Flowering

The uncultivated hillsides around the village are covered with the bright yellow flowers of Spanish broom, the plant from which we get our word ‘broom’ because the long flower stems were dried and used to make brooms.

Spanish broom

The first flowers are appearing on our aubergine plants:

aubergine

I won’t have much time for posting or commenting over the next few days, with my family staying for the long weekend and the opening of my exhibition of photos.  I’ll be back as usual next week!

vernissage

Wild flower time

On a short trip into the hills just north of the village this morning I saw that, in spite of a cold north wind, spring is definitely in the air for the wild flowers. 

The asphodel flowers are just beginning to open:

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There are pink cistus and lavender flowers growing out of the rocks, it seems:

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and white cistus too (it’s not called rock rose for nothing):

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thyme growing between a rock and a hard place, at the side of the road:

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and common broom flowering next to Spanish broom which is about to flower:

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With the vines beginning to sprout fresh green leaves and the few deciduous trees in the valleys now in leaf, the countryside is beginning to change, to look more spring-like.

>Garrigue

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broom-covered hillside, with an almost overwhelming scent

The garrigue which covers most uncultivated areas of land around the Mediterranean looks at its best in spring. This is the time of year when the plants flower, before dying back and hibernating during the dry summer. There is another burst of flowering after the first rain in the autumn, but April and May is the time when rosemary, thyme, broom and cistus – the most dominant flowering plants – are at their most colourful.

The word garrigue is a French word which comes from the Occitan garriga, land where only the oak – ‘garric’ – will grow. This is also said to link back to Celtic languages and the word for rock (caer in Welsh). Other parts of the Mediterranean have different names for the same vegetation – tomillares (from the Spanish for thyme, ‘tomillo’, I suppose) in Spain, phrygana in Greece, batha in Palestine.

Areas of garrigue symbolise these rocky hillsides so much that you might think they were natural but in fact they are the result of human activity over thousands of years. From the time of the earliest settlements around the Mediterranean, people have cut down trees for firewood and cultivated the fruit trees and herbs which they found. Their sheep and goats have grazed the land for centuries, too. The loss of the forests has led to erosion of slopes leaving only the lower, hardier, less water-demanding plants which make up the garrigue.

The result is a mix of plants, most of which are evergreen: holm oak (evergreen oak), olivettes (small wild olive trees), broom, arbutus, rosemary, thyme and other herbs, and a colourful display of flowers in spring from asphodel, orchids and numerous small plants which grow wherever they find space.

asphodel


wild olive tree and cistus

Extensive fires have been in the news around the Mediterranean in recent years, in France, Greece, Portugal and elsewhere. These are frightening and dangerous, and often caused by peoples carelessness (cigarette ends thrown from cars, picnic barbecues, and so on) and their colonising of previously wild areas, but some fire is also a natural part of the life-cycle of Mediterranean plants. Small areas of fire can be beneficial, clearing land for new growth. It is said here that the best places to find wild asparagus are where there have been fires in the past year or so.

Some other spring wild flowers:

wild gladiolus

thyme, cistus and Aphyllanthes monspeliensis

Galactites (I think)

honeysuckle

Flowers of the Mediterranean by Oleg Polunin and Anthony Huxley (Chatto and Windus, 1967) is the book I use for identifying Mediterranean plants – It’s an excellent book with colour photos and good descriptions. I think there are newer editions and that it is still available.

There is a good article in French about the garrigue here as well as other interesting nature articles about the Languedoc on the same website.

And a short article in English here on the history of the garrigue.

And in autumn and winter ….

The arbutus bears its edible fruits at the same time as its flowers
(this picture was taken at the end of November)