recensement militaire

couter la peau des fesses

Window Whimsy (c) Kristin Espinasse

As a newbie gardener, I'm wondering about mulch and whether I really need it. The faux flowers in the window above assure me: Nah, not if you want to plant the likes of us! Ah, ok. Thank you very much (and no offense to your charming appearance) but I want real plants. So mulch it is! Read on...

coûter la peau des fesses (koo tay lah poh day fess)

    : (literal translation) to cost the skin off one's arse, or "behind"
    : (figurative translation): to cost an arm and a leg 

* note: today's term should have been the French word for mulch (le paillis)... but I got to thinking: just how many readers are into mulch?

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

"Sitting on Pay Dirt"

I am sitting like a child on a seashore, driving a shovel into the ground between her sunburnt legs. Only, this is not the beach and my legs are not burnt (they're still as white as un cachet d'aspirine).

Here, in the most unsightly part of our garden, I reach down and tug out another dent-de-lion, tossing it into the pail beside me. Only, it isn't really a pail, it is a used wine carton that should have been tossed out by now, along with the growing pile of garden clippings. But instinct suddenly has me saving these biodegradable materials...

I drive the shovel, or spade, into the ground again and again, stabbing at the little islands of unsightly crabgrass that have settled onto the "presto sod": almost two inches of earth built up by the Mistral wind, and gaining volume from the falling leaves from the tree above. Speck by speck, over the ugly, unfinished concrete patio beneath it, the dusty, leaf-chipped mass has grown, topping itself off with an eyesore of thriving weeds!

This is not where I want to be: sitting on presto turf tugging out weeds. I want to be building a garden! but the compost pile that I have begun could take a year to turn into mulch, and mulch, I am learning, is the stuff in which gardens grow! 

But where to find the "black gold" -- besides in the pricey mulch section at the pépinière? Decomposed matter, it turns out, çela coûte la peau des fesses! As I drive the spade into the shallow ground, the answer suddenly wriggles out at me!

A worm. A giant writhing worm! I carefully pull the spade aside and study the evidence. Where there are worms... there is nutrients-rich soil!

I have been looking for mulch everywhere and here it has been all along, right beneath me! not far from the skin on my arse -- and it didn't even cost la peau des fesses

Giddily, I collect what I had thought to be bane of my garden's existence. And though there isn't much of the wormy rich soil... there is enough, after all, for a beginning. 


Le Coin Commentaires
Leave a response to today's word or story, or share a story of your own here in the comments box. And thank you for sharing any and all garden tips with us here as well! We're thirsty as seedlings for garden knowledge!


French Vocabulary

blanc comme un cachet d'aspirine = white as an aspirin

une dent-de-lion* = dandelion

la pépinière = nursery

*Our friend, Newforest, notes: The word "dandelion" comes from "dent-de-lion". Its leaves are so deeply toothed that its name in Old French used to be "Dent-de-lion" ('lion's tooth'), a name reflecting the shape of its leaves. So, why "pissenlit"? The roots and leaves act on the kidneys as a diuretic. So, knowing "pissenlit" means "pee in bed", one can understand the connection with its diuretic properties!

 Bestselling books on the French language:

 1. The Ultimate French Verb Review and Practice  
 2. Exercises in French Phonics

Not so best-selling... but a fun book on the French language!
Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France 



This "lawn chair" seems to be a hit... even with Smokey! Did you see it last time? Click here to find it in the "semer" edition. 


I can't wait to tell you how I (think I) solved mulch problem here... Can you guess what's surrounding these plants--keeping out weeds and keeping in moisture? Piles of it exist here at the farm, where we continue to sit on top of all sorts of yet-to-be-discovered mulch sources!!! P.S.: Don't miss the messy "before" picture of this tomato garden, here (at the end of the "heurter" post).

Capture plein écran 15042011 094839
Please join me in reading this book, which I have just ordered! Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling, No Weeding, No Kidding!


A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

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


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LOL, Kristin. It sounds like sonthing one shouldn't say in polite company, so useful to know we can. :-)

Worms are good! Worms are very, very good. If you have worms, you're on the right track.

paris (im)perfect

We don't need much for a beginning :)

Happy gardening!


Something that is really good for compost heaps is human hair. If you can get your local hairdresser to give you the trimmings it will do your compost heap the world of good. That said you should not use hair that has been freshly dyed or permed, because of the chemicals!

Bill in St. Paul

I'm not into mulch, but in looking at your "lasagna" gardening it just occurred to me that this is a similar (the same?) method my daughter-in-law used in planting her various berry plants. She put down a layer of newspapers with a mixture of various growing media on top of the papers. We were able to move the whole garden to a sunnier spot just by scooping up the newspapers (this was obviously just a couple of days after she had created the berry patch). This will be her first full year with the berry plants so we'll see how her "lasagna" garden works thsi summer.

Karen W  (Towson, Maryland)

and... where there is a will there is a way!

WOW, Bill, I never thought about THAT benefit of lasagna gardening!

Karen W  (Towson, Maryland)

Oh, forgot to ask:

"dent-de-lion"? (besides meaning dandelion) doesn't it also translate as "tooth-of-lion"? I wonder what the story is behind that word transformation.


Perpetua, good point - we should mind the company in which we use this one!

Kiriel, glad you mentioned the hair chemicals! Hadn't thought of that (I'm still on "paper" (ink) chemicals and trying to figure which is which with those).

Bill, I can just picture your daughter-in-law's berry patch being moved! I moved my zinnia patch after realizing I'd planted it in the shade (it was sunny there at the time!) P.S.: I thought of her while discovering the "live" signs of composting in my garden. I think you mentionned her vermiposting?

Karen, thanks for the translation. I'll put it in the vocab section now.

stephanie in Webster

Here in upstate NY our town does a great thing. all the leaves that are picked up by the trucks in the fall are hauled away and composted for four years. Then they are dumped in the parking lot of our town hall and everyone can come and take a share. We load the bed of our pickup truck with the black gold and spread it on all our gardens, flowers and veggies. I never need to use any fertiizer. I also make my own compost in a very passive way: no thought for brown or green matter, just pile ot all on and wait about two years. Hang in there, you'll have your own black gold before too long!

Bill in St. Paul

Kristin, you sent me to my dictionary then to Google with "vermiposting"! My daughter does the vermiposting in her basement where she "breeds" her worms. I guess (I hope) they eventually make it into the garden. I'll have to follow up on the vermiposting and she what kind of success she's having with it. We moved my daughter-in-law's berry patch for the same reason - in late afternoon it was in the sun, but the next day she discovered that was the only time it was in the sun.

Moyra Horseman

Hi Kristin - I do enjoy your site and learn a lot from it, so thank you. I'd like to make a financial contribution. Please could you advise me how I do this with a UK bank account?

Susan in Oakton

Worms are wonderful IN your compost pile! Collect them when you see them after the rain, throw them into the pile, and watch it get better and better. We love to let our granddaughters take a big handful of fully composted material from the bottom of the container, and is the scent of the earth, sweet, clean, full of life.
My favorite compost story is about my mother opening the top of her compost bin after a year of repose, and finding Nothing! A huge root of the pine tree beside it had snaked its way in and taken all the nutrients!

Glenn from St. Paul

Do the French use both dent-de-lion and pissenlit to name that cute little yellow flower? Both have interesting etymologies it would seem.

Herm in Phoenix, Az

Salut tout le monde,

Karen W. . . . Some place I read, maybe on an earlier FWAD, that “dent-de-lion” refers to the shape of the dandelion’s leaves.

À bientôt

Kristin Espinasse

Stephanie, lucky you and good for your town to organize this. We have tons of leaves on the plane or "puzzle" trees in our town... hmmm....

Bill, you'll find some interesting vermiposting videos on youtube.

Moyra, thank you for thinking of supporting this site! Here is the link (note the links on the following page will allow you to send funds from the UK):

Susan, What a surprise! I think I need to move our compost bin... away from a potentially ravinous Chinese mulberry tree!

Glenn, where's Newforest when we need her? :-) Perhaps she'll be by with the answer soon.

Herm in Phoenix, Az

Salut tout le monde,

Glenn. . . . A Google search of “pissenlit” indicates that the folk name of pissenlit as an alternate for dandelion refers to the diuretic properties of the plant. I’ll leave the literal translation to the readers. Ha!

À bientôt

Jules Greer

Oh Kristi Honey - you are so precious. Your garden is coming to life, I just love the purple mulch surrounding your tomato's. Definitely spread the mulch all the way to the end of the you have a good 2ft. of planting area (3 ft. would be better). You will comfortably be able to lean over a three feet distance to prune and harvest. Keep buying the biggest packages of mulch you can find (ask your nurseryman for help). Put more mulch on top of that purple stuff so you will have more of a base to plant some lettuce and green onions and leeks - you can plant all of this between those tomato plants!

Next week I am excited to see how neat and compact this little spot by the vines will look. Send the kids down to the river to bring back some nice smooth river-rocks. Max could probably drive your car over there and fill up the back trunk with rocks, he would do this in a minute and line them up with a smile just to drive the car.



Nancy L.

Hello Kristin! I am always delighted to find a wiggly worm when I am digging in the garden. It is like a little light-bulb goes off in my head that says "This is GOOD earth"! I always carefully put the little fellow back where he came from with a message to "Carry On!"


Did you put the remnants of the winemaking process on your garden? How lucky you are! I remember looking yearningly at piles of what I assumed were the seeds, skins, and stems of grapes in giant piles behind one of the wineries when we were in Cairanne.

I bought the Lasagne Gardening book for my daughter in law last year - it's a good one!

Barbara Andolsek Paintings

I can't wait to see your garden in bloom. It's going to be brilliant.

Frank Levin

The detritus of the wine pressing is truly a gold mine. I will now ask around the Columbia Gorge wine farmers for a truckload of this stuff to add to my compost making process. What wonderful stuff it is. It will allow ater through from above and stiffle weeds from below while sheltering your plans from the Mistral. Wonderful!

Marianne Rankin

The picture at the beginning of the post is very pretty - where was it taken?

All kinds of yard waste can go into compost, including twigs. I've heard that meat and other protein-based items aren't recommended, both because they may attract animals, and because they don't decompose in the same way, or produce the same kind of soil - but I'm not an expert.

I think a good translation of "couter la peau des fesses" into idiomatic English would be "cost an arm and a leg."


I'm confused by today's phrase. From the context it seems like it means very expensive. Maybe like the (American) idiom "costs an arm and a leg." Or instead, like the "it's no skin off my back (or nose)"?

Kristin Espinasse

Mom, re "keep buying the biggest packages of mulch" -- I am trying to avoid this! (only using it for the top layer...) but, of course, you are the master gardener! Any one who can turn a dry wasteland of a desert into a tropical paradise has my attention! Maybe I'll go out and buy a bag of mulch on the way home from picking up the kids from school... But I will have my own mulch next year! Once these piles of kitchen scraps cook down...

Esther, you guessed it: the grape skins and stems. But I apparently picked through the wrong pile. (Stems only) Jean-Marc told me about another pile of dried skins! Will be digging into those this weekend.

Frank, thanks for your thoughts about wine detritus (what a word! can add that to "rot" and all the other "goodies" in compost terminology!) I guess the very dry stem pile is useful still (this is what is showing in the tomato photo - but it is high and crunchy. I can't see a worm getting into that anytime soon. I'll have to check out the "peau pile". I think they'd have a ball there. If I hear any hiccups coming from the area, I'll know they made it!

Marianne, thanks so much for the English equivalent. I will put that with the definition!

Pamela, good point. It is a coincidence that it ressembles with our Anglophone "no skin off my back" - but it definitely means "to cost an arm and a leg".


Our town takes the yard waste and a company turns it into mulch and sells this locally. Funniest compost story-in an odd way. Relatives have always had and used their own compost bin. They go to our granfather's gravesite twice a year to maintain the area-fall and late spring.
Weeding, trimming plants, etc. One spring visit they found tomato plants growing by the grave. The seeds from the compost had grown! I like to think that Grandpa would have found this very funny.


Ahhh. Gardening. This is the time of experimenting and gathering all the tidbits of info that gardeners love to share along with their seedlings and cuttings. When I was little, about 3 I remember the little flowers growing we called piss-a-beds. They were not the usual dandelions, but smaller yellow flowers. When we spotted them, we would giggle at the name and then get very anxious because it meant you might wet your bed, a scary thought for the newly potty trained. Now, as for dandelions, they are the most lovely plant with so many health benefits and the leaves are delicious in salads too. All parts of the plant can be used as a liver or kidney "tonic," as a diuretic, and for minor digestive problems. And, if you grow enough (as in a garbage bag full of blossoms, you can make dandelion wine as an apero. Quite delicious in summer or in winter to remind one of those hot days. Oh, and another thing, their deep roots are fantastic help in breaking up hard clay soil. One of those plants we have been taught to abhor, but is a wonderful friend. Now...about crabgrass...
Ah the insanity of Spring.

Carolyn Chase

Jack & I moved to Dijon into a newly re-done house, including newly re-done "pelouse". Not having brought over any gardening tools, I found myself removing the prickly weeds (which predominated) using a screwdriver. So as my new neighbors came by, they met "La folle Americaine" using "un tournevis" on her yard. They became convinced I was nuts the following December, when I was out with a dustpan shoveling an unexpected snow from the walk!

Frank Levin

Next time I'll preview.
Of course I mean "water," not, "ater," and "stifle," not "stiffle."

Trish et JeanClaude

Hi Kristin,
A less elegant and more popular variant on "coûter la peau des fesses" is "coûter la peau du cul". It is also "plus français" as my French hubby laughingly informs me.

Further, there is another very French phrase invoking the "fesses": "on se pele la peau des fesses". Translation: "meurt de froid"; i.e., "one is freezing to death" or "dying of cold".

However, we think there's no risk of that at this time of year in your neck of the lovely woods! Bon weekend a ltoute a Famille Espinasse,


Hey, I mulch! It's that or baling the grass from the back yard at this time of the year. :)


I recognized the stems from the grapes immediately. I will want to know how they work as mulch. Nearby, at the Co-op in Riux Minervois, the detritus from the wine making is piled in large windrows and composted. Stinks at first, (it has skins and seeds in it, so its wet) but within a year the odor goes away as they turn the windrows with one of those big ditch making plows. I don't know how long they compost it, but it is beautiful soil when they bag up what the farmers have not hauled away in their camions.

Julie F in St. Louis, MO

Ah, I wish I were at home right now digging in my garden. This week I'm in Scottsdale and all I see through my midwestern eyes is BROWN! Do they even have worms in Arizona? But when I moved into my current house, cleared away a huge forest of overgrowth and put the shovel in the ground for the first time I was astounded by the number and size of my little wriggly friends. While all my neighbors have the typical St. Louis soil, I've been blessed with black, diggable dirt. Worms are wonderful!

Jill Watkins

Hello Kristin,
I enjoy your articles and am trying to learn French "mot a mot". Today, I was struck by the metaphor in your discovery that the mulch you had been looking for was there all along. I am finding that this is true for everything in life....
Bon Weekend!


We are sitting at Fort Morgan Alabama waiting for the ferry and some French pull up on their Harley's. Checking my email and French Word Blog. What a great day already! Plus recently I was able to convince my dad to start a composting pile.


May the worms multiply! Here we can either take or is picked up yard waste. At our Waste Management site they compost it and for pennies you can go out there and get lots of it. You can also get wood chips.
That isn't a field of foxtails that Smokey is in is it?
Oh, and for the faux fleurs in the photo....that would literally be a crime here in Carmel. There is a law on the books..NO ARTIFICIAL FLORA CAN BE USED IN THE PUBLIC EYE. We have a few strange laws it's illegal to wear spiked heels. (so no law suits can be filed.) Our sidewalks are brick, or cobbled and there are none in the adjacent residential area. Trees greater that 4" in diameter cannot be cut down without applying for a permit. But the good news is that dogs can run unleashed at our beautiful beach. It all seems to work.


Luckily our local dump takes the green waste, composts it and sells it cheap! That's some very fine mulch. I've also recently found a woman with bunnies who needs someone to take the poop away, what luck! Not much better than that for good manure.
Good luck with the garden, I find it such a delightful meditative process.

Jackson Dunes, Pug At The Beach

Like your reader from New York state, the town in New Hampshire where I used to live offered residents free mulch composted from curbside pick up of leaves and such. I don't know why more places don't do that. Here in south Florida, where I now live, that's not an option. But here's an interesting tidbit I learned from a friend - she goes to the bait store and buys worms there to set free in her garden and compost pile. The owner of the bait store says he sells more worms to gardeners than to fishermen!


Kristen- It looks to me that you've planted you tomatoes in a bit of mulch on a cement sidewalk by that building. If I'm wrong please correct me-

If I'm right-please let me know how your tomato plants grow and what fruit they bear. It seems like a miracle if it works!


I am a little late to this party, but want to tell you that you are on the right track with the leftovers from the grapes. Temper them with some things that are not acidic.

Anything except weed seeds can go in a compost pile. We rake leaves and add those (they make the biggest piles). If you can mulch them before adding them it breaks down faster. I add water to the pile after it gets turned. I didn't notice any of the posts talking about local climates, but it does play a role in how fast the compost will cook. I suggest you talk with local farmers or agricultural agents (in the U.S. it is the county extension agent) for advice and maybe pamphlets.

I am interested in how your composts grows, so I will be looking forward to further posts. Don't forget to turn, turn, turn. Ugh the worst part.


Hello! I'm here for the first time because Julie Ferrar of She Writes listed you as her favorite blog!! Great pictures and fun discussion! Thanks for being a great blogging example.

Christine Watt

I just ordered Lasagna Gardening from our excellent library system, so thank you for the tip! I think I've been doing it naturally for years, because I'm more into letting nature do its own thing rather than me having to work my fingers to the bone.

Attended a terrific workshop on red wigglers -- v. important worms for your compost heap -- last weekend at our local Land Trust (which is restoring dairy farm land back to wetlands ... such a worthy venture -- here's their website Red wigglers can't live in regular soil, but must live in compost, and, while others are buying these wonderful little animules, mine seem to spontaneously combust in my compost.

I created my garden from nothing, and I've never used a pesticide or a fertilizer on it. That was 9 years ago, and you wouldn't believe -- maybe you would -- how alive it is with bird and insect life, the good snakes who eat slugs, etc. Now then, it doesn't look like a park (or a cemetery!) so isn't the neatest garden on the block, but it's alive and sort of comes out and meets you, since I don't believe in pruning much either. One little neighbour girl ventured into the back when I'd planted sage (not the edible variety I found out, but clary sage that grows as tall as a man) and said, rather scared as massive sunflowers and clary sage and peas and beans towered over her, "It's like a jungle in here." Yes! Exactly what I was aiming for.

My recommendation is to find a very good local gardening club -- I'm lucky here at the north Oregon coast -- the combined knowledge these gardeners is encyclopaedic. Plus, they love to give you starts because, like me, they can't toss away cuttings or seedlings, so are so happy when they can offload these to new gardeners. That's how I got all my hydrangeas and rhododendrons -- little twigs a few years ago, now privacy bushes all around the perimter. And now I'm passing their offspring to others.

Plus gardening is the best exercise!

Cheers, all,

Jennifer in OR

Happy gardening; I know it brings you joy, and it is all worth it in the harvest, and worth it even now in the labor! xoxo Jen

Jules Greer

Hi Kristi,

I'll bet you are out in the garden right now on this beautiful Sunday morning - 9:40 a.m. my time, so I guess it's almost 5 in the afternoon at your garden. To now have the privilege of designing your day around your special garden moments is part of the joy of life.



Jacqueline Brisbane)

A great herb to add to your compost is Comfrey, Consoude in French. Break the leaves and strew in with your scraps. Also, blood and bone (I don't know what it is called in French) will help creating the heat needed to break down the vegetable matter and attract worms. Carbon can be added from shredded paper or torn newspaper if there's not enough brown matter in the mix.
To create more mulch while saving your back you could create a "no-dig" garden in a spot you wish to use in the future. Simply cover a space (as small as 1sq metre) with thoroughly wetted newspapers (to stop the weeds, make sure you overlap), surround with a "wall" of straw bales, then use the layering method (now popularised as Lasagna and based, I think, on permaculture principles) to build up your "soil" (mostly straw, blood and bone and other natural manures/fertilisers). Plant your seedlings, water and watch it all grow! The bales will act as wind/sun break, slowly breaking down themselves. After harvest your the no-dig garden will have turned into humus and the soil beneath it will be enriched and ready to dig into. That is... if you haven't been converted to the no-dig method by then!
Here’s a link no-dig gardening:
Happy composting.


a very late addition, but,
"Mieux vaut tard que jamais"

Hi Kristin,

In English a very expensive item costs you 'a fortune', and you may say it costs you "an arm and a leg", as mentioned at the beginning of this newsletter.

French equivalent (given in the title): "coúter la peau des fesses"
There are two other expressions, but quite vulgar, so I won't mention them.

Now, what about a very familiar expression for anything that costs "horriblement cher"? "vachement cher"?
This expression is easy to use, so, here it is:
--> coûter les yeux de la tête!
You would usually add me/m', te/t', lui, nous, vous, leur between the subject and the verb.
- Ce voyage m'a coûté les yeux de la tête
- Un tel train de vie leur coûte les yeux de la tête.
- Cela vous coûtera les yeux de la tête... à vous de prendre une décision.

When I spent time in Roumania in the early 2000s, I was told about an expression to use for anything they cannot afford (so many things!). That expression explained why they couldn't buy this ... and that ... It is a word for word translation of the French expression "coûter les yeux de la tête!"

(I don't speak Spanish)
Once somebody told me there is a Spanish expression that says a very expensive item may cost them 'un oeil et la moitié de l'autre" (one eye and half of the other!)

Hmmm...the joy of words, words, words
and of idiomatic expressions!

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