18 degrees forecast so a quick trip to Grau du Roi – takes about 1 1/2 hours from Uzès but with the tensions – blockages and difficulties finding petrol at the moment – all in the lap of the gods. Turned out very well with lunch by the canal.

The village, based around fishing cottages, gained administrative buildings and was recognised as a section of Aigues-Mortes in 1867, becoming a separate commune in 1879. The village of fishers and farmers turned to tourism at the end of the 19th century, with the extension of the Nîmes Aigues-Mortes railway line in 1909:[5] bathers arrived en masse, and on the 26 April 1924 the French President of the Republic decreed that Le Grau-du-Roi was a “station climatique et balnéaire” (beach resort town). The rail line enabled local producers to market their white grapes and fish nationally.

World War II affected the village profoundly. Axis troops were stationed in the village, and the local council dissolved. By 1942, many of the inhabitants had fled: the coast was on the front line and bristled with tank traps and minefields. The village was controlled by blockhouses, and the canal was shut off. Wood from houses was used to build defences. Le Grau-du-Roi was liberated in August 1944, and the coast started to rebuild, with a focus on tourism. The effort was coordinated by the plan Racine. Architect Jean Balladur was put in charge, and he designed structures capable of supporting a large number of tourists, while also supporting the local way of life and environment. Part of the plan included the new marina at Port Camargue.[2] This was launched in 1968 and finished in 1985 – info from Wikipedia.

The sandy L’Espiguette beach sits south-west of Aigues- Mortes ( dead – water) and the étangs, shallow and saline, and surrounding marshes of the Camargue inhabited by flamingoes, white horses and bulls.

Patterns of the effect of wind and water but no plastic to be seen. As a regional parkland it is very well maintained. one of those extra special days. The poem is about a different coast but I like it.

To step over the low wall that divides
Road from concrete walk above the shore
Brings sharply back something known long before—
The miniature gaiety of seasides.
Everything crowds under the low horizon:
Steep beach, blue water, towels, red bathing caps,
The small hushed waves’ repeated fresh collapse
Up the warm yellow sand, and further off
A white steamer stuck in the afternoon—
Still going on, all of it, still going on!
To lie, eat, sleep in hearing of the surf
(Ears to transistors, that sound tame enough
Under the sky), or gently up and down
Lead the uncertain children, frilled in white
And grasping at enormous air, or wheel
The rigid old along for them to feel
A final summer, plainly still occurs
As half an annual pleasure, half a rite,
As when, happy at being on my own,
I searched the sand for Famous Cricketers,
Or, farther back, my parents, listeners
To the same seaside quack, first became known.
Strange to it now, I watch the cloudless scene:
The same clear water over smoothed pebbles,
The distant bathers’ weak protesting trebles
Down at its edge, and then the cheap cigars,
The chocolate-papers, tea-leaves, and, between
The rocks, the rusting soup-tins, till the first
Few families start the trek back to the cars.
The white steamer has gone. Like breathed-on glass
The sunlight has turned milky. If the worst
Of flawless weather is our falling short,
It may be that through habit these do best,
Coming to the water clumsily undressed
Yearly; teaching their children by a sort
Of clowning; helping the old, too, as they ought.
Philip Larkin To the Sea

 

an afternoon with some sun prompts a visit to birds, habitats, landscape at Dungeness. Flat lands – gravel pits, pebbles, tamarisk, buckthorn, reeds – offer diverse habitats. Sparrows and Cetti’s warblers sing in the hedges. . .

. . . while shovelers, Slavonian grebe and smews can be viewed from the hides.

Apparently, just missed the Bewick swans and a bittern but a glimpse of a great white egret storking the shallows made up for the misses and there’s always someone to let you know what is where or was here – just now.

EDF own the power station and, now, the Dungeness estate. A strange back cloth to the cormorants perching like black shrouds on the submerged scrub . . .

. . . it’s very mellow and somewhat ghostlike. Perhaps this is fleece stretched into the twigs. The sheep are huge with thick wooly coats and some big bellies.

Lydd church standing proud and a few spreads of coppery willow . . .

 

. . . at Prospect Cottage as the clouds move in across the low sun – all is quiet.

 

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its lovliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkn’d ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
‘Gainst the hot season; the mid-forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink. John Keats

A chance to walk a part of the Sentier des Lauzes through the pine and sweet chestnut forests in the Ardèche. Lauze are slate slabs so the terrain is often schist and therefore loose. Thanks to Louisa Jones for the nod on exploring this environment  – well described in her book Mediterranean Landscape Design Vernacular to Contemporary and giving some background on how a non – profit organisation of locals and incomers grew the project. “one of those abandoned terraced landscapes in the Mediterranean with an uncertain future” Martin Chenot, founder.

Took this pic through my legs – just one of those things.

The walk is well balanced with enclosed wooded areas contrasting with  those of openness. Here beyond the lonely pine  views across to Dompnac. Christan Lapie’s figures contemplating the view too . . .

. . . ‘Le Belvédère des Lichens’ discreetly positioned by Gilles Clément also looks across the valley of the Drobie. Louisa describes the decks as; ‘unobtrusive:simple wooden platforms placed among lichen-covered rocks and out towards the medieval chapel of Saint-Régis . . outlines,textures and tones participate in the same sense of flow. But Clément is a naturalist, concerned not only to feel but to know. It matters very much to him that lichens are symbiotic union of algae and mushroom, and that these four species – pale Rhizocarpon, silvery Parmelia, stiff sombre Lasallia and grey Aspicilia – involve different scales not only in space but also in time. In addition, some species indicate clean air. Learning how they live gives wider resonances to the art without the abstraction of the symbol. this particular mix can only exist right here, at this moment, and will be different tomorrow’. (Louisa Jones)

To discover the art works here needs a sense of exploration and inquisitiveness unlike those at Chateau  de la Coste  – but that’s another issue and another post – where attention is to the artwork as against to the setting. My opinion of course.  Commercialism against  . . .  romantic veneration and a wish to understand how the landscape and the inhabitants worked in a sense of harmony – that was necessary as it was a working environment. Martin Chénot: ‘The important thing is to keep walking, to harvest the landscape with eyes, muscles, feet, mind and dreams”.

The walk takes about 5 hours – my group suffered road closures and mapping errors so we only managed about a half – but looking forward to returning and seeing especially le Jardin des Figuiers et l’atelier refuge. An exhilarating day.

 

Back at our base, recharging the batteries and admiring the other residents and noting the signs of the change of the season.

Blind I know with senses arising from fern and tree,

Blind lips and fingers trace a god no eyes can see,

Blind I touch love’s monster from that bounds

My world of field and forest, crowns my hills.

Blind I worship a blind god in his hour

Whose serpent – wand over my soul has power

To lead the crowding souls back from the borders of death,

Heaven’s swift – winged fiat, earth’s primeval monolith. Kathleen Raine The Herm

 

 

 Mediterranean Gardening France, organises excellent trips.  I am unenthusiastic tripper however when an invitation to attend a visit to this venue Visite aux Pépinières Quissac https://https://www.jardin-ecologique.fr  dropped into my in box I had to sign up. Enticing and relatively nearby. And, to boot,  on offer was an ecological garden and a nursery from which I  had already  purchased a few sound and well-grown plants at their stand at the weekly Nîmes flower market. Plus I needed to source and select plants for a potential project. Would  this be the nursery that could supply quality plants?  I needed to visit and find answers.

Also on offer, in the afternoon, was a cuttings workshop run by Miriam Quissac.. Miriam proved to be rather a star – expertise with the growth of ‘dry plants’ – charismatic and generous with her time and her knowledge.

The nursery sits in ‘land that was no good for anything’ between pine and oak scrub and vines looking to Pic Saint-Loup in the west.

Tumps – raised beds – for the plants that thrive in full sun and well-drained soil. A ditch taking surface water from the higher ground runs along the rear ensuring that some water seeps into the planted areas.

Miriam explaining and proving her theories.

Contrasting with the openness of most of the nursery, is a small shady situation for plants such as Choisya ‘Aztec Pearl’ warmly cossetted  in green waste which comes from the large heaps retained in timber uprights – practical and aesthetic to boot.

Views across the nursery beds and details of significant plants well labelled – hurrah.

We all admire Buddleja’ Pablito’ – smothered with butterflies and many of us buy it –  I did.

Miriam explains the straw bale structure of her house  – note the window . . .

. . . and the pool with edges, still raw, that will be planted appropriately. Beschorneria yuccoides in the foreground merges in with the exotic, upright forms that seem appropriate here. Miriam prefers these forms to ornamental grasses.

And below the tunnel showing alternatives to lawn or ‘gazon’  . . .

. . . the workshop on seed sowing, cuttings – hard wood and soft wood  – and grafts. Total technical detail delivered with consideration and panache.

A crazy salvia in a container  full frontal. The salvias here are majestic, open-hearted and ‘au fait’ with the growing conditions. A few came home. And yes, it was the nursery that I had been searching for – Hallelujah.

I Tell The Bees  Jo Shapcott

He left for good in the early hours with just
one book, held tight in his left hand:
The Cyclopedia of Everything Pertaining
to the Care Of the Honey-Bee; Bees, Hives,
Honey, Implements, Honey-Plants, Etc.
And I begrudged him every single et cetera,
every honey-strainer and cucumber blossom,
every bee-wing and flown year and dead eye.
I went outside when the sun rose, whistling
to call out them as I walked towards the hive.
I pressed my cheek against the wood, opened
my synapses to bee hum, I could smell bee hum.
‘It’s over, honies,’ I whispered, ‘and now you’re mine.’

 

 

 

 

Below Mont Lozère, in the Cévennes where sweet chestnuts abound, sits Le Jardin du Tomple described as a ‘jardin anglais’. A term that is off-putting to me after all I have Great Dixter, Sissinghurst Castle and any number of English gardens on my doorstep for a good part of the year. Certainly the garden has an air of informality with curving grass paths flowing around large mixed borders packed with mature flowering shrubs – hydrangeas, roses, camellias, cornus – perennials et al and there is just a small amount of typical Mediterranean terracing.  So my understanding is that it is the planting design that has defined the description. The garden is also described as ‘secret’. Well, it’s hidden away amongst glorious trees – pines and cyprus, poplars and châtaignes –  the access is difficult but that, in effect, makes it an intriguing objective. And it is worthwhile.

The key to any succesful large garden is the water source whether river, springs or bore holes and here in this area it’s a necessity. The river has its arm around the garden and the water from the surrounding wooded hills is organised into canals, bassins and an informal rill. The huge lumps of schist rock from glacial fallout dominate the water course and the garden . . .

. . . there is a traditional water feature and nearby a marvellous clump of Iris x robusta ‘Gerard Darby’  – a truly brilliant plant – evergreen here and with just enough moisture in a shady area to show to full potential.

Cornus kousa surrounds this small pigeonnier and many more varieties are being planted throughout the site . . .

. . . more typically English is philadelphus perhaps and roses everywhere; more than 350 and many old varieties.

Areas of  mown grass offer easy circulation and a chance to enjoy the wilder, meadow type grassland.

On the wall of the mas is a collection of old implements hung in a decorative manner . . .

. . . equally decorative is the echeveria planting within the dray stone walling. I will be copying this, thank you, and maybe the setting to rest of old gardening tools too. So summing up and to answer my own question, a succesful juxtaposition of English and French garden styles – quirky with a personal touch created by the mother and daughter owners, Françoise and Véronique, much to see and admire  – and hurrah for their use of plant labels.

Visit it in the dark. Cicadas

Are inside your head as your hand

reaches towards the bark: you feel

The latent heat first then the surface,

Scrubbed with lichen you can’t see

But know from the fizz where touch

Meets memory. Before all this,

the scent, which is anti-language

(only, as it drifts into your body

the words slip in, as well),

and made of earth, air, sun

and human consciousness. Jo Shapcott     Of Mutability   Cypress

A busy month of eclectic experiences starting with the city – looking from the 6th floor of the Pompidou Centre  across the panorama . . .

. . . and looking down onto a canopy of plane trees. Here to see . .

Cy Twombly’s work from a career spanning 60 years. It was a marvellous exhibition; sadly over now. ‘Untitled’ painted in Rome during his minimal and conceptual phase in 1970’s to . . .

the ‘Rose Series’ Gaeta 2008 drawn from influence/ inspiration/ silent dialogue with Rilke’s poems. Stunning and thought provoking and an exhibition that has kicked me into reading Homer again – what a delight.

City to coast and plant buying. As equally pleasurable as being immersed in paintings. At Pépinière Filippi, plants suitable for dry gardening are displayed in a garden setting  – this below is perhaps yucca spp – possibly Yucca rostrata  – as well as . . .

. . . in the nursery. I can’t describe the excitement and anticipation of seeing  lines of pots and the plants that they hold  – mad I know.

And then it’s off to Bouzigues for some seafood to be enjoyed with a good view of Sète.

Coast to country and walking for a few days in the Cévennes. Through the chestnut woods and over streams passing dry stone walls coated in mosses and lichen. Moss is a plant but lichen a type of fungus needing algae so a symbiotic relationship . . .

. . . we encountered some history too – a group of huts set on a plateau -restored in hommage to the protestants who fought in the Camisards’ War in early 18th C. They fought a guerilla warfare ambushing the King’s men and them melting back into the wooded countryside. Locals also hid in the the buildings in the 1940’s  – the Nazis being too lazy to climb through the dense landscape.

In Saint Hilaire-de-Lavit, forgotten vehicles and a wondrous chêne vert in the graveyard . . .

. . . and iris and wisteria still in bloom.

May Day is celebrated in the village with a Marché des Fleurs under the  55 plane trees – my front garden – which shade the colourful displays. Some are very bright . . .

. . . some less so . . .

and some are quite discreet. The poem from Rilke should wrap this post up well. à bientôt.

Rose

so cherished by our

customs

dedicated to our memories

became almost imaginary

for being so linked

to

our

dreams  Rainer Maria Rilke

groyne-1

No wind, a little sun and some cloud and low tide so the beach is revealed offering a large expanse for strolling, digging for lug worms, bird watching and play in the pools – the gulls and oystercatchers are busy too.

groyne-2

close-up-3

distance-dungeness-wind-turbines

This landscape in the foreground and the distance is etched in man-made lines but, close to, the organic forms of nature can be discovered. Crambe maritima throwing up pink bulbous shoots already . . .

crambe-shoots

sand-pattern

. . . sand particles, clays and rocks with smooth rounded surfaces make small individual landscapes within the larger landscape and always changing amongst the constant of the lines of groynes – some hundreds of years old and some highly decorated by the tides.

clay-rounds

clays-and-marls

decorated-groyne

landscape-1

Signs of peat extraction  – methodically cut in parallel lines – and the dark, almost black, slippery ground surface of the petrified forest that stretches elegantly into the sea, show again how man interrupts nature. Nature’s lines are altogether more beautiful.

landscape-2

petrified-forest-timber

gulls

Turning to the west from the path along the sea defense, reveals a different vision of quietude – the brow of the ridge running from Winchelsea along Wickham Rock Lane with Icklesham beyond.

And the poem, it describes me or as I feel within my self.

pett-level

There is particular music

Hunted for, dug up

Near airy, planet-spaces,

Or on the cold, sure lip

 

Of a cliff that will not take

The climb of a white break

But only permit a foam

Rising. So I make

 

A music out of places

Unsurrendered to,

Watched on careful nights,

Not circumscribed, no view

 

Caught in the camera-mind

To be developed later.

Words are music to find

In the places the colder, the better.

 

But I have needed South

And its unambiguous sun,

Its haze and fire on the breath.

Since childhood I’ve been one

 

Never at ease at home

Relishing loneliness

Creating out of shame

Measured happiness. Elizabeth Jennings Particular Music

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