It felt like spring in the garden today – hot in the sun, especially when we were working, and warm enough too just to sit and enjoy what feels like a new season. It was time to burn some of the weeds and trimmings that won’t compost, before the rain that is forecast – at last – for the next few days.
While Lo Jardinièr made sure that the fire didn’t spread, because everything is very dry at the moment and he had the hose pipe ready to put out any stray flames, I sowed a row of mangetout peas next to the two double rows of broad beans, sown in the autumn and doing well now, almost ready to flower.
Before we went out to the garden I put 450 grams of sautée de porc (a cut of pork that best for stewing or braising) in an earthenware dish with the vegetables we happened to have – a sliced onion, bulb of fennel and parsnip, some pieces of chorizo, some peeled cloves of garlic and some bay leaves. I poured a glass of white wine over them, covered the dish with aluminium foil and left it in the oven (not too hot – 180°C in our not very efficient oven) with some large potatoes baking on the shelf next to it. When we got home a couple of hours later lunch was ready!
Although it’s been cold we’ve had very little rain this month, worrying for the garden and the water table since February is usually one of the wettest months here before the dry weather begins in April and brings drought until the autumn. The vines survive the drought because they have such deep roots and can always find enough water, but the vineyards look barren now, with the vines pruned and no sign of spring growth yet.
The almond trees are still flowering, though, and the blossoms seem to have survived the cold wind we had last weekend.
In the huge area that was burnt by wildfire the autumn before last – see my slideshow here – there’s proof of nature’s ability to regenerate. Among the still blackened lentisk branches (Pistacia lentiscus) spring new shoots of bright green red-edged leaves:
And the evening light on the village looked warm even if the nights are still cold.
The banks of the lake by the Barrage des Olivettes were busy with dragonflies the other day. I spotted several different varieties – some tiny silvery blue ones that moved too fast for me, these red ones, one of which I managed to catch on camera as it flew away, and a lot of large blue ones that were happy to pose, and mate, on the leaves in the shallows.
We came home past the site of last September’s big fire, which I noticed in April was green with spring grass and flowering plants, although the trees will probably not recover for years.
Now nature has gone through almost another full cycle for the annual plants, which are dying back again after flowering, like like the grasses on the terraces here and this thistle:
And, a bit further along the road, there were signs of another more recent fire – probably someone throwing a lighted cigarette end out of a car window judging by its position. Will people never learn?
At last this evening it is reported that the huge wild fire that has been burning since Sunday in Catalunya, from the French-Spanish border at Le Perthus to Figueres more than 25 kilometres away, is under control. It has devastated 14,000 hectares of garrigue, forest and farmland and brought tragedy and death to some of those caught in it. Fire services from the Languedoc have travelled over the border to help the difficult task of putting out the terrifying flames which were fanned by a strong north wind. There are photos and reports in French on the Midi Libre site. I find it quite horrifying to see in an area that I know well. I wish people would learn not to throw cigarette ends out of their cars – this is the presumed cause of the huge fire.
Many of the streams, including the one that runs down the hill past our garden, are dry now, but some calming water remains here, just north of the village.
And an agave in the air
The flower stem of this Agave americana is several metres high. Once it has finished flowering the plant will die, but other smaller plants will grow up around the base.
The wildfire near our village last September blackened a huge area of garrigue, burning many trees as well as smaller plants. I posted a slide show of photos at the time – here. As we expected, now in the following spring nature is rejuvenating itself and the ground that was covered in ash is even greener than usual at this time of year. The trees will take longer to recover, but the wild asparagus has returned, and I saw spring flowers, including borage, thistle, wild garlic and sweet pea. The lentisk shrubs were growing new leaves at ground level among the burnt branches. It all looked very hopeful.
lentisk leaves growing from the burnt base of the shrub.
Fire is a natural part of the Mediterranean cycle, clearing vegetation to make way for new growth, and areas where there has been a fire one summer are reputed here to be the best places to look for wild asparagus the following spring. It’s still terrifying, though, when it comes near villages as it did near ours last Thursday. Fortunately, no occupied houses were affected and the vineyards are rarely touched because the leaves are too damp and vine wood is to dense and slow burning. A huge expanse, 50 hectares, of garrigue – the wild mix of herbs, evergreen oak and small shrubs that grows on uncultivated hills all around the Mediterranean – was destroyed. It was strange today to go through a familiar landscape, now changed to a wasteland of ash and burnt wood. The green will grow again in spring, but the trees will take longer to return.
Last night, a week or so later than other villages and towns across the Midi and Spain, our village St Jean bonfire was lit. It’s a pagan midsummer ritual that has taken on a saint’s name. A huge pile of vine wood and wooden pallets was burnt in a tower of flame that took the chill off the evening air by the river. When the fire had died down enough for people to approach it they joined hands and danced around the fire. The tradition is that you should then leap over the embers, but when I left if was still a bit wide for that. Maybe later…
Fire is part of the natural cycle of Mediterranean vegetation especially the garrigue, clearing the land of dead plants and making space for new growth. It is also very frightening and dangerous. On Monday we were on our way to Roquessels to buy wine and saw smoke on one of the hills near the road, just a couple of kilometres from Gabian. By the time we returned the fire had spread rapidly. We called the fire service as soon as we got home, but luckily they already knew about the fire. It took four hours for 80 fire fighters, 4 water-carrying planes and 2 small spotter planes to stop the fire, fortunately just before it reached the house in the photo below.
Le feu est une partie naturelle du cycle de la garrigue mediterranéenne. Mais c’est aussi dangereux et effrayant. Lundi nous avons vu de la fumée sur une colline près de la route de Gabian à Roquessels, à quelques kilometres du village . Sur notre retour le feu s’est étendu. 80 pompiers et 6 avions ont pris quatre heures pour l’éteindre. Heureusement le feu n’a pas atteint une maison dans la campagne.
Fortunately this house was saved.
The view from Gabian – a bit close for comfort.
The sea / La mer
The weather is hot but the sea hasn’t warmed up yet. It was only 16 degrees C at Le Grau d’Agde yesterday.
Le temps fait chaud mais la mer n’a pas chauffé encore. Elle n‘était que 16 degrees C au Grau d’Agde hier.
In the garden / Au jardin
The tomatoes are growing well and one Yellow Pear is almost ripe. / Les tomates poussent bien et une Yellow Pear est presque mûre.
Peppers and apricots – we ate the first apricot this evening, the rest will be ready in a day or so.
A swallowtail butterfly on the lavender
and a dragonfly near the stream. It was bright blue, but the sun was so strong the colour doesn’t show in the photo.