Above Lenthéric, there is a knoll that faces due east. It’s a perfect place to scramble up to past the buildings of La Grange  – opera floats out of the windows –  before flopping down in the sparse wildflower layer with many scabious to view the surrounding landscape . . .

. . and on the way back to La Liquière, there’s a very small piece of land belonging to Clos Fantine that seems quite breath-taking in the early evening light. It’s all vines and wine here – very dense and focused on the product –  but also plenty of recognition and allowance for nature. Clematis flammula spreads across any horizontal and vertical surface – flowers like an icy breath – beautiful and undisturbed.

Dipsacus fullonum stretches up through the verge sides and the caper is flowering  – fine straight purple stamens on the flowers – in contrast to the thick, tough and scrambling nature of the plant itself . . .

. .  all to be admired! Also lying back in it all and watching the sky!

At  Le Jardin Sec, the Filippis grow plants that are tolerant to the dry conditions of the Mediterranean basin. Many plants here are native to the area including the grass with wavy florescence, Stipa pennata.

Some landform provides the height for plants that relish even more exposed and drier conditions than those planted and growing on the flat. Sophora japonica ‘Pendula’ cascades over Stipa gigantea and yellow flowering Cistus atriplicifolius. Scabiosa cretica, evergreen and shrubby, billows out in the foreground.

Gravel paths give access through the informal planting. Delicate Gaura, seen in many situations around Languedoc in these months – roundabouts, mass planting, retail parks and town parks and garden – is now springing into life and attracting all insect life.

The silvery foliage of Ballota makes a great contrast to the red leaves on the Cotinus – surprisingly drought tolerant and also seen effectively in landscape plantings – simple and aesthetically pleasing. Favourite of mine,  Bupleurum, lime green and waxy, is flowering on verges and in woodland edges, both above Lenthéric and in Le Jardin Sec. Happy in itself! It’s a dream!

I went outside looking and looking

for a garden and the hill. I have lost

my shadow and my oak and my night sweat.

The field was just mown and the summer

so hot there was no green in it,

layers of russets and yellows,

and I was swelling with mosquito

bites and I was listening to Fado.

The trees around the perimeter

were a block of solid colour,

shockingly uni-green by contrast.

(my stomach fluttered at the sight – and

gut epithelium is five days old at most)

Look further into the stands of trees

and everything changes (my cerebral

and visual cortex is as old as me). The eye

can’t locate an individual shade:

it’s all delicate tips and hints

of green rolling in the wind.

We are moving and I can’t see a thing.  Jo Shapcott Viral landscape

parks are for people

June 25, 2012

In Béziers, clouds of scent waft off the Tilia argentea group standing  sentinel by the entrance to the park – Plateau des Poètes  – that runs on from the main axis, Allées Paul-Rique, through the smart part of town.  It’s thought that  the landscape designer Frederic Law Olmstead honed the phrase ‘Parks are for People’ but research doesn’t provide concrete proof. Anyway, it’s a good phase and Olmstead’s Central Park  works today just as well as when first designed and constructed years ago. Spending some time in this open green space in ‘edgy’ (as G describes it) Béziers, I was taken with the clear usefulness of the park shown by locals of all ages,  enjoying all aspects.  Aspects or elements that have become known expectations. So, there are garden rooms , which family groups can inhabit, in privacy . . .

. .  and monuments and memorials – both contemporary in style and the more traditional – showing quite different forms of craftsmanship and decoration, or the lack of it . . .

. . .   at the rear of monuments – the hidden side – all ages seem to feel more relaxed and willing to intermingle – the fronts being imposing deter human informality. Spacious lawn areas, if shaded sufficiently,  are confidently inhabited by large ethnic family groups  . . .

. .  football goes on around the plinths and busts of the poets. Plinths make a good goal post . . .

. . information is a necessity and horticultural expertise is expected as shown by the pruned juniper in the Japanese manner . . .  and newly planted bedding around some fairly ugly cactus.

Water is an expected element in a large public park as both good for reflections and to reflect upon  . . .

. . and to amaze in the magnificence of construction and impact.

An informal but also formal rill – good for toy boats perhaps – seems forgotten under the Cedar of Lebanon.

Scuptural forms always figure in public space. Atlas, being manly, and being a Titan, is a necessary component in the Fountaine de Ttitan designed by Injalert . .

. .    simple jostling around tusselling with others is all part of enjoying the freedom within the larger scale open space of an urban park. It’s also the place where others can be watched!  We watch others to learn after all . . .

. . . and what fun to roll down grassy slopes without a care in the world.

‘A broad margin of leisure is as beautiful in a man’s life as in a book. Haste makes waste, no less in life than in housekeeping. Keep the time, observe the hours of the universe, not of the cars’.  Henry David Thoreau

Lodève is about 40 kms to the north and Saturday, today,  is market day. C said she preferred the market here as less Brits etc than at nearby Clermont l’Herault. Not sure I agree C, especially as I was partly responsible by adding to that number of Brits! Many other languages can be heard here.  The market fills the streets around Halle Dardé – flowering plants and hanging baskets with horrid fittings arranged on the curved steps . . . . .

 . . . excellent chic French colour co-ordination with the surroundings here . . . .

 . . . all the usual produce and products well displayed to attract customers. Sometimes too much choice . . . over 20 types of marinated olives, aah!  . . . . many more styles and sizes of bags and baskets, espadrilles, babouche . . . .

 . . . all too much, too many decisions, so looking beyond the commerce to the wooded hills – this profile of the Red Hills that surround Lac Salagou . . .

 . . over 30 degrees today – sorry folks stuck in wet, cold UK – so the river flowing under Pont de Montifort is more refreshing than ever . . .

A lone young fisherman sorts out his line and bait.

The poetry festival starts here on July 16th. So much to enjoy! Aziz Sahmaoui & University of Gnawa, et Lecture les Pieds dans l’eau  et Jacques Rouboud

La Disparition

Un corps noir tranchant un flamant au vol bas
un bruit fuit au sol (qu’avant son parcours lourd
dorait un son crissant au grain d’air) il court
portant son sang plus loin son charbon qui bat

Si nul n’allait brillant sur lui pas à pas
dur cil aujourd’hui plomb au fil du bras gourd
Si tombait nu grillon dans l’hors vu au sourd
mouvant baillon du gris hasard sans compas

l’alpha signal inconstant du vrai diffus
qui saurait (saisissant (un doux soir confus
ainsi on croit voir un pont à son galop)

un non qu’à ton stylo tu donnas brûlant)
qu’ici on dit (par un trait manquant plus clos)
I’art toujours su du chant-combat (noit pour blanc)



A black thing wings a flamingo, low flying,
Bound along ground (which, prior to flight, not light,
Brown’d a grinding sound in flood fo air), plying,
Carrying its blood afar, coal carrion in fright

If nobody was coming braggingly to pass,
Galling brow now, plumb on sagging arm a bind,
If, falling, stark cicala, out of sight, out of mind,
Moving, gagging, gray sick luck, out of compass

Alpha, inconstant sign of truth’s diffusion,
Which might know (grasping (on a night of calm confusion
So you think to sight its bridging footfall)

This NO, flaming gift to your plumbago, writing)
That thus is said (by missing mark, most shut of all)
That long-known art of wordplay-swordplay (black for whiting)

— Trans. John Lee

small things in Aix

June 21, 2012

A sleeping cat is disturbed on a perfect perching place high above the street . . .

 . .  something, or someone, has interrupted an afternoon nap . . . .

 . . . . .  down on the pavement, stands the small, inquisitive disturbance.

How neatly a cat sleeps,
sleeps with its paws and its posture,
sleeps with its wicked claws,
and with its unfeeling blood,
sleeps with all the rings–
a series of burnt circles–
which have formed the odd geology
of its sand-colored tail.

I should like to sleep like a cat,
with all the fur of time,
with a tongue rough as flint,
with the dry sex of fire;
and after speaking to no one,
stretch myself over the world,
over roofs and landscapes,
with a passionate desire
to hunt the rats in my dreams.

I have seen how the cat asleep
would undulate, how the night
flowed through it like dark water;
and at times, it was going to fall
or possibly plunge into
the bare deserted snowdrifts.
Sometimes it grew so much in sleep
like a tiger’s great-grandfather,
and would leap in the darkness over
rooftops, clouds and volcanoes.

Sleep, sleep cat of the night,
with episcopal ceremony
and your stone-carved moustache.
Take care of all our dreams;
control the obscurity
of our slumbering prowess
with your relentless heart
and the great ruff of your tail.  Pablo Neruda

above Cabrerolles

June 13, 2012

Learning lessons from my last post, when I discovered how quickly the visual aspect of this landscape can change, I thought to record the swelling nature of the terrain looking down across Cabrerolles to the south and the sea. The slender brush strokes of the vines within the vineyards will become a mass of green very soon as the foliage develops into frothy mass when seen from from above.  

This village grew because of the potential strategic situation within the area of mountains to the north, the valley of the river Orb weaving through east to west, and the great vantage point of being 700 metres above the plain of Béziers. The sea to the south visible within a 180 degree panorama. An ancient route for travellers and a military landmark.

Parts of the castrum – the ruins of the keep and 2 rectangular watch towers  – give clear indication of the historical buildings set within the rock face. Notre-Dame de la Rocque sits on the top of the rock but below the mountainous backcloth. Sober Romanesque architecture, modest in size as this is a rural environment.

Desuz un pin, delez un eglanter

Un faldestoed i unt, fait tout d’or mer:

La siet li reis ki dulceFrancetient.

Blanche ad la barbe et tut flurit le chef,

Gentad le cors et le cuntenant fier.

S’est kil demandet, ne l’estoet enseigner.

Under a pine tree, by a rosebush,

there is a throne made entirely of gold.

There sits the king who rules sweet France;

his beard is white, with a full head of hair.

He is noble in carriage, and proud of bearing.

If anyone is looking for the King, he doesn’t need to be pointed out.

La Chanson de Roland  Song of Roland  1140 – 1170

I arrived in the village yesterday after a short wet spell in the UK,  and rushed out enthusiastically for a stroll around the immediate countryside. Obvious changes in the native flora but, hélas the flowering verges of 10 days ago have been cut – farmers here like it all tidy as understandably, total focus is on the productivity of the vines! Fortunately the verges had been recorded on a previous walk around Autignac and Cabrerolles . . . .

 . .  iris and a mass of blackberry and something pink and very pretty which I failed to name  . . .

 . .  a few orchids on the edge of a damp ditch and across the path, scabious and cornflowers threaded with vipers bugloss.

A lovely hillock capped with a pair of pines and with paint strokes of yellow broom creeping through the holm oak scrub and, as the light drops behind a pine, a few verses of Keats and his ode. 

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thy happiness,—
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O for a draught of vintage, that hath been
Cooled a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provencal song, and sun-burnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:   John Keats  Ode to A Nightingale

The roadside verges in the south east are looking wonderful now, full of grass seed heads and daisies . . .

. . and at Hyde Hall, this is the first composition that greets the visitor. Not natural but with a natural feel and very beautiful. It’s show stopping. Birch and digitalis, the perfect combination.

Also lovely views across the Millenium Avenue. Not natural but as good as . . . with hares leaping  . . . too fast to photograph or I’m too slow!

In the Dry Garden, great compositions and combinations too .

Further up the A12, around towards Clacton at Elmstead Market,  Beth Chatto continues to amaze with perfection in her planting.

Between us now and here –
Two thrown together
Who are not wont to wear Life’s flushest feather –
Who see the scenes slide past,
The daytimes dimming fast,
Let there be truth at last,
Even if despair.

So thoroughly and long
Have you now known me,
So real in faith and strong
Have I now shown me,
That nothing needs disguise
Further in any wise,
Or asks or justifies
A guarded tongue.

Face unto face, then, say,
Eyes mine own meeting,
Is your heart far away,
Or with mine beating?
When false things are brought low,
And swift things have grown slow,
Feigning like froth shall go,
Faith be for aye.  Thomas Hardy

to the water

June 4, 2012

This evening at 9pm the landscape of sea and sky . . . .  the vision nudged into my thoughts while reading this poem.

I was on the land, but the land didn’t belong

to earth any more, was allowed to rest

in floating patches here and there.

The pavement rippled under my shoes.

Everything I could see belonged to water:

Liquid churches, theatres, monuments, houses,

liquid sun and sky. My hands wandered

into water, cupped water. My face turned

towards rainclouds, I could feel the membranes

in my body tremble with the fluid

they contain, and the stately flow of lymph,

the faster pulse of blood, A boat’s engine

vibrated through the land, through waves, through my feet

into my torso. Slow – slowly moving. I stepped on.   Jo Shapcott  La Serenissima

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