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French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France

From Chapter One, “Inspiration”

I had a garden in the south of France. It wasn’t a big garden. Or a sumptuous one. Or a successful one, even, in the end. But that didn’t matter. It was my garden, and I worked it hard and lovingly for the few months I had it—or it had me. This little piece of tan, clayey, French earth, nine meters by thirteen meters (thirty feet by forty-three feet), was in fact the first garden I ever had. It taught me a great deal about myself. “Your garden will reveal yourself,” writes the wise gardener Henry Mitchell. It did. It taught me that I am generous, impatient, hard-working, sentimental, boyish, stubborn and lazy.

Having a garden also connected me to France in a way more profound and more lasting than any other way I can possibly think of. Part of me is still there. And always will be. Even though my friend Jules Favier has recently written to me from the village that “only one of the four boundaries of your garden remains standing,” I’m not upset. What does that matter? The garden is in my heart. Having a garden gave me a place to go in my village every day, a task to perform and a responsibility. You cannot ask more of a land in which you are a stranger. To feel the French earth, clear it, plant seeds in it, despair over it and, ultimately, to take from it, that was a precious gift.