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Thoughts on Southern France 2013

Near Nimes.
Christine and I have spent the last three weeks in the house she grew up in. It is in a small village called Codognan in Southern France. We came primarily to go to her uncle Olivier's wedding. The wedding celebrations went for three days, which included lots of meals at home with family and friends, the official wedding at the local Mayor and a big party at the town hall.

Lavender and Wheat for Olivier's wedding.
Although the wedding celebrations went for three days, I found the wedding to be quite simple by Australian standards. There were several meals in the home courtyard under the Linden tree, we all walked with the bride and groom to the town hall for the official ceremony and much of the decorating was done by family and friends at the local hall. 

 Christine's uncles orange peel wine.

The food was from the local region: salad, veal, a variety of cheeses, wedding cake, wines...

Wedding pre-party under Linden tree in courtyard. 
Christine's other uncle and her father have a small vineyard and olive grove located just outside of the village. We helped cut some of the vines and Christine and her dad discussed pruning olive trees while observing the olive trees that Christine pruned three years ago. I saw many  Permaculture principles in practice such as using a small area, different crops/trees next to one another, horses in the olive grove and use of the edges with flowers and 'weeds'.

After the wedding Christine and I spent a week on a friend's mixed farm (vegetables, cows, wheat and other grains, bread, lentils, goat cheese) in the Auvergne region. This farm was started  by the parents of Christine's friends who moved here in the late 1970s as part of the back to the land movement. In contrast to most farms of this era, the children appear to be staying on the farm and continuing the work of their parents.

 Olive Grove Codognan.
Renault 4TL
It is interesting for me to observe the French farms and the way they appear to be organised. In Auvergne and around Christine's region the majority of farms are very small and are divided by the landscape, and by rocks, simple fences and hedges. When I say small I mean often less than an hectare. Perhaps one farmer may own many paddocks but they are still divided in this way. Also there are usually 'weedscapes' between the farms and between the roads/tracks and the farms. These areas seem to be mostly let go (not weeded). Although it can look somewhat messy to the Anglosaxon eye (me), I think these areas provide an amazing amount of diversity and microbiology which benefits the soil and the crops planted. In fact I recently read the co-evolution of these ecosystems to cultural management systems spanning a thousand years or less is now acknowledged as providing some of the greatest reservoirs of biodiversity in Europe.

These 'weedscapes' could also be referred to as wild areas. I have been on a walk in the local area with Christine and her mum and they gathered many different salads and medicinal herbs that I was ignorant of. Christine's father often goes 'mushrooming' in the neighbouring hills in autumn to gather the much appreciated local mushrooms for a delicious food source. Although these wild landscapes still provide some foods that people consume, during pre-industrial France this patchwork fabric of the landscape I descibed above provided many of the foods and products that people consumed and used. Perhaps it was as important as the cultivation of grains and other field crops, and animal pastures, particularly for poor people. For example, the hedgerows, woods and 'weedscapes' provided fuel and structural materials but also animal fodder (acorns, etc) human food (chestnuts, mushrooms, rabbits, etc) and medicinal herbs (comfrey, etc).

There is a cultural bias that ignores and undervalues the wild and 'weedscapes'. I have been part of this ignorance. However parts of modern affluent urban society are now giving wild foods a special status – there was a booked out walk from Northcote library last month. I guess  there are several reasons for this such as a reaction to industrial agriculture and a sense of a reconnection to nature. I think this valuing of the wild and weedscapes, although somewhat superficial, is a good thing.

                                                        The house Christine grew up in.

A walk near Nimes.

  Cherry tree Le Puy En Velay.
                   Side of road near Le Puy.              

 Photos and article.  Alistair..
 July 2013.


I dropped in to the garden on Thursday, before the big wet and gave the Nettle Mix a stir and I noticed the worms have moved into a Mac Mansion...they smiled when they saw me coming, but instead of strawberries (this time) i gave them cabbage leaves to keep them honest.

Were those rhubarbs for the taking? I took one, but just in case it was for someone else I haven't planted it yet. It is a beautiful rhubarb and I must say I am already developing an attachment.

I saw the info. about the site and council plans pinned on the back of the door. Rebecca was right-council doesn't have us on their map.
But on the positive side it all looks workable and it seems that the indigenous plants will be respected. A good outcome? Unless I am missing something...

I almost forgot -excellent work working bee people. It looks wonderful
and will bear fruit, I am sure. I will germinate some Black Passionfruit shortly when the moon is right. And to that end, today I will order the Moon Planting Guide from good Old TS Bookshop.

Stan, my father, an 82 year old dairy farmer who just had major heart surgery last Friday has refused rehab. His lungs are clear, appetite normal, scar tissue perfect and he was spotted, on more than one occasion,  walking around the floor 'briskly'. When the blood work gets the tick, either today or tomorrow, all going well, he will head back to the farm, the 5 kg cat and the chooks, with Mary, his wife, and my sister, who will be there to tend to what is necessary. I am sure they will let the cows and horses into visit.

More to say about Music Festival and good local food...but too tired now.

Good gardening all!

I am looking forward to getting my hands into the poo & straw. Thanks for arranging it.

best Dianne


A few days ago, while walking, I noticed a sign written on a chalkboard in front of the Northcote  Community Gardens, which sits on the other side of the railway tracks, directly opposite the 'rebel' garden. It read: ''Working bee. 1:30 Sunday". I had always thought that garden was a 'closed shop'. I had approached community gardens before and found them to be a bit like walled cities. And to be honest I don't know how I would feel about someone coming on to my patch after all the hard work had been done. This garden is a kind of Nirvana. It has pumpkins climbing the walls and running over fences. Bunches of tiny-tom tomatoes, too. Fig trees full of fruit. Zucchinis. Lemon verbena and other herbs. Indigenous plants woven in. Pretty little patches with mignonette lettuces and beans and mosaic tiles filling in spaces. Other corners are stuffed with all sorts of overabundance. Some weed spots as you would expect and two new turfs being stamped with the personalities of new members. No herbicides, just organic compost and permaculture. Heaven--and I 'm not even religious.

The most important thing--I was welcomed. And I got straight into it too. I didn't know how much time and energy I could put in, so decided to work hard until the fibromyalgia and fatigue kicked in and made me incapable. I did an hour solid with pauses and stretches and made a pile of weeds. Then when I couldn't bend any more, I pruned and picked through the staked tomatoes and the fruit trees tree looking for tell-tale yellow leaves. If too many, a plant can keel over and die.
I wasn't even sure how the place ran but asked to be told what to do and where to do it. I was given a giant zucchini, verbena (for tea) and a cucumber on the day which I will make into 'bread and butter' pickles. I also took some daikon, parsley and silver beet seeds, which I planted in the rebel garden on the way home. Vince gave me about 10 small but tasty leeks that he assured me his wife didn't want. I didn't realise I had been weeding his patch. True, I was a little too enthusiastic. It was just something about the day. And the weeds were easy to pull because of all the rain that had recently fallen. The rich earth smell got up my nose. 'Garden madness' I calls it. I had dirt so far up my fingernails they were pushing out like fans.

I became a financial member right there and then. A 'friend' of the garden. And will even be given a key, although I don't have a patch, which is fine with me. I just want to help to help maintain the garden. And if people have extra crop, I will gladly take what they have and turn it into preserves. I have been shown the herb garden and I will build on that. It has a chair that looks out and sits by a little glass seedling case where borage is growing. It seemed like all the bees of Northcote were there on that day, buzzing around that little place.

It felt like I was in a country town, not too many roof tops to be seen and the trains go by every now and again. It was so warm .I already have plans for basil, lemon balm and chervil--it goes well with zucchini. I will cut back a few things to make way. But I am very much under instruction by 'wiser gardeners than me'. They know stuff that I 'know' I am shaky on.
Besides Vince, there is Pete, a quiet fellow with his tomatoes. Ian and Fred his dog. The women: Pauline, Ros, Jessica, Elizabeth, Rebecca and others. Artists. Potters. Teachers. Marijka with a Ukrainian background, who knows about 'salt' preserving. Also a chef: a French woman. God, the French dress well even when they are gardening-- and they always seem to know how to wear a hat. She was teased about being a 'feral hippy' after she said she knew Jill Redwood: the conservationist. This group have been together for about ten years. Only small antagonisms, the sort that come with familiarity, trust and comfort. I heard about Old Chris who died. Apparently, he encased his plot entirely with wood and iron off-cuts--I saw the photos. It looked something like an on-land beavers dam. They say he was a bit of an 'old bugger' but he made his mark.

We had lunch on site in a muddy that is also a garden shed, come meeting place, which was partially burnt by vandals way back in the beginning. Pauline, the treasurer, made dumplings and we had salads made from the homegrown produce. And there was Tofu Surprise which was surprisingly good. Chutneys. Pickled cherries. Marinated feta. Then slices and cakes. Tea. Afterwards Pete washed-- I dried. The French woman (too many names to remember in one go) said she knew of a scheme to place bee hives in gardens. The apiarists look after everything and we get 20 percent of the honey.

It was decided right then and here--and I even got a vote.

7th feb
Today I am happy even if I ache all over.. My only jobs today-- a short walk to find fennel flowers to add to the Bread and Butter pickles and a few last touches to the soup I made with some of Vince's leeks: a vichyssoise.


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