Wild Strawberries from the Garden

Fraises des bois du jardin

High up on my life list is to one day have a garden, a vegetable patch and an orchard.

In the meantime, I have to settle for windowsills and tiny balconies on which Maxence, who is The Official Gardener around here, plants and pampers a lush jungle, making the absolute most of every square inch of space and railing. I have little patience for that sort of thing, but I am certainly grateful for his efforts and happy to enjoy the benefits — green, green, green through every window, flowers and herbs and, most recently, fruit.

I insisted, because when you buy a plant or a little bag of seeds, what you really buy is the dream, the possibility of it growing and blossoming and making you proud.

Last spring on the Quai de la Mégisserie where gardening and pet stores abound, I was the one who insisted we buy a small pot of fraises des bois, those teeny strawberries that grow mostly in the wild and which the observant little girl (if properly trained by her mother) can spot and feast on in the mountain underbrush.

To be truthful, I didn’t think ours would ever bear fruit. Not because I doubted Maxence’s skills, but simply because I couldn’t imagine it actually happening. Still I insisted, because when you buy a plant or a little bag of seeds, what you really buy is the dream, the possibility of it growing and blossoming and making you proud.

Despite my doubts, the plant we bought developed into a healthy-looking little shrub on our bathroom windowsill; delicate flowers soon started to bloom.

And do you know how this works? When the petals fall from strawberry flowers, their heart keeps swelling and then droop under the weight of their elongated shape. It takes them just a few more days to blush and blush until bright red, at which point Maxence harvests them and comes to share the minuscule bounty with me — usually one or two strawberries at a time, each of them softly sweet, uniquely acidulated and astonishingly flavorful for a thing so tiny.

Strawberry flower

In his general campaign to encourage the growth of anything green (there is no such thing as a mauvaise herbe in his world), Maxence also plants in little pots whatever looks remotely like it could sprout and flourish into something interesting. He recently planted a potato that had been biding its time in the potato basket for a tad too long, and this developed into quite the funky leafy thing on the mini-balcony outside our bedroom window.

But after a few weeks the plant started to wilt and Maxence decided to put it out of its misery: he dug it out and oh, surprise and utter disbelief, six brand new potatoes plus a few really really small ones, had been quietly materializing out of thin air — or thin earth as it happens. I know I know, city kids and all that, but never before had I seen with my own eyes how potatoes grew, and on our windowsill, too! Who would have thunk? And they tasted particularly good, simply steamed and sprinkled with a little fleur de sel.

Strawberries and potatoes. Man, we are so close to self-sufficiency. Should we start a commune you think?

Home-grown potatoes

  • jolie récolte ! bravo à ton jardinier. bises.

  • j

    yep nothing like growing your veggies, esp in the heart of the city.

  • Mmmmm, that’s a commune I’d be happy to join! :-)

  • They are always so much sweeter when you produce them youself!

  • Maman

    Alors là, je suis épatée ! je n’aurais jamais imaginé que ces bêtes-là puissent pousser sur un rebord de fenêtre ! Surtout les vieilles pommes de terre !Bravo à Maxence pour ses “doigts verts” !

  • Wow, I’m really impressed! Good for Maxence. You can also try planting avocado pits, though Paris is probably a little too cold for that…

  • I love growing seeds. Though I live in an apartment, I’ve teached my children growing pepers and basil is a fun thing to do. Wish we could grow strawberries here in Caracas.

  • Alisa

    What you really need now is a pet……chicken. You get eggs and chicken poop (excellent fertilizer). That should do it – absolute self sufficiency.

    So cool that you had all of this growing in your apartment! Loved this post.

  • Yes! Start a commune. Or a small farm. Or…does Paris have community gardens? As a former suburban gardener (huge veggie patch, fruit trees and shrubs…sigh) turned city gardener, I totally agree with the promise held by a packet of seeds or a tiny plant start. Of course, I feel that way too about cookbooks: regardless of how much I actually cook from them, each one holds the promise of so much potential deliciousness.

  • tempestdelfuego

    It does make one feel proud when the vegetables grow! We had quite a garden a few years back- I remember how disappointed I was when I thought all the potato plants had died. But no, they were growing, and quite proficiently, underground. They were the best potatos I had ever eaten.
    Now, I am watching my tomato plants flower, in the bright sunshine on my balcony.
    Here’s to growing our own food!

  • *

    ha! when the plant dies like that you know the potatoes are ready to harvest. you found out by accident.

  • A lovely strawberry tale Clotilde. I too am growing my first garden this year, the very first produce of which was one perfect snow pea. Since then, I have harvested double handfuls of them, which I steam and cut into diagonal bites. I eat them like candy. Forget the abracadabra….In my book, the REAL MAGIC is photosynthesis…turning water and sunlight into a thousand different kinds of vegetables for our grazing pleasure…

  • Orlene

    Clotilde, I too once grew tiny strawberries on the roof of a flat I was renting along Lake Michigan. The tiny red berries were the sweetest most flavorful strawberries I had ever eaten. I also grew cherry tomatoes and pansies (which I dried and keep in my books) that summer. The joy of apartment gardens! By the way, I just adore your blog. I never thought I would find such an awesome group of YOUNG foodies like myself. I love your pictures and commentary, I can almost taste the food when you talk about it! Merci beaucoup!

  • A lovely post Clotilde. I’m off to buy my own little strawberry plants I think. Has Maxence tried growing an olive tree in a pot? It is the only thing I grow on my balcony.

  • Nasia

    Clotilde, that was just about the sweetest, happiest thing I have ever read on the internet. I’ve been reading your blog for about a year, and it always brings a moment of joy in my day.

  • Patsy Baker

    We have 253 acres in Texas. Family owned 100 years in Sept. We have cows, sheep, and chickens that graze freely on organic grassland. Also a spring feed creek that flows nearly year round. I have gardens of herbs, tomatoes, squash, beans and all kinds of flowers. Fresh eggs every day. Neighbors begging me to take their extra produce. The only thing that knocks me back to earth is the 100 degree heat and the drouths we sometime get. Here’s hopeing everyone gets their dream of a spot of heaven

  • Feel free to come plant a straberry patch in the Vatican. I have plenty of space and a big appetite

  • Patsy

    Clotilde: I live among the redwoods here, but I have a pot of Alpine (wild type) strawberries on my terrace table. Every other day there will be one or two I can “harvest” and eat, smushing the sweet berry with my tongue up against the roof of my mouth. It’s a very sweet little indulgence.

    And: I gave my grandson a magic plant for his birthday, seedling potatoes in a growing mix in a plastic bucket. It is almost time to harvest them and this may make up for his getting what he thought was “a box of dirt” as a gift!

    Funny to see there’s another “Patsy” responding to you (see above). I usually use “kudzu” here in America.

  • Karen Weena

    I’m drooling with envy. ;-)

    I have a black thumb (as opposed to green thumb): all the pot plants I’ve bought and tried to cultivate over the years wilt and die down one way or another. Is this reversible?

  • josie

    I’ve been wondering — isn’t there a proper name for these tiny wild strawberries in English? I asked my cousin’s American husband, and he had no idea. In Sweden, we call them “smultron”. It’s pretty cute!

  • Ant

    Superb! I’m looking forward to finally clearing out and replanting my (tiny) garden. It may be small, but if it’s big enough for strawberries then that’s good enough for me.

  • Christy

    I felt like a real grown-up the first time I was able to successfully nurture a plant to produce what it’s intended offering. It was a tiny balcony in Chicago that quickly became the apartment complexes mecca for fresh basil, parsley and rosemary.

    Today I’ve got a large enough herb garden full of all sorts of herbs – all repulsive to me in the first months of a pregnancy. So once again, the neighbors are eating well. It’s alright that I’m not – it’s nice to just have my hands in dirt.

  • Josie: I’ve always heard them called “alpine strawberries”, at least here in the US.

  • Douglas

    wah, don’t know how the strawberry taste like, hehe!!!

  • Sylvia

    What a lovely story. The things we appreciate most are the little things, especially if they are ephemeral like strawberries. I live in foggy San Francisco where sunshine is limited, but in my third year of trying very very hard, I have managed to get a few (about 20!) dahlia plants growing and soon to bloom. No vegetables, though. Quite a few years years ago I tried cherry tomatoes. After a whole summer I harvested one.

    But lemons I can grow in my backyard. Meyer lemons, in fact. I look forward to reading your blog as often as I can, Clotilde.

  • This year a big patch of alpine strawberry plants (about 1 meter square) appeared unexpectedly in my perennial garden. Haven’t managed to catch berries before the birds yet, but remain hopeful.

  • That sounds like a lovely dream.

  • gluhtzee

    i can taste the tiny juicy berries;
    after 8 years in Ottawa, my suburbia clay soil garden is about to give me furry winter & bitter melons, possibly another ten days of sharing nature’s wonders, then the palate will savour mother earth’s nectars.

  • I like the idea of wild berries on the window sill of my bathroom – after brushing ones teeth… there are berries to be picked :)

  • clotilde i hope maxence is inspired to grow more strawberry plants next year…we have a wild blackberry bush in our postage stamp sized backyard. can’t wait until the hard black berries turn soft and we can eat them warmed by the sun

  • Dana

    We had potatoes grow “voluntarily” out of our compost a few years ago. They were the best things we ever tasted so now every spring, we plant one potato and anxiously wait for the new potatoes to grow from it

  • Jenji

    What an inspiring post… and the sharing of the rare strawberry harvest is SO romantic! Talk about a thoughtful, tender gesture.
    Should you be tempted by the thought of fresh-laid eggs… http://www.omlet.co.uk.

  • serena


    due to Real Life ™ getting in the way, i’ve neglected very many of my favourite blogs over the past months – but upon reading this entry am reminded just why i have so many blogs bookmarked & waiting to be read (yours being close to the top of the list, of course) – lovely entry, & fraises des bois are definitely one of my favourite spring/summer fruits! raspberries are still tops, though (the amount i’ve imbibed over the past month is quite startling!).

  • Lawrence wahls

    I planted some fraise du bois plants in a large pot on my terrace in Chicago. I have harvested about three cups total at various times throught the summer. They are wonderful. Sprinkle a little sweetner and a tsp of cream and perfection.

  • I was just in Paris 2 weeks ago and I had the fraise du bois flavor at Berthillon! I was instantly obsessed. It’s almost that time for the New York markets to start carrying our own version, and I can’t wait.

  • Ooh, I remember going through my family’s backyard as a kid and picking all the tiny wild strawberries…and all the wild blueberries growing on the fence…and as many raspberries and blackberries as I could carry from the woods out behind the yard! We don’t pick the strawberries anymore as the yard belongs to the dogs now but my parents make up for it by having a wonderful garden. They share with me, which is nice because I kill any plant left in my care.

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