I can’t say I love getting dirt under my fingernails, but I sure do love flowers and playing with them. In recent years, I’ve taken to creating at-home arrangements with my sister for holiday dinners at our parents’ house. One of us goes to Trader Joe’s to load up on cheap bouquets of various blossoms, then we cut ’em down to short stems and make a mix-matchy arrangement to put in one of those short vases. Trendiness aside, using one for a table arrangement is really just smart because a) you can see across the table at whomever you’re dining with, and b) you’re not left looking at long, icky stems while dining on chateaubriand.
But I digress. Today’s post is not about flower arrangements. It’s about planting, so back to the dirt!
While I’ve only got a small, smidgen of a “balcony” (if you can call it that), which opens to a courtyard (if you can call it that), I knew that come spring, I’d be all up in hanging potted plants from it.
Alors, printemps est ici (well, spring is here), so a trip to Castorama, the Home Depot of Paris, it was! Aside from selling all the necessary items one would need for decorating the inside of one’s home, this superstore also has all the appropriate accoutrements for gardening—or jardinage, as it’s called in French—for planting outside one’s home. That’s why they call it Castorama. (Don’t get it? Me neither. There is no equally obvious literal translation.)
Of course, just buying flowers and a few pots ended up being a way bigger ordeal than one might expect. Language barrier and lack of experience does not an easy time make. After all, growing or hanging anything off a 5th floor fire escape in NYC is not only dangerous, but something most New Yorkers just don’t do. And while I did my fair share of impatien-planting with my mother back in the day home in Long Island, my thumbs aren’t nearly as green as hers or my father’s, who has transformed our backyard into a bonafide shangri-la.
So there I stood, totally baffled in my Lululemon gear having rocked up post-run at Parc Monceau—which already put a target on my back as “someone not from here.” Again, people do not do ordinary things like, say, pick up milk or eggs or bring down the trash or pick up items for planting in “sport” gear, no matter how logical it may seem to do so.
But rather than bike ride through the Roundabout of Death (Place de Clichy), when I saw the sign for Castorama I decided to dock the velib and do the damn errand as I was and then walk home. Take that, Paris.
Of course, I still took my hair down from its bun in an attempt to make myself as presentable as possible. After all, I’d definitely have to bat some eyelashes because…
So many different pots in so many different colors and sizes and shapes!
I don’t mean to sound completely Cher (Clueless, anyone?), but it’s been a while. By which I mean, never. Plus, I didn’t do any measuring. I didn’t know how much room I had. Do I get one of those long horizontal planters to stuff with soil and then plant a few seeds? Or do I get three pots that hang off a contraption?
I stood there looking around for quite some time, but eventually went with the latter.
Now it was time to choose the pots, but what color? Do I go traditional and ceramic to let the flowers have center stage, er, pot? Or unbreakable and colorful to avoid accidents and match my apartment? (Obviously.)
Now it was time for the most important part: flowers! Or…did I want to do the herb thing? I’ve long wanted to just be able to pick a piece of basil to add to my omelette, or mint for some lemonade. (Cause, you know, I make lemonade all the the time.)
To be honest, their selection of both flowers and herbs was a tad disappointing—especially considering how many lovely blooms I’ve seen outside florists all over the city. But I was one-stop shopping today. I was not going to do the thing I do where I go in and out of stores looking for the prettiest, most reasonably priced and therefore perfect [insert just about anything here].
And so, I settled on flowers as there were more to choose from. That being said, I couldn’t just go for the prettiest-looking petals. I don’t want to kill the poor suckers a week in if intense morning light is not what they need. Alas, it was time to work up the courage to ask for assistance in French. So I practiced the sentence in my head a good five times before finally opening up with:
“Excusez-mois, monsieur. Est-ce-que vous pouvez m’aider, s’il vous plait?”
(Excuse me, sir. Can you help me please?)
Well, I got it out, but to the wrong person. Turns out the guy moving around all the soils and looking at the pots was just another confused costumer like me.
So I walked in circles for another 5 minutes looking for someone more official, and finally decided to stalk a guy on the phone by a computer. When he got off, I gave it another go. This time, I had a winner, but as is always the case when I manage to get out what I’m trying to say, the person I’m speaking to starts responding trés rapidement (very quickly) and my head starts to spin. In French, I try to tell him that it’s my first time planting on my terrace, which gets morning light and I wondered if there was a specific type of flower that’d be best. He pointed to a few and mentioned something about soil, though I had no idea what he was saying. Eventually, he mimed the movement of taking the flower out of the plastic thing it comes in to replant it in the €4.50 pots I chose. Right. Got it. I did need to get more soil, after all. Then he pointed to the exact bag and after standing in front of the dahlias for a good 10 minutes trying to choose the healthiest looking bunch to get, I was in business!
Not so fast.
There was the act of jardinage I still had to figure out. Did I want/need to spring for some tools? I tried to think whether I already owned something that’d do the trick, but decided that whatever might work I use in the kitchen. To eat. So I chucked the cheapest shovel I could find into my basket and off to the caisse (register) I went!
And because this is just what happens to me, after I’ve paid for it all on my credit card and mentioned the need for “un sac, s’il vous plait” (a bag, please) the woman mentions that bags are not free and I need to pay for one.
Of course. Because everyone comes to Home Depot, er Castorama, with their own bag and anything they buy there will most definitely fit in it.
Thankfully, I had some cash so I handed over a €20 bill for the €1.26 bag, which left me with a ridiculous amount of coins to stuff into the small pocket of my Lulus.
I managed to get everything into the bag, which is actually quite nice and will be a great addition to the growing pile under my sink that I can never remember to bring with me. Then, I hoisted it over my shoulder for the 10-minute walk back home.
On the way, I passed my favorite boulangerie so I obviously ducked in. Not for a baguette and definitely not for a croissant, though. I’m trying to lay off those bad guys for a bit—especially after a run. No, I got some slices of their insane fruit/nut loaves: cranberry and almond and apricot and hazelnut. Because those are sooooo much healthier.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, yes, going into the boulangerie, not only in my workout gear but with a giant bag of gardening supplies, felt sorta sacrilegious.
I practically skipped home from all I’d accomplished before 11a.m., which unbeknownst to me caused half of the dahlias to lose their plentiful petals. I only realized this when I joyfully dropped the hefty bag onto my kitchen floor. So much for them being The Chosen Ones. Now they were the Half Bald Ones.
All the more reason to properly care for them, right? Right. (Which is how, exactly?)
At long last, now came time to figure out how and where to best to go about replanting each bunch into their new pots. Without many options, I decided on the kitchen sink because of its proximity to the window. After deciding which color pot to match with which dahlia, I put some tunes on and got to work. In the process, I realized that the plastic pots had very clear visual instructions for people like myself who have no clue what flowers to plant where and how best to care for them. That would’ve come in handy an hour or so ago, but at least I got to practice my French.
Before long, I had my very own trio of prettiness outside my window. Key word: Outside. This is when I realized buying pots to match my apartment color palette was completely unnecessary.
A few hours later, I decided my flowers needed some friends. After food shopping near my house, I found the herbs I was looking for and a cheap double-tin pot to put them in.
Now I can have my plants and eat them, too. Dirt definitely on the side.