Friday, 24 December 2010

Merry Christmas

I wish you all a peaceful Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Friday, 10 December 2010

In The Mood

I've travelled many hundreds of miles these last few weeks visiting family and friends with hardly a minute to myself. Driving back from Toulouse airport the other day my thoughts turned to down time and festive affairs. Without any travel itineries to occupy my thinking it dawned on me that it really is very near to Christmas.

My flight had been delayed by a couple of hours due to bad weather which left me covering the last twenty minutes drive in the dark cutting through Sarlat as this is the easiest route home.

This is the first time I've seen the lights here this year. Being delayed ain't so bad, I'd have missed them during daylight, that would have been my loss.

I feel that retail glow, I really do. The Marchand de Vin offering a veritable tonic.

The Patisserie creating confection too pretty to eat.

Still best I really love those lights.

Just one bright white, no neon glitz.

Strolling, window shopping, making plans, just be.

Roll on Christmas

Monday, 8 November 2010

Sarlat Market

As good as a holiday to me, escaping to the market. Let's face it, the garden's dreary right now and the thought of raking leaves only serves to add to the hum drum so it's off to la Marche for me. Let your eyes and stomach do the walking.

Beautiful isn't it? Sarlat is one of the most perfectly preserved medieval towns in Europe. To wander unhurried through her cobbled streets taking in the sights, sounds and smells of one of the best gastronomic markets in the region is a delight.

In the absence of any hard frost, mushroom season continues. Some years are better than others for the fickle Cepe and there have been occasions when the market is just brimful with this particular boletus, literally crate fulls stacked high, other times they're less plentiful.

Queue for Choucroute, it's worth the wait.

Who doesn't love good coffee? Beans are roasted on site at the Brulerie Sarladaise, and this fabulous old machine does the trick. The fire is stoked into the burner on the left, the heat travels along the pipe to the drum, beans are poured into the top, the drum slowly turns and the coffee gently roasts. The smell is out of this world, heavenly.

France embraced canning in a big way. I think it was Escoffier who referred disparagingly to the "cuisine of the can". Entirely unfair of course, these are some of the best canned delicacies money can buy.

Le grand fromage. I have a serious weakness for cheese, and of course if you're going to eat cheese,

you'll probably need some bread

Well you could easily find your own chestnuts but life is so much easier when someone else has peeled them for you.

So much Saucisson.

Finally, lunch anyone?

Friday, 29 October 2010

Bend it, shape it, anyway you want it...

Common Hazel (Corylus avellana) is a pain in the derrière and that's a fact. It grows everywhere, the nuts sprout in places I cannot believe and it's seedlings are hard to pull. I even find it making an appearance popping up between the stone from which the tobacco drying barn was constructed.

Well alright, perhaps I'm being unfair. Sure enough it's successful at getting established just about anywhere, but in reality it's a vital part of a woodland habitat, the nut is frequently a confectioner's first ingredient of choice and importantly for me, it's young branches are very flexible.

I've taken time out over the last couple of days cutting lengths of both hazel and alder (which grows in abundance along the river bank), as with each being so malleable they make the ideal material to form plant supports.

I literally just take eight similar sized branches, sharpen the thickest ends and push them into the ground to form a circle. Each stem is then folded back over each other and secured with pieces of jute string which looks much more rustic than synthetic fibres. I then weave a couple of rows of 'whippy' branches around the cage, again tying in with string.

Above, the support nearest is not quite finished as the remaining side shoots just need to be folded and woven in to complete the structure.

When finished, I gently prise the cage out of the ground - it holds it shape - and that's it, done.
Stored somewhere dry this winter they'll firm up, and then, next spring I'll put them out into position early so that the plants grow up and through them easily.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Saffron Milkcap

First light yesterday morning, myself and Monsieur Chevalier - he who has dedicated his life to earthy concern - went out hunting for Cepes, that king of boletus which fetches a high price in the restaurants of Paris and London and yet, in a good year, deep in the woods of the Perigord can positively burgeon for free.

The French word for unfortunately is malheureusement, and malheureusement, a good year this is not, it's been too dry and Les Cepes were few and far between.

All was not lost however, and we departed, leaving the at best, slender pickings from under an umbrella of Chestnut and Oak and headed toute de suite for a different part of the woods populated predominately by pine, the perfect environment in which to find Lactarius deliciosus. The Saffron Milkcap. We were not dissapointed and promptly picked a good basketfull.

After bidding Monsieur Chevalier (Patrice) adieu and appreciative of the morning's bonhomie, I made my way back home thoughts turning to dinner.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

At The Market

Yesterday was the first time I'd visited Bergerac market in many months. It's held on a Saturday so is nigh on impossible for me to visit during the season.

Worth the wait though. I'd forgotten about the un- hurried, convivial atmosphere that runs through events such as these. Sociality taking precedence above all else, and that includes trade.

It's tempting to say that produce is at it's best at this time of year. Maybe it is, but then I cast my mind back to the scent of strawberries in early June, the 'hum' of an aged goat's cheese in Spring or the perfume of truffle in December and it's fair to conclude that during any season the market is a treat.

Sure enough there are pumpkin and squash of every variety, but it's the tomatoes which steal the show for me.

This continued run of warm Autumn weather leaves them sweet and at a point. A day later and they'll start to turn, eat them today and there's nothing better.

Plenty of garlic,

and onions.

All manner of beans are around now. Cocos, Lingots, Soissons, different sizes and texture, a recipe for each.

Roots of every description. The French love salsify. It's enormously popular and sells by the crate load.

Radishes, black and red.

Even the humble turnip is held in high regard. Cattle fodder this ain't, sweet and delicate this is.

Of course with so much to eat, it's important to have something to wash it down with, et voila!

Friday, 1 October 2010

Gladiolus Byzantinus

Gladiolus communis subsp byzantinus or Sword lily is really unlike many of the more gardenesque varieties usually associated with the genus. A striking magenta, in 'meadowy' situations it makes a real impact and looks quite at home.

I've just planted a hundred and twenty bulbs of this 'hardy' gladioli in an area of the field where I let the grass grow long.

I'm really unsure as to how rustic a plant this is. For example, reading the gladiolus section of a well known UK bulb supplier, it's described as "one of the most enduring and easily grown plants" whilst others suggest lifting the corms except in the mildest areas and yet I've found further information from the States stating they're hardy to zone 6! I reckon Dahlias are hardy to zone 6 if you bury the tubers deep enough. Surely that's the key. If they freeze, they thaw to mush.

Time to plant is another conflicting one. Again, a well respected UK bulb supplier lists the corms under Autumn bulbs to flower in the Spring, however another refuses to despatch until late February for early Spring planting. Who knows?

Well, the reality is they're all planted, complete as of today, October one.

Making the holes was much easier with the pointed end of a pick axe! It's difficult getting through the grass 'mat' with a trowel. Ido SO hope they come up next May.

Top photograph courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Dry Garden - the Finale

Back in July, I mentioned my plans for a dry garden here.

The soon to be converted piece of lawn grows in five inches or so of topsoil that sits over gravel and builders spoil. Not exactly fertile territory for growing much. The obvious solution was to raise the bed and hold it together with the local stone. Rather than spend weeks recovering pieces from fields and around as I did when making the car park steps, an altogether simpler solution was to buy some and as luck would have it, Monsieur Roy, who owns the lawn mower shop close by was selling recovered stone. So, two Saturdays ago I became the proud owner of a cubic metre, not bad for seventy euros and decent stuff it is.

Satisfying putting a dry stone wall together. I'm using the term 'dry stone' loosely, but it ain't a bad attempt and one things for sure, when you see skilled trades people creating such structures deftly, each piece fitting perfectly together, then you realise that they're exactly that, skilled trades people.

After placing the stones, it was just a simple case of digging over the old lawn before importing four cubic metres of top soil. I say just a simple case, that's a laugh, my back still hasn't recovered! I still have a further two cubes of topsoil to shift as the enterprise I bought it from would only sell a minimum of six.

The next stage was my favourite bit, laying out the plants. Everything I purchased came from the truly wonderful Pépinière du Lac des Joncs owned and tended by the amiable Monsieur Willy de Wilde who I have mentioned before here.

I did my level best to tread carefully so as not to compact the soil, nimbly balancing on old laminate flooring planks as I set out over a hundred plants as sympathetically as I could.

The plant list is as follows;


Panicum virgatum 'Squaw'

Pennisetum orientale 'Tall tails'

Pennisetum orientale 'Karley Rose'

Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'

Stipa calamagrostis

Schizachyrium scoparium

Flowers/sub shrubs

Achillea 'Sammertriese'

'Hella glashof'

Agastache mexicana
'Painted Lady'

Aster cordyfolius 'Little carlow'

Coreopsis 'Limerock ruby'

Gaura lindheimeri
'Siskiyou pink'

Lavandula x intermedia 'Edelweiss'

Blue Lavender (Iv'e forgotten which)

'Six hills giant'

Nepeta 'Transcaucasia'

'Autumn Joy'

Sedum 'Matrona'

Thymus serpyllum

Veronica trifurcata

Stipa calamagrostis growing along the pergola. I'll simply chop pieces out with a spade and add this to the new garden. It does spread quite easily so it'll need managing.

So there it is finished. I'll mulch it over in the coming weeks and then all I need is for a couple of years to pass until it becomes fully established and not a scrap of soil is visible, ah patience, but you know how it is.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

In The Dark

Excuse my recent absence, it's been the busiest period ever for me, but now things are calming down I can ease back into a gentler routine and pick up where I left off. Of course with it being so hectic recently, needless to say there's been been a good deal of, errrm, healthy neglect. That's me below, tying in the roses along the pergola. The Stipa calamagrostis has been an absolute star. I can't reccommend this grass enough, if you don't mind managing it from time to time. It spreads easily so a little garden editing avec a spade keeps it in check!

Below are three tubs of Bacopa - a tender perennial which I'm treating as an annual - and which has grown so profusely that the pots are simply smothered now. I like this plant. The small white blooms are subtle, the foliage gently spreading, if there's one drawback, it likes water, but then I'm pretty much resigned to a watering regime during Summer, so nay bother.

The Hollyhocks look just lovely right now. I posted about them here but unfortunately not one of the 'Nigra' have flowered, hopefully next year. As insurance, I purchased six ficifolia types which as I understand are more resistant to rust, they've flowered and flowered well.

The Cosmos below is 'Versailles Tetra' and it's a self seeder from last year. I seem to have lost a lot of Cosmos plants this year, but lo and behold, the volunteers have romped away. Isn't that always the case?

Always a welcome sight, the Autumn anemones, I think the darker pink is 'September Charm' but am not a hundred percent. I like them down by the steps, there was Borage growing in amongst earlier, but that went 'over' and has been pulled.

The grass growing in the pot is 'Feather grass', stipa tenuissima, it looks great between the Verbena bonariensis and the yellow rose, 'Golden showers'.

So there you have it, a bit 'o' this and a bit 'o' that, but I'm back in circulation now and will be visiting soon. Be afraid, be very afraid!