Garden Gem in Normandy – Clos du Coudray

[oqeygallery id=21]If you want to visit Monet’s Garden when you are in France, and what garden tourist doesn’t, don’t plan to day trip out from Paris.  It’s worth the trouble to rent a car and drive to Normandy for a couple of days.  You may save enough in hotel rates to pay for the car.  But more importantly, you can also visit some of the other excellent public gardens that Normandy offers. Although it doesn’t have the same sense of art history, which is arguing apples and oranges to some extent, Clos du Coudray , in my opinion, surpasses Monet’s Garden in its horticultural importance and at least equals it in design impact.  The owners take pride in being completely organic.  It’s also a working nursery, so new discoveries are showcased next to old favorites.

Plantings are laid out in different “garden rooms”.  One of the things that I like about this garden is that the design goes far beyond the simple three parts that can be found so often in France (formal, informal and near-wild).  The rose garden is one of the best I’ve seen at integrating roses with other plantings for a long season of beauty, even in shaded spots.  It’s much more than a rose garden really.  It is the most formal of the gardens with straight paths and squared off design elements.  All of my favorites are used in one garden or another:  iris, peonies and dahlias.  And I fell in love with a birch tree, betula costata, that I’ve named Betts.  Located near a huge stand of gunnera in a shaded area, her tender, light bronze branches arching gracefully over a bed of hosta create a sunny spot. 

In the pictures, notice the loving attention to the details of color and shape, how they complement each other in the plantings.  It always amazes me that people can imagine these things and then use plants to create the vision.

Follow this link to look at the history of the garden.  There are three pictures in the middle of the page, clicking on them will take you to pictures and descriptions of the owners reconstruction of the building, the development of the garden and the extension of the garden.  It is in French but most browsers will translate for you. It’s worth looking at the pictures, in any case.

LED First Harvest

LED lettuce harvest
LED lettuce harvest

I picked some of my first batch of lettuces last night from under the LED lights.  I had them tested by Everiss Labs and since this was the first time I’d ever seen tissue test results, I was a little concerned that the nitrogen levels were a little high and the calcium levels a bit low.  Although I had no direct way to tie these percentages to the ppms that are used to measure the nitrates/nitrites when scientists talk about the issues of low light lettuces, I thought this might indicate that the plants had a problem with high nitrate/nitrite levels that would make them unhealthy to eat.  However, when I asked for clarification from the lab, they said absolutely no problem, not to worry.  The averages weren’t meant to delineate healthy ranges, just averages from plants over the years and my marginal variations weren’t significant.

Lettuce plant and sample

I had wanted a worst case analysis for the testing, too.  I’d fertilized them 24 hours before the test (Scotts Miracle Grow again).  I don’t think they really needed it; this was part of the test plan.  And since I read that nitrogen levels go higher at night, picking my sample first thing in the morning would have helped make it worst case, too.  From now on, I will not fertilize for a week or two before harvest and always, only the minimum necessary.  The second batch, already under the lights, is made with a combination of ProMix and compost; I’m hoping that will have everything the plants need.  And I’ll harvest in the evening, after a full day of light; the lettuces may be sweeter that way.

To the right is a shot of the sample that I sent to the lab (bottom), and remaining plant.  Notice the strong root structure; air pruned because of the soil blocks.  I expect these may bolt a little earlier than lettuces with all the root space they need but we’ll see.  With a new flat started and a pot of basil to go under this same light, I am at or above the space limit so some of them have to go, anyway.

Marginal leaf tip burn on lettuce
Marginal leaf tip burn on lettuce

Another possible, very low level symptom of high nitrogen stress, that I actually had to look for, is leaf tip burn.  What I found was on a couple of the older leaves and when it’s really a problem, I read, it’s on the inner, newer growth.  But it is related to low calcium in the tissue.  Low calcium uptake is associated with the low light (high nitrate/nitrite) issues of lettuce, and while this is so marginal that it’s not really a problem, I thought I would post a picture.  Since most of us are judging plant health from observations, it’s good to know what to look for.

So it’s harvest time!  Although the lettuces are about as clean as lettuces can be, I soaked them in very cold water in the lettuce keeper as I normally do and rinsed and drained them.  A taste test before I put them into the refridgerator revealed sweet and crunchy.  Here is a picture of “the farm”, as sister (aka the backup LED light gardener) calls it.
The farm
The farm

From seed to the table in eight weeks is a happy outcome, in my opinion.  I’ll stick with leaf lettuces for now but work on more variation in my harvests.  And probably smaller batches so that I have a few plants ready at any point in time.  For more information about timing and processes, see the category LED light growing or ask a question in your comments.  Sharing is half the fun.  The other half is eating!  Fresh and healthy from “the farm” to the table.

Outdoors and In

The temps are forecasted in the teens, next town over to the west and north.  I went out to see what I could get before it was frozen and came back with a couple of handfuls of good stuff.  Small but brightly colored Swiss chard, Piracicaba and Parsley.
garden harvest 12’10’11

Here is where it came from.

sad Piracicaba plants
Sad Piracicaba plants
But still producing Piracicaba blossoms
But still producing edible Piracicaba blossoms
Swiss chard
Swiss chard

 And here is the self seeded mache (corn salad).  I left a few of the plants go this spring, hoping to get a fall crop.  These will probably not grow very much until next spring. 

self seeded mache
self seeded mache

 I picked this one, less than 2″ accross but I’ll add it to the salad bowl.

mache (corn salad)

 And here is a shot of my indoor lettuce.  Kicking myself, as I watered them today and then found the test kit in a soggy plastic bag on my door.  I’d intended to give them a shot of fertilizer, 24 hours before sending off the sample as a worst case for high nitrogen but I don’t think I can wait much longer to start harvesting the bigger leaves.

Indoor Lettuce
Indoor Lettuce