The past few weeks have been full of community garden discoveries for me. Not only did I become a new member of my local community garden,Les Jardins du Ruisseau, but I also had the pleasure of accepting invitations to visit two friends in the different community gardens they are involved in.
These shared gardens, scattered all over the city, prove that urban agriculture is more than just a budding movement in the capital, but a flourishing opportunity for city dwellers to get their hands dirty and enjoy the fruits of their labour.
My first stop was Terresa's shared garden in the 12th arrondisement. Tucked away next to a small park where locals have their dejeuner, Terresa packs an impressive amount of agriculture into two tiny (and tidy) plots of land. While most members' interaction with this garden consist of taking advantage of the lovely bucolic setting while dining under the grapevine-covered awning that is the centerpiece of the organic sprawl, Terresa actively tends to the terre.
At Terresa's garden, a handful of dedicated urban gardeners succeed in cultivating a hearty yield of locally grown produce, which include strawberries, raspberries, courgettes, tomatoes, greens, beets, carrots, turnips, and a wide variety of herbs among many other seasonal crops.
I may have been a guest in Terresa's garden, but I was eager to put in a day's work. Upon arriving at the garden's gate, Terresa presented me with the itinerary for the day. We took a tour of the garden and the two plots Terresa tends to. I was convinced that our day's duties could hardly be as time consuming as Terresa made them sound. However, an hour later and only half way done with thinning out panais sprouts and replacing hay with coffee grounds as a preventative measure against unwelcome pests, I realized how much work really goes in to keeping a garden alive.
As we tended to the to-do list of garden chores, Terresa would periodically excuse herself to check on the fish pond that is tucked in the corner of the garden. She had been soothing the single coy fish in the pond since our arrival, assuring it that she would stay until his water had been refreshed. Moving the hose and checking the water quality from time to time, it was clear how invested Terresa is in the life thriving in the garden.
While working the land is inextricably linked with the creation and support of new life, and Terresa is a befitting representation of the gardener/nurturer (she prefaces the use of the term "mauvaise herbe" by explaining that no herbe is mauvaise- we just simply find ourselves more interested in certain herbes depending on the circumstances), my green-thumbed guide didn't shy away from showing me the darker side of gardening. Turns out that when it comes to fending off garden pests, coffe grounds are fine but bootsoles are better.
The anti-pesticide approach to gardening includes a lot of nasty smelling DIY antidotes including nettle-based sprays and decomposed slug corpse concoctions, however the most straightforward approach consists of seeking the little buggers out and squishing them underfoot before they can get to your lush leaves of kale or chard.
The world of urban gardening, just like any other natural setting, is dog-eat-dog. I didn't have the stomach for the slug and snailocide that followed, but Terresa had long abondonded any sympathies with the bitty beasts that had ravaged her crops for too long. She bravely exterminated the little clan of creepy crawlers that had camped out near her crops while I sought solice near the coy pond.
But I couldn't dwell on the carnage for long because instants later I was Keds-deep in composte tea, sprinkling the nutrient rich residue from Terresa's composte pile over the plots of land that we had meticulously minded, thinning out the sprouts and weeding out the herbes that we weren't interested in cultivating at the moment. All said and done, I was proud of our day's work and was elated with the unexpected pleasure of having dirty finger nails and compost smelling clothes which resulted in an earthy smell that I didn't mind bringing along with me on the metro.
Terresa sent me home with a lovely bouquet of horseradish, bay leaves, lavender, and a baby carrot, but before we parted ways we were visited by a member of the garden. Terressa asked him why he didn't have a plot of land of his own and he explained to us that he was an agriculteur not a gardener. "What's the difference?" we asked him. "An agriculteur grows things, a gardener makes works of art" he replied.
We looked around the hodgepodge of plants and flowers, squeezed into a small space in the shadow of the Bastille and a bustling city. A mess of sprouts and blossoms, the garden was sort of a crossroads of agriculture and gardening, if we accepted the gentleman's definition.
"This is a work of art?" Terresa asked him, gesturing to her bit of land. "Well," he responded slowly, hedging diplomatically, "not every work of art is a masterpiece". Maybe it wasn't a masterpiece to all, but after spending the day kneeling in the dirt, our work felt like no less than a chef d'oeuvre to me.
Q: What's better than discovering a secret garden tucked away next to a charming church built around a living tree? A: Being given a tour of said garden by a lovely Mademoiselle who will eagerly share her knowledge of roses and English Litterature with you.
I had the best of both worlds when I found myself in the fortunate position of visiting Florence's community garden in the 15th arrondisement. The garden is a project headed by the Russian Orthodox community who use the garden as a spot to meet after church and hold community events.
Florence got involved with the project when she saw an annonce seeking help with the upkeep of the garden. She met with the elderly Russian man who had taken on the project tout seul and was happy to lend a helping hand. Having lived in Russia when younger, Florence was happy to be in contact with Russian culture and be able to brush up on the language (Florence is totally the type of worldy and cultivated person who knows how to speak Russian, and probably 4 out of 5 of any language you would ask her about.)
Hidden behind an unremarkable door in a neighborhood in the 15th, the garden is part of an enchanting courtyard that houses the wooden church which was constructed around a tree that predates the community's use of the space. The chiming of traditional Russian bells and the neighbor's habit of busting Beethoven in the apres-midi make this spot an ideal respite for those of any and all theological persuasions.
Surrounded by Hollyhocks, Hydrangeas, and roses of all colors I realized how much this garden reinforced the qualities that I love about Paris, most particularly that you never know when you will find beauty next and that behind every door hides the possibility of surprise.
Thanks so much to my two guides, Terresa and Florence, for sharing their time and plots of land with me! Next time we'll have to do it in my little urban wilderness. Rendez Vous aux Jardins du Ruisseau bientôt!
If any of my readers would like to share their urban gardening projects with me or the blog, I'd love to take a tour! Also, it's sprouting season and I think this Parisian rain is only helping our budding buddies, even if it's not doing much for our moods! If you, like me, had a green thumb bigger than your balcony/window box this year and would like to exchange or share your sprouts with other Parisian Paysannes, please don't hesitate to post and network on the Facebook page or leave a comment on the blog!!