Lost for words

With all the unrest and anger in the world, I am lost for words.  So many people are hurting, more are being hurt every day, and I feel powerless to help.  I was thinking that there is too little peace in this world and that’s when I realised that I could share some peace with you – from my garden to you!  I hope this does not sound flippant; it’s not meant to!

When I bought the garden, there were a number of well-established rose bushes.  The most beautifully scented of the roses died the winter before I bought the garden, but the others continued to flourish.  I knew that one of the roses was ‘Queen Elizabeth’, but I did not know the names of the other roses.  I tried to find out what other varieties of roses I had growing in my garden, and I hope that I managed to correctly identify the one in the pictures below as Mme A. Meilland, also known as Peace.  There is an interesting story to the naming of this rose, which you can find on Wikipedia via this link.  Here is an excerpt:

The adoption of the trade name “Peace” was publicly announced in the United States on 29 April 1945 by the introducers, Conard Pyle Co. This was the very day that Berlin fell, a day considered a turning point in the Second World War in Europe. Later that year Peace roses were given to each of the delegations at the inaugural meeting of the United Nations in San Francisco, each with a note that read:

“We hope the ‘Peace’ rose will influence men’s thoughts for everlasting world peace”.

I wonder how many of those plants from 1945 are still flourishing?  I hope that these pictures may bring a little peace to you!

Changes afoot!

Week 6 of the lockdown in France – still doing fine here in Saint-Chinian!!  We’ve had some rain this week, which has been incredibly beneficial for my garden and for nature in general!!  I swear that the potato plants pretty much doubled in size during the three days of soft drizzle!  As I am writing this, the sun has come out once more, and everywhere is beginning to dry out a bit.  It’s still too wet to work in the garden this afternoon, so perhaps I’ll clean the windows instead?? 🙂

Here is a picture I took the day after the rain stopped:

You may know that I’m heavily involved in organising the music festivals in Saint-Chinian.  Our July festival was scheduled for July 19 to 26 this year.  Was because the committee members (of the association which runs the festivals) have had to take a good and hard look at the facts and pronouncements by the French government, and in the end we came to the conclusion that we had better postpone that festival until 2021.  Very sad 😦 , but we had to think of the wider implications for our public and musicians.  Three of the concerts from the July programme were rescheduled and added to the September festival, which will now run from September 2 to 6, 2020.  Of course there is a question mark hanging over that too, but we’re trying to stay positive!!  🙂

Here’s a little summary of what we’ve had to postpone/reschedule:

This is a very difficult time for all of us, but my heart goes out especially  to all the performers, musicians, singers and actors who are deprived of their public!

I am very much looking forward to the day when I will once again be able to attend live performances in person. It will certainly be a moment of intense emotion!  In the meantime, take good care of yourself and continue to listen to music as much as you can!!

The spice of kings

The spice of kings is saffron – a spice as expensive, or sometimes more so, than gold.  The reason behind the high price is not its rarity, or a difficulty in growing the spice.  It is entirely down to the laborious process of harvesting!

The saffron crocus (crocus sativus) is an autumn flowering perennial.  The red “threads” (the stigmas and styles of the flower) will turn into the precious spice once dry.  I’ve been growing saffron in my garden for a number of years, with varying degrees of success.  Last year, none of the corms produced any flowers.  This year has been much better! 🙂

One day last week,  I was able to pick twelve flowers!!  Saffron flowers emerge shortly after the leaves appear, sometime in October.  The leaves persist until around May, when they dry out and the plants lie dormant over the summer.  Saffron  plants need free draining soil and a sunny position – apart from that they aren’t fussy.  I adore all the different colours in the saffron flowers, they are so vibrant and gorgeous!

The flowers should be picked as soon as they open.  The threads are then removed from the flowers and dried.  I like to keep the flowers in water until they wilt, they are so beautiful to look at!

Each flower has three threads and produces on average 30 mg of fresh saffron or 7 mg of dried saffron.  About 150 flowers yield one gram of saffron!  Saffron flowers need to be hand picked, and the threads are also removed by hand, hence its very high price!!

Here’s what the threads above amount to after drying:

Not a great deal, but I’m hoping that my saffron harvest isn’t quite finished yet!!  🙂

The use of saffron dates back more than 3,500 years, and it has always been an expensive spice.  It’s been used as a fabric dye, for medicinal use, and for culinary purposes. Here are some dishes which wouldn’t be the same without saffron:  risotto milanese, paella, bouillabaisse, jewelled rice, and biriyani.  There are many other culinary preparations which use saffron – do you have any favourites??

And to finish this post, here’s a tip which came from the grower I bought my corms from.  He told me never to add the saffron threads directly to a dish.  He recommended that the threads be soaked in a some warm water for a little while, strained out and dried.  They could then be used up to three times, much like a vanilla bean.  Using saffron that way makes it a lot less expensive!

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Fifty shades of …

… red and pink.  No this is not what you were thinking!  This is a little dip into the colourful world of flowers in my garden and in the area.  There is such an abundance of flowers at this time of year –  I thought I would try and stick with a theme for this post: flowers which are predominantly red and/or pink.

So here we go:

The following flower is a gaillardia, which blooms endlessly in my garden here in Saint-Chinian.  It needs no water and flowers until the first frost!

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Roses are wonderful this year!!  We seem to have had the right amount of rain at the right time!

The gerbera below is a relative of those expensive flowers which you can find in florist shops everywhere.

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Red flax is really wonderful, a mass of it can make for a real splash of colour!

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Here is another selection of pink flowers:  Echinacea, cistus and dicentra spectabilis. The last one is commonly known as bleeding heart.

Cosmos is another wonderful flower, needing very little care – it even sows itself in my garden!

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And to finish off, some red oleander:

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If you want to see for yourself, why not come and visit Languedoc?  I’ll be happy to help with your accommodation and travel plans.

 

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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Milling around..

Last weekend was the European Mills Weekend.  Each year the whole of Europe celebrates its milling heritage on the third weekend of May, with demonstrations of the millers craft, and buildings being opened to the public which are often not accessible for the rest of the year.  Once upon a time there were lots of mills in Languedoc; St Chinian alone had in excess of 10 water powered wheels and one windmill.  I visited Roquebrun on the Sunday, and the St Chinian windmill on the Monday, and since I don’t want to make this post overly long I will split it into two.

I’ll start in chronological order with Roquebrun.  Until 1870, when the bridge across the Orb was completed, Roquebrun was somewhat cut off from the rest of the plain by the river.  On the carte de l’etat major a map from between 1820 – 1866 the road to Beziers led via Causses et Veyran and it was probably no more than a track.  There was a ferryman at Roquebrun, so that the arable land on the other side of the river could be accessed, but that was it.  The village was more or less self-sufficient, and the mills played an important role.

The first mill I visited was an oil mill, which was in operation until the 1920s.  Waterpower was provided by the stream from Laurenque, and the mill consisted of a crushing mill to reduce the olives to pulp, and a press to extract the oil.  In the 1920s the oil mill transferred to a location on the edge of village, now the site of the cooperative winery.  In the old days every possible spot of land was cultivated, and olive trees provided families with their supply of oil for the year.

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Across from the oil mill stand the other two mills: on the edge of the river is the grain mill, which ground the locally grown cereals into flour or cattle feed. The inside of the mill can be visited, and usually houses exhibitions of local artists.

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At the entrance level there is a reproduction mill,  and on the next floor the beautiful roof timbers are visible.  The wheel room can be accessed from the outside, and the entrance to the mill-race is still visible from the banks. The old mill stone is now outside, propped up against a wall.

Next over and now surrounded by water is the moulin a genet, a mill which was used to process plant fibre extracted from the spanish broom which grows abundantly on the hillsides.  At one point this mill could be reached on foot, but a change in the river bed on the opposite side has meant that there is now water all round it.  In case you are wondering, the round structure atop of the building was a pigeonnier, providing meat for the table.  The broom fibre was used to make sheets and sacking and produced a somewhat coarse fabric.  A lot of houses had their own looms, and the open loggias at the top of a number buildings indicate that this is where the drying of the fibres and weaving was carried out.

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The mills look a little like stranded ships, the pointed bows have helped them withstand the floodwaters of the Orb river for centuries.  The dam which fed both mills used to be made with bunches of twigs, and was replaced in the 1960s with a new dam made of concrete.  It’s due for a major refurbishment shortly.  Both of the water mills fell into disuse at the end of 19th century, when the villagers no longer relied on self-sufficiency.

As part of the mill weekend in Roquebrun a guided visit of the Jardins de Limpach was on the program.  We were met by the president of the association Patrimoine et mémoire de nostre pais, which researches and promotes the history and heritage of the village.  Our visit started just a few yards down from the mills, and took us along the Laurenque stream, to the site of the first gardens in Roquebrun.  This area of France was occupied by the Moors from the 4th to 7th centuries, and the Moors brought with them a certain amount of know how where irrigation was concerned.  The water was captured in a canal further up the valley, and each garden along the valley had a beal, a channel made of stones, which in turn filled up a basin called a tane.  From the tane the water was distributed on to the ground with the aid of a large and slightly curved paddle, more of a large soup spoon perhaps.

Other systems existed to get water into the gardens, where the ground was too high to be fed by the stream.  Along the valley are cisterns, into which the water would flow.

Some of them are barely visible, but others still seem to be in good repair and use.  To get the water out of the cisterns there were various methods.  One was something called chaine a godet, literally translated as a bucket chain, which was hand-cranked.  For larger amounts of water there was also the noria, which worked on a similar principle as the chaine a godet, but was operated by a donkey.

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But the most common and probably least expensive was the chadouff (or shadoof), which is called pousalanque in Occitan and which involved a stone pillar, a slender tree trunk, some stones and a bucket.  Examples of this can be seen today in India, Egypt and elsewhere.  There are many stone pillars left in the jardins de Limpach but only one which is more or less working at the end of the walk.

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The bucket hangs on a chain, and is lowered into the water by pulling the chain downwards to lower the arm.  The counterweight at the end of the arm helps pull the full bucket up without much effort, and the water is then emptied into a channel, which spills into a tane, from where it is splashed ont the surrounding crops.  At the top of the valley there was also the fontaine intermittante – a spring which overflows at certain times.  In the days before running water, the women of the village used to come here with their pitchers to get water and no doubt have a chat.  Later the water was pumped up to a reservoir at the top of the hill, from where it fed a number of fountains.

I followed the path the women would have taken for centuries, and it looked as might have when they did.  I couldn’t resist the Iris which were flowering along the way.

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Looking into some fo the gardens there are series of stone pillars, some of them connected by iron hoops.  According to our guide, the first orange trees were planted in this valley, and the structures were orangeries, which could be covered in winter to protect against frost.

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After that interesting visit I went for a little walk around Roquebrun, there’s a lot more to see and of course there is the jardin mediterranean to visit at the top of the hill, but that’s for another blog.

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Now for two last pictures!  The giant asparagus is the beginning of an agave flower stalk, and the pale blue patch in the distance is a field of blue iris.

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