Weekend harvest

Somehow a whole week has passed since I last posted on this blog and during this time spring carried on its one step forwards, two steps backwards progress, still feeling cold at times but with enough sun – and plenty of rain – to keep the plants growing well. In the garrigue some of the wild flowers are already passing their best. Wild garlic:

1-wild garlic

and wild salsify – I think I’ve posted a photo of this beautiful star-shaped flower before but I’m doing so again because this is probably the last one I’ll see this year.

2-wild salsify


In the garden, our big purple iris is almost embarrasingly big and purple:

3-big iris


and the white cistus – my favourite of the cultivated cistuses – is flowering, its delicate flowers lasting only a day at a time before being replaced by others waiting to burst out of their buds:





We’re thinking ahead from spring to summer crops now and this morning we planted out six peppers that have been nurtured up till now in mini-greenhouses on the balconies. These first six plants are of a variety that we call A and A Spanish as the seeds originally came from our friends A and A who had brought an especially tasty red pepper home from Spain a few years ago.

6-pepper plant


I’m very glad that I sowed two double rows of broad beans last autumn, one in October and another in November, because the second row is now producing huge pods while the first hasn’t finished yet either. In past years I’ve sown one double row in the autumn and then another in February, but I’ve found that the February-sown row never does very well, perhaps because there isn’t enough water for them at crucial times. Autumn-sown broad beans do much better here, as shown by the 4.5 kilos we picked today.

7-broad beans

These (most of which will be frozen), another small artichoke, some wild thyme from the garrigue and some wild flowers Lo Jardinièr had brought home to identify made the kitchen table look full of possibilities:

8-kitchen table


I cooked some of the broad beans straight away for lunch, in an earthenware dish over a low heat in olive oil, adding chopped garlic and oregano leaves and some tomato concentrate, then, once they were cooked which took only 5 minutes, some chopped leftover cooked artichoke hearts.


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:


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


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


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


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


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.

Spring salad

When he was here last week our son gave us a copy of Ottolenghi the Cookbook, full of the kind of food we love.  Today for lunch Lo Jardinièr made his interpretation of one of the recipes in it – a salad of griddled asparagus and courgette, with rocket from the garden, some of our pickled orange peppers, and goats’ cheese from Mas Rolland.  It made a perfect colourful lunch for a spring day.

asparagus salad

Out in the vineyards the vines are now growing proper leaves and the beginnings of flower buds – this year’s wine is well under way.


There’s one garriguette strawberry turning red in the garden – I hope we can eat it before the birds get to it!


And the cistus bushes are beginning to flower.  The flowers look like crumpled tissue paper and last only a day – I think I got to this one a bit late, but there’ll be many more.

first cistus

>Languedoc light / La lumière du Languedoc


Since I’ve been back from our trip to Wales I’ve noticed more than I usually do how wonderful the light is here.  Even though the sun shone while we were in Wales, the light seems so much brighter and clearer here – a Mediterranean light.  One that has been appreciated by artists.  We’re not far from Collioure where Matisse and Derain painted in the early years of the 20th century and began a new movement called Fauvism (from the French fauves, wild beasts).  We’ve noticed too how the quality of the light changes around Carcassonne if you’re travelling from west to east – suddenly the haze lifts and everything looks sharp and clear.

Depuis mon retour du Pays de Galles j’ai remarqué plus que d’habitude la lumière languedocienne.  La lumière ici est beaucoup plus clair que celle du Pay de Galles – une lumière mediterranéenne.  Nous ne sommes loin de Collioure où les artistes Matisse et Derain ont peint au debut du 20ème siècle et où ils ont fondé le mouvement qui s’appèle le Fauvisme.  Nous aussi, on a remarqué que la qualité de la lumière change vers Carcassonne quand on voyage de l’ouest à l’est – tout à coup la brume se lève et tout semble clair.

light and shade_1_1 shadows_1_1

I love the contrast of light and shade and the sharp shadows of plants against a sunny wall / J’aime le contraste de la lumière et l’ombre et les ombres prononcées des plantes sur un mur ensoleillé.

Mussels for lunch / Les moules pour le déjeuner


We bought mussels from the van from Bouzigues and cooked them over a wood fire at the garden with lardons (bacon pieces) and thyme, then garnished them with chopped savory and garlic and a squeeze of lemon.  A delicious lunch!

On a acheté des moules du producteur de Bouzigues et on les a cuites au lardons et au thym sur un feu de bois au jardin.  Garnies de l’ail haché et de sariette et un peu de jus de citron, elles on fait un déjeuner delicieux!

We worked too.  We planted some of our tomato plants – the Yellow Pear which we bought.  We’ll plant the others tomorrow.  And we made sure that the courgette plants will get watered by making a channel through the bed.

yellow pear tomatoes_1_1 courgette watering_1_1_1
cistus flower_1_1
La première fleur du ciste au jardin
Our first cistus flower came out.  They are already flowering in the garrigue and this is later than last year in the garden.  Each flower lasts only one day and this one fell quickly because it was windy.  There’ll be more tomorrow.
butterfly on thyme_1 Lo Jardinièr found this butterfly on the thyme.  We think it is

Brenthis daphne

Marbled Fritillary

>Some flowers in the garrigue / Quelques fleurs en garrigue


It was a lovely clear sunny morning and from Montesquieu we could see Mont Canigou and the Pyrenees, the peaks still covered with snow.  / Il a fait beau et clair ce matin et de Montesquieu on a pu voir le Mont Canigou et les Pyrénées, leurs sommets couverts de neige.

canigou from montesquieu_1

Olive trees live for centuries and often the original tree has died while new young trees have grown up around the beautiful shapes of the hollow centre.  / Les oliviers vivent pour plusiers siècles et souvent l’arbre original est mort et des arbres nouveaux ont poussé autour les formes belles du centre creux.

olive trunk 1_1_1 olive trunk 2_1_1
olive trunk 3_1_1 olive leaves_1_1

In the garrigue, the scrubby vegetation that grows on uncultivated hills, this is the time of year when the plants flower before dying back during the dry summer.  /  Dans le garrigue, la végétation broussailleuse qui pousse sur les collines, les plantes fleurissent à cette saison avant de perdre leurs feuilles et leurs tiges pendant la sécheresse d’été.

I find the website http://www.maltawildplants.com/ very helpful when I’m trying to identify Mediterranean plants.  It is an incredible work by one man, Stephen Mifsud, who is cataloguing and describing the flowering plants which grow in Malta.  Many of these are common to the area all around the Mediterranean, so it is an extremely useful data base.

Today we saw / aujourd’hui on a vu:

cistus albidus   wild asparagus_1_1 cistus close up_1 Cistus albidus
clustered sulla_1_1 Clustered sulla, Hedysarum glomeratum Lathyrus clymenum_1_1
Crimson pea, Lathyrus clymenum
thyme   wild asparagus_1_1

Thyme and wild asparagus growing together.

Le thym et les asperges sauvages ensemble.

asphodelus albus_1_1 asphodel
Asphodelus albus
aphyllanthes monspeliensis_1_1 aphyllanthes close up_1
Aphyllanthes monspeliensis

new salad box_1_1 Back at the garden, Lo Jardinièr finished making a new raised bed and planted out lettuce plants our nighbour had given us.  He made a wooden frame with some cast-off planks, put it on a patch of rough ground we haven’t used before and filled it with a mixture of half compost and half soil.

Lo Jardinièr a construit une parterre pour les salades.



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.


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)


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)

>Planting summer

>The chard has had to go, the first sowing of peas too. Theyve both been productive – and this year weve had the best crops ever of broad beans and peas, perhaps because the spring has been relatively wet. But the chard is about to bolt, the peas are all eaten or in the freezer and we need the space for the summer planting.

Weve planted 40 tomato plants so far, a mix of Carmelo, Montecarlo, Coeur de Boeuf, ananas (a new variety for us, but an old traditional one which is popular here), and Roma, which we found last year was very good for preserving. Weve also planted 18 pepper plants of different varieties, some cucumber plants and courgettes. Weve still got to find space for chilli peppers and cherry tomatoes. We’ve had to buy a lot of these plants as the ones we sowed grew so slowly in the cold spring we’ve had. We’ve planted the tomatoes and peppers in long beds with a raised dyke around them to keep the water in, and support frames made from the bamboo which grows at the edge of the garden.

This iris flower was opening as we ate our lunch in the garden today.

The lemon tree is covered in flower.

This cistus flower lasted a day … it was there yesterday, petals like crumpled tissue paper, today the petals lay on the ground around the plant. There’ll be more soon.