Renewal time

We’re in the middle of what I call green-up time, when trees and vineyards are clothed in a haze of pale green from the leaves that are about to burst forth, and elsewhere trees are covered in exuberant blossoms – a time of promise and a time of renewal! I wanted to share this post with you from a few years ago. I think it captures what’s going on outside right now pretty well (but then I’m biased as the writer :)) Where you live, spring may not be as advanced but it will come – I promise!! Enjoy!


We get renewal notices all the time – be it from insurance companies, subscriptions for websites, magazines, software, series of concerts, often marked with ‘Take action now‘ or some such.

Mother nature needs no such reminders or notices, renewal just happens as part of the scheme of things, and seemingly without much effort.  Right now, we’re in the midst of springtime (even though spring won’t officially start until March 21), and there is renewal all around us.  Leaves and blossoms sprout from barren looking trees, bulbs push up flowers, and there is birdsong in the air once more.

I took a walk through the vineyards, to try to experience that wonderful spring feeling.  Here is what I came across, captured for your delectation!

At the end of a path through the vineyards, I followed a little stream.  Where the stream flows into the river, there is a meadow, which is almost totally covered in wild narcissuses – such a joyous sight to behold!!

Nearby, I found some buttercups

Buttercup, also known as lesser celandine (Ficaria verna)

Buttercup, also known as lesser celandine (Ficaria verna)

The bee was having a fun time on the dandelion flower!!!

The plant below is bay laurel (laurus nobilis) –  most of you will have some of its dried leaves in your herb and spice cupboard.  Looking at the plant, it’s not going to be long before the flower buds will burst open!

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I’m not sure what the tree in the pictures below is – could it be witch hazel?

I think that the flowers below are wild rocket, a plant which grows abundantly in the vineyards, where it flowers almost all year long!  The leaves are edible, but tougher, and more pungent than the leaves of the cultivated variety.

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Of course there were daisies too – such cheerful flowers!!

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Here’s one of the many different kinds of euphorbia, which grow so well in our region.

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The leaves below promise that there will be wild tulip flowers – and lots of them!!

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These blossoms were tiny, no larger than 5mm across, and the branches were very close to the ground.  Any suggestions as to what the plant might be?

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Botany is not my strong suit – I think the flowers below could belong to a type of viburnum, but I’m far from sure ūüôā

I do know what plant the exotic looking balls belong to – they are the fruits of a plane tree (platanus).

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This is most probably a periwinkle (vinca) flower:

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I could not resist taking a picture of this beautiful branch – the colours of the lichen against the bark is so beautiful!

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Here’s another mystery plant – these seed pods look a little bit like a cardinal’s hat.  Or is that my imagination??  Any ideas about the name?

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Another bee, this time on a marigold flower (calendula):

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I don’t know what the following flowers could be, but they looked so pretty!!

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I came across a small cluster of grape hyacinths (muscari), right by the path.

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The river at the Platanettes was so pretty – it will be lovely to take a dip in the cool water during the summer!

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A cornilla bush (coronilla glauca) was flowering quite close to the river.

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Here is another unknown plant – it has the most beautiful feathery foliage, and very delicate little flowers!

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On my way home I came across this explosion of pink flowers, probably an apricot tree, or perhaps a peach tree?

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Here’s a close-up of some of the flowers from this beautiful tree:

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And there you have it – nature’s springtime abundance, to be found for the looking!

Coming out

Since the start of this year, we seem to have had more gray or rainy days than sunny days – at least it feels that way to me! That said, we had very little rain last fall, so the rain we have had since the beginning of the year is somewhat reducing the rainfall deficit, which can only be a good thing for our area! Another side effect of the rain is that the spring flowers should be absolutely spectacular this year!

When the sun came out last week, I met up on Friday with a couple of friends for a two and a half hour hike. We met in Agel, in the car park behind the church. A signpost pointed across the river to ‘Le Pech’, the hill we were going to climb. There was a marked walk on Le Pech many years ago, but the markings are no longer maintained, so we relied on the knowledge of one of our fellow walkers to guide us.

There were wonderful views of the village of Agel as we climbed the hill:

We walked past beautifully maintained olive groves:

And we came to the ruins of the chapel of Saint Symphorien:

On we walked through dense pine forests, inhaling the wonderful scents from the pine trees and the rosemary bushes. We walked past vineyards, the vines neatly pruned and the ground carpeted with flowering wild rocket (arugula).

We came to a bit of landscape that looked as though it might belong somewhere else – Arizona or Utah, perhaps?

We walked past enormous bushes of flowering gorse, interspersed with some rosemary, also in flower, which diffused a wonderful scent.

Before long we came upon these strange looking mounds – made by ants?

And then the village of Agel came into view again – we were on the home straight!

As we got closer to the village, we came across a field that was sprinkled with anemones – such beautiful and cheerful colours!

Here is another view of the village from across the river:

And then we were back where we started. I’d packed some banana bread and a thermos flask with tea, so had a well earned picnic before I left my friends and headed back to Saint-Chinian again.

There’ll be more spring flowers and walks soon!! Have you been out walking lately?

Close to you

This past week has been somewhat mixed – our confinement will be ending soon, since Saint-Chinian is in one of France’s green zones where there have been few cases of the virus. ¬†However, this does not mean that our lives will go back to normal – far from it! ¬†Many restrictions will remain in place, and we’re a long way from being out of the woods!

So, since I cannot be close to any of you I went for another walk with my camera, to be close to nature instead!  Below is a map of my walk Рit started by the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian. I wore my sturdy shoes since a part of it was on slightly uneven terrain!  Only a short length of it was somewhat challenging, where the path went uphill, but for the rest it was pretty easy and very enjoyable!

I started the walk by going along the Chemin des Gazels, passing the cemetery and then took a right turn, just past the former distillery, to join up with the Chemin de Sorteilho.  After about 750m on the Chemin de Sorteilho, I turned right onto a somewhat overgrown track.  This track is not marked on any of the maps, but the hut it goes past is marked with a little black speck on the map!  At the top of the track I turned right once again and followed the path back towards the cooperative winery.  The walk was about 2.5 km in length Рeasy!!

We’ve had wonderful weather over the past weeks, plenty of sunshine, but enough rain to keep nature happy! The wildflowers I saw along my walk were beautiful and here are a few of the pictures I took:

The hut I walked past during the uphill part of my walk had been abandoned some years ago.  The door was missing, and the inside was strewn with all kinds of rubbish.  The roof was still intact and from one of the beams hung an enormous wasps nest!!  It was very well preserved, so might have been built only last year?  I would never have been able to go anywhere near it if it had still been occupied!!

Just before I reached the first of the ponds which are by the side of the path, I noticed the mushrooms in the pictures below. ¬†They were incredibly well camouflaged amongst the rocks! ¬†What a shame that they were not truffles!! ūüôā

I hope you enjoyed this walk – you’ll be able to follow it yourself on your next visit to Saint-Chinian!!

I leave you with a video of Karen Carpenter singing Close to you…

It’s the little things

We’re well into week two of confinement, and so far I’m doing just fine with it!

  • Having a routine and sticking to it helps.
  • Not being on my own helps.
  • Having the garden to work in helps.
  • Being allowed to go out for short walks in the countryside helps.
  • Cooking and eating delicious meals make for variety and definitely helps.
  • Knowing that the shops are open and fairly well stocked helps.

I could add to this list, but you can tell that I’m counting my blessings!! ¬†ūüôā

For a long time now, I have written my articles at the beginning of the week, sent them to Annie, who checked them for any errors (and she always found some!!), and then I posted the articles on Fridays on the blog. ¬†After last Friday’s post, and with the drama of the Covid-19 crisis unfolding all around us, I didn’t think I had anything meaningful to write about. ¬†But then I went for a walk yesterday afternoon, and I changed my mind!

I had taken my camera with me, but when I wanted to take my first picture I found that I had forgotten to put the memory card back in its slot.  So I resigned myself to not take any pictures.  My walk started behind the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian and took me along the Chemin de Sorteilho.  After a while, I headed down a track on the left which brought me to the Chemin des Gazels (you can find the route on google maps!).  When I reached the Chemin des Gazels I turned left and headed back towards the village.

I had observed many beautiful flowers along my walk, but what really struck me was that there was a clarity in the air, which was all to do with the absence of noise.  I could hear the sound of my footsteps, the sound of birdsong, some rustling in the bushes, the sound of my own breathing when I walked up a steep incline, the sound of water in a hidden brook.  But there was no noise from planes, from traffic, from agricultural machinery or from any other human activity!  It felt somewhat eerie but also incredibly peaceful!!

It was after that realisation that I happened upon a white lavender plant in full flower. ¬†I knew Lavandula Stoechas only as a plant with purple blue flowers, so I was thrilled to see one with white flowers. ¬†And that’s when I remembered that my phone had a built-in camera!! ūüėČ

After that, I took a few more pictures which I’ll share with you below, but for me the essence of the walk lay in observing the little things that were all around me. ¬†I really enjoyed the peace and tranquillity of that moment in time!

Look what I found!

Life goes on as always in Saint-Chinian, despite the hysteria surrounding the coronavirus outbreak. People are still greeting one another in the street, albeit less often with kisses and/or handshakes. ¬†I’m sure that people will pick up that tradition again before too long, once the worries have subsided.

To clear my head, I went for walk Рnothing strenuous, just past the campsite and through the vineyards.  The weather was spring-like and I found lots to distract me!

My walk took me along a canal which is one of the remnants of an extensive irrigation system.  As I walked along the canal, I noticed a plain terracotta tile lying by the side of the water.

Here’s what I saw when I was peering over the wall and into the water:

Dozens and more tiles, all neatly laid out!!  I continued to walk along the canal, and took a few more pictures.

There were tiles the whole length of the canal!! ¬†As I was walking along, I figured out why they were there – they are being cleaned!! ¬†There’s someone in Saint-Chinian who sells reclaimed building materials, and this must be part of his operation! ¬†The water gently scrubs the old cement and anything else off the tiles. ¬†The tile I saw lying by the side of the canal must have been cleaned already!! ¬†What an interesting discovery!!

Along the way there were also many wonderful flowers!  First came the buttercups:

A little farther was a field Рyes literally a field Рfull of wild narcissus!  If my identification is correct, this is called a petticoat daffodil.

Here’s a picture of the field – unfortunately you can’t see the daffodils very well, but you should get an idea:

In the vineyard next to the daffodils, there were lots of white flowers: wild rocket!  The leaves have a lovely peppery taste!

Here is another harbinger of spring: a clump of violets:

Daisies flower in Saint-Chinian pretty much all through the winter.  Seeing one of these flowers always cheers me up!

Farther along the river was a viburnum bush, bursting into flower:

The sweet bay tree next to it was also in full flower!

The sound of splashing water drew me down to the water’s edge – across the river there was a little waterfall. ¬†And look at the pale green leaves bursting out!

In the undergrowth, honesty was flowering.  Why is honesty so underrated??  And why is it so often overshadowed by other things??

Dandelions appeared along the path.  Some had been around for a little while:

Most of the vineyards had been pruned already:

A stone wall runs along the path back towards the village and it is home to many plants, some of which I would call weeds!! ūüôā ¬† The plant in the picture below would take over in my garden if I did not keep it in check: ¬†fumaria muralis or common ramping-fumitory:

The grape hyacinths were very pretty:

I love the acid green of this euphorbia plant!

I saw this pretty pink flower in only a couple of places along my walk. ¬†I didn’t remember having seen it before, and I was not able to identify it other than it probably belonged to the toadflax family. ¬†The flower was only about the size of a small fingernail.

And then I was back across the river and I was back on the edge of the village.  One last glimpse of flowers: a peach or apricot tree in full flower!!  A promise of bounty in months to come!!

That walk really cheered me up no end and cleared my head.  What do you do when you want to change your frame of mind?

Three cistus

You may have come across cistus plants under their common name of rock rose.  They grow very abundantly in the area around Saint-Chinian, and right now they are flowering their hearts out.  I went on a little photo safari last Saturday, to shoot a few pictures for you.

In the map below, you can see the itinerary I followed for my walk, and this link will take you to the geoportail website, where you can see the map, albeit without the itinerary markings.

I started my walk by the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian. ¬†Most of the walk was on fairly well kept tracks which are used by vineyard workers and hunters. ¬†If you want to do the walk yourself, you should wear reasonably sturdy shoes – high heels are definitely out of the question!! ¬†The whole walk can be completed in an hour. ¬†Of course it took me longer since I stopped frequently to take pictures! ūüôā

Before starting the walk proper, I visited the cistus display bed beside the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian.  It was planted some years ago, and all of the plants have now reached maturity.  A plaque by the bed identifies the various species on show:

Cistus plants thrive in a Mediterranean climate and grow well on poor soils.  According to the wikipedia article, the seeds can lay dormant for up to 100 years before germinating.

Around Saint-Chinian, the most commonly encountered species of cistus are C. monspeliensis:

Cistus monspeliensis

Cistus monspeliensis

C. albidus:

Cistus albidus

Cistus albidus

…¬†C. ladanifer:

Cistus ladanifer

Cistus ladanifer

… and C. salviifolius:

Cistus salviifolius

Cistus salviifolius

The display bed at the cooperative winery also contains a species which is more rarely seen around here:  C. populifolius:

Cistus populifolius

Cistus populifolius

The plant in the following picture was also growing in the display bed, but I could not find it on the panel. ¬†Cistus species hybridise readily, so, if my identification is correct, this should be C. x purpureus, a cross between C. ladanifer and C. creticus. ¬†It’s a plant with very pretty flowers, and you can see the heritage from c. ladanifer with the purple blotches at the base of the petals!

Cistus x purpueus

Cistus x purpureus

As I was starting my walk, I walked past this stand of trees.  A nightingale, well hidden from view, was singing directly at me.  I thought I would share the video with you!

My walk took me up and down some gentle slopes – being a little higher than the surrounding countryside always makes for nice views!

The first flower picture I took after I started my walk was of an orchid – orchis provincialis:

Orchis provincialis

Orchis provincialis

It wasn’t long before I came to a clump of C. salviifolius by the side of the path.

C. salviifolius

Cistus salviifolius

Wild garlic was also in flower along the path.  The flowers have a pleasant onion/garlic flavour and can be added to salads.

Wild garlic

Allium rosea

I couldn’t pass by this doughnut-shaped tree lichen without taking a picture!

Farther along I found a clump of C. albidus in full flower, it’s pink flowers standing out nicely from the the grey, woolly leaves.

Cistus albidus

Cistus albidus

Nature’s flower arrangements are always worth studying – here we have lavender and heather flowers, with a background of blackberry leaves! ūüôā

The leaves of some cistus species secrete a sticky substance which has a lovely resinous fragrance.  C. ladanifer is one of these species.  Incidentally, the picture below shows the point where the walk starts to loop back.

C. ladanifer

Cistus ladanifer

I came across some more Orchis provincialis Рa whole stand of them, in fact.  The leaf rosette showed the typical brown splotches.

In this close-up you can see some of the delicate markings on the flowers:

Orchis provencialis

Orchis provincialis

I rounded a bend in the path and came to this wonderful sight: ¬†a whole hillside covered in flowering cistus bushes!! ¬†The photograph doesn’t really do it justice – it was spectacular to behold!

Here’s a picture of C. monspeliensis – you can see the leaves glistening with the sticky resin.

C. monspeliensis

Cistus monspeliensis

I found some interesting flowers towards the end of my walk:  Serapias lingua is an orchid whose flower petals are like tongues sticking out at you (or me).

Serapias lingua

Serapias lingua

I’ve not been able to identify the following flower, but I think it’s a species of vetch.

Then I found a rather mysterious looking plant – it’s fairly tiny, with a pitcher like flower and one petal folded over that like a lid. ¬†From the top you just see a kind of purple black leaf, about the size of a thumbnail, but when you tilt the flower somewhat, you can see that it’s part of the flower which is pitcher shaped. ¬†I immediately wondered if it was part of the arum family or a carnivorous plant. ¬†Looking through some of the plant books I have at home, it turns out to be Aristolochia pistolochia.

I found a violet limodore orchid just around the corner from the mystery plant above:

Limodorum abortivum

Limodorum abortivum

The last picture I took on my walk is of a white flowered tamarix shrub. ¬†With the flowers not yet quite open, the buds look like white peppercorns, tightly clustered on the branches. ¬†I’m sure it’ll look gorgeous in a week or so.

I hope you enjoyed the wonderful flowers that can be found around Saint-Chinian.  Thanks for coming along with me on this wonderful walk!