France - A Beautiful French Garden
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
French people are almost cruelly practical, yet they have an innate love of beauty, too. There is always the walled garden. What a happy lot to be a child within the sheltering walls of an old French garden. There will be found there paths, beds of vegetables, borders of blooming things, and on the walls trained pear trees, grapes, figs, cherries, and apples. A kind old gardener putters around with his spade, wheelbarrow and watering pot, always ready, I hope, to give a child a little ride on the wheelbarrow or pluck for it a red rose or a ripe peach. The garden of Gouzangrez is charming, a little larger than common, a little better planted and a little more fruitful, but it has in it arbors and sheltered bowers where children play.
What Gouzangrez lacks is a forest. All the land is rich and tilled, so there could be no forested land reserved. However, some wise old ancestor had laid down about five acres to forest, right at the home place, adjoining the garden. What a dense bit of planting that is, with its oak, beech, hazel and whatever cares to come in of itself and grow wild. Two straight walks lead through the bit of copse-like forest, one in each direction. These walks are veritable leafy tunnels, kept neatly trimmed, very green, shady, cool, moist, and quiet, and are good and healing to the tired soul. One enters from a doorway in the garden and follows the walk to the beginning of a field. There are wild birds, rabbits and flowers in the wood. Each year a portion of it is cut down close to the ground, and every twig is saved for fuel for the farm houses of the Delacours. Some sticks are large enough to be saved for use on the farm. Afterward it is allowed to sprout and grow up again, which it does very rap-idly. The little wood was all alive with wild rabbits, doing some damage to the young sprouting trees, so M. Delacour decided to come along in the evening with his gun and thin them out somewhat.
Why, I wonder, could we not have such a bit of woodland against the garden gate of every farm in America l
How I should like to have time to go there and stay for some months, to study the life of the farm and its fields, the story of the flocks and the herd, the lives, too, of the kind peasant folk who live there. Wheat, oats and alfalfa to lay for several years, with some fields devoted to beets—that is the rotation at Gouzangrez. Labor costs steadily advance; in the past ten years wages have increased 7 per cent.
The ewes lamb in December and January, and commonly the lambs are sold fat at about eight months of age, bringing often $9 each. For some years prices for fat lambs have steadily increased. The shepherds shear the sheep, an 'average fleece being eleven pounds and worth eighteen cents per pound in its natural condition. The wool is of a cross-bred type that goes to make men's clothing. M. Delacour has had as much as twenty-two cents for the wool; it has declined in recent years. Sheep, he thinks, would pay even not considering them as soil-builders ; in their dual capacity they pay largely. In the winter they receive alfalfa hay, with oats, "cake" and maize grain. However, when not suckling lambs, they get little but alfalfa hay and bright straw.
M. Delacour said that in his part of France intelligent farmers made ten per cent on the valuation of their lands, but despite this, land values decreased steadily because of the agitation for an in-come tax that would, it was feared, fall heavily on the large land-owners. Very little land ever changed hands, however, and the failure of a farmer was a thing almost unknown. I was interested to know that the Delacours occasionally use on their flock large Merino rams of the type called Soissonais. These are very large, smooth-bodied Merinos, with little oil in their fleeces; but they have a decided tendency to lay on fat. These sheep are common in the Department of Aisne ; they should be introduced into America, where they would infuse into our Merinos the ability to fatten without appreciably taking away other desirable qualities.
Everywhere, excepting perhaps in England, there is the same cry, "Scarcity of labor," and M. Delacour finds labor for his farm so scarce that he must employ Belgians for beet culture and harvest. He had 275 acres in beets, which go to his own distillery to make crude fuel alcohol, the pulp being put into silos and fed to animals. His electric thresher has a capacity of nearly 300 bushels per hour; it also binds the straw into straight bundles.
Other farmers nearby make it a practice to buy old ewes, take from them one crop of lambs and then fatten both ewes and lambs and sell them in Paris. Such ewes would get linseed cake, oats and straw. His own ewes get also beet pulp, but the lambs get the beets, cut in slices. The farmers use land plaster on the manure heaps, to trap and hold ammonia. On this farm sainfoin is always sown mixed with the alfalfa, and the two grow together very well indeed.
We said our "adieus" to the good Delacours and returned to Paris on an incredibly slow train, among the country people, happy as children, for we had done a good day's work. Emerson said : "A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best, but whatsoever he may have done otherwise will bring him no joy." Well, we had seen a glorious farm again; I had pumped poor M. Delacour with interminable questions until I had a lot of facts about it. Thus we sleepily came down through the warm darkness to gay Paris again. Next we decided that it was best to visit the Beauce country, a rich plain below Paris where there are more sheep than elsewhere in France. The fascination of the flock and the fertility that it brings east a spell over me—I could not see too many of them.
It was very hot, as hot as in the cornbelt, and as dry as it is in California. All France was burned yellow and bare and fires ran riot in fields and for-est. I had always before seen the land when it was green and dripping with moisture; it was with wonder that I realized that there could be such a hot and yellow France.
A GREAT FRENCH PLAIN
The region called La Beauce is a great plain southwest of Paris, reaching to La Perche. I had visited it once before when I went-to see that great breeder of Rambouillet sheep, M. Thirouin-Soreau, and at that time I had been impressed with its wonderful fertility, and had wished to see it again. To do this was easy; I dropped a line to M. Thirouin and the next day, as of old, his son came to me in my hotel in Paris to tell me how glad they would be to receive me. He was a big, straight, muscular man, with the glow of perfect health and nature's fine coloring in his face, and the clear eyes of the temperate, right-living man. He met us at the little station of Anneau, driving a big fine half-Percheron and half Demi-sang. We rode in one of the great carts that farmers use in Franc. They would be serviceable in America. They are strong enough to carry half a ton or more and easy to ride in, with high strong wheels that enable one to look over the landscape nicely and to go anywhere over the fields as well. We drove over the fine country roads and through unfenced fields, for the Beauce is a pastureless region, unfenced, treeless, unhedged and unwalled, past little farming villages till we reached Cherville, the farm village of the Thirouin-Soreaus, and went through the well remembered old archway to the farmyard. Only one thing was changed: the old chateau that had been half in ruins for centuries was being made habitable, newly roofed and newly floored, and provided with baths, gaslights and fine new windows. It was evident that farming in that part of France had paid well, as the elaborate process of making the chateau habitable must have cost a lot of money.
"Where are the sheep?" was my eager inquiry. They were afield, I was told, and so straightway we went out to see, through the leafy lane that I re-membered well. There in the wheat stubble they were, some 400 of them, grazing the scatterings and nipping weeds and grasses; the shepherd was on one side with a dog; two Brie dogs on the opposite side were patroling a straight line across which they would not permit a sheep to stray. I stood long 'silent and watched the scene. The dogs were well trained, with the heredity that made such training possible. Their humanlike intelligence, the shepherd a part of the landscape, the sheep obedient, coming slowly, steadily toward us, and the wide plain at my feet that stretched to the horizon, almost treeless, all spoke of antiquity of effort and thought on the part of man. The sheep steadily approached me. Now I could see clearly their character, the well-known character of the Thirouin Rambouillets—good bodies, the collars about their necks and their evenness and trueness to type. Many men breed good Rambouillet sheep, but none quite like M. Thirouin-Soreau. The blood of his flocks is in every land where good Rambouillets are bred; it is notorious that his sheep are better today than those of the government farm at Rambouillet itself.
Now and again one of the dogs would come running to me to put his nose against my hand. Taking up his endless patrol, he was eager, did not bark nor dash at a sheep; he let them feed within four feet of the alfalfa edge yet restrained them from trespassing on it. Now and then he lifted his head high to listen for the low spoken counsels of the shepherd across the flock.
We went to the house to luncheon. M. Thirouin said that times had not been good for Rambouillet sheep breeders because of the closing of Argentine ports, but really perhaps because of the dominance of the Lincoln in Argentina, and because of hard times among American flockmasters.
Rambouillets are not now extensively bred in France. His flock has been in the family since 1785. It seems to him a duty to keep it going and to breed it well. His wife and children are equally interested; it is more than money that makes these people breed Rambouillets. All their neighbors breed Dishleys instead of Rambouillets. He said that recently lambs had sold very dear and as 'a result farmers had sold off their ewe lambs. I told him that at home men bought when sheep were dear and sold when they were cheap. He said that farming was not so profitable as it was fifty years ago, though now men produced more, due to better tools and more fertilizers, but that labor was much less efficient and, dearer. He showed us old Beauce plows with wooden wheels and frames, and said that there were no better plows; that when he was young he would run one all day and only touch it occasionally with his hand. It balanced perfectly. Nowadays the men could not adjust such plows, so he bought simpler ones, not so good, but easier to adjust by a man of limited intelligence and skill.