in upheaval

April 28, 2012

The work of a landscape designer often encounters a site in upheaval with building works. Fortunately we saw this site when the existing house still sat in perfect isolation within the neglected but also lovely garden with hugely beautiful views to the landscape beyond. So useful to recollect the character that we breathed in at that site visit 4 years ago. Many things have happened since – a rejected planning application and clients who were busy on other housing schemes  – building, selling, moving in and out and just time whizzing past – but now we’re called back to see what can be done with the garden areas around the new eco house. 

Recent heavy rain and compacted sub soil from machinery movement mean horrible conditions and surfaces. The site is steeply sloping containing kitchen garden, orchard, woodland and paddocks. We’ll see! 

A few lines of T.S.Eliot came to mind:

We shall not cease from exploration.

And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive

where we started and know the place for the first time.  Little Gidding

Talking practical possibilities through with the clients – drives, turning circles, pathway networks, play areas, terraces, swimming pool –  but also bearing in mind the contextual landscape of this part of Sussex (AONB), criss crossed with quiet winding lanes, banks with wildflowers and native hedgerows. Mmmmmm. Lots to absorb. We are magicians!

I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows,

Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows

Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,

With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine:   W Shakespeare A Midsummer Night’s Dream

vertical gardening

April 21, 2012

Narrow, twisting but inviting paths criss cross up the precipitous hillside in Roquebrun. Deserted in  the middle of the day, rural France appears to sleep, or maybe eat, and nothing will change that. Cultural centres, small shops and businesses still shut . . .  you may see a cat or a couple of dogs, but little else moves which is grounding in this ‘rushing around’ age   . . . . hence not a glimmer of action in these images taken in the ascent to the entrance of the Mediterranean Garden. 

The last remains, La Tour Guet Carolinginne,  of the 12C castle stands on the summit and provides a landmark for the steep climb up the hill side. No thought here to ‘disabled access’!

Roquebrun is picturesque with short inward looking views. . .

 . . . and equally wonderful in the 180 degree panoramas of the route of the River Orb.

The base of the tower houses tufty, doughty  arid loving plants.  Even on this south facing and protected situation, plants have suffered from the cold February weather. So brown foliage and stunted growth has been cropped out of the images but, very soon,  all will flesh out, thrust up and produce colourful flowers and fruits again. Palms, cacti, aloes. echeverias and many other types of succulent like Ruschia show the potential and richness of gardening in a dry climate. 

The many acacias must look stunning at flowering time. After their big performance, they still  form a structural and textural balance to the more architectural and spiky shapes of the agaves. 

Cistus are well represented – not architectural at all, but beautiful in their flowering mode and also attractive to beetles – shiny green and the smaller furry ones.  The plants here are slightly behind in their development and growth in contrast to where they might be expected to be at this time of year. So the heavy, fleshy characters take prominence at the moment and always form good compositions. And the tour maintains a discreet presence.

I expect to return and be able to engage with a rich variety of other succulents and exotics at close quarters. Return at the end of the day when the groups of visitors have long gone to breathe in the atmosphere of this small landscape that sits above the large landscape below.     

At this particular time I have no one

Particular person to grieve for, though there must

Be many, many unknown ones going to dust

Slowly, not remembered for what they have done

Or left undone. For these, then, I will grieve

Being impartial, unable to deceive.

How they lived, or died, is quite unknown,

And, by that fact gives my grief purity–

An important person quite apart from me

Or one obscure who drifted down alone.

Both or all I remember, have a place.

For these I never encountered face to face.

Sentiment will creep in. I cast it out

Wishing to give these classical repose,

No epitaph, no poppy and no rose

From me, and certainly no wish to learn about

The way they lived or died. In earth or fire

They are gone. Simply because they were human, I admire.

Elizabeth Jennings. In Memory of Anyone Unknown to Me.

chronicling the day

April 18, 2012

Leaving the hills around Cabrerolles on the journey to the abbey, one of the routes paases through Laurens where asphodels are flowering under the scrubby holm oaks in the maquis area called ‘sauve plaine’. I was missing the sea and decided to go south to Mèze and sit looking due south where the pedestrian area around the small harbour is being revamped ready for the summer influx. Gorgeous sun if still a tad cold . . . .

 . . wispy clouds overhead remind me of Floating Islands’ made by Betty.

The long view of the Abbaye de Valmagne is stunning even today so how it appeared to travellers in 12 – 14C  is impossible to comprehend  . . . .

 . .  now, we access it through an avenue of planes which are leafing up well . . . .

 . . and on arrival find the medieval garden all brushed up to 21C standards. Tantalising still as the main view into the enclosed land is blocked by rather gorgeous walls! Good to keep the suspense at the ultimum level.

Through the gates, outside spaces and the built structures begin to set the tone – very appetising . . . . 

 . .  the circular shape on the facade now slightly hidden by foliage was a very LARGE rose window. Goodness!  Awe inspiring to those who saw it.  . . .  and equally amazing are the casks of wine – elephantesque in size  –  housed within the nave.

The cloister garden is extremely beautiful with some modern planting like the black stem bamboo and a very established Rosa banksia lutea. Over the fountain, vines clad the fine stone arbour . . .

 . .  a few goldfish lap gently in the shaowy part of the basin . . .

 . .  now the images and the recollections of things seen on the day become abstracted and mellow.  I try to remember that this was a functional and a busy and a workaday environment – for keeping body and soul on an even keel. Hence the poem . . . 

The new-vamped Abbey shaped apace
In the fourteenth century of grace;

(The church which, at an after date,
Acquired cathedral rank and state.)

Panel and circumscribing wall
Of latest feature, trim and tall,

Rose roundabout the Norman core
In prouder pose than theretofore,

Encasing magically the old
With parpend ashlars manifold.

The trowels rang out, and tracery
Appeared where blanks had used to be.

Men toiled for pleasure more than pay,
And all went smoothly day by day,

Till, in due course, the transept part
Engrossed the master-mason’s art.

– Home-coming thence he tossed and turned
Throughout the night till the new sun burned.

“What fearful visions have inspired
These gaingivings?” his wife inquired;

“As if your tools were in your hand
You have hammered, fitted, muttered, planned;

“You have thumped as you were working hard:
I might have found me bruised and scarred.

“What then’s amiss. What eating care
Looms nigh, whereof I am unaware?”

He answered not, but churchward went,
Viewing his draughts with discontent;

And fumbled there the livelong day
Till, hollow-eyed, he came away.

– ‘Twas said, “The master-mason’s ill!”
And all the abbey works stood still.

Quoth Abbot Wygmore: “Why, O why
Distress yourself? You’ll surely die!”

The mason answered, trouble-torn,
“This long-vogued style is quite outworn!

“The upper archmould nohow serves
To meet the lower tracery curves:

“The ogees bend too far away
To give the flexures interplay.

“This it is causes my distress . . .
So it will ever be unless

“New forms be found to supersede
The circle when occasions need.

“To carry it out I have tried and toiled,
And now perforce must own me foiled!

“Jeerers will say: ‘Here was a man
Who could not end what he began!'”

– So passed that day, the next, the next;
The abbot scanned the task, perplexed;

The townsmen mustered all their wit
To fathom how to compass it,

But no raw artistries availed
Where practice in the craft had failed . . .

– One night he tossed, all open-eyed,
And early left his helpmeet’s side.

Scattering the rushes of the floor
He wandered from the chamber door

And sought the sizing pile, whereon
Struck dimly a cadaverous dawn

Through freezing rain, that drenched the board
Of diagram-lines he last had scored –

Chalked phantasies in vain begot
To knife the architectural knot –

In front of which he dully stood,
Regarding them in hopeless mood.

He closelier looked; then looked again:
The chalk-scratched draught-board faced the rain,

Whose icicled drops deformed the lines
Innumerous of his lame designs,

So that they streamed in small white threads
From the upper segments to the heads

Of arcs below, uniting them
Each by a stalactitic stem.

– At once, with eyes that struck out sparks,
He adds accessory cusping-marks,

Then laughs aloud. The thing was done
So long assayed from sun to sun . . .

– Now in his joy he grew aware
Of one behind him standing there,

And, turning, saw the abbot, who
The weather’s whim was watching too.

Onward to Prime the abbot went,
Tacit upon the incident.

– Men now discerned as days revolved
The ogive riddle had been solved;

Templates were cut, fresh lines were chalked
Where lines had been defaced and balked,

And the work swelled and mounted higher,
Achievement distancing desire;

Here jambs with transoms fixed between,
Where never the like before had been –

There little mullions thinly sawn
Where meeting circles once were drawn.

“We knew,” men said, “the thing would go
After his craft-wit got aglow,

“And, once fulfilled what he has designed,
We’ll honour him and his great mind!”

When matters stood thus poised awhile,
And all surroundings shed a smile,

The master-mason on an eve
Homed to his wife and seemed to grieve . . .

– “The abbot spoke to me to-day:
He hangs about the works alway.

“He knows the source as well as I
Of the new style men magnify.

“He said: ‘You pride yourself too much
On your creation. Is it such?

“‘Surely the hand of God it is
That conjured so, and only His! –

“‘Disclosing by the frost and rain
Forms your invention chased in vain;

“‘Hence the devices deemed so great
You copied, and did not create.’

“I feel the abbot’s words are just,
And that all thanks renounce I must.

“Can a man welcome praise and pelf
For hatching art that hatched itself? . . .

“So, I shall own the deft design
Is Heaven’s outshaping, and not mine.”

“What!” said she. “Praise your works ensure
To throw away, and quite obscure

“Your beaming and beneficent star?
Better you leave things as they are!

“Why, think awhile. Had not your zest
In your loved craft curtailed your rest –

“Had you not gone there ere the day
The sun had melted all away!”

– But, though his good wife argued so,
The mason let the people know

That not unaided sprang the thought
Whereby the glorious fane was wrought,

But that by frost when dawn was dim
The method was disclosed to him.

“Yet,” said the townspeople thereat,
“‘Tis your own doing, even with that!”

But he–chafed, childlike, in extremes –
The temperament of men of dreams –

Aloofly scrupled to admit
That he did aught but borrow it,

And diffidently made request
That with the abbot all should rest.

– As none could doubt the abbot’s word,
Or question what the church averred,

The mason was at length believed
Of no more count than he conceived,

And soon began to lose the fame
That late had gathered round his name . . .

– Time passed, and like a living thing
The pile went on embodying,

And workmen died, and young ones grew,
And the old mason sank from view

And Abbots Wygmore and Staunton went
And Horton sped the embellishment.

But not till years had far progressed
Chanced it that, one day, much impressed,

Standing within the well-graced aisle,
He asked who first conceived the style;

And some decrepit sage detailed
How, when invention nought availed,

The cloud-cast waters in their whim
Came down, and gave the hint to him

Who struck each arc, and made each mould;
And how the abbot would not hold

As sole begetter him who applied
Forms the Almighty sent as guide;

And how the master lost renown,
And wore in death no artist’s crown.

– Then Horton, who in inner thought
Had more perceptions than he taught,

Replied: “Nay; art can but transmute;
Invention is not absolute;

“Things fail to spring from nought at call,
And art-beginnings most of all.

“He did but what all artists do,
Wait upon Nature for his cue.”

– “Had you been here to tell them so
Lord Abbot, sixty years ago,

“The mason, now long underground,
Doubtless a different fate had found.

“He passed into oblivion dim,
And none knew what became of him!

“His name? ‘Twas of some common kind
And now has faded out of mind.”

The Abbot: “It shall not be hid!
I’ll trace it.” . . . But he never did.

– When longer yet dank death had wormed
The brain wherein the style had germed

From Gloucester church it flew afar –
The style called Perpendicular. –

To Winton and to Westminster
It ranged, and grew still beautifuller:

From Solway Frith to Dover Strand
Its fascinations starred the land,

Not only on cathedral walls
But upon courts and castle halls,

Till every edifice in the isle
Was patterned to no other style,

And till, long having played its part,
The curtain fell on Gothic art.

– Well: when in Wessex on your rounds,
Take a brief step beyond its bounds,

And enter Gloucester: seek the quoin
Where choir and transept interjoin,

And, gazing at the forms there flung
Against the sky by one unsung –

The ogee arches transom-topped,
The tracery-stalks by spandrels stopped,

Petrified lacework–lightly lined
On ancient massiveness behind –

Muse that some minds so modest be
As to renounce fame’s fairest fee,

(Like him who crystallized on this spot
His visionings, but lies forgot,

And many a mediaeval one
Whose symmetries salute the sun)

While others boom a baseless claim,
And upon nothing rear a name. Thomas Hardy  The Abbey Mason

down low and up high

April 18, 2012

The stone paved surface of Alle Paul Riquet, in  Béziers, is covered with a carpet of flowers every Friday. This week, pelargoniums in zingy carmine, magenta, burgundy, hot, juicy orange mixed with soft apricot and peach – all formed sumptuous waves of colour around the ankles . . . .

 . . . some of the elegant architecture near Les Halles is rich in more refined decoration and muted greys of slates, granites and limestone. Cerulean, French Blue, cobalt and sky blue introduced in tiles, paint and reflection. I prefer to describe these tones in a more floral manner – cornflower, forget-me-not and iris – instead.

A hording decorated with suitably stylish subject matter that befits the imposing architecture. Bien Sûr!

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. William Butler Yeats.   

The hamlet has two tombs positioned in rather a comforting way. Both are good landmarks, on entry or exit or, vice versa. Both mention the family Maury. The tomb, situated above the road from Laurens, mentions Eduard Maury. Neo classical in style with a garland above the pediment.  

The other is seen on the road to Cabrerolles and appears difficult to access and, perhaps that’s the point. The twin cypress trees pin point the position – the building is only just visible. 

This tomb mentions the ‘ familles Maury et Imbert’. More gothic in style with rustic tile roofing. Both are still, silent and solitary buildings.

Am I inquisitive enough to find out more? For sure, they are families who grew wine – maybe that’s sufficient and I should leave them in peace.

The hamlet appears to clings to the hill side viewed from the land around Clos Fontine . . .  and looking to the east, something small was seen on the ground. The hoopoe – its song heard frequently around the hamlet  – but the little bird is unseen as yet. So surprising and extremely pleasing to watch it  undisturbed between the vineyards.   

Perfectly composed and at ease. Mmmm. Like the landscape here to the east . . .

and the solitary olive. Of course, they’re many more olives here but this tree is a not only landmark, it is incredibly comforting too.

Love lives beyond
The tomb, the earth, which fades like dew-
I love the fond,
The faithful, and the true.
Love lies in sleep,
The happiness of healthy dreams,
Eve’s dews may weep,
But love delightful seems.
‘Tis seen in flowers,
And in the even’s pearly dew
On earth’s green hours,
And in the heaven’s eternal blue.

‘Tis heard in spring
When light and sunbeams, warm and kind,
On angels wing
Bring love and music to the wind.
And where is voice
So young, so beautiful, so sweet
As nature’s choice,
Where spring and lovers meet?
Love lies beyond
The tomb, the earth, the flowers, and dew.
I love the fond,
The faithful, young, and true.  John Clare  Love Lies Beyond The Tomb

en ville et en nature

April 9, 2012

Bédarieux has a market every Monday morning, even today on Easter Monday, some stalls fill the pedestrian streets – bread, cheese, olives, asparagus, books, baskets, plants and silk scarves from Jaipur – garner attention. A few of the facades of  buildings in the old area have received decorative treatment . .

 . .  and some have received a full narrative treatment that makes it difficult to differentiate the real from the ideal . . . . . .

 . . . watch out, you might get deceived . . .

 . . .  about what is real. What is real though,  is enjoying the countryside and undertaking a walk that encompasses a view of the  largest cherry orchard in Europe beyond Villemagne-l’Argentière – the site of Charlemagne’s mint.  Starting off from the town, the walk follows a route passing the cemetery and a couple of territory proud dogs, to a ruined chapel of St. Martin. I got quite upset at this point as someone has decided to do some planting on the side of a limestone hill of Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Garnet’ and horrendous Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’. Poor St Martin, he deserved better! The path network and drove roads wind up through holm and cork oak, cistus, violets, liriopes, and clematis recta breaking through the stone surfaces. Frogs croak in the streams and yellow butterflies – brimstones –  flutter about in gay abandon.  Hoopoes, jays, starlings and sparrows provide the chorus. The river Mare flows through this landscape, and Pont du Diable, built in 1200’s as part of the pilgrim route to and from Spain, crosses the river just north of the town. 


Quince is in flower generally and especially along the walk through pasture and vineyard . . .

 . .  old pedestrian and animal routes are still in use.  

Walls hugging and creating the way are 4 metres thick and mostly beautifully maintained. 

The cherry orchard was lost from view because either the directions were a little lacking or we missed a turn. Anyway, circumnavigating the area again it looks as though the old orchards have fallen into disrepair with many dead trees due to disease or sequentially dry winters . . .

 . . . and back in town, wisteria in full flower spreads over walls and through trees as in the rest of the region and a beautiful avenue of planes is leafing up in a tantalising fashion. And the poem is not about  looking backwards but moving on.

If there’s room for poets in this world . . .
Their sole work is to represent the age,
Their age, not Charlemagne’s – this live, throbbing age,
That brawls, cheats, maddens, calculates, aspires,
And spends more passion, more heroic heat,
Than Roland with his knights at Roncevalles.
To flinch from modern varnish, coat or flounce,
Cry out for togas and the picturesque,
Is fatal, — foolish, too. King Arthur’s self
Was commonplace to Lady Guenevere. Elizabeth Barrett Browning  Aurora Leigh, bk. 5 (1857).


strange Saturday

April 7, 2012

Kids for sale at Pezanas market this morning – unnerving really as we were offered bonbons to engage us in the softening up process and, I suppose,  involve the children who milled around with family groups. Poor little kids sat on pedestals which they clearly didn’t enjoy . . .

 . . too many crowds for me, here by the river and, also in the square where the organic stalls are based . .

. . . but maybe I was out of sorts – Pezanas could have been Brighton today with many nationalities,  including me of course, standing out amongst a few natives.  So wandering away from the market areas to find some quietude . . .

and enjoy architectural and decorative elements that stand out, such as this street light.

But it’s all too much in the town and smaller villages like Alignan-du-Vent beckon where Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’  smothers a railing frontage . . .

 . . . but even villages become too much and the rest of the afternoon is spent stretched out on a bank of coquelicots in a vineyard watching the clouds move over head. Strange day.

There are holes in the sky
Where the rain gets in
But there ever so small
That’s why the rain is thin.  Spike Milligan    There are Holes in the Sky

vendredi saint

April 6, 2012

In Puissalicon, near Magalas, the rain cleared offering an opportunity to walk and enjoy the La Boucle des Croix – apposite for this day of the Easter weekend. The walk  is a gentle 6 kms stroll around the environs and takes the visitor passed each of the crosses – part of the pilgrims journey – erected in the 1800’s. The town is a good example of medieval town planning typical of Languedoc and is constructed around the circular shape of the ancient ramparts.  The old town is situated between 7 hillocks, collines or puech where now screens of greenery separate vineyards and the garigue landscape.  Turrets of the château rise above the streets of the village (above)  and Cercis siliquastrum (below) is flowering all over this region – wild in the countryside and cultivated in gardens. Judas Iscariot  supposedly hanged himself in a cercis treee after betraying Christ. The flowers are edible either raw or cooked but don’t take my word for it! 

Gorgeous spreads of iris are flowering now too – wonderful around the base of olives. And in their most natural position thrusting out of dry stone walls around vineyards alongside wild white flowering rocket,  euphorbia and poppies. Quince and almond trees are in full blossom above the paths and tracks through the vineyard trail. And ultimate delight, a banksia rose, early in flower, cascaded overhead – bliss!

Yellow flowering rocket – bitter but, oh so tasty, runs around with Geranium pratense as a herb layer below the vines which are just starting to sprout a light green fringe of foliage . . .

 . . .  a carved pedestal and one of the crosses on the route. La Tour Romane, 11 C , remains of the Priory of St Etienne de Pezan is a powerful landmark.

Back at the start and/or the finish of the walk at the Église Notre Dame de Pitié where this afternoon the priest is busy organising his Easter programme.  Happy Easter from this lovely region.


And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look, he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows: a bright
Serpent, a river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
With slime.
On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many people
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.  R S Thomas   The Coming

As the curtain rises in the morning, market stalls appear in various open places in the old centre of Aix en Provence. Today, the flower market covers the Anciano Placo du Marcato. Seasonality is still important in France – hurrah! So, in the last week of March, in Place Richelme, layered blocks of asperges catch the eye . . . . many varieties, all photogenic and tasty too!

. . . below are ‘Violette du Gard’ . . .

. . and ‘Blanche du Gard’ above. Simple ‘verte’ below – slimmer and very similar to Italian asparagi. So that’s the first course dealt with and now onto something sweeter . . .

. . . enter La Cure Gourmande in rue Vauvenargue, and you are offered sweet delicacies to try – les choupettes especially delicious!  The coy couple on the poster in the window in full traditional chocolate regalia convey a homeliness.

Less traditional is the shop next door – chic in appearance – but less comforting, which is what chocolate is, in character.

At Puyricard, bunnies and chicks delighted baby – but apparently he’s not getting any! All the sweeter for him next year!

Cercis in bloom in town squares and more informally planted in the countryside – for me much more delicious to savour than  chocolate! This clearly isn’t Count Gismond but his hand is on his heart so just a goûter to be going on with.

Christ God who savest man, save most

Of men Count Gismond who saved me!

Count Gauthier, when he chose his post,

Chose time and place and company

To suit it; when he struck at length

My honour, ‘t was with all his strength.

And doubtlessly, ere he could draw

All points to one, he must have schemed!

That miserable morning saw

Few half so happy as I seemed,

While being dressed in queen’s array

To give our tourney prize away.  Robert Browning   Count Gismond – Aix in Provence

%d bloggers like this: