Monday, March 18, 2013

French Dirt by Richard Goodman

Gardening French Style (Gardening Week)

In a few days it will be spring. In these parts of the Inland Northwest, we’re not quite ready to plant.  The snow is gone but the temperatures are in the 40s.  The good news is that tulip and daffodil bulbs are starting to poke their heads out of the ground, and that's enough to get excited about. It's time to order plants from the catalogs that have been teasing us for months. It's time to gear up for gardening! This week I want to look at some gardening books for inspiration and insight. 

French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France by Richard Goodman is short book about a great undertaking in France.  American Richard Goodman and his Dutch girlfriend decided to move to a small village in France for one year.  The town had a population of 211 people.  Not only did this scant number of inhabitants not warrant a movie theater, there was also no post office, no grocery store, no butcher, no gas station.  There weren’t any stores at all. In the mornings trucks peddling bread, meat, and even shoes came to the town square.  That was the highlight of the day.  So what did people do for recreation?  Well, gardening ranked up there, but not really for recreational purposes.  These people took gardening seriously.  When Richard had a difficult time making friends, he made a garden.  And with his garden friendships ultimately developed.  This book is not just about the thrill of growing your own vegetables, the miracle of planting seeds, nurturing them, and getting delicious crops at the end of the season.  This book takes us to a foreign land with different cultures and lifestyles.  It’s like a relaxing little vacation while watching Richard do all the hard work in the garden.  I really liked the book.

I found it interesting that in this tiny village with land all around them, people did not have gardens in their backyards.  It doesn’t really sound like they even had backyards, or at least Richard didn’t talk about them. The villagers had plots of land surrounded by vineyards.  They had to walk or ride their mobilettes (motor bikes) to their gardens.

It very much reminded me of my grandmother in Germany.  She lived in an apartment her entire adult life.  There was a courtyard in the back, but no room for residents to have their own plots of land.  So, as was the custom, she and my grandfather rented a plot of land in a gardening community. It was a thirty-minute bike ride from her apartment.  To me, her garden was an enchanting world of its own. Each plot had its own little garden house.  My grandmother’s wasn’t all that fancy. If I remember right it had a stove, table and chairs in it along with a bench.  Behind it was a stinky old outhouse which I hated to use.  Next to the outhouse was a giant composting area.  It seemed enormous, as big as a minivan.  Maybe it just seemed so big because I was so small back then. Every once in a while I remember my grandmother scattering white powder all over it. What was it?  I’m not sure, maybe lime to break it down. 

On the other side of the house was a tiny lawn and outdoor patio.  The lawn area was surrounded by currant bushes which we would have in bowls with sugar for dessert many times.  I also remember that mice or some other pests would work their way into the lawn.  My grandmother would have me stand on one hole, while she poured boiling water into the other hole.  That should give them something to think about next time they dare dig in her lawn. 

In front of the house was the main garden.  It was divided in two by a path and small fruit trees.  This is where the real work took place.  I can still see my grandmother kneeling in the dirt weeding the strawberries. She grew all kinds of fruits and vegetables including potatoes, asparagus, carrots, leeks, cucumbers, rhubarb, onions, green beans and more, which she always took home and made into something delicious or canned it for the winter.  She also had a great variety of fruit including the biggest and best tasting Bing cherries, gooseberries, and raspberries. She had an Italian plum tree and made a plum cake and mouthwatering delicious plum jam. She would take crates of her apples from her trees to have juice made from them.

I loved my grandmother, and one of my fondest memories
was seeing her on her bike with big sprays of flowers from her garden. Throughout  spring and summer her home was filled with cheery bouquets of sweet peas, freesias, lilacs, peonies, mums, geraniums, and giant gladiolas.

She passed down her “gardening gene” to my mother, who then passed it down to me.  I still have grape hyacinth bulbs from her that bloom in my garden every year.  My grandmother brought them to my mom on a visit to America ages ago.  My mom gave me some and whenever I moved, they moved with me.  I dug up the bulbs and replanted them.  Even though my grandmother passed away a long time ago, each spring when the beautiful periwinkle flowers bloom, I think about her.

Happy reading,

What about you?  What is a good gardening book you’ve read? Enter a comment or email me at and I will post your answer

What did you think of this book? Post a comment or email:


  1. I have not read "French Dirt, but would like to. It sound's like my kind of book. I especially liked your tribute to your grandma and her gardening. She would be so excited if she knew that even her grand children liked gardening. I read a book by Joann Harries called "Five Quarters of the Orange" . It plays in France and it is about food and its preparation. Everything is home grown and I could "smell" the dishes. Of course there is more to the story then food.
    Thank you for a very nice blog.

  2. I LOVE this review!! It's probably the BEST review ever cause all of the memories you wrote about Omi!! I loved that garden. I don't remember it in detail like you but I have my own great memories from there with her!!! That sounds like one fun book! Thank you.

  3. I loved your review on this book because it bring back a lot of great memories. I loved that garden of our Grandma's and loved seeing the pictures our our grandparents enjoying it! I will have to read the book, it sounds like one I would enjoy.