour demand. Too many of us who usually use our own water supplies are now tapping into the town water because our own tanks are no longer full.

We received a very considered and elegant letter from our mayor (he does articulate well) explaining all the water troubles our three communes are experiencing.

But bless him he forgot to mention the elephant in the room.

The surge in demand.

Our tiny little village hosts music festivals. One of the oldest in France apparently. (This is the 45th year of the Chabriole festival.) It’s all tent city and a great loud vibe and a weekend of jolly good fun.

This is the largest of the four or five music festivals that take place every year across the valley from our farm.

And for the big one it was exceptionally hot. So the mayor decided to exceptionally give free access to showers in the village and endless water for everyone. Help yourselves.

Over 1500 happy campers, frolicking in the cold wet stuff. Some even left taps on. Because, hey, it’s a music festival. It’s hot.

And surprise, surprise, after the the tents were packed away after another exceptionally good long weekend of partying and putting the little village in the plus column of Exceptionally Great Hosts to large parties…

The locals are now exceptionally pissed off.

Excuse the French.

I almost want to go to the next public meeting to see what sort of excoriating ire is directed at the organisers who didn’t think to bring in exceptionally large pallets of water bottles or even a tanker of water to ease the burden on our tiny village.

This is a festival which charges quite a lot of money for the tickets. It’s not a free event and they now limit the sale of the tickets to around 1500 a day. So provision for some water will definitely be on the agenda next year. That or it will be pitchforks at dusk from the locals.

And today I wanted to show you just what the consequences of this are.

My friend Sarah has a cut flower garden just up the road from me. It’s a new business and she has invested mightily in dahlias, peonies and about an acre (sorry lots of square metres) of perennial plants and sown annuals. She sells her flowers at markets and also now does weddings and has spent quite some time marketing and getting a reputation for beautiful flowers and arrangements. Contracts to supply restaurants, subscription bouquets.

Last week she was told that her whole business is now in peril because the water supply is too low. So she can no longer irrigate her crops. Not a drop.

Unlike all the other farmers around her she cannot claim compensation for this lost business because ‘cut flowers are not food’.

We pause there to wait for the blood pressure to come down a touch. Cut flowers as agriculture is only a new thing. And the bureaucracy has not quite caught up. And she is in shock. She stood in her enormous field and realised that she was going to lose the lot.

So she put out the call.

She has to try and remove every single plant from this drought-stricken part of the mis-managed water zone and transplant them elsewhere.

Luckily her partners a good market garden which has access to a good water supply about ten minutes drive the other side of the mountain. In another commune which doesn’t frolic in music festival fun.

So for two pretty darn hard afternoons the volunteers moved plants.

Hot work.

Find a row of gorgeous dahlias in bud. Kneel down and remove all the stalks and half the leaves. Haul it out of the ground, into crates. Move the plants into the wet zone where they are left soaking in a good deep bucket of water and mud.

Transplant into 10 litre pots (very generously donated by a potato farmer).

Soak in the precious water that is allowed.

Shove into the back of the cars and vans. Race across town and transplant.

We were a slick team and we worked fast.

The dahlias and the expensive peonies went first.

We used my Ikea bags for the peonies as we had to lift as much soil as we could for these huge plants.

And day two was endless trips for the beautiful perennial plants which were just starting to give a really good show.

There is so much more to do.

But we made a start.

This whole field needs to be transplanted. After the two big weddings Sarah has to do in the next fortnight.

Zinnias, agastache, rudbeckias, sunflowers, fabulous panicums… the list is heartbreakingly long.

We stopped at the end of day two to just have a frolic in the beds and marvel at her plants.

I have some amaranthus drying in the rack above my head as I type. I didn’t know that you can dry the panicles for bouquets. So I’ll be having some fun with the amaranthus ruby red in the potager. (If they survive.)

It was great to get to know Lucie, who has a dried flower business. She has a market stall in town on Sunday mornings.

I learned so much as we hauled and heaved and soaked and quietly grieved.

Gomphrena, Limonium, yet more Helichrysum varieties I never knew existed. So good things come from a community of like-minded flower fiends. I will try some of these next year from seed.

But once the aching muscles subsided it really felt wrong. We shouldn’t have been helping Sarah rip up a thriving business and moving it elsewhere in the height of summer and risking her losing the lot at all. We need to manage our water.

Cut flowers are a luxury. That I understand. But it feels sad that a young and wide-eyed entrepreneur cannot make a go of a business that might just thrive. Our rural part of France is gentrifying. Fifteen years ago no one sold cut flowers at the markets. Now we have three just on Thursday alone.

The latest news is the dahlias settled in well. The peonies are still hiding in the cool of a cellar until she is ready. She is still trying to source shade cloths for the crops. And as for the rest of the plants…

Look at all that work.