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French garden diary - February 2019

Does lunar planting really work? Cathy Thompson reveals her tips for planting according to the moon’s calendar

It was always a traditional neighbourly past-time and apparently it is still in vogue. We are talking about your neighbours’ favourite way of whiling away the hours (almost as if it was your job to provide local reality TV) by passing comment while you are earnestly engaged in any particularly challenging/delicate gardening operation.

These, being French neighbours, are often quite keen to point out that you are doing things at the ‘wrong’ time. The ‘right’ time, in France, is in scrupulous accord with the phases of the moon. In a nutshell, this means that you can sow any kind of vegetable during an ascending moon (including roots), but only plant or transplant/repiquer when the moon is descending. If, for example, you were to lift and plant out lettuce seedlings when the moon was rising, they would quickly rush up to greet the moon, running to seed in the process.

But does it work? Your belles salades are the only proof of the pudding – and trial and error the only test. For this you will need to arm yourself with one of the many calendriers de lune available at your local newsagent round about now. This is best, since you are about to immerse yourself in a complicated pseudo-science (I could come on stronger) and you need a paper guru who will not lead you up the garden path.

You will find that each month is divided into root, leaf, flower and fruit days. When in doubt about the crop you are dealing with, think about how you use it. For instance, sow seed of tomatoes on a fruit day, when the moon is in the ascendant and then prick out and pot on a fruit day during a descending moon. But be aware that, if you follow the advice to the letter, you might find yourself anxiously out in the potting shed around about midnight trying to complete a task which must not be done (on pain of death) five hours before or after the apogee (when the moon is furthest from the earth) or a lunar node (when the moon intercepts the ecliptic). Clutch that paper guru close...

It all gets much more serious when you are also informed that you have, at the same time, to be aware of the movement of the planets with regard to the moon.

Continuing with the tomato example above, not only have you to sow in an ascending moon, but you will be particularly successful when the moon is in Aries or Sagittarius. If you are confused, so are the French neighbours (I speak from experience). This is just astrology for plants!

A February ‘to-do’ list

Sow slower-growing vegetables and annual flowers – for example, antirrhinums, petunias, begonias, dahlias, onions, cauliflower, sweet peppers and aubergines.

In the open garden, February is the month to begin sowing broad beans if the ground is not frozen. This is an overlooked crop in France, because it used to be considered only peasant fare. But the delicate flavour of the small, young beans (especially in combination with perfect partners, mint and jambon) is increasingly appreciated. They have the added advantage that they are very drought-tolerant.

Personally, I do not put tomatoes in this early sowing category. If you live in an area experiencing cold winters, any tomatoes sown now will be long and leggy by the time you are able to plant them out. Better wait until late March/early April. Beefsteak tomato ‘Big Daddy’ was the real star in my garden last year, great either for cooking  or for slicing into salads, but I also loved little cherry tomato ‘Groseille Rouge’. Both were still cropping in November last year.

In view of last year’s dry summer months, I am inclined to start sowing cool-loving brassicas much earlier than in the past – this month, in fact. All are completely hardy and really need rain to get them settled in before the harsh summer sun arrives.

They may coast rather listlessly through July and August, but will crop nicely in autumn and winter.

OVER TO YOU

What are your thoughts or experiences on gardening with the moon? Email me at: editorial@connexionfrance.com

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