What a difference a year makes!

Snow is very seldom seen in Saint-Chinian – temperatures are rarely low enough, and if they are then it is usually very dry.  So when it does snow it’s a memorable occasion and everyone takes pictures!!  Last year on February 28, Saint-Chinian was briefly snow-covered!

The snow is fun while it lasts, but it never lasts long – usually it’s gone by the end of the day!

This year, the weather on February 28 could not have been more different!!  It was a beautifully sunny and bright day, with all the promise of spring in the air!

The mimosa trees were in full flower, spreading their heavenly perfume!

The almond trees were blooming too, the flowers creating a delicate pink haze around the otherwise naked branches!

To my mind, blooming almond trees herald spring like nothing else!  There’s something about an almond tree in full flower that the camera just cannot capture – believe me, I’ve tried again and again over the years!

The violet flowers in my garden are another harbinger of spring.  I can usually smell them before I see them – they are usually so well hidden – they have a wonderfully strong perfume!

The daffodils are flowering already:

The roses are beginning to leaf out:

AND I have the most charming of plants in the garden, which is flowering profusely at the moment. It’s called Erodium pelargoniflorum ‘Sweetheart’ – and what a sweetheart it is!!

Have you seen any signs of spring yet??

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Remembrance and flowers

On May 8 sixty-eight years ago the guns in Europe fell silent and the second world war came to an end.  France celebrates VE day as a public holiday, and each village holds a ceremony of remembrance.  Saint-Chinian is no exception and at 10.30 on the dot the procession of flags made its way through the gardens in front of the Mairie.  Following closely behind were the members of the town council, delegations of the Sapeurs Pompiers and the police, and the war veterans.

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Everyone lined up around the war memorial in the gardens, and flowers were laid to remember those killed in the wars.

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Of course the local brass band was there too!

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To start with the mayor thanked everyone for being there, and then asked all to observe a minute’s silence.  The president of the veterans association then read a letter from the Minister for war veterans, and after that the mayor spoke.   One of the points in his speech was that De Gaulle and Adenauer signed the French-German friendship agreement 50 years ago this year.  Europe has never known a period this long without any wars, and long may that continue.

To round off this post, I wanted to share some flowers which have been blooming in my garden recently.  This year the wisteria was a waterfall of blooms and simply magnificent!

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The California poppies have gone wild and popped up absolutely everywhere, creating wonderful splashes of colour.

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The comfrey is planted under one of the roses, and seems to thrive in the semi-shade.

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This exotic looking flower is probably a weed and will spread all over the garden if I don’t manage the seed heads 🙂 – does anyone know the name?

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The pelargonium is another early bloomer and despite being chopped back quite severely it has been flowering for a couple of weeks now.

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The next one is not a flower but a praying mantis (I think so anyhow).  I had a hell of a time getting a shot of this beastie, discovered while I was weeding the roses, and I hope you’ll be able to see what so fascinated me.  The back-end of it looked so very much like a stem bursting into leaf – very clever.  I’m glad I got the pictures I did, as the mantis had vanished the next time I looked, never to be seen again.  From what I’ve found on the net, it could be a juvenile Mantis Empusa fasciata or Empusa pennata – but don’t quote me on that :-)!

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And finally, here are some flowers not found in my garden, but on a recent walk!  Wild tulips, growing in a meadow.  A sight to gladden the heart!

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A walk in the park

On a recent visit to Beziers I had some time to spare and decided to pay a brief visit the Plateau des Poetes, a park at the lower end of the Allees Paul Riquet. The park was created during the second half of the 19th century on a steep, wooded hill, and designed by the landscape architect Eugene Bühler in the English style on nearly 10 acres of land.  There are a few  theories as to origin of the park’s name, but the most likely is supported by the fact that the park is dotted with sculptures and busts of poets and writers born in Beziers.

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The first and rather striking sculpture I came across was one dedicated to the memory of Jean Moulin, who was a native of Beziers and a hero of the French resistance movement during the second world war.  The monument was designed by the sculptor Marcel Courbier, who was a friend of Jean Moulin, and who hailed from Nimes.

I’d come to check out the plantings of spring flowers – each year the Beziers municipality plants the most sumptuous displays – and I was not disappointed.  I was too late for the daffodils, but the rest more than made up for it.

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There are many sinuous paths around the park, snaking across the hillside and there is a lovely walk at the top of the hillside, which allows you some wonderful glimpses of the park and the man-made lake (complete with ducks!).

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One of the nice things is that it’s not all there for you to see at once, it needs a little bit of exploring!   The most dramatic feature of the park is the Titan fountain, sculpted by yet another Beziers native, Jean-Antoine Injalbert.  This sculpture is altogether 17 metres high, although if you approach it from the top you might not think it that grandiose.

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At the top is Atlas carrying the weight of the world – cast in bronze.  He’s resting on a stone base, representing Pan flanked by rearing horses.  If you look carefully at the first picture you can see the face and the horns.

The real drama of the sculpture is revealed as you take one of the paths down the hill and look at it from below.  There’s as much of it again, a base of rock which has water cascading or trickling over it into a basin at the foot.  When I was there all of it had been drained and was in the process of being cleaned.  I’m looking forward to the summer when the water is on again!

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The flower beds around the lower part of the fountain were just spectacular – lots of anemones in a riot of colours!  And here’s a closer look at Atlas, carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders!

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Injalbert also sculpted some smaller pieces, a little less dramatic, but very charming.  Here’s the centrepiece of another fountain in the Plateau des Poetes.

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And there’s lots more to see.  The wrought iron gates at the lower end of the park, opposite the railway station are spectacular, but I didn’t get that far.  It was time for me to get back to my car and head off.  I hope you enjoyed your walk with me – we can go for another before too long, if you like?

Sunshine after rain

This week I had planned to write about the international kayaking competition that was to be held in Reals this past weekend.  It didn’t happen.  What happened was lots of rain on Saturday and the river swelled and swirled and turned into a raging torrent.  So for safety’s sake the event was cancelled.  I did go on Sunday morning, and there were a few crazy guys in their kayaks going over the biggest of roaring rapids, having fun.  Just a short ride and out they came again and walked 100 yards upstream to do it again.  A bit like children on a slide 🙂

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The trees on the left are usually not in the water, by the way!

But fear not, the rain subsided as the weekend ended, and all around St Chinian shone lovely and bright.  And so I thought I would take you on a springtime walk, and perhaps we’ll go for dinner afterwards?  Imagine the birds starting to sing, the way they do, tentatively, when spring starts.  And with all the rain we’ve had, the wildflowers are out in profusion!

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Here is a bee on what I think is a dead nettle – great bee-food in early spring!

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Unfortunately I do not know the names of the two other plants – weeds to some and wildflowers to others.  Somewhere I read that a weed is just a plant growing in the wrong place.  Well then, I have lots of plants in the wrong place in my potager! 🙂

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A little further along is this blowsy blossom – a nectarine tree, flowering its heart out!

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Daffodils are called “Osterglocken” – Easter Bells in German – very apt as they generally flower around Easter.

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And there are a few tulips out already too….

Dinner tonight is at Restaurant de l’Orb in Cessenon sur Orb.  The restaurant changed hands about 18 months ago, and is now run by Stephane, the French chef, and Patricia, his lovely Belgian wife, who looks after guests in the dining room.  The welcome will be warm, as it has been on previous occasions, and the service will be attentive.  Stephane changes his menu on a regular basis, so we might not be able to have what I photographed the last time…  A few things are firm favourites with the guests, so they generally stay on the menu throughout the year;  the pate is one of those favourites and it’s delicious.  Be sure to have had a light lunch if you’re going!

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There were two other starters last time – a mouse of prawns served hot, and the other was leeks in a creamy sauce on puff pastry.

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They also do a wicked version of a Croque Monsieur with foie gras and morels, not pictured, just to pique your interest…  My main course was scallops and prawns with a very delicate sauce.

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Then there were the other main courses – filet of beef with a tarragon sauce, and filet of salmon with a savoury sabayon.  And look at the vegetables, almost too good to eat!

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Ready for your dessert?  You can play it safe and go for ice cream or sorbets; they are very good and always nicely presented.  Or if you still have room (trust me, you’ll find room for the desserts!) you can go for something like the chestnut mousse filled crepe, or the crunchy apple pudding/muffin.  Bonne degustation!!

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Hope you all have a great Easter weekend!