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



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.


so cherished by our


dedicated to our memories

became almost imaginary

for being so linked



dreams  Rainer Maria Rilke

just trees

February 22, 2015


Along the lanes between Frittenden and Sissinghurst, single elegant specimens and more functional lines of trees screening the fields of fruit – all with intrinsic character. Birds inhabiting the top canopies. A busy time of year for them – sounding happy . . .

tree line




. . . stands of sweet chestnut, hazel, birch and more solitary statuesque oaks.



oak 2

dogwoods + willows

No one around just endless cars but the the inhabitants of these missed the beauty that I enjoyed.


I wonder about the trees.
Why do we wish to bear
Forever the noise of these
More than another noise
So close to our dwelling place?
We suffer them by the day
Till we lose all measure of pace,
And fixity in our joys,
And acquire a listening air.
They are that that talks of going
But never gets away;
And that talks no less for knowing,
As it grows wiser and older,
That now it means to stay.
My feet tug at the floor
And my head sways to my shoulder
Sometimes when I watch trees sway,
From the window or the door.
I shall set forth for somewhere,
I shall make the reckless choice
Some day when they are in voice
And tossing so as to scare
The white clouds over them on.
I shall have less to say,
But I shall be gone.  Robert Frost.

journey back

December 12, 2013

sevenoaks platform

The journey back to the coast from London is never as pleasant as the other way around and it’s nothing to do with expectation and the tantalising thought of the great city – it’s simply the fact that the countryside that this train line powers, sorry chugs,  through is photogenic from the one direction – south to north. This statement sounds ridiculous but after 10 years I feel the same. So the journey back – north to south – is best for reading, making notes and a little meditation. Or crying, which I have done before. Yesterday, the elderly couples left the train at Orpington as normal and then there was a little spatial period  – mind and ergonomics – before we stopped at Sevenoaks. . . . .

seven oaks station 2

. . . the light was dropping fast backlighting the trees with flashes of fire from the low band of the sun . . .

tonbridge 2


. . at Tonbridge, the schools entered the train. There are many ‘good’/ ‘fee paying’ schools here but the noise levels of the young is much the same – the accents slightly different. Chattering and more chattering –  all quite loud and not very interesting unless you are concerned with league tables – so, the option is to listen or stuff in the headphones . . .

tonbridge platform

. . . ah, after Battle, we’re released. We, dull adults, are left to fiddle with phones or glimpse at the strong compositions of the twiggy textures flicking beyond the mucky windows . . .

wadhurst 2

wadhurst 3

. . the light of the sunset across Beachy Head streams across the horizon.

wadhurst 4

last sunset 2

last sunset

Black is the prominent tone. Black landscapes that suddenly seem so unthreatening – static – dramatic.

So now I think that the journey back is best just at nightfall – for the time being anyway.


On my bedroom wall

Father paints a beautiful picture

of the famous river that runs beside our house.


The river is black and all the clouds,

fields, thin shimmering houses, stars,

moons and bridges are black, cool and noir.

Soon the entire wall is black.


His river-painting is so beautifully black,

so wild, so percussive,

it makes me weep, on each of my tears

is painted a tiny curled-up baby, seahorse-neat.


Father shrugs off praise.

‘Picasso is right,’ says Father,

‘black is the only colour.

You can fly through black!’   Penelope Shuttle   Picasso is Right

filigree of trees

February 7, 2013

photo (2).JPG chestnut

An installation with a sense of fragility at The Towner Gallery. The branches of sweet chestnut appear to hover across the floor of the gallery space. A strong material takes on another character when organised vertically. Olaf Eliasson made this Forked Forest Path as part of the Bon hiver exhibtion – it had great charm and the visitor is totally engaged physically. I wonder  how different woods would work – like stands of species in cash crop wood – in a large venue like the turbine hall at Tate Modern. Of course, Olaf knows all about that space.

photo (2).JPGolaf

Really don’t know if I should have taken these pix – the attendant was busy with a couple of young ladies – but the temptation was too great . . . .

photo (2).JPGolafson

. . . Kelly Richardson is also showing at The Towner. Her videos of known landscape elements taking on an unknown appearance through movement, treatment and juxtaposition are thought provoking, amusing and a little unnerving. The moving images have the strength to suck the onlooker in  – Richardson’s world easily becomes the real world.  I’m not linking directly to her videos but suggest this link.  . . .


the last frontier

the erudition2

the erudition3

. . back with my feet on the ground, I thought to engage with the still canopies in some quiet weather . . .



. .  the closest tree groups are in the local gardens designed and built by the Burtons. The environment felt frozen in time. Just gazing into the composition that the filigree of trees encapsulated was absorbing . . . .

gate house

the clockhouse

still tree

stretched tree

tree breasting a squall

tree regrouping

tree fingering a hill

tree-shadow on the mist above the moor

tree rain-blind against glass

tree with its hands flying

to its mouth

tree-branch whipping

a sky sullen as youth

tree-branch fallen in the garth

tree-log drying

at the fireside

tree-log knitting its red-and-black

patchwork in the hearth

tree-log whistling its psalm

of surrender

tree-log hollowing

tree-boat borne

on the yellow sails of the flames

funeral-boat whose tiller the axe

leans by the open door  Alison Fell   Lightyear January 3

Today, in Brede High Woods, sunshine floods across the ancient and secondary woodlands – very muddy underfoot after rain yesterday and basically since last March!. The land is managed by the Woodland Trust with some areas of the original planting of broad leaf trees – beech, hornbeam and coppiced sweet chestnut – still retained and some re planting when areas of old coniferous trees are felled. So grid planting of beech, as seen above, interweave with single specimens of oak and beech . . .

. . .  a sweet perfume filtered through the trees, perhaps from flowering ivy  – holly was evident so it seemed natural to think there was ivy hiding somewhere. . . .

. . . signs of old practices too. Ancient hornbeams with powerful exposed roots had obvious signs of the original layering method of a laid hedge. The roots  now form sheltered crevices for blechnum ferns. Sunken lanes, or holloways, banks and ditches are landscape features as well as sawpits and iron-ore extraction pits, ruined buildings and other lumps and bumps.

Other growths erupt from trunks.

Open heathland is being cleared and restored and looked beautiful – but the whole atmosphere quickly changed as a dog off the lead came crashing through the tree stand chasing a couple of fallow deer.  This is OK, apparently, as the owner thinks it’s good for the deer’s heart rate! The deer escaped but the impression was that this was how the dog – many others were off the lead too – was exercised.

Small ponds, springs and streams run through the woods following a course down to Powdermill Reservoir – fine reflection today.

I must admit to not being a great rememberer on Remembrance Day – which is marked today. I do remember carrying the flag whilst a girl guide (that only lasted a short time) chosen because I was tall enough to deal with the big flag at a Remembrance Day service. However, at the highest part of the woods, quite near the image below is a well positioned bench that has an inscription in memory of Corporal John Rigby , of the 4th Battalion The Rifles, who died on his 24th birthday just hours after he was injured in a roadside bomb in Iraq in June 2007. John was a frequent visitor to the woods – he lived locally. Click on the link below and read about John:


And thinking about John, a poem from a war poet . . . .

The rain of a night and a day and a night
Stops at the light
Of this pale choked day. The peering sun
Sees what has been done.
The road under the trees has a border new
Of purple hue
Inside the border of bright thin grass:
For all that has
Been left by November of leaves is torn
From hazel and thorn
And the greater trees. Throughout the copse
No dead leaf drops
On grey grass, green moss, burnt-orange fern,
At the wind’s return:
The leaflets out of the ash-tree shed
Are thinly spread
In the road, like little black fish, inlaid,
As if they played.
What hangs from the myriad branches down there
So hard and bare
Is twelve yellow apples lovely to see
On one crab-tree.
And on each twig of every tree in the dell
Crystals both dark and bright of the rain
That begins again.   Edward Thomas  After Rain

autumn fireworks

November 3, 2012

Some sunshine after days and nights of rain so an opportunity to enjoy the fireworks of autumn vegetation at Bedgebury National Pinetum. Everyday but, not to be overlooked, planting of red stemmed dogwoods with a backdrop of American sweet gum – Liquidamber styraciflua – with the sharply lobed foliage.

Buttery tones on the Cornus controversa. Autumn colour which often gets overlooked in contrast to the strong tabulate form and that’s why it’s called the Wedding Cake Tree after all! So useful to be reminded of the delicate change in appearance . . . similarly with butter gleaming from the larch’s feathery foliage . . . colour of the deciduous species preparing to lose ther leaves is more noticeble here at the pinetum as against rural or an arboretum setting.

A great birch – Betula sp. – a show stopper.

This is conifer land – which I admit to finding quite indigestible – so compositions that include contrasts appeal like the fruits and the pine. But  some mature specimens such as Wellingtonia – Sequoiadendron giganteum  – have to be admired. As well as the rusty taxodiums just loosing their needles . . . .

. .  also enjoyed the patterns made by shadow and sunlight on the slippery ground and the grasses which I guess are a form of carex. Glossy, slippery needles cascade from this Pinus patula . . . .

. .  and the leaves on this birch seemed to spark like a Catherine wheel. More gentle and limpid, the final view of reflections. I had planned to add in the evening firework display but nothing at all – too wet and blustery. Ugh!  The poem, well a tad  tongue in cheek but very Plath.

How this tart fable instructs
And mocks! Here’s the parody of that moral mousetrap
Set in the proverbs stitched on samplers
Approving chased girls who get them to a tree
And put on bark’s nun-black

Habit which deflects
All amorous arrows. For to sheathe the virgin shape
In a scabbard of wood baffles pursuers,
Whether goat-thighed or god-haloed. Ever since that first Daphne
Switched her incomparable back

For a bay-tree hide, respect’s
Twined to her hard limbs like ivy: the puritan lip
Cries: ‘Celebrate Syrinx whose demurs
Won her the frog-colored skin, pale pith and watery
Bed of a reed. Look:

Pine-needle armor protects
Pitys from Pan’s assault! And though age drop
Their leafy crowns, their fame soars,
Eclipsing Eva, Cleo and Helen of Troy:
For which of those would speak

For a fashion that constricts
White bodies in a wooden girdle, root to top
Unfaced, unformed, the nipple-flowers
Shrouded to suckle darkness? Only they
Who keep cool and holy make

A sanctum to attract
Green virgins, consecrating limb and lip
To chastity’s service: like prophets, like preachers,
They descant on the serene and seraphic beauty
Of virgins for virginity’s sake.’

Be certain some such pact’s
Been struck to keep all glory in the grip
Of ugly spinsters and barren sirs
As you etch on the inner window of your eye
This virgin on her rack:

She, ripe and unplucked, ‘s
Lain splayed too long in the tortuous boughs: overripe
Now, dour-faced, her fingers
Stiff as twigs, her body woodenly
Askew, she’ll ache and wake

Though doomsday bud. Neglect’s
Given her lips that lemon-tasting droop:
Untongued, all beauty’s bright juice sours.
Tree-twist will ape this gross anatomy
Till irony’s bough break.  Sylvia Plath  Virgin in a Tree

writers in the woodland

October 17, 2012

One side of the path in the sunlight with soft, buttery grasses in late summer contrasts with the other side – slightly shadier and consequently with a greenish layer on the floor plain of ferns. This point is the start of the walk  IGN Map 2543 (St Gervais), and by the fitness trail, for those who enjoy a randonée . . . .

. . . a randonée through La Forêt deas Ecrivans Combattants, in memory of writers who died in combat in both wars – allées and paths are named after them, so, for example, Rond-point Maurice Bourder, Belvedere P Chanlaine and Allée de Lt – Col. De Malléray are to be seen.  It’s an evocative place and pleasingly organised – thoughtful in concept and implementation. Also to be seen now are the sweet chestnuts gorgeously fruiting on the lower slopes. Such abundance!

The monuments resemble tomb stones although made of concrete. I realised that my knowledge of French literature was dire and in need of much research. Good to be pulled up!

Small bee orchids were seen shyly appearing through the burnt out grassy sward . . . .

. . . and pine woods spread over the higher, more exposed land above the Gorges de Madale.

A couple of months ago  this view would be a sea of mauve when the calluna flowers profusely. A sheep fold, unused for many years, is a rather beautiful building at a distance and also close to . . . .

. . .  now it houses an equally beautiful decrepit chestnut.

Just a sheep fold but great craftsmanship from whoever constructed the stone walls. Winding paths through chestnut and oak woodland lead back to Combes almost alpine in feel. If the auberge is a destination, it’s lunchtime opening is short. Hélas, too short in my case.

In a house which becomes a home,
one hands down and another takes up
the heritage of mind and heart,
laughter and tears, musings and deeds.
Love, like a carefully loaded ship,
crosses the gulf between the generations.
Therefore, we do not neglect the ceremonies
of our passage: when we wed, when we die,
and when we are blessed with a child;
When we depart and when we return;
When we plant and when we harvest.
Let us bring up our children. It is not
the place of some official to hand to them
their heritage.
If others impart to our children our knowledge
and ideals, they will lose all of us that is
wordless and full of wonder.
Let us build memories in our children,
lest they drag out joyless lives,
lest they allow treasures to be lost because
they have not been given the keys.
We live, not by things, but by the meanings
of things. It is needful to transmit the passwords
from generation to generation.   Antoine de Saint-Exupery  Generation to Generation

À côté de la gorge

July 20, 2012

Roger Deakin’s  text on the chestnut woods in Hérault in Wildwood, was the inspiration for this outing but not exactly following in his footsteps. It proved to difficult to locate his sweet chestnut heaven. Olargues is a market town in the centre of the chestnut area. It sits on the  river Jaur between the Caroux and Espinouse  mountains. Very attractive from a distance and also within. Big blowsy blue hydrangeas setting off the orange trumpets of a campsis.

The railway bridge in Olargues was built in 1889 by Eiffel! To span the river and ensure that the famous fruit from this area reached the Paris markets by the next morning. Railway now defunct but bridge forms part of a Voie Verte (greenway for cyclists)

Gorges de Colombières, just nearby, and on the Orb river was our chosen chestnut heaven. Part of the Haut Languedoc Regional Park, which includes prehistoric traces of troglodytes and most likely wild boar.

Dry stone walls retaining the terraces of chestnut trees wind along the narrow paths leading eventually to 850m.

The route is shaded and circuitous – sounds of fast flowing water, the odd echo of folks calling out and some birdsong  – bring another element to the magical journey . . .

. . . blechnums poke out of the stonework at eye level  . . .

. . . and much lichen as little pollution!

In the open ledges, heather in flower . . .

. . .  and within the wooded areas, dead limbs have crashed down – some are felled but some left to rot –   and a beautiful majestic final offering.

My eyes already touch the sunny hill.
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has inner light, even from a distance-

and charges us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on
answering our own wave…
but what we feel is the wind in our faces. Translated by Robert Bly  Rainer Maria Rilke

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