Some boys love trucks, others go mad for motorcycles: my son is crazy about cacti and just about anything else that grows.
While I scour the market for the sweetest peas, Sam crawls under the flower stalls looking for fallen foliage. By the time my basket is full, he has put together a gloriously mismatched bouquet of "found" flowers.
Lately, though, his attention has turned to plants with a longer life expectancy. Cacti come out on top - who can resist their scary spikes and unlikely flowers in garish shades of pink or purple? - but like me he also has a soft spot for anything edible.
For a long time I resisted cultivating plants on my window ledges in Nice. For one thing, there is the risk of terracotta pots falling four floors onto someone's head when a gust of wind sweeps through our narrow street. The other problem is lack of light: I might live in one of the brightest cities in France, but not much of that famous sun gets as far as my windows.
Then I met Sharon, a Paris-based urban garden specialist who convinced me that some plants actually benefit from a lack of direct sunlight. Sam's cactus and herb garden began to grow, some of it financed by his own allowance, and soon Philippe had no choice but to construct lawsuit-proof barriers outside two of our windows (and I have a feeling it's just the beginning).
I couldn't have predicted the pleasure that Sam and I get from our small project. Without realizing it I had been desperately craving the sight of something green - even in Paris our apartment looked out over a jardin naturel - and a few cheerful pots is a lot better than nothing. With thyme, savory, Genoese basil, lemon basil, flat-leaf parsley and chervil on my window ledge, I no longer have to worry about buying herbs at the market (so far, thyme and parsley are the ones I clip the most). Sam waters the plants, talks to them and picks off their dead leaves in the most natural way - he even made a coat out of cloth for a languishing tomato plant. And I surprise myself by rushing to the sink as soon as I see anything looking a little droopy.
This weekend, as the rain fell outside, Sam took it upon himself to award prizes to his plants. The Italian basil won first prize, he said, because "it looks the most like a tropical plant." Second prize went to his potted palm, which lives indoors.
Like most children Sam used to pick herbs out of his food with an air of disdain. Now he loves the sight of them - the other day he made himself a herb omelette, with very little help from me, using a little of every plant. While we were in Italy last week, staying in a beautiful apartment, he also invented la soupe aux plantes. A kind of minestrone involving fresh sage leaves from the Italian garden shown here (if only that were my herb patch!), spring onion, potato, carrot, tomato and tagliatelle, it was proof of the power of herbs.
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Sounds like little Sam the chef is sowing seeds for his first Michelin star? I heartily applaud his award to fresh basil as "Vainquer", as it is, along with dried thyme, my go-to herb. This was the sweetest post ever!...Beth Marlin
Well, you've inspired me to get my not so little container herb garden going on my apartment patio. For those us without the possibilities of large space to grow our own vegetables, it seems freeing to know that at least we can grow some great herbs, which means saving a little money also having access to the freshest possible.
Basil never seems to grow for me, but I'm inspired to try it again after reading this and seeing Sam's gorgeous green basil plant. Thanks!
With the help of another gardening friend (Sonja) I have finally managed do grow Basil on my front window - HURRAH!! Was so elated by that success that I started salvia/sage and will soon transplant the little seedlings to a nice large pot for my summer balcony. Picking one's own fresh herbs is such a kick. Your son is right.
Sam does seem to have good taste, Beth! I look forward to using more of the award-winning basil as soon as tomatoes are in season - hope we can keep it alive until then!
Tami, an apartment patio sounds wonderful to me! If I were you, I'd try a couple of vegetables too - maybe tomatoes or a pepper plant?
Loulou, I've never had much luck in the past with basil either - perhaps Sam's magic touch will change that!
Martha, starting herbs from seed sounds ambitious - we simply bought them in pots! Or should I not admit to that?
Hello Rosa - I have so often wondered about you over the years and it was a delight to peruse these pages, see your various successes and see a picture of Sam! I'd love to hear from you! Rosalind x
Hi Rosa, My husband, Jay, and I enjoyed participating in your cooking class a few years ago through "Chez Michael". At that time we were living in Chicago. Recently (1month ago) we moved our family to Scottsdale, Arizona. Your son's love of all things green, especially cacti, inspired me to write. I came across your blog searching for, of all things, a socca recipe. I remember how great it was to eat if fresh in the market right from the socca lady herself! Do you have a copy of the reciepe you can email to me? Thank you again for a lovely time in Nice!