French garden diary - September 2018

Ce n'est pas la fin des haricots... As summer concludes, Cathy Thompson is battling pests and planning bulbs

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This expression (more or less translated as ‘it’s not the end of the world’) is thought to have originated in nineteenth century French boarding schools. If food supplies were low, the students were given haricots to sustain them. And when even this mediocre sustenance was gone, well, that was it...

Now, in September, it really ought to be the end of the green beans, but it never is, is it? At this time of year you are bound to have them (and courgettes, tomatoes, etc.) coming out of your ears. And, at the risk of turning this column into a cookery spot, I must insist that there ought to be a seamless link between potager and kitchen.

What do you do with a glut of haricots? I’ve tried just about everything. In spite of what some of my friends insist, they DO NOT freeze well. Every which way has been tried in this house, but the results are still insipid.

To my mind the best preserving trick is the old-fashioned French way – de-string them if necessary, then blanch the beans for the briefest of time. Put them vertically into a preserving jar, cover them with boiling, salted water, close the jar and sterilise in the oven for about 1hr 50mins at 100C.

Personally, I quite like to cook up curries with excess haricots and runner beans. I gave up growing runner beans a while back, because the flavour of haricots is so much finer (and their preparation involves less work!).

But they have their place. For a recent dinner party I was preparing a couscous starter involving roasted runner beans, shallots, garlic, feta taken from a book written by one of my favourite chefs, Denis Cotter of Cork. His Paradiso Seasons (Atrium, 2003) works its way beautifully through every single harvest, by season, on your veggie plot.

Meanwhile, in the ornamental garden it is still not la fin for the roses. I recently started planting the repeat-flowering Bourbons, which sometimes flower right up to Christmas. Madame Isaac Péreire is the pick of the litter, in my opinion, and I have frequently rescued her frosty buds from the garden at the end of a mild autumn.

The rose was originally bred in 1881 by the French nurseryman Armand Garçon of Rouen, who called it ‘Le Bienheureux de La Salle’, after the man who set up the order of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, by whom it is supposed Garçon was educated.

He sold the rose to a Paris company, Margottin Fils, who renamed the rose after the wife of a prominent financier who had passed away the year before.

Madame Péreire’s only drawback is an awful tendency to blackspot, which can reduce a wonder to a misery. A spray of water, bicarbonate of soda and a drop of washing-up liquid every three or four days, making sure you repeat after any rainfall, seems to give reasonable control. The trouble is worth it for that glorious perfume and the sumptuous, fuchsia-pink blooms.


I hope the wretched pyrale du buis, or box tree moth caterpillar has not been an issue for you this season. My treatment with Bacillus thuringiensis in May seems to have worked well and will be repeated the minute I see any further trace of the little blighters.

It is also worthwhile hanging up pheromone traps, such as Buxatrap from Solabiol. I hung one up on a Friday and had caught 10 of the male adults, attracted by the pheromones, by Sunday night. They are expensive at over €30 each, but worthwhile for the warning they give you. The moth continues to be active until October and this last fling produces the generation that will overwinter in your box to start up the game again next spring, so give the traps a go.


What recipes or methods do you use to cope with a glut on the vegetable plot at this time of year? Courgette ideas particularly welcome! You can send me an email at: