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.

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

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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

Foraging for flavours

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Found in the garden at lunchtime today, some herbs and flavourings to add to a lettuce bought in the market: wild rocket, sorrel, onion shoots, broad bean tops and a mix of herbs, mint, thyme and savory.

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leaves bursting out on the pomegranate bush

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and the apple tree

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the apricot blossom is over, so I’m hoping to see tiny apricots soon.

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And Lo Jardinièr planted out these red onion plants he bought in the market this morning.

>First lizard and a trip to the goat farm

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It was a beautiful spring morning after a cold night, around freezing temperature at dawn but up to about 20 C by midday, perfect for our trip to Mas Rolland to fetch a trailer-load of goat manure.

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The vineyards and the garrigue-covered hillsides looked beautiful in the sunlight and when we got to the garden there were lizards sunning themselves on the wall by the path.  Several of them scuttled under stones as I approached, but I managed to catch this one in time.

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There’s nothing quite like goat manure for the garden.  We’ll be using this to improve the soil in the beds where we’ll be growing peppers and tomatoes this summer.

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The apricot tree is still blossoming and the flowers were attracting a lot of bees – a good sign for this year’s fruit.

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Daffodils, aubretia and jasmine are flowering, and there are a lot more jasmine buds still about to open.

Home to a good lunch….

IMGP7373Lettuce and wild rocket from the garden, sobresada and peppered sausage brought for us

from the Spanish border by our neighbour, chorizo and jambon cru from Lacaune.

>Spring flowers, new vine leaves and another lizard

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The vines are sprouting new spring growth in all the vineyards. We passed these near Roquessels this morning. And on the hillsides in the garrigue the asphodels, cistus, broom and thyme are all flowering.

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In the garden, the apple blossom is nearly over, but we had borage flowers to decorate our salad of broad bean leaves, rocket and mint. I can’t see any small fruits on the apricot tree, although there are lots of leaves, so I think that the sudden cold weather we had in March must have killed off the fertilised flowers. We had a lot of blossom in February on the apricot tree, and insects buzzing around the flowers, so we expected a reasonable crop, until the surprise snow arrived at the beginning of March.

A lizard in the sky

This lizard run up the wall of the shed and onto one of the supports for our shelter to bask in the sun.

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It’s been good weather for lizards. After an unusually cold spring, with that snow, it’s now unusually hot for April – up to 30 degrees C at midday in the sun – and very dry, although the stream is still running well down the hill past the gardens so we have plenty of free water.

Preparing to plant out the tomatoes

We have prepared most of the tomato beds and put up the cane supports for the plants. We’ve planted lettuce seedlings in between what will be double rows of tomatoes – the lettuces will get watered with the tomato plants, which will shade them a bit, and we’ll have eaten them by the time the tomato plants grow.

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The tomato plants on the right have been in the mini-greenhouse on the balcony and are now desperate for more space and light, so we’ll be planting them out in the next day or so.

>Potting and pottering / Repiquer et bricoler

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There seems to be so much to do in the garden at the moment … watering, because the weather is suddenly hot and we’ve had very little rain for weeks, planting out lettuce seedlings, sowing other salad plants, preparing the ground for the pepper and tomato plants, having lunch … and so on.

Il y a beaucoup de travail au jardin en ce moment … l’arrosage, parce qu’il a commencé de faire chaud et il n’a pas plu pour quelques semaines, repiquer les salads, semer les autres salades, préparer la terre pour les poivrons et les tomates, manger le déjeuner … etc.

I’ve repotted over 60 tomato plants (more than we’ll need, but they’re growing very slowly, so maybe they won’t all survive) and some of the courgettes which already have quite large root systems.

J’ai repiqué plus de 60 plantes de tomates et quelques uns de courgettes qui ont déjà des longues racines.

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Over the past couple of weeks the garden has become a very noisy place as the bees buzz around the rosemary and the broad bean flowers. / Pendant les semaines dernières le jardin est devenu très bruyant avec les abeilles qui bourdonnent autour des fleurs du romarin et des fèves.

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And on this broad bean flower there’s one of the big flying black beetles which are very common in our garden.

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The second (February) sowing of broad beans are coming up well.  I’m specially pleased with these as they were seeds we saved a few years ago and had forgotten about!

Spring salad / salade du printemps

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Rocket, wild rocket, oregano and sorrel leaves / les feuilles de la roquette, la roquette sauvage, oreganum et oseille.

Wild asparagus / les asperges sauvages

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A friend had given us some spears of wild asparagus she had picked and we added some spears from plants growing wild in our garden.  Wild asparagus is thinner than the cultivated variety, with a herby, more concentrated flavour.  It grows in the garrigue, especially where there has recently been a fire so that it has less competition from other bigger plants.  Here the tradition, especially on Easter Monday, is to go for a walk in the garrigue and pick asparagus and then make omelette with it.  We did this in the garden today.

Les asperges sauvages poussent dans la garrigue.  Elles sont plus fines que la varieté cultivée et elles ont un gout concentré.  Il y a une tradition ici d’aller dans les garrigue le lundi de Paque pour ramasser les asperges et puis de faire une omelette aux asperges.  On l’a fait au jardin aujourd’hui.

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Pepper germination / germination de poivrons

We’ve had very high germination rates for most of the varieties we’ve sown.  All these seeds came from Kokopelli except the Long d’Espagne which our neighbour gave us.

Corno di Toro: 100 %    Italian Red Marconi: 100%  

Lipstick: 100%             Kolaska: 100 %

Kandil Dolma: 60 %      Nardello:  100 %

Long d’Espagne: 10 % (but these seeds were a few years’old)

Yellow cornos (from Kate) and chilli peppers (our own saved seed) were sown later and have not yet germinated.

The problem with the peppers now is to keep them at a consistently high enough temperature and give them enough light.  Today we put some of them out on the balcony under polythene, but some of them got a bit too hot and dry.  I think they’ll be OK.

The apricot blossom is over now, and the cherry blossom is here … / Les fleurs d’abricotier sont finis maintenant, et les fleurs de cerisier arrivent …

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Cherry blossom opening on a tree near our garden – the tree is on public ground, so we’ll keep an eye out for the fruit in May.
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>Winter sun and light / Le soleil et la lumière d’hiver

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Today has been a perfect Languedoc winter day.  The light is so bright here when the sun shines and the air is so clear in winter that everything looks in focus.  Even though it may be only 12 degrees C, the sun feels hot on your face, so long as you’re sheltered from the north wind.

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Aujourd’hui il a fait du temps parfait de l’hiver languedocien.  La lumière ici est si éclatante quand le soleil brille et l’air est si clair en hiver qu’il semble que tout est au point.  Mème qu’il ne fasse que 12 dégrées, le soleil sent chaud sur ton visage, si tu es à l’abri du vent du nord.

Good weather for working in the garden, so we cleared some more ground. / Du bon temps pour le travail au jardin, donc on a nettoyé encore de terre.

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It was market day, so for lunch we’d bought a croustillou (pork rib) for me and a dorade (sea bream) for Lo Jardinièr to eat with freshly picked spinach, rocket and sorrel leaves and a glass of red wine from Domaine de Montesquieu.

Docking the Bay

It seems strange now to remember how we used to try to persuade our little bay tree to grow in a pot on the terrace in Wales.  Here bay trees grow everywhere, like weeds, and we use the leaves in cooking every day.  One huge bay tree grows in our neighbours’ garden and overhangs the fence just where we want to build a cold frame.  They were there today so we asked if they minded if we cut one of the branches.  ‘Coupez, coupez!’ was the answer, so Lo Jardinièr sawed it down.  There’s still a lovely big tree left, but it won’t shade our cold frame now.

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sawing bay 2_1_1 On a coupé une branche du laurier sauce qui donnait de l’abri au coin où nous voulons construire une serre.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day

A few hours early, here are some flowers for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day:

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lemon flowers/ fleurs de citronnier
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the Vinca has flowered all winter/  a fleurit tout l’hiver
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Osteospermum on the front doorstep / au seuil
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pansy on the balcony / pensée sur le balcon

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

PS Our order arrived from Seeds of Italy today, so we must get on with making the cold frame!

>October weekend / un weekend en octobre

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Today was a perfect October Saturday – an almost cloudless sky, a mid day temperature of 25 C and not too much hard work to do in the garden.

Aujourd’hui c’était un samedi parfait d’octobre – le ciel presque sans nuages, le temperature à midi a été 25 C et il n’y avait pas trop de travail dur dans le jardin.

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The garden is rather untidy at the moment, in transition from summer into autumn into winter, and the shadows longer, but it’s still somewhere to enjoy lunch in the sun. I like to decide what will go in the salad as I’m walking around the garden, looking to see what is ready to eat.

Le jardin est un peu fouillis en ce moment, en changeant de l’été en automne et vers l’hiver. Les ombres sont plus longs mais c’est toujours un endroit où on peut profiter du soleil et prendre le dîner. Il me plaît de choisir la salade quand je fais un tour du jardin, en regardant quelles plantes sont prêtes à manger.

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Today I found a colourful mix of lettuce, wild rocket, tomatoes and thyme. / Aujourd’hui j’ai trouvé un melange aux couleurs vives de laitue, rouquette sauvage, tomates et thym.

We ate it with grilled pork and green peppers from the garden. / On l’a mangé avec du porc grillé et des poivrons verts grillés du jardin.

Mizuna update / mizuna mise à jour

Before we went away the snails had eaten some of the mizuna plants which Kate planted for us. We put lavender cuttings around them and this seems to have turned the snails away. The surviving plants are growing well and will soon be ready to be added to salads.

Avant de partir nous avons vu que des escargots ont mangé quelques plantes de mizuna que Kate a planté. Nous les avons entourées de boutures de lavande et elles ont découragé les escargots. Les plantes qui surviennent poussent bien et bientôt seront prêtes à ajouter aux salades.

>Rocket soup and a swallowtail

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All through the winter we have some kind of warming soup for lunch almost every day, but this one seems more springlike. Most soups are easy to make, but this one is especially quick and easy. I cut, wash and roughly chop a panful of rocket (it shrinks a lot when its cooked). You can use the quite thick stems that grow when the rocket is bolting and going to flower, as ours is at the moment, as well as the leaves. Add a chopped sweet onion, a little water and some salt. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Liquidise, reheat and mix in a couple of tablespoons of crème fraiche. Once youve added the crème fraiche its best not to let it boil again as it may curdle. It has a beautiful dark green colour and a good flavour. Serve with a swirl of extra crème fraiche.

Swallowtail butterfly

Yet another sign of spring yesterday when this butterfly was attracted to a bright patch of aubretia on our wall. Whenever we approached it flew off, but it always came back to the purple flowers until Lo Jardinièr managed to get this photo of it.