What my vines have taught me...

My balcony vines in a rare moment of sunshine It is a natural and possibly naïve impulse for any wine lover to dream of the day when they leave everything behind for a bit of land populated by vines.

I'm reminded of this dream every time I meet with winemakers and visit their vineyards, utterly enchanted by the work they do- cultivating ancient vines and coming to a deep understanding of how to turn their living fruit into living wine.

I don't know if I will ever have that experience- but for the moment what I do have is a balcony just big enough for a table and two chairs, a couple of kale plants, and a pot with a grapevine that has been with us since we moved into this apartment four years ago.


La Lunotte vineyard in the Loire Valley

The first few years the vine grew well. I made grape jam with the fruit and used the leaves to make the dill pickles that I miss so much from home. Then last year nothing happened and I gave up the grapevine for dead. Cutting my loses I fantasized of the day that I would trade my balcony for a vineyard where I would successfully see my grapes flourish and transform into wine.

And then something strange happened.

Let me preface this by saying that this year has been difficult. Winter started early and now, less than a month away from summer, we are still waiting for spring. In 2013, France has had the coldest spring since 1987 with certain degree dropping days breaking records that were set a century ago.

Conversations with Parisian friends don't last long without a mention of the grey sky. Needless to say, the weather has not only been rough on our plants, but on our morale as well. 

It has been a hard year to flourish in France.

balcony vines 2

But in a flash of pre-sunset sunshine one day I sat on my balcony and took in my surroundings.

In addition to the excitement of being outside in the sun,  I was surprised to see that my vines were blooming with their perfect shade of grapevine green bursting in the form of leaves.

My first, and only, grape harvest, 2009

This resurrection of the baby branches of my very own vines means a lot to me. It reminds me of something my sister Audrey wrote recently about cherry blossoms. Set in the rarely-sunny Pacific Northwest she writes of the yearly wonder that is blossoming trees with a tone recalling the awe and appreciation that this simple act deserves.

I can't help but think how strange it is that last year, a year that I would without hesitation call a "good year"- both regarding the weather and my state of mind- my vines remained dormant. Now, after being beaten down by heavy rain and an all-around disappointing season that has made us hedge our hopes for spring asparagus or a mid-May picnic, my vines have come back to life.

Grapevines at Les Jardins du Ruisseau community garden

While I won't be bottling a Paris Paysanne Grand Cru anytime soon, these vines remind me that there is life to be lived despite dark days and during breaks in the clouds.

They remind me that a few hearty cucumbers have made it to market against all odds, and that, when combined with a few grape leaves, I can make the dill pickles whose taste takes me back home to sunny California.

They remind me that living with the seasons means responding to what each season brings and they remind me that our dreams can take the size of a Parisian balcony or a Loire Valley vineyard. But most of all my vines remind me that I should never give up on them.

balcony vines 3


Notes From the Garden

When Kristen of The Kale Project held her Kale coming-out party at Verjus I was excited to pick up a packet of Kale seeds to plant on my balcony and in my neighboring community garden. I started sprouting the seeds on my balcony, reusing the small containers that my cherry tomato plants came in this Summer. They grew quite well and I decided they were ready to be released into the wild at the gardens.

I was worried about snails and slugs attacking these precious and defenseless baby greens, so before transplanting I started collecting used coffee grounds which are great in the garden because they are both rich in nitrogen and other minerals essential for the soil as well as acidic, thus providing a line of defense against unwanted garden visitors.

Once I transplanted the seedlings into their new home, I added an abrasive barrier of coffee grounds that I hope will keep nippish neighbors away and allow the Kale to flourish in its new environment.

I'm also going to grow some Kale in the big wooden containers I have on the balcony- hoping that this will take slugs out of the equation and I will only have aphids and other winged creatures to contend with.

My friend Terresa also suggested that I use copper wires as a sort of barbed-wire fence against intruders, so I think that will be the next addition to my artillery!

I'll leave you with an urban gardening success story- despite their failure to thrive in the community garden, my balcony cayenne plants are still going strong! I have two peppers and a few new ones sprouting. I'm looking forward to drying them and having some homegrown spices to get me through the Winter months!

Paris Paysanne, 5th Arrondissement

Thanks to Marta for this picture of her cherry tomato and coriander balcony garden in the 5th arrondissement! Paris Paysanne salutes your urban gardening efforts!
I still have flags to give away, so if you want to decorate and share your Parisian garden on the blog don't hesitate to get in touch with me!