la grippe porcine


A breakthrough in the garden in today's story column.

creuser (kreuh-zay) verb

    : to dig; to hollow out, to make a hole in; to sink, bore, cut, plow, drill

Audio file: listen to Jean-Marc conjugated the verb creuser:  
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je creuse, tu creuses, il creuse, nous creusons, vous creusez, ils creusent (pp: creusé)

creuser sa propre tombe = to dig one's own grave
une idée à creuser = something worth pursuing

A Day in a French Life...
by Kristin Espinasse

I am a slow learner, in many respects, and this may be why it took me so long to begin to know how to garden: truth is, it wasn't until my forty-first year that I learned how to make a dent in the earth.

After failing the first time around, le jardinage, like math, put me off for some time. That's because I had not made a simple, first-things-first connection: behind every juicy tomato, behind every towering tournesol,* is a gardener who knows how to haul!

Haul dirt, that is, out of the ground. I'd quickly given up on digging once I discovered that our front yard was made of concrete.
"Ceci n'est pas du béton," this is not concrete, my husband pointed out as I stabbed at the ground, trying to turn it over in time to tuck in a tulip bulb. 
"La terre est sèche," the ground, there, is dry, Jean-Marc explained offering what would be the golden gardening rule:

Ajouter de l'eau. (Just add water.)

I guess I'd rather do things my own, more scientific, way.  My husband's way, with his elementary water puddles that preceded those dug holes, seemed slapjack, slapstick, or simply slapped together -- as if he were making up the rules along the way. Besides, what a mess!  All that sloshing and slopping around. Leave it to him to make mud pies, not me, I would make artifacts out of my carefully "creused" corner: I'd dig like a pro.

Off I'd trot  to creuser* a calculated hole somewhere else, away from all that splashing, all that muddiness.  And dig I did -- as one chisels stone, or drills pavement.

"I hate this! I hate gardening! I hate it, I hate it, I hate it! " I'd end up lamenting. Stupid, dumb, idiotic tulips! Only, I hadn't yet figured out that none of this was the fault of the flower bulbs.

* * *

I am a slow learner and so it is no surprise that it took two years for the golden gardening rule to sink in.

"Ajouter de l'eau. Just add water".

A couple of seed packets in my hand, I stared at the ground below: parched, unpoundable. A certain concept returned to me, along with the image of my husband and his mud pie maneuvering. Only those weren't pies he was pushing around. With basic common sense (just add water... let the earth rest, then dig in!), the "concrete" earth was putty in his hands: now tame, now tender, soft enough to shovel. 

* * *

It is the first week of May and I've dug enough holes to host a colorful cast of characters out in my potager.* There are over a dozen tournesols (I've since learned to dig a trench!), seven tomato plants, four pepper plants, two aubergines,* two courgettes,* verbena for tea, and strawberries.  

I have learned that planting is easy, it is reckoning with a rock-hard patch of earth (whether on the ground... or in one's stubborn spirit) that's tricky. Thankfully, I've begun to grasp a few astuces* along the way: to dig when the earth is soft, for example, after a rainstorm, and to profiter* from a light pluie.* More importantly, I no longer need to dig like a doctorate (no more calculating, no more "scientific" shoveling), though I do enjoy making a mud pie or two, and find it softens the heart just as water softens soil.

*     *     *
Comments, corrections--and stories of your own--are always helpful and appreciated. Thank you for reading my stories. Please know that I enjoy reading yours, too, in the comments box.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
le jardinage (m)
= gardening; le tournesol (m) = sunflower; creuser = to dig; le potager (m) = kitchen or vegetable garden; une aubergine (f) = eggplant; la courgette (f) = zucchini; une astuce (f) = trick (tip); profiter = to take advantage of (opportunity); la pluie (f) = rain

You know you've caught the gardening bug when your upended front gate begins to look like a good place to tie up tomatoes! (Do you see the shadow of my son's basketball hoop, just above my head? Maybe I can tie a string to that, too, and send sweet peas climbing sky high!) Photo by Jules Greer.

Listen to French!
I leave you with a "creuser" video. (I have reserved another fun find for you in this Saturday's Cinéma Vérité. Don't miss it, along with the latest batch of photos taken in Visan!)

Three Random Words:
le quatre-épices = allspice
râlant,e = infuriating
la variole (f) = smallpox

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


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Kristin, I was astonished to read that you didn't know about "just add water," or "dig after it rains," which are principles I've observed for years. It seems so obvious.

Then, the light dawned. "Desert rat" that you are, you lived in a climate with probably no more than 10 inches of rain a year. And in Arizona, because of the lack of rain, many people have gravel (sometimes colored) in their yards instead of grass. And possibly because of living a mobile life in a trailer, you weren't in an area long enough to do a lot of gardening - you could plant, but maybe not still be there to see the results.

Now that you know about just adding water, I hope your garden will overflow with vegetables and blooms.


Marianne: I wish I could use the desert as an excuse. In fact, my Mom always had a beautiful garden, no matter where we lived! Speaking of which, though our trailer did come with wheels, we only moved it twice. Later on, when Mom lived in a cabin by Saguaro lake, she had a garden of paradise, teeming with all sorts of vegetables and flowers (she brought in mulch and had a well). My Dad is an avid gardener as well, and had the most lovely rose garden. My grandfather (Mom's side), who lived in Bouse, Arizona, had a greenhouse full of vegetables. I wish the gardening bug had bit sooner but, as the French say, C'est comme ça! (I'm trying to make up for lost time!)


Dear Kristin,
I am so glad you are outside mucking about and planting, as are we! In Tallahassee, we have a gardening window of about two months before the heat wave rolls ashore when everything tenderly planted shrivels up and becomes a lump of mold (did I forget to add that behind the heat wave is a tsunami of humidity?):( Of course, during that two-month window, all of God's creatures are out and about as well, mostly in our backyard -- the deer eat what's up high, the bunnies what's down low, and the caterpillars everything in between! Nonetheless, we feel a part of that great agrarian society that is at the foundation of all great civilizations. Good thing we have a grocery store right down the road:)


Good luck, Kristin. I keep reading and hearing that one should not work in wet soil as it breaks down its' structure, whatever that is. Here in Texas we are either dessert like or all wet!! For me lately it is pot gardening. Phyllis


Good for you Kristin! You will really enjoy seeing your efforts grow and then sharing the vegetables with your family. I put in two raised bed veggie gardens this year with "security" fencing to keep the cat out. It seems to be working and to see the growth of the vegetables just one month after planting the seeds is astounding.


Good work !

Don't hesitate to say "Merci pour vos services et voulez-vous un petit pastis ?"

Robert Carlson

Kristin, I can sympathize with you perfectly, even though my parents and grandparents were all avid gardeners, the "bug" didn't hit me until my late 30's, and then I caught a fatal case! Seed catalogs replaced Zola, tulip catalogs seemed as intoxicating as a Playboy to a teenager. I once ordered 900 bulbs from Holland! (only to have gophers eat half of them.) Good luck with your new passion, and welcome to the club!



I love your photo by the gate. And, don't feel bad, I would not have thought of adding water too. It makes mud. I would probably have someone dig a trench and then fill it with potting soil. It seems like you have figured it out now and on your way to wonderful veggies.

Good luck!

Michelle de Beque

Gardening is in my DNA - my Dad who is 88 still keeps a terrific garden - in the summer in Colorado and in the winter in Arizona. My latest project is turning my backyard into the South of France. If you can't live your dream - then bring the dream into your life. Lavender does well in the Rocky Mountains. As for French soil, I think adding mulch and water is key. I just drove 100 miles for a load of good horses**t from my sister's barn. Pampered horses who stand in woodchips instead of straw poop the best, most weed-free fertilizer one could hope for.
J'aime beaucoup votre blog - it brings a little of France into my Rocky Mountain life.


Dear Kristi,

The gardening bug didn't bite me until maybe 5 years ago or so (my early 40's), but it's never too late and you only get better with practice. Unfortunately, in Las Vegas "Just add water" doesn't always work. When you add water to Calechi (the clay layer in our soil) and then let it bake in an L.V. oven at 112 degrees, you get concrete... Good luck!!!


Being "late to gardening" seems to be a theme here; I too did not begin until my 40's. It is all about soil prep...amending, taking the time to make those holes veritable open arms of fertility. (egad, where's that coming from?) Gardeners can wax weird sometimes. I am off to the Co-op to buy compost, peat and vermiculite. As for mulching, eventually. My least fave job. I got a good laugh from the movie despite not understanding most words. Merci "buckets" of good garden soil ... shut my mouth.


Oh, use the garden gate and any other interesting sructures in your gardening. Makes it tres interessant et fun. There is a lovely place I go to in West Virginia, The Carriage House Inn. Innkeeper Jeannie has created the most beautiful flower/vegie garden...chocked full of all sorts of interesting cast-offs as planters...raised beds... bird houses galore of all sorts, a melange of creativity plus yummy garden produce coming forth every summer. Will send link to pics.


Dear Kristin:

It is only since the ownership of my house, now two years, that I enjoy gardening. I like digging in the dirt, trimming hedges and planting trees.

Sadly I didn't have this joy when I was younger, and my poor Daddy, if he had received a nickel for every time my sister and I asked "do we have to?" when requested to help in the yard he would be a millionaire. Now that it's "mine" I have a sense of pride, a need to keep my place I call home looking grand with tulip trees, boxwoods, hydrangeas, roses, and even a chardoney grape vine.

Happy gardening!


Donna Dunckel

Dear Kristin, I love your French Word a Day.....I learn all sorts of things and now I'm in pursuit of your recipe for producing tea from the verbena plant. (I've just spent $5.00 for 20 tea bags of chamomile tea at Safeway).....much love, Donna


Following your story it is worth remembering this famous poem by
Dorothy Frances Gurney

The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God's Heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.



Merci for the Creuse Un Tunnel You Tube video. I know some French teachers that need a little cheering up. This is perfect. How could anyone not smile and watch this!

Betty Bailey

I love that gate and wish I had it, Kristin! Our meager efforts in the gardening department so far are two tomato plants and a half dozen herbs. I have some kale seeds and will try to plant them this week as they need a "Spring start." I am grateful that there's a Whole Foods store not far away with good organic veggies and fruits.

Nancy Ravise-Noel

Bonjour, fellow sister of the sod! After marrying my French husband four years ago, and leaving the oh so easy to creuser soil in Virginia, I experienced a similar bienvenue to jardinage a la francais. After deciding to plant the lemon verbena and lavender plants we'd purchased, under the clothesline I sunk my shovel into the unrelenting earth of southern France. Imagine the cartoon character being shaken by a jackhammer, starting at the feet and working up, to get an idea of the 'impact' gardening in France was making on me. My husband also advised to 'just add water' and after watching it pool for 45 minutes before finally sinking into the ground, I managed to put the plants in place, but not before having my flip flops and hands caked with mud. Flopping into the chaise lounge, I started to cry; mourning my far away rich garden earth and wondering what I'd gotten myself into! I have now perfected the art of making lovely compost, which I lavish, bit by bit, year by year, on my French plot, so when gardening season rolls around again, I Can Dig It! Horticulturally yours, Nance in France


Donna: you will love the lemon verbena plant. Verveine is a common after dinner "drink" here in France (while some will have coffee, others prefer herbal tea). Let me know when you plant some tea!

Peter: thanks for the lovelypoem, so true, so true! (And just long enough for me to memorize... I can't do like my kids and memorize a page of poetry, as they do for school here, weekly!)

Nancy : So glad to read your comment. I thought it was me... that maybe the earth wasn't as hard as I'd imagined it (as a wimpy, newbie gardener!). And "jackhammer" is just the word I had been looking for when writing the story. The picture you paint is priceless! RE planting lavender under one's clothesline: I am planning on doing the same -- after draping our sheets over the rosemary hedge last year...


Hi Kristin

Don't despair, I too am new to gardening but I look forward to putting in my summer vegs and planting seeds. Last year I had to replant because everything was destroyed in a diabolical hail storm, even our car needed the dents knocked out of it. This year I have built two raised beds, saves on some of the digging, and hope to put in a third. I'll keep my fingers crossed for you that everything is a success.


I'd really like to know the name of the flower in the picture. It's lovely. AND I WANT TO KNOW WHEN THERE'S GOING TO BE ANOTHER BOOK!!!!!!!!!!!

I want to buy it. In three months I retire and it would be so cool if the first thing I read as a retiree is Words In A French Life 2.

If I have to, I'll print all my archived emails and print them and put them in a notebook, but a real book would be better.


Elizabeth: So glad you asked about the flower and the book! The flower is a Texas Flame tulip (correct me if I am wrong, anyone?)...

About the book. I will work on it! Thanks for the nudge -- I needed that!

poppy fields

I always forget the just add water part :)


Kristin, you make me laugh. Please continue being who you are. Your gifts will always be fruitful, be it gardening, story telling or writing.


That is funny because in my house, I am the one doing things slaphappy, slapstick, slaptogether by instinct. And my husband is always saying, "well, what does the book say?" or "what do the plans call for?" or some other equally annoying sentence to a person (me) who knows nothing of plans and pre-regulated manners of doing things. I love your characterization of the "just add water" segment!

Robert Novak

There's nothing uglier than an old diesel Peugeot station wagon belching out a ton of soot after ever take off. Come to think of it, it's even uglier when there's a wicked looking witch behind the wheel!

Paris hotel

you make me laugh.I always forget the just add water part as well everytime that im in vegas. book the ticket via ECT its good!

Gordon R. Vaughan

So true. Here we have Gulf-coast gumbo clay. It can be hard as concrete when dry, but even when wet is still a challenge.

So I laughed at my kids' upset reaction one time when we were watching a gardening show, and the host says, "First you prepare your soil" and then immediately skips to a nice, perfect bed for planting.

They were indignant that the show would just gloss right over what they already had learned was the hardest part!

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