My French garden: spring in Calvados

A polytunnel is useful for gardening in the unpredictable Normandy spring season

A polytunnel is useful for gardening in the unpredictable Normandy spring season - Credit: Archant

Spring is an important time of the year for Rosie Hill, who gets ready for action in her Normandy garden

Buying seeds for her Normandy garden is one of Rosie's favourite gardening tasks

Buying seeds for her Normandy garden is one of Rosie's favourite gardening tasks - Credit: Archant

When we moved to Normandy we knew two things: we planned to open an eco-gîte and we wanted to make ourselves as self-sufficient as possible in fruit and vegetables. The gîte is now open and the vegetable garden probably gives us about 80% of our vegetables and all our soft fruit.

Spring, therefore, is a very important time of year when I really need to get going in the garden, but there can be such variations in weather. March has seen us both snowed in and have temperatures in the high 20s, neither of which makes planning very easy. I am itching to get things going but know a late frost could kill tender vegetables.

Rosie Hill runs Eco-Gites of Lenault with her husband

Rosie Hill runs Eco-Gites of Lenault with her husband - Credit: Archant

The signs of spring are all around: frogspawn in the pond, primroses along the roadsides and things are stirring in the veg patch. Rhubarb leaves are poking through, early blossom is out and weeds are starting to grow! There are still a few winter vegetables to harvest (Brussels, leeks, cabbage, kale, parsnips, lambs lettuce, chard, oriental greens) with purple sprouting broccoli and early peas bringing in something new but we are also about to enter the ‘empty gap’ – winter veg will soon be finished and it will be a while before spring plantings are ready. Thank goodness for stores of pumpkins and potatoes, etc, as well as frozen and bottled produce. We won’t go hungry just yet but I do need to get going if that is not to be the case!

It is at this time of year that the polytunnel really comes into its own. It is all go on the sowing front with the tunnel providing much-needed protection for tender seedlings and as the days pass it gets steadily more full. However, it is unheated so the most tender plants are started off inside and then moved out once they are growing, at which point I have to keep a very vigilant eye on the forecast and if any frost is predicted, they either get brought back in the house or given extra protection in the polytunnel. It may be a lot of work but it does ensure earlier harvests. Getting things going outside can be slower, especially if the soil is waterlogged or cold but I usually take a risk and sow a few seeds early – some years this works and some years a late frost kills them.

One of my favourite early-spring jobs is buying seeds. I split my seed buying between the UK and France. In France you have a much better choice of seeds like French beans (somewhat obviously) but the UK is better for seeds such as parsnips and runner beans. And I always buy too many!

Spring is such a special time – a new season full of hopes for new harvests to come. Each year I try to grow something new. Our garden here in Normandy is no warmer than our garden in south-east England where we moved from but I didn’t have a polytunnel back then. Now I can try all sorts of new things in my plastic friend.

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This year I have chosen some different tomato and chilli varieties (some of the latter have very high Scoville scores so we’d best watch out for some hot dinners later in the year) and outside I am planting new pumpkin varieties. As for totally new plants I shall have to scour the local garden centres to see what they have on offer – I quite fancy seeing if I can get a ginger root to grow.

I have grown vegetables since I found some old seeds in my grandfather’s potting shed when I was about 10 years old. In the UK, for the greater part, I had allotments which always meant getting in the car to go and do any work. Now, my veg patch is right on my doorstep and that makes such a difference. I can pop out for 10 minutes to do a bit of weeding, etc, and the produce I harvest can be on our plates in minutes – zero food miles and the freshest of tastes. You can’t beat it!

Rosie Hill, her husband Simon and their two sons live in the Calvados department of Normandy and run and family-friendly eco-gîte.

Want to find out more about Rosie’s eco-gîtes, visit their website:

Read more about gardening in France:

Gardening in Charente-Maritime

Gardening in Ardèche

Setting up an open garden charity event

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