Aiguèze sits above the Rhone surrounded by vineyards on the lower slopes and garrigue landscape on the higher. This village is included in the grouping of Les Plus Belles Villages de France with another 3 villages – Lussan, la Roque sur Cèze, Montlcus – similarly crowned all within 20 kms . . .

les vestiges du donjon et de la tour sarrasine, témoins de l’ancien château fort, les fortifications et leur chemin de ronde (XIème Siècle), que l’on doit au Comte de Toulouse… Des invasions sarrasines (VIIIème Siècle) aux « Jacqueries » (XIVème Siècle), Aiguèze subit – comme nombre de villages à l’époque médiévale ! -, destructions, pillages et autres révoltes qui auraient pu signer sa disparition. Heureusement, il n’en fut rien ! Le village doit beaucoup de son visage actuel à Monseigneur Fuzet, Archevêque de Rouen et « enfant du pays » qui consacra beaucoup de temps et de moyens à sa conservation et à sa modernisation au début du XXème siècle. Ainsi, par exemple, la place du Jeu de Paume, arborée de platanes, où l’on se retrouve pour le jeu de boules, ou encore l’église du XIème siècle et ses façades crénelées. Tout au long de la balade, l’architecture méridionale typique de la région se révèle. La Grand Rue pavée de galets de l’Ardèche, le passage voûté de la « Combe aux oiseaux » ou encore les maisons de pierre claire aux toits de tuile ronde le confirment : nous sommes bien dans le Sud !
 
the remains of the keep and the Saracen tower, witnesses of the old fortified castle, the fortifications and their walkway (11th century), which we owe to the Count of Toulouse… From the Saracen invasions (8th century) to the “Jacqueries” (14th century), Aiguèze underwent – like many villages in the medieval period! Aiguèze suffered – like many villages in the Middle Ages – destruction, looting and other revolts that could have led to its disappearance. Fortunately, it was not! The village owes much of its current appearance to Monsignor Fuzet, Archbishop of Rouen and “child of the country”, who devoted a lot of time and resources to its conservation and modernization at the beginning of the 20th century. Thus, for example, the Place du Jeu de Paume, planted with plane trees, where one meets for the game of bowls, or the 11th century church and its crenellated facades. Throughout the walk, the typical southern architecture of the region is revealed. The Grand Rue paved with Ardèche pebbles, the vaulted passage of the “Combe aux oiseaux” or the light stone houses with round tile roofs confirm it: we are indeed in the South!
https://www.les-plus-beaux-villages-de-france.org/fr/

. . . the interior of the church is a delight and all surfaces painted within an inch of its life – patterns, colour, shapes and joyful decoration – thanks to Monseigneur Fuzet, archiveque de Rouen, who restored the church interior in the style of Notre-Dame de Paris. This little chap, however, looks totally fed up with it all – his toes touched and stroked by all who coud reach . . .

. . . the churchyard is cosy – sheltered from the winds blowing downstream from the Ardèche . . .

. . . narrow streets (les ruelles étroites) provide shade as well as framing glimpses through and beyond. The olives are just turning now . . .

. . . in Grande Rue, an atelier and house of an artist, curioser and curioser . . .

. . . tough resilient yucca snuggling up to an armandier on Rue du Castelas overlooking Chemin de Borian where generations of boatmen and fishermen lived and worked. Tough and resilient pistacia lentiscus is also on show in the garrigue above the village. The resin makes a gum noted for medicinal uses – improving digestion and intestinal ulcers, oral health, and liver health too – so useful but also attractive . .

. . . looking downstream with Mont Ventoux and the mountains to the east . . .

. . . and upstream towards the Ardèche and Drôme – mesmerising with questions to be answered.

Then Almitra spoke, saying, ‘We would ask now of Death.’ 

And he said: 

You would know the secret of death. 

But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life? 

The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light. 

If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life. 

For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one. 

In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond; 

And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring. 

Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity. 

Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour. 

Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king? 

Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling? 

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? 

And what is to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered? 

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. 

And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. 

And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.  Death Xx11  Kahlil Gibran

A visit to 2 gardens in the Vaucluse with a group from the Mediterranean Gardening France very much looked forward to, on my part, after lock downs et al. Both gardens in Le Barroux and both with views of Mont Ventoux. Differing in scale and also in character but personal nonetheless. This garden facing south on a sloping site where terracing has facilitated easy circulation as well as the pleasure of discovery of informal and open spaces and created with apposite planting. The owners know what they want to achieve . . .

. . by leaving certain areas to speak for themselves in an uncluttered form. Why clutter up with decorative planting when nature has provided the perfect ambience.

The Rosa banksia Lutea is mature and splendid . . .

. . . the centranthus ruber hosts the papilio machaon (swallow tail butterfly) and carpenter beetles. In this part of the Vaucluse, if space allows, then a lavender field is sort of obligatory, and in this garden a shady seating area overlooks and offers a view of Mont Ventoux to boot.

We moved onto the second garden very close by, where again Mont Ventoux made a splendid backcloth and, turning the eye to the north the Abbey of Le Barroux, a traditionalist Benedictine abbey and built fairly recently (40 years old), sits in splendour. The monks were busy with noisy tractors working in their vineyards – good for them.

This garden is defined by the owner as a sculpture garden. On arrival, the Five Arrows by Walter Bailey placed in broad bands of Pennisetum by the apricot orchard is well sited. . .

. . . other pieces are equally well placed; the bespoke furniture made by the ferronier and menuisier adds to the creative character of the garden.

The journey around the site moves in 360 degrees – views out and cross views within – ensuring a complete experience. It’s a tantalising and exciting voyage but, at the same time, can be meditative (seating well and thoughtfully positioned) and speculative . . .

. . . another mature Lady Rosa Banks’ rose (it’s that time of year – hallellujah) in the rill garden . .

. and ferula making a statement alongside sculpture on a sloping bank. Another seasonal statement of a tamarisk front of stage against the blue Provencal sky. Hello and good-bye Le Barroux.

Back near home and, in a wider agriculural landscape, the Pont Roux, our beautiful, graceful and well proportioned water tower, seems to survey this valley packed with produce bursting out of the ground and from vines and fruit trees. Newly planted asperge at over 1.5m high now will be harvested next year.

Plants native to the garrigue are filling the banks and close up Muscari comosum or Leopoldia comosa – tassel grape hyacinth – intirgues. Apparently the bulb is a culinary delicacy . . .

. poppies abound – so joyful. In the garden – it’s starting to be riotous with Rosa odorata Mutabilis duetting with the phlomis so hence the choice of poem.

I can’t turn a smell

into a single word;

you’ve no right

to ask. Warmth

coaxes rose fragrance

from the underside of petals.

The oils meet air:

rhodinal is old rose;

geraniol, like geranium;

nerol is my essence

of magnolia; eugenol,

a touch of cloves. Jo Shapcott Rosa odorata

hope springs eternal

January 2, 2021

I hang my head in shame – refuse to blame covid or indeed political issues – and promise myself that in 2021 I must try harder . . .

to think about and organise and produce more posts to keep sane and hopeful. Today, January 2nd, it’s cold, windy and a tad grey – even here in the south of France – as the photo shows, but I appreciate the composition in the quickly snapped photo of the upper garden, the fore shortening and pixelation both of which have given the image an abstract quality. I appreciate and revel in the tones . . .

. . . as in the big view, the tones in winter are more beautiful and harmonious than in other seasons. The vines are mostly pruned and stand silently like battalions waiting to charge . . .

shame about the turquoise plastic collars around the new plants but they add a touch of something . . .

a cluster of poplars by the stream have the similar quiet attributes of clematis still now after scrambling along the verges – the fluffy seedheads still hanging on . . .

. . . returning home this winter musing is thrown up in the air like a jugglers ball when the persimmon greets me and shouts out ‘always to be blest’.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me. Emily Dickinson

Back to visit a project designed some years ago (previous visit and related post is here). The estate sits on the edge of town, Monte San Savino, with the majority of the productive land – vines and olives – to the south west. The drive sweeps around climbing up through the land . . .

. . . to the main courtyard. These clients have rather exquisite taste and furnish and decorate their house unusually and perfectly.

The old orto/ potager/vegetable garden sat behind these imposing gates. It’s a walled plot . . .

. . . and 15 years ago became the pool garden.

Lines of Acer campestre (field maple) originally planted for the functional attribute of using the young twiggy branches to tie in the vines. It has decorative attributes too, of course.

I see I was very taken with the cork oaks previously. Obvious functional uses but what glorious trunks . . .

. . . and the cupressus make fine full stops. We planted these below to make a screen from the town but also to allow views through from the house. These have been shaped . . .

. . . the rounded canopy of mature pines contrast the vertical habit of the cypress. Irrigation canals run discreetly around the site which is terraced.

Long breaches make air spiral

as tangibly as the heartwood.

Its’ only human to think the olive

speaks, that there are mouths

singing, screaming, even, in the gashes

and you can’t help but see a figure

twined in the trunk or struggling out.

Layers of xylem and crushed phloem

are other ways we see ‘tree’:

there are always these speaking

gaps to put a fist or a heart. Jo Shapcott  Trasimeno Olive

 

We also went to assist in the olive harvest and gathered 500 kgs over the weekend which made 90L of oil. Hundreds and hundreds of litres will be made from the 10,000 trees.

The youngest member took some time out on the odd occasion . . .

. . . but was very interested in our visit to the press ,Frantoio Mazzarrini, working 24 hrs at this time of year. Lovely trip, friends.

 

Close to the gates a spacious garden lies,

From storms defended, and inclement skies:

Four acres was th’alloted space of ground.

Tall thriving trees confess’d the fruitful mould;

The reddening apples ripens here to gold,

Here the blue fig with luscious juice o’erflows,

With deeper red the full pomegranate glows,

The branch here bends beneath the weighty pear,

And verdant olives flourish round the year.

The balmy spirit of the western gale

Eternal breathes on fruits untaught to fail:

Each dropping pear a following pear supplies,

On apples apples, figs on figs arise:

The same mild season gives the blooms to blow,

The buds to harden, and the fruit to grow.

Here ordered vines in equal ranks appear

With all the united labours of the year,

Some to unload the fertile branches run,

Some dry the blackening cluster in the sun,

Others to tread the liquid harvest join,

The groaning presses foam with floods of wine.

Here the vines in early flower descried,

Here the grapes discolour’d on the sunny side,

And there in autumn’s richest purple dyed.

Beds of all various herbs, for ever green,

In beauteous order terminate the scene.

Two plenteous fountains the whole prospect crowned:

This through the gardens leads its streams around:

Visits each plant, and waters all the ground:

While that in pipes beneath the palace flows,

And thence its current on the town bestows;

To various use their various streams they bring,

The people one, and one, supplies the king. Alexander Pope (mod version G. Greer)     The Gardens of Alcinous

 

 

 

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