Bamboo collection

You may remember my trip to Uzes last fall, if you’ve been reading this blog for a little while.  After my visit to the Witches’ Market in Saint-Chaptes, I stopped off at La Bambouseraie, near the town of Anduze.  La Bambouseraie is a botanical garden, dedicated – no prizes for guessing – to bamboo.  It had been on my list of places to visit for many years, so it was quite exciting to finally be able to get there!!

As it was out of season and not long before the garden closed for the winter, there were few visitors, which suited me fine! 🙂

Right from the entrance gate, bamboo was in evidence everywhere, from stands of enormously tall bamboo, to the fence made from bamboo poles.

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The history of the garden dates back to 1856, when Eugene Mazel, a passionate botanist, started to plant his exotic garden.  Following the death of Mazel, Gaston Negre bought the estate in 1902 and continued Eugene Mazel’s work.  The estate still belongs to the Negre family – it is now run by Gaston Negre’s granddaughter, Muriel.

Today the part of the estate which is open to the public covers 15 hectares (about 37 acres).  Another 19 hectares (47 acres) are given over to a nursery where bamboo is grown for sale.  I would describe the visit of the garden as ‘spectacular’ – I was absolutely amazed by the beauty and sheer size of the bamboo plantations!!  There were so many different types!

The self-guided visit, where an audio commentary was available at certain points, was highly informative!

The stalk of giant bamboo (phyllostachys bambusoïdes) in the picture below is 20.8 metres long!!

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Deep in the bamboo forest, I found a cluster of buildings, all constructed from bamboo!  The buildings below are typical of the houses of Lao people, who live in the Mekong river plain.  Built on stilts, the houses are in three parts:  the main living quarters, the kitchen, which is joined to the living quarters, and the rice store, which is set a little apart.

The ‘shop’ is another building on stilts, and one of the meeting points for the village.  The shopkeeper lives in the shop!  All the items on the shelves are made from bamboo too!

A charming enclosure was home to some little black pigs! 🙂

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Phlyllostachys bambusoïdes is the star plant at La Bambouseraie – it is as strong as steel, and can be used to reinforce concrete in place of steel.  It also has an incredibly fast growth rate – at the garden they have measured a growth of over 1 metre in the space of 24 hours!!  In the picture below, you can see the root system at the base of a stalk.

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The name bamboo covers a variety of plants – all of them belonging to the family of grasses!  Of the nineteen bamboo poles below, 18 belong to the phyllostachys species, while the second from right is a chimonobambusa quadrangularis.

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Apart from bamboo, the garden is host to many other plants.  The planting below looked spectacular at the time of my visit!

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In 2000, a Japanese garden called ‘The Valley of the Dragon’ was opened.  The fall colours were absolutely perfect when I visited!

Another bamboo tunnel opened to a small clearing, where the house of the park’s guardian stood.

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In front of the house there were some stands of smaller bamboo – I could almost see the one on the left in my garden! 🙂

A path led from there to an area which was dedicated to aquatic plants.  The basins were planted with water lillies, papyrus, lotus and many more plants whose names I was not familiar with!

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A giant wisteria covered a most beautiful pergola.  I’m sure that would look spectacular when in bloom!

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Below is a stand of phyllostachys sulfureus with some yellow maple leaves.

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And this was the entrance to the bamboo maze!!  It was great!!! I did get a bit lost in there!!  🙂

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The way out led through a tunnel made from bamboo, and into the garden centre, where all kinds of bamboo were available to be bought.

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I am so pleased that I finally got to visit this amazing garden – it is only two hours from Saint-Chinian by car!

La Bambouseraie is open from March until mid November and you’ll need half a day to visit all of the garden.  Have a look at the website for more details.

 

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Relishing summer

I have heard that there are places where, in summer, people dare not leave the windows in their parked car open, or their screen doors unlocked, for fear that someone might drop off a bag of courgettes (zucchini if you are from North America!).  Of course that’s a joke, but I’m sure there are people out there who are inundated with courgettes and can’t give them away!!

This has been a year when there was definitely a glut of courgettes in my garden – it didn’t last very long, but it was fun while it lasted!! 🙂

The courgette plants got a little out of hand, and at one point I missed picking one of the dark green courgettes.  Wouldn’t you know that by the time I spotted it, the courgette had turned into a rather monstrous looking thing??

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Is it a cricket bat?  Is it a club?  No, it’s a courgette!!  I didn’t weigh it, but it was pretty heavy!!  Just a few days before the discovery, friends from Georgia (USA) had been telling me about their recipe for courgette relish. I called on them right away, and begged for a copy of the recipe.  Better still, I told them, come on over and help me make it.  They graciously agreed, and we’all got stuck in, peeling and chopping!

Here are the main ingredients – onions, carrots, red peppers, sugar, and cider vinegar:

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We also used mustard seeds, dill seeds, red chillies and all spice.  You’ll see, at the end of this post, that the recipe calls for celery seeds, which I could not find in Saint-Chinian.  The lady who sells spices in Saint-Chinian’s market on Sundays had dill seeds instead, and they were a very good substitute.  I also added chillies and allspice, neither of which was called for in the recipe.

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Dill and mustard seeds and allspice berries

We made two batches of relish since the courgette was rather large.  One batch was made with red peppers and the other with carrots.  The courgette pieces were chopped in the food processor – it took no time at all!!

Here are all the ingredients chopped and grated:

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Once the vegetables had been assembled in their respective bowls, we added salt, mixed it all well and covered the vegetables with cold water.

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Chopped courgettes and onions, grated carrots and salt, before mixing.

Now we had some time to while away – the vegetables were supposed to stand for two hours.  To make the time pass more quickly, I whipped up a batch of scones.  Once we had cleaned the table, we sat down to a rather decadent afternoon tea, complete with the warm, freshly-baked scones, home-made preserves, cream and Earl Grey tea!!

Here are the vegetables, rinsed and drained:

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Vegetables after draining

The cooking was very easy and quick.  Vinegar, sugar and spices were brought to the boil, the vegetables added, and once it boiled again the mixture was simmered for 10 minutes.

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The cooked relish

We potted the relish up right at the end of the cooking time, while it was still boiling hot.  Twist-off jars are great for this – the lids were screwed on right away, and the heat of the relish sterilised the remaining air inside the jar and created a vacuum.


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What didn’t fit into the jars is in the two bowls above – it was great to taste the results of our labours!!  This is a very delicious recipe and a great way to use up courgettes.  I can see that this recipe is going to be a keeper!  Thank you, Jane and Ham!!

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Courgette Relish

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 2 cups chopped courgettes
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 1 cup chopped red peppers or grated/chopped carrots
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp celery seeds
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 cup cider vinegar

Method

Combine the vegetables, sprinkle with salt, mix well and cover with cold water. Leave to stand for 2 hours. Strain, rinse thoroughly and leave to drain in a colander. Combine the sugar, celery seed, mustard seed and cider vinegar in large saucepan. Bring to the boil and add the drained vegetables. When it comes to the boil again, turn the heat low and simmer the mixture for 10 minutes. At the end of the cooking time, immediately pot the hot relish in twist-off jars and screw on the lid.  Leave to cool, label, and store in a cool, dry place.

This is a delicious relish which can be eaten right away and goes very well with all kinds of food:  cold meat, cream cheese on crackers, goats cheese . . .

What would you eat it with?

This recipe is modified from the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.

Flower power

This week’s post is going to be a short one, and it will rely heavily on photographs! 😉  The reason is that right now I am spending most of my spare time in the garden, where everything seems to be happening at once!!

At this time of year, a lot of plants are in full flower or starting to flower, such as the thyme, campanula, and Papa Meilland rose in the picture below.

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Other plants, such as the salvias and lavenders, which I cut back not all that long ago, are producing lots of lush new growth.

 

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There’s a patch of weeds in my garden, which has been heavily invaded by escholtzia, the Californian poppy.  Such a cheery sight!  Eventually the weeds and the escholtzias will be weeded out, and some vegetables be planted in their place.  But fear not, there will always be weeds and escholtzias somewhere in the garden…

 

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The bees are having a wonderful time on the borage…

 

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… and on the thyme!  It’s hard to beat thyme when it’s in full flower – the generosity of the blossom is astounding.

 

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The potatoes are up and out, and after some hoeing the patch is more or less weed free. 🙂

 

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The broad beans, which I sowed last November, are producing a very good crop right now!

 

 

The artichokes have just started to put up flower buds – I think I’ll be enjoying some of those lovely globes for supper tonight.

 

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I’m growing a few spare plants for a charity sale, which will take place in Saint-Chinian on June 21st, 2015.  There’ll be garlic chives, two kinds of mint, gaillardia, and a plant whose name I cannot remember, but it has white furry leaves 🙂 .  Of course there will be a lot of other plants too!

 

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The tomato forest is ready for planting out – one of my chores this week!

 

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The wisteria has all but finished flowering, but there may be some more flowers later in the summer!

 

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The bearded iris are also in full flower right now.  If you look carefully at the pictures you’ll be able to tell why it is called “bearded” 🙂

 

 

The flower buds on the kiwi plants are looking good, another week and they should be open and ready for business – or should that be beesiness?!

 

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These seedlings and plants need to be pricked out or planted very soon!

 

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Here’s a medley of flowers: escholtzia, allium, roses, heuchera, wallflowers, gaillardia, gerbera, salvia and bulbine frutescens.  All of them are blooming in my garden right now.  This really is a fabulous time of the year in Languedoc!

 

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Falling into fall

All too soon the clocks will go back by an hour, and the evenings will feel much longer.  This time of year, nature paints with a rich palette of wonderful colours.  Summer was glorious and bountiful, but towards the end it became a little parched, and somewhat monochrome.  Now autumn is exploding in a riot of colours!  Balm to the heart!!

Have a look at this dahlia:

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The colour variations in the grapevine leaves are endless:

The pomegranates are really starting to show off:

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How about some of these luscious persimmons?

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Or perhaps you are ready for a pumpkin?

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This red warty thing has been growing in my garden for some time now, and it will be harvested very soon.  A friend in the US sent me the seeds last year, and I just love the colour and texture of the skin;  the seed packet promises that it will make good eating too!

The rose hips are blazing away brilliantly red.

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Some parts of my garden really come into their own during fall.  This salvia just seems to explode at the end of each summer.

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Some leaves turn a bright sulphur yellow colour

and some go flaming red:

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Autumn is really one of the best times to visit the area.  And of course this time of year is also fantastic for wild mushrooms, but that will be a story for another time…

A is for Artichoke

The artichoke season in my garden is coming to an end, and I have been very fortunate with my crop. There must have been well over 30 artichokes on the plants, and I have not yet tired of them!!

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This is the first time that I have tried to grow artichokes, so it is still all very new. I started with three small plants last year, knowing that I would not get a crop until the following year, but that was about all. As soon as the plants were in the ground, the snails and slugs made a banquet of them, and for some time it looked as though I was trying to grow lace :). In time though, the plants grew stronger, and with the judicious use of slug pellets the artichoke plants grew and prospered.

In the fall I completed the row with a further two plants. As the winter drew to an end the plants were magnificent, large mounds of silvery leaves. It became very exciting when the first flower buds started to appear.

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The first artichokes I picked were truly gorgeous to look at. However, when I got them into the kitchen, I found that families of earwigs had taken up residence in my prized vegetables; they had paid their rent by eliminating the greenfly/blackfly population, it would appear. Once I had dealt with the squatters, I prepared “Barcelona Grilled Artichokes” from Patricia Wells’ book “Patricia Wells at home in Provence”. For this delicious dish the prepared artichokes are sliced, marinated in a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic, and grilled, for a totally yummy result. The next three photographs are purely gratuitous, and in no way related to the recipes :)! I did unfortunately not have my camera to hand when I was cooking!

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The day after I was talking to a neighbour about artichokes, and she told me to braise them with potatoes, which I tried, but was not crazy about.  The same neighbour also gave me the idea of adding some tomato, so I tried cooking the artichokes with smoked bacon and tomato, which worked wonderfully well!

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In Claudia Roden’s Middle Eastern Cookbook I found two more recipes. The first used honey, lemon juice and preserved lemons, the second paired the artichokes with broad beans and almonds. Both produced delicious dishes in their own ways, and I’ll be making them again.

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My overall favorite dish this year was the artichokes cooked with bacon and tomato and I will attempt to give you the recipe here.  Pictures of the progress are at the end of the recipe.

Artichokes with bacon and tomato

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

5 globe artichokes
200g smoked bacon
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion
1 large clove of garlic
1 tin chopped tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp chopped parsley (optional)
1 lemon, juice

Prepare the artichokes:  add the lemon juice to a bowl large enough to hold all the artichokes and add water.  Trim the artichokes by snapping off the leaves starting at the stem and working your way up.  Once in a while dip the artichoke into the acidulated water – the exposed flesh can turn black very quickly.  Once the leaves left on the artichoke start to look yellow-ish you can stop and trim the top off with a knife.  You can probably see the choke now – a mass of fine white hairs at the centre of the artichoke.  I imagine that they would make you choke and hence the name?  Remove the choke with the aid of a teaspoon, and keep the trimmed artichoke bottoms in the bowl of water.  Cut each artichoke bottom into eight wedges.

Chop the onion and bacon into fine dice and cook gently in the olive oil until the onion is softened.  Add the garlic (chopped or through garlic press) and cook for a minute longer.  Turn up the heat and add the drained artichoke pieces.  Fry, stirring from time to time until the edges start to brown, then add the chopped tomatoes and season with salt and pepper.  Turn the heat down and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes until the artichokes are tender and the sauce is reduced.

Serve hot on their own as a vegetable course, or allow to cool, dress with a little olive oil and lemon juice and serve as tapas or an appetizer.

Note: you can of course use frozen artichoke bottoms for this recipe, which will reduce the preparation time, and will produce very similar results, I imagine!

Bloomin’ marvellous

Spring can be the craziest time of year – things are sprouting everywhere, and nature is surprising me with new things every day.  And that’s before you count all the spring fetes and festivals which are seemingly everywhere!

This year we appear to be having unseasonably warm weather, and many plants are growing much faster than they normally would.  Look at the wisteria, it is out in full bloom!!  And the bees love it – there’s a variety of large black bees, with iridescent bluish-black wings, which seem to zip around the flowers like lunatics.

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The kiwis are also sprouting a fair amount of leaves, as well as flower buds!

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The California poppies have been flowering for over a week now, and there’s a lovely plant called Cerinthe Major “Purpurascens” growing next to one of the poppy plants.  The two of them seem to be having a bit of a cuddle 🙂

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In my garden both plants are ridiculously easy to grow – I just leave a few of them to set seed, and forget all about them until the fall.  When the seeds sprout I weed out the ones I don’t want, et voila!

My Papa Meilland rose also started to bloom last week; it has the most beautiful old-fashioned rose scent – I wish you could smell it!

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And I’m very excited about my artichokes – I planted a row of five artichoke plants last year, tiny little plants, which were immediately attacked by all the slugs and snails in the garden.  Over the winter I managed to stop the damage to the plants (causing carnage amongst the snails and slugs :)), and they have grown into large silvery mounds of foliage.  And now the first flower buds have started to appear!!  If I’m lucky there will be so many that I will really be able to indulge – artichokes are one of my favourite vegetables!!  With the warm weather, I will soon be able to have an artichoke feast!

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And so, on to the spring fetes and fairs – lots of exciting stuff to go and see over the coming weeks!!

This past weekend, Chateau Perdiguier in Maraussan hosted the Journées Fleurs et Jardins for the 5th year running.

IMG_9486The Chateau is an incredibly impressive building, so it’s worth a visit to the fair just for a close-up look at the building.  According to the website, the Chateau got its name in the 14th century, when it was given to Jean Perdiguier by Charles V in 1375.  A few years later Perdiguier was assassinated in Montpellier, after introducing an extraordinary tax – modern-day politicians take heed??  Perdiguier didn’t have much time at his chateau, but at least he left his name behind.  Over the centuries, as the estate passed from one owner to the next, the building evolved into the impressive structure we see today.

The exhibitors of the “flower days” were spread out over a large area in front of the chateau, with stands selling all manner of flowers and other garden plants, including citrus trees, acers, and vegetable garden plants; there were decorations for the garden (some very colourful flower pots amongst them); and there was food!!  Tables and chairs were interspersed with the stalls, and the atmosphere was very festive and relaxed!

Today Chateau Perdiguier is a working winery, and part of the exhibitors were inside, in the big wine cellar.  The monumental casks are in reality made of cement, with the fronts made to look like traditional wooden casks.  There were also a number of wooden barrels (used to age wine) in the cellar, with the ends decorated with paintings.  To start off with I thought the pictures had been painted directly on to the barrel, but closer inspection revealed that pictures were detachable.

Upstairs from the cellar is a large function room, where there was an exhibition of paintings, as well as more painted barrels, and some painted wine bottles.

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There’s definitely someone with an artistic bent living there!

So there you have it – Spring in Languedoc has started!!