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16 October 2014
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Autumn 2007
  Armchair Gardening

Diary of a French Herb Garden
Book Review by Trevor Edwards
24 September 2002

Diary of a French Herb GardenIn this delightfully presented hard back book the author Geraldene Holt, a highly respected food writer, exchanges her cooking utensils for her gardening fork and describes the year she spent restoring a curate’s ancient, walled garden in Saint Montan, a medieval village deep in the Ardeche region of Southern France.

Early in the book she describes her horror when she discovered that the Mayor of the village had started to cut down the Fig trees to make way for a picnic area.

Geraldene’s last minute bid too save the garden involved negotiations with the mayor and presentations to the village council. She charts her efforts for the 12 months from September to September with captivating passion, love and humour. She word paints a charming picture of the village and the people who live there, and how she coped with the challenges of the Mediterranean climate, and the lime stone terrain.

The book is peppered with lots of practical advice on how to create a charming garden composed entirely with aromatic herbs.
Not only does the book provide us with lots of gardening tips but also Geraldene’s cookery background equips her with plenty of knowledge and the ability to impart many culinary tips and advice.
i.e. "Juniper bushes dot the hillside, their spiky glaucous foliage producing hard green berries that take two years to ripen to navy blue – yet the wait is worthwhile since the flavour of juniper berries is irreplaceable in game dishes and for flavouring rich terrines" – sounds terrific!

Another example of her graphic word painting is – "The perceptible bite in the air is as appetising as a glass of chilled Chablis."

The book considerately and consistently uses common names usually followed by the botanical name. Each chapter deals with a month of the year, and at the end of the book you can find a chapter by chapter listing of all the plants mentioned. Here you can make use of a detailed Planting Plan which will help anyone to replicate all or part of the scheme within their own garden.

I enjoyed the frequent snippets of information e.g. did you know –
· That in France the 25th of November is known as St. Katherine’s Day. This date is regarded auspicious by all gardeners in France since it marks the point when the rate of growth is almost negligible and so has been considered the perfect time for planting trees and shrubs. The date coincides with the usual date of Tree Week in the UK.
The Patron Saint of Gardening is St. Fiarce. Well what do you know!

Before starting to read the book I was not overly enthusiastic about the prospect of reading a Diary. However this inspiring guide for the experienced or novice gardener is also a gripping story of this English women’s love of gardening in France.

I thoroughly enjoyed this inspiring book and would encourage anyone who has an interest in herbs, gardening in general or who simply loves or enjoys France to grab hold of a copy.

Book: Diary of a French Herb Garden
Author: Geraldene Holt
Publisher: Chrysalis Books plc
Price: £14.99




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