Robert Farjon
The Plant Whisperer. Read on in today's story.

amour-en-cage (uh-moor-ahn-kazh) noun, masculine

    : ornamental plant*, of American origin

[literal translation: "love in a cage"]

*a.k.a.: physalis or "Chinese Lantern"

Listen to today's word: amour-en-cage: Download amour-en-cage.wav. Download amour-en-cage.mp3

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

I told you about the Ban des Vendanges: that official proclamation issued by a modern-day "lord" inciting the town to "Let the harvest begin!" But, you may ask, just who, exactly, determines the grape's ripeness? Whose job is it to say whether a grape is ripe-ready for picking?

This year that honor went to none other than Monsieur Farjon, one of the oldest winegrowers in our town, according to our local paper. You may remember him as the "Herbal Don Juan" or "Plant Whisperer," who has taken to spending Tuesday mornings chez moi, sharing with me his passion for the plants of Provence.

Yesterday, while Monsieur and I studied sumac,* physalis,* and "l'olivier du bohème"* at the picnic table, Jean-Marc passed by, on his way to the cave.* As usual, Farjon felt the need to explain his presence:

"Ah... Bonjour Monsieur Espinasse..." he began. "Well, it is me again. Nothing to worry about," he assured my husband, who chuckled in response:
"Salut Monsieur Farjon. Je ne m'inquiète pas! I'm not worried."

I hope Jean-Marc's response didn't cramp Monsieur's style. Apparently, my husband doesn't sense any threat. Then again, my guest, seated there beside me, may have just been gracefully let off the hook... After all, what would you do if a man brought your wife a bouquet of "amour-en-cage"? I'd say my husband handled the situation with délicatesse*.

After my botanical lesson, we shared a tray of vine peaches, Basque cheese, and a hearty slice of homemade chocolate cake--this, washed down by a glass of Innocent Absinthe (anise-flavored iced tea). Finally, I escorted Monsieur to the front gate. Arriving at the stairs, I discreetly offered my arm (never certain whether Monsieur might need assistance).

As I thanked him for the decorative bouquet, including a generous amount of that lovely variety called "amour-en-cage," Monsieur interrupted me.

"He is not jealous, your husband?"
"Oh... uh. No. Not to worry."

As soon as I'd said it, I regretted my words. Was that "disappointment" written across Monsieur's face? Without missing a beat, I added, "I mean... you know....just a little bit jealous...."

Monsieur's face lit up and I noticed the grayish tone to his skin turning a pale pink, like those vine-ripe peaches he'd brought me.

Well, I reasoned, helping Monsieur down the rest of the stairs, he may be forty years older than I, but why shouldn't my husband be jealous? After all, there I stood: amour-en-cage in one arm, my herbal Don Juan on the other.

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Tell us about something beautiful to your beholding eyes: an authentic friendship? Pre-war penmanship? A second-hand scarf? Silence? Share your story in the comments box.

Not up to talking about beauty? How about helping to translate today's word into another language? What's the word for "love-in-a-cage" in Spanish? Russian? Swedish? German?

More "Lessons in Love and Language" in the book: "Words in a French Life"

le sumac (m) = tree that grows in warm regions; le physalis = "love in a cage" a.k.a.: cape gooseberry Chinese Lantern (plant); l'olivier du bohème = bohemian olive tree; la cave (f) = wine cellar; la délicatesse (f) = tact (sensitiveness)

Pronounce It Perfectly in French: with exercises in sound discrimination and accurate sound creation
Chocolat: Music from the Miramax Motion Picture
Chinese lantern Plant some Love in a Cage, or Physalis, in your garden. Order a packet of seeds here and help support this free language journal. Click here.

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


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Beauty to me? the yellow fields of rape in France, my husband's voice and smile, my girls' happy faces, a stormy sky, snowy mountains. I could continue endlessly.


Hi Kristin. Hope the Vendanges are going well!

Just want to comment on Physalis: the ones shown in one of your pictures, easily recognizable with its red husk, is indeed "amour-en-cage" in French, but typically not cape gooseberry in English. Cape gooseberry is the common name of Physalis peruviana. Amour-en-cage is Physalis alkekengi, typically known as Chinese Lantern in English. They are both related, but not the same plant - and P. alkekengi can be quite diuretic, not always a pleasant side effect if one is unaware of this property!

I love your posts and always read them with pleasure as they give me (a French expat living in the US) a reverse view of my native country, seen though your eyes of an American expat living in France.

Enjoy the vendanges. I bet you are cooking a storm!


Sylvie: thanks for the correction (I like "Chinese Lantern" even better!)

Mette: I enjoyed your happy faces and snowy mountains, merci. Did you happen to know today's equivalent in Danish? (and thx for the other translations :-)


Hi Kristin!

On your last photo, the flowers on the table are PHYSALIS "FRANCHETII". Here in England, we call them “CHINESE LANTERNS”. I love their vibrant colour. My grandmother always had some in her garden. She would let them dry, and she made gorgeous dried flower arrangements to cheer up the winter months.

Hoping to meet again the wonderful Monsieur Farjon and some interesting plants...

Bonnes préparations pour les vendanges!


Beauty to me is the photo of Monsieur! When I opened your email today it look my breath away. His is a face full of character and I'm so jealous that you get the opportunity to hear his stories first hand, although I'm very thankful that you share them with us so generously! My husband would have reason to be very jealous.

Renee in Ohio


My Aunt gave me that plant many years ago but she called it Japanese lantern. The flowers are like potato vine flowers, then the lanterns come. It spreads quite nicely and there are little orange lanterns in the garden right now. Thanks for correcting me on the name.


What a lovely story! And the picture of Monsieur is wonderful.

Evelyn Jackson

What a vibrant and interesting face your friend has! Wish I could sit there with you and soak up all his plant knowledge.

Rebecca Learnihan

Beauty? A baby sleeping, A couple in their seventies holding hands, a bumblebee curled up sleeping in a rose, that first cup of tea before the sun rises....


There is so much beauty in the world... these days I just marvel at the beauty of my growing son. http://dromgoolefamily.vox.com


Hi Kristin,
He looks just like my grandfather.
We used to have our morning coffee together, I was about three.

Joanne Fischer

Hi Kristin:

Today my husband and I are celebrating 30 years of an authentic friendship! We have only been married for 7 years (9/1) but have been together thru thick and thin for 30!!! To me it is even amazing! And, Monday night while we were celebrating our wedding anniversary at our favorite French bistro, your friend Tim Smith and his wife were there too! Tim showed me a bottle of Rouge Bleu now being served at Bistro Provence in Houston! I am so happy!!!!!! What more could we want??? All the best with this years' havest too! Bon chance, Joanne

Mike Armstrong

So much beauty in this brief story but especially your blooming relationship with Monsieur Farjon, across cultures, generations, and genders. I imagine his Tuesday mornings are the highlights of his week and that he was thrilled by your modified response-- "euh... peut-être il sent un peu de la jalousie..."

Ted Loewenberg


Mon Dieu! "like those vine-ripe peaches he'd brought me." Many things grow on vines, but peaches are not one of them. As a former Peach State resident, I know they grow on trees. Nonetheless, I'll bet they were absolutely delicious.



Hi Ted: Farjon called them "pêches de vignes". They are "sauvage". I'm afraid I've made a literal translation.

I saved the pits from the peaches, which he tells me I can plant. We'll have vine peaches (oops, there I go again...) in 3 or 4 years. He suggested planting the pits at different times - for fresh peaches à gogo :-)

Back to the "pêches de vignes" - I suspect they are named this way for their resemblence (low-lying branches?) to grape vines.


Your portrait of M. Farjon is absolutely beautiful! You have captured so much personality and depth and serenity in the photo. Bravo!

Augusta Elmwood

There is something about that "spark" in a Frenchman's eyes, whether he is 4 or 84 :-)

(all is well in New Orleans!)


I had to think about this one otherwise my list would be atrociously long!

A baby's smile, the first flowers of spring, watching my children grow closer as they get older, the midnight sun and last but not leastest . . . the hands of my husband; large, strong and rough yet able to caress with such tenderness and love.


non, non, non!
Peche de Vigne are so called because the peachtrees were planted in the vineyards. Peach trees are very senstive to disease, mold, paraiste etc, and so acted as an early warning signs to the vigneron that he better hurry up and check his vines! They were planted from seeds (not grated like may commercial varieties) and over time, different regions bread their own pecde de vignes: some are white, some are wine-colored (sanguine), but typically they are smaller, firmer and later than the big fat juicy ones. Therefore, they are particularly good in tarts because they don't give up too much juice!

Also, Kristin, planting the pits at different times will NOT result in staggered harvests if they are all the same cultivars! Planting time has nothing to do with harvesting time for fruit trees. Very romantic idea, though!

Plant your peche de vigne. And if you don't spray them, you can also use the peach leaves to make your own "vin de peche" using your own wine. How cool would that be?



Thank you very much for the info about the peaches. Now that makes sense! I am in the middle of drying a couple dozen peach pits and hope to plant them (I've planted two). I am very short on plant patience (radishes were a good first harvest for me -- how they grew! ... and fast!) ... but the idea of peaches (in the vines) is motivating. I enjoyed learning about their use (as an early warning sign) in viticulture, like the roses, only sweeter! Merci.



Oh my gosh - I should really check my typing before posting. So sorry for all the typos.

peach trees are susceptible to "parasites" not "paraiste"

They were planted from seeds (not "grafted" - instead of "grated"

and over time, different regions "bred" (not "bread") their own

Glad to be of help! I love growing food, cooking it & eating it, so have learned about over the years.

Paula Hogan

Your best column to date--wry but sweet, you've captured the essence of french character and life in Provence. Bravo!

Jennifer in OR

Awesome! So glad we finally get to see M. Farjon - you are indeed a blessed woman to have these moments to sit with him and learn, and I can't imagine what a bright spot this is in his life. Thanks to Sylvie for her wise words on the peaches...very interesting about planting them in the vineyard.


These peach trees could be "sentinel trees", just as there are "sentinel chickens" to monitor diseases such as Murray Valley Encephalitis etc. Fascinating! Et le sumac, celui que j'emploie a la place du sel sous forme de poudre rouge...? Ensuite, l'olivier du bohème, ce serait plutot 'olivier de Boheme'? Et, quand les vendanges seront finies: more please on Innocent Absinthe s-v-pl. Is this a local term? I just love it!
A bientot et merci. Jacqueline de Brisbane


Bonjour Kristin,
Charming story...
I hope you let Monsieur Farjon know that there are beaucoup women jealous of you getting to spend every Tuesday morning with him. That you make his little cheeks turn to framboise!
A kiss to him....oh yeah & you ;)
Jeanne LaCasse

Judy Loest

Hi, Kristin, you reminded me to notice the charm of my Tennessee "village": church bells ringing on this sunlit morning, the ridges across the river still green but the air smelling of late summer, mourning doves foraging among the crepe myrtles, construction banging at the soon-to-open Le Parigo cafe, and tents going up on the square for our Sat organic farmers' market.In our little enclave of expatriate Democrats, I like to think there is a bit of the French bonne vie here. Merci

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristin,
This is another charming story! I'm glad I clicked on the link to read it. Thanks!

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