Water and fire, renaissance and a dying back again

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.

Calm water


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.

Summer is here

Suddenly, summer has arrived and it’s too hot to go out much in the afternoons – better to stay in, close the shutters and even the windows to keep the heat out and wait till evening when it’s warm enough to sit eating supper in the garden as the sun goes down. It’s my favourite time of year and one of the reasons I love living in the Midi so much.

While we eat, we gradually move the hose around the rows of vegetables filling the watering trenches with free water, while it lasts.  Some time around the end of June or, if we’re lucky, in July the stream of excess water from the village spring, La Resclauze, will stop running and we’ll have to start using mains water for the garden.  For the moment, we’re making the most of it and the reservoir at the top of the hill is still quite full.

The wall holding the water in this reservoir is ancient and may even date back to Roman times.  It is certainly built in Roman style with square-cut and chiselled stones:

A very different style from the more common higgledy-piggledy way of building walls seen elsewhere around the village:

The grasses and other wild flowers are dying back now in the hot dry weather.  Only the vines become greener and greener as their deep roots search out water in the rocky soil.

Route barrée, but spring is on its way


The direct route to our garden is still closed to cars which means that if we want to take more than we can carry while walking we have to take the long, but very scenic route up to the top of the hill and down past the old mills, which is what we did today.

And there were some nice surprises when we got to the garden: the buds on the apricot tree are starting to open, and we have one daffodil flowering.  Daffodils never do very well here in this dry climate but we usually have a few more than this.



The broad beans that I sowed in the autumn and carefully protected during the very cold weather last month are now flowering.  Today we sowed a second row and also a row of mangetout peas.


These are the only bought seeds we’ll use this year, having saved all the others that we need.

In spite of the disruption caused by the building work on the land next to the gardens, the stream from the spring at the top of the hill is still running well so we were able to fill our water containers while we ate lunch in the sun.  It was the first day since January that we’ve been in the garden on a day that was warm enough for us to have lunch there, so we did.  Just a sandwich made with ham and our pickled peppers from last year, and then a coffee in the sun…..


>No swimming, but plenty of water



The reservoir at the spring above the gardens is full for the first time for a year, and the stream running down from it is rushing with water for the gardens ….

DSC02273 The old building under the wall of the reservoir. DSC02294
DSC02274 One of the mills half way down the hill. DSC02278
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The apricot blossom is opening at last, and it was 20 degrees C when we had lunch in the garden today.  Dare I say that spring is here?

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>Water, at last, and some spring sunshine


After all the rain we’ve had during the last couple of weeks we were glad to see that the stream which runs down the hill past the gardens is full again.  We hope it lasts until we need to water the garden.

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The crocuses were flowering too in the garden ….



Over the hill on the other side of the village, this ruined mazet was looking brighter in the sunlight, half hidden by a Pistacia lentiscus shrub and with its interior full of brambles.


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We picked cabbage and leeks in the garden and came home to a lunch of cabbage with lardons, garlic and crème fraiche (a recipe suggested by our son) and a glass of wine.  I didn’t used to like cabbage much until we grew our own.  This was delicious.



Peppers and tomatoes

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While the tomato seedlings were benefiting from the sun on the balcony – and the temperature in the mini-greenhouse was 25 degrees C – we sowed our pepper seeds and put them on the heated seed starter box.  We’ve sowed ten varieties:

Piment d’Espelette: slightly spicy paprika pepper from Espelette in the French Basque country, seeds from a string of peppers I bought in Espelette last September.  This is the only pepper I know which has an appellation d’origine controlée, like wine, so I’m not sure whether any peppers we grow can be called piment d’Espelette as they will be grown out of the area!

Chorizo pepper: a spicy rather than hot paprika pepper, seeds from a string of peppers given to us by our friend Drew in Navarra.

Chilli pepper: seeds from chillies we grew last summer.

Longue d’Espagne: a long sweet pepper, seeds from our neighbour José.

Italian Red Marconi

Kolasca: a Hungarian variety.

Kandil dolma: a Turkish variety for stuffing.

Lipstick: sweet red variety.

Nardello: an Italian long red variety with a spicy flavour.

Corno di toro: a long red variety.

The last six mentioned are seeds left over in the packets I bought last year from Kokopelli.  Last year they all germinated well, but we failed to encourage the plants to grow quickly enough, probably because we couldn’t keep them warm enough.  This year we’ll try again, put them in the mini-greenhouses and give them some fertiliser.

>Taking shape / Prendre forme


The summer garden is taking shape as we’ve done a lot of planting during the past week or so.  We’ve planted out 62 tomato plants (20 Roma, 19 St Pierre, 8 Ananas, 8 Coeur de Boeuf and 7 Yellow pear).  Yes, we know that’s probably too many, but the seedlings were too good to throw away!  We’ve planted out 4 melons, 4 cucumbers, 16 peppers, 3 chilli peppers and 5 aubergines.  Now we only need the sun and a lot of water!

Le jardin d’été prend forme.  On a fait beaucoup de plantation pendant la dernière semaine.  On a planté 62 tomates (20 Roma, 19 St Pierre, 8 Ananas, 8 Coeur de Boeuf et 7 Yellow pear).  Nous savons que c’est probablement trop, mais les plantes ont été trop bons pour jeter!  On a planté 4 melons, 4 concombres, 16 poirvrons, trois piments et 5 aubergines.  On n’a besoin que de soleil et beacoup d’eau!

pepper plants_1_1
and peppers

We added manure and compost to the ground for the peppers and aubergines and made irrigation channels alongside the rows.  Three of the pepper plants and all the aubergines are grafted onto tomato roots.  This makes larger more productive plants.  We’ve grown grafted aubergines before but this is the first time we’ve tried the peppers.

On a ajouté de fumier et de compost à la terre pour les poivrons et les aubergines, et on a fait des gouttières d’irrigation près des rangs.  Trois poivrons et tous les aubergines sont des plants greffés sur les racines de tomate.  Ça fait les plants plus grands et plus productifs.  Nous avons cultiver les aubergines greffés l’année dernière, mais c’est la première fois que nous cultivons les poivrons greffés.

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A view of one side of the garden: aubergines, climbing beans, courgettes, lettuces, peppers, tomatoes.

Une vue d’un côté du jardin: aubergines, haricots grimpants, courgettes, salades, poivrons, tomates.

It’s so exciting to see all the plants in place – I love this time of year!

In the rest of the garden / dans le reste du jardin

cistus1_1_1 cistus2_1_1
cistus3_1_1 The cistus are flowering, inspite of the rain today. /
Les cistes fleurissent, malgré la pluie aujourd’hui.
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The olive trees are about to flower / Les oliviers sont à la pointe de fleurir.
The vine leaves are growing – nearly time to make dolmas! / Les feuilles de vigne poussent – c’est presque le temps pour faire les dolmas!
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We’re picking lots of broad beans – the longest was 31 cm.
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And this evening we’re going to eat our first potatoes of the year. / Et ce soir on mangera les premières pommes de terre de l’an.

water_1_1 Luckily the stream from the Resclauze spring is running well, so there is plenty of water for all our plants.  /  Heureusement le ruisseau de la Resclauze coule bien, donc il y a assez de l’eau pour tous les plants.

>Why do we garden?

>I was sitting in the garden at midday, in the shade but looking out at a perfect late summer day with a cloudless sky and a cooling north wind, contented with what we have there. Lo Jardinièr was lighting the barbecue, I was preparing freshly picked vegetables for him to grill. As I sliced aubergine and pepper and wrapped goats cheese in vine leaves, I started to think about what we are doing in our garden. I suppose you might call it our philosophy – the ideas and aims which run through our life and our gardening. These can be summed up in answers to the questions Why do we garden?‘ and ‘How do we garden?’


1. Enjoyment

This is the most important. We love being in our garden. We enjoy working in it and, even more, we enjoy relaxing in it. Were lucky that we live in a place where the sun shines for 300 days of the year (although it seems a bit less this year) and where we have days throughout the year when we can sit in the sun in the garden. We enjoy cooking and eating there, entertaining our friends and family or simply being on our own there. We love good food and for us the best thing about having the garden is growing our own delicious food – we like it when there is as short a time as possible between harvesting, cooking and eating – preferably just a few minutes.


2. Organic gardening

We believe that vegetables taste best when they are grown organically and that all our food should be as natural as possible. We add compost and manure to the soil to improve it. We use no chemical pesticides or herbicides, only occasional applications of Bordeaux mixture, which is acceptable in organic gardening, and soapy water against black fly and other insects when absolutely necessary.


3. Gardening with the environment

We are trying to grow plants and varieties which are suited to the climate here. Vegetables will always need a lot of water, but we are trying to ensure that all our ornamental plants are drought-resistant, once they are established. This means watering new plants for the first year or so but after that they survive on their own. The plants that grow well here include cistus, oleander, aloe vera, prickly pear and palm. We have planted an apricot tree and two olive trees which need watering only in extreme drought conditions.

aloe vera

4. Conservation of water and other resources

We are trying to water the vegetables as efficiently as possible and we have installed drip-feed systems and the terracotta pot system in order to save water. We also save water used for washing vegetables, etc. to use in the garden. As far as the global environment is concerned, we try to damage the planet as little as possible. We dont fly, ever. We have a small car and dont travel far in it. We go on holiday by train.

5. Eating local food

We try to eat only food from our garden or from within a 100-kilometre radius of Gabian. We buy almost all the food that we dont grow ourselves in Gabian, in local shops and in the market, and we buy local wine (this is easy since it grows all around us!). The only food items which travel any distance to get to us are coffee and the Spanish olive oil which we use for cooking. And very, very occasionally we eat steak. When we eat meat, like most people here, we usually have pork or chicken, reared fairly locally and which, I read in the Guardian today, take less water to produce than cheese.

6. Community

When we bought our garden we found ourselves part of a community of gardeners, many of whom had inherited their plots from their parents. Were lucky to have their advice about gardening here and we enjoy sharing ideas, plants and produce with them and our other friends in the village and the surrounding area. And since beginning this blog earlier this year I’ve found people all over the world with similar ideas to ours and we’ve become part of that community too.

7. Living with the land

This really sums up all of the above, as well as many of our other beliefs. People who have lived here all their lives have a special relationship with the land, its produce and the landscape, which goes deeper than the surface beauty. The Mediterranean offers an environment which provides all human needs, so long as it is treated well in return. Were newcomers here, but we try to value its harshness, its dryness and its occasional extremes of heat and cold – to live with the land rather than work against it.


>New broom


Wild broom growing on rough ground near the garden

Wild orchid

The first vine leaves

Reservoir at the top of the hill, full for the first time this year
but swimming not allowed

Gabian, from the hill near the gardens

Potato update : 4 weeks since we planted the potatoes, the day after the last full moon, and it looks as though they are coming up more quickly than last year, with most of them now good-sized plants. Is it the influence of the moon? There are other variables – we’ve had more damp days this spring, more rain and these days have been interspersed with days of hot sunshine, making ideal growing conditions. But I’m willing to believe the moon has had some effect.