Monday, 26 January 2009

The Tempest

We've had the worst storm for ten years. Southwest France together with Northwest spain has taken a battering, rare for these temperate gulf stream lapped climes.

There we all were enjoying life at the end of the gentle North Atlantic drift when a little depression enters the Gulf of Gascony, winds itself into a fierce little winter storm and ruins all the fun.

1.2 million homes are without power since Saturday and there are now problems to some of the water supply.

Flooding is everywhere.

Spending Saturday evening under candle light was quite romantic. It's tedious now! I feel like cro-magnon man, well Les Eyzies is the centre of pre-history.

Am I getting self obsessed? I mean, all of us suffering without power yet I'm going to tell you that my cold frame blew away full of Lavender and Anthemis (Chamomile) cuttings from last Autumn.

Hey ho! roll on spring

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Winter warmer

Today was misty and it drizzled without interruption. 'Mizzle' as the Met office might say.

Here's a pic that I took on a warmer day than this.

Last year was a Sunflower year. It's a sunflower year every 3rd growing season as the farmers rotate crops around maize and tobacco.

Thumbing through the seed catalogue and I have a new dilemma; do I grow Helianthus next year?

Sunday, 18 January 2009

The Black Diamond of the Perigord

I wish these were growing in my back garden!

This is the black Truffle (Tuber Melanosporum), black diamond of the Perigord and much prized by gastronauts the world over.

Saturday is market day in my local town, Sarlat. This Saturday was a little different as it was host to the Fete Internationale de la Truffe and a veritable truffe extravaganza it has been.
This beautiful medieval town was perfumed with the heady scent of truffle. A scent like no other. If you’re asked "what does truffle smell like" there's only one answer, 'err, umm, well truffle really'. Incomparable

It was truffle everything day. Truffle liquers, cheese with truffle, truffle veloute -like a soup cappuccino with a truffle froth, truffle eggs and even truffle chocolate!

The atmosphere was thick with excitement and expectation. La Ville de Sarlat really laid it on. There were stalls ladling lashings of hot duck soup for free. Extra croutons s'il vous plait! all washed down with a glass of Bergerac rouge, gratuit.

Is this the happiest man in France? Quite possibly. See that bowl on the table, full of the black stuff , yours for a couple thousand euros.

This beautiful dog really earns his keep. There was a display area where you could watch him find buried truffles in seconds! There was a time when pigs were used to locate truffles, however it was always difficult to stop them eating their find and when a pig wants to gorge on buried treasure, well that’s a determined animal to try and stop.
These are young Oak trees with the truffle mycelia present. It will take some years but eventually you’ll have your own subterranean harvest. This is trufficulture.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Overwintering Canna

Yesterday was a beautiful day. Unbroken sunshine, the thermometer reaching 10 C (50F) and no wind, flat calm not a zephyr. The sun felt as if it had some strength in it, spring isn't far away. All this after weeks of low temperatures and hard frosts. Goodness me, how an improvement in the weather can lift the spirits eh.

Here's a curious bit of information for you. If at any time you decide that it is vital you know the sun's precise elevation where you are, then simply point your browser to and click on the sunrise/sunset calculator, it also tells you the precise length of daylight for each day of the year- really quite addictive. Here in the Dordogne, just shy of the 45th parallel, today is exactly 1 minute and 32 seconds longer than yesterday

With some trepidation I have decided to give my stored Canna tubers a health check. I say with trepidation as I never know what I might find. Maybe they've started to rot! Quelle horreur! Luckily, they haven't. All is well, they're in good shape and here's a pic of one next to the storage bucket which is filled with slightly damp multi purpose compost.

Nine tubers in all, these are the rhizomes of Canna Phasion aka Durban, a medium sized Canna with unusual variegated foliage and bold almost shocking orange flowers. This year I'm going to grow it in the stone planter on the terrace outside La Grande Maison. If you click the picture you can see pink Verbena growing and covering the tub next to the sun lounger, that's where the Canna will be this Summer.

Incidently, If you're into growing the occasional exotic, you really should visit an absolute mine of information and all based around a flourishing tropical garden in Ealing, West London. Yes, Ealing, West London. Also of note is that the garden has been accepted into the UK's National Garden Scheme, no small achievement!

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Les jardins suspendus de Marqueyssac

The incredible gardens surrounding the Chateau at Marqueyssac near Sarlat are an extraordinary example of Boxwood topiary! Four full time gardeners work year round clipping and shaping it with frankly jaw dropping results.

Listed as a National Historical Monument, Marqueyssac is a private estate dating from the 17th Century. Its large park and gardens were opened to the public in 1997 following extensive renovation work. Designed for walking, the park sits on a spur overlooking the Dordogne valley. At the parks furthest point you reach the Belvedere, a fabulous balcony high above the river which unveils breath taking panoramic views to the Valley below, hence the name, 'jardins suspendus' - overhanging gardens.

With some six kilometres of walks, the park has a Labyrinthine feel. You're never quite sure where each path may lead and with each twist and turn you become aware that there this is a place of many micro climates, from the southern side of the park with its Montpellier Maples, typical of the Mediterranean to the Hornbeams and Holm Oaks of the more humid Northern side more representative of an Atlantic influenced climate. It is these dark Holm Oaks that are responsible for the origins of this regions name, the Perigord Noir.

During Summer many events are held at the estate with perhaps the most special being the candle lit evenings which are held during July and August. The gardens and walkways are lit by thousands of candles from dusk 'till midnight. A truly special atmosphere . A truly remarkable garden.