Thursday, November 13, 2008

Kitchen Gardens of France by Louisa Jones

Magnificent kitchen gardens are a long-standing tradition in France. Every region has its own characteristic examples that - depending on the climate, terrain and design - boast a profusion of vegetables, fruit, flowers and herbs. Family knowledge is carefully handed down for the benefit of each new generation.

In this wonderful celebration of the French kitchen garden, old-fashioned techniques and obscure produce are rediscovered. A illuminating text and brilliant color photographs uncover vegetable patches growing alongside chateaux or abbeys, romantic gardens tended by parish priests, gourmet gardens planted by master chefs and lovely ornamental idylls. Four main sections, covering stately homes, grassroots gardening, dreams and utopias, and vegetable produce, conjure up the rich history and extraordinary variety of the French countryside from Paris to the Alps.

The extravagance of the kitchen garden at Mongenan, highly praised by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the mosaic-like patterns of the allotments at Ivry, and labyrinthine cultivated gardens at Amiens are just a few examples of these most original, most secret, most spectacular and most poetic of kitchen gardens.

This book had amazing pictures (including a bizarre picture of a fountain of a woman with water spouting from her nipples!) but I found the text rather pompous and hard to read since I couldn't pronounce all the French names in my head!

There were some wonderful pictures of beautiful greenhouses on estates. They were just huge, and I was so envious! While other gardens were styled to make them so similar to nature they just looked messy and overgrown! A lot of the smaller gardens, owned by more middle class people were awfully crowded with stuff everywhere - statues and overlarge trellises, etc. I much prefer the rigid, geometric style gardens like Versailles.

The author also told a story of how one gardener had to abandon his garden patch because it was invaded by wild boar! Imagine wild boar invading the garden! I thought bunnies and chipmunks were bad enough! Wow! I have no idea what I'd do if I went out the garden one day to discover a hulking wild board sitting there eating all my stuff - probably turn and run!

There were a couple choice quotes:

Chinese proverb: "Life begins the day you start a garden."

And quoting Maral Paynal: "I want to live in communion with Nature. I want to eat the vegetables of my garden, the oil of my olive trees, to suck fresh eggs of my chickens, to get drunk on the wine of my vines, and so far as possible to eat the bread I make with my wheat."

I think that's the way most gardeners feel, we want to live as closely aligned with our gardens and produce as possible.

I'm going to give this one seven stars. As a plus were the beautiful pictures, as a minus was the difficult to read text.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆


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