Leaping and bounding

That’s what it feels like right now – with the weather we’ve been having nature is advancing apace!  Dutch irisAt 20 to 26 degrees during the day we are well ahead of seasonal averages and everything is growing.  When I finished pruning the wisteria last week nothing was budding up, but look at what a difference 10 days can make.  I should not be surprised if there are flowers towards the end of next week.  I’ve already seen some wisterias flowering which have a more southerly exposition.  The kiwis are also beginning to leaf out, and the Dutch irises seem to have come up over night.  During spring I often feel that I am far behind, that I should have planted and sown and that I’ll never catch up in the garden.  But somehow it always works out, and there will be tomatoes and all the rest.

On an altogether different topic, one of the advantages of our region is the number of airports which are destinations for the various low cost airlines.  Not all that long ago, Vias airport, now grandly called Beziers/Cap d’Agde, started services by a well known (and loved?) Irish budget airline.  Last weekend I tried their service to Bristol (twice a week, Friday and Monday), for a trip to visit family.  Beziers airport is rather dinky, two luggage scanners, one departure lounge and a cafe/bar at the front.  It’s perfect really, no long walks, no crowds, no endless queues for security.  Hand-luggage only, shoes and belts off, pockets emptied, computer out of the case and yes, no beeps as I went through.  The guys at the scanner were rather thorough and wanted to check a few things in the case (some of the chargers had gotten tangled).  All of it done very politely and unhurried,  and I admit that I prefer them being thorough, even if it’s my case being checked.  On into the departure lounge, where my case was weighed (9.2kg  – oouff) and was deemed the right size!  The inbound plane landed early, which meant we boarded early and took off some 20 minutes before the due time – amazing, but I guess everyone had turned up!  Arrived an incredible half an hour ahead of schedule in Bristol – it can only happen at small regional airports, where landing and departure slots are not as tight as peas in a pod.  Outside the airport building were daffodils everywhere, not just a few clumps but swathes – such a welcoming sight!

The drive to my destination was two and a half hours, to North Cornwall near Padstow and very straightforward thanks to GPS.  Once off the motorway there were again daffodils in all directions, nodding their pretty faces, and I was amazed at the country lanes seemed narrower than our back roads in France.

Rhododendron bloom

Saturday was spent on a visit to the Lost Gardens of Heligan; if you are in the area it is an absolute must.  I was lucky in that the rhododendrons, camellias and magnolias were out in flower (apparently the rhododendrons normally flower in Cornwall in May) and of course there were more daffodils…  Sunday afternoon a long walk along the beach and cliffs near Padstow, after a big family meal out on the terrace, and then Monday morning back to the airport for the flight home.

Of course all this works equally well in the opposite direction, and if you’re tempted by a spring break in Languedoc either contact me or have a look at www.midihideaways.com.

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Rain at last!

The rain really did come as a relief at long last!  After four months without a drop it was beginning to show.  The river was running low, and nature was beginning to feel the pinch.  I noticed that all the daffodils and narcissus in the garden were smaller this year, and wilted fairly fast.  The water table won’t have been topped up, but at least the earth has been given a good soaking.  And I think it’s really come at a great moment – all the peach and apricot trees are about to burst into bloom, and over the next few days we’ll be seeing whole orchards in various shades of pink.  In some places it feels overwhelming and somewhat unreal, but it’s another sure sign that spring is on the way.  This week I’ve also seen the first swallows darting about…

In the garden the pruning is finished at last!!  Do you remember the tangled mess of the kiwi vine from last week?  You can see the results of its haircut in one of the pictures below.  The lavenders also got a fairly radical treatment, unless they are pruned hard, almost to the quick, they soon grow leggy and need replacing.  For some of the lavender plants it’ll probably be their last season, but there are plenty of cuttings so they’ll all be replaced.  The tomato seeds I put in the propagator a couple of weeks ago have all sprouted and are coming along nicely, and the chilli pepper seeds are starting to show too.  Soon they’ll all be pricked out and moved to the greenhouse in the garden, but that’s for another time.

If you are visiting the area, then a trip to Montpellier should be on your list.  I went yesterday and it struck me just how much there is to see in the old town.  You can just spend hours and hours walking and discovering, and of course there are many cafes where you can sit and watch the world go by and rest your weary feet.  The Musee Fabre houses a world class collection of paintings, and there are a few other museums worth visiting.  The shopping is pretty good also and whenever the sun is out the terraces around the Place de la Comedie are busy!

Spring is on the way?

This week has been under the sign of spring!  With temperatures of up to 25 degrees I’ve been heading for the garden as much as possible.  One of the many jobs waiting to be accomplished is pruning.  Look at the tangled mass of branches in the picture – that’s one of the three kiwi vines in my potager, and it needs a good haircut!  Cyril from Domaine La Madura has lent me his electric secateurs and that makes the task less painful (blisters!) and much faster.  After five years of pruning the kiwis I’m still not entirely sure if I’m pruning out the right canes, but so far there’s been fruit each year!  My table grapes are also pruned already – I’m always amazed when I look at the cut glistening with sap, in some cases positively dripping.   (Continued after the photographs) –>

At the beginning of the week I decided to buy my seed potatoes to get them sprouted ready for planting.  On the way to Beziers the countryside was ablaze with trees blooming their hearts out – white, pink, some already leafing out, and others with flowers on bare branches.  It always gladdens my heart to see all that blossom!  With the good weather the cauliflowers I planted last October have come one very rapidly, and we’ve started eating them – cauliflower cheese, cauliflower soup, cauliflower with pasta, cauliflower on its own….  When it’s really fresh the flavour is absolutely superb, and it cooks in next to no time.  I will dig out Jane Grigson’s vegetable book for a few more ideas of what to do – there are four more heads in the garden to be picked!   Any suggestions??

Do you enjoy walking?

and I mean any kind of walking?  If you do then now is a very good time to come to Languedoc for a holiday.  The weather is great, the almond trees are in full bloom  and there are hikes and walks and strolls for any level in all directions, and best of all, hunting season is over!  All you need is a pair of sturdy shoes, and you can be off into the vineyards, watching the vines being pruned as you walk or exploring hidden countryside.

A map will be helpful and France has the equivalent of Ordonance Survey maps issued by the Institue Geographique Nationale, IGN, which show great detail.  You can of course find IGN on the net and access their maps

For the area around Saint Chinian a book of marked walks has been published:  Balades en Terres d’Orb, which has over 60 marked circular walks in 26 villages.  The walks range in difficulty from facile to difficile and from 1 to 3 and a half hours in duration.  You can buy the book in the Maison de la Presse in Saint-Chinian.

As the year progresses the aspects of each walk will change and you’ll find something different in flower each time you re-visit a walk.  There’ll be wild tulips later in the spring and orchids and a multitude of other blooms.  Even at the height of summer there’ll be something braving the hot sun.  Autumn brings a different kind of colour with the wine leaves changing to flaming red and orange, and in the winter the geometry of the vineyards provides a great backdrop.