Southern France Landscape
The barren landscape
of the south of France came as a surprise to Eleanor
Anderton; even more unexpected were the wealth of plants
she saw thriving there…
In early September I got back from a fortnight’s
holiday with my family near Montpellier in the south
of France. There in the Languedoc it was so hot you
could fry an egg on the car bonnet, but thank goodness
there was always the pool to jump into.
What struck me about the countryside there was that
it is just so dry compared to home. Conditions seem
really bad for growing, with virtually no soil and bare
rock visible everywhere. There were some plants obviously
struggling, and we saw wild box bushes turning brown
everywhere. But even so, there are plenty of plants
that seemed to thrive. What is more remarkable is that
there are plants that are productive in that climate
and produce a lot of edible fruit.
One minute you would pass an area that looked just like
the high plains of Africa - for as far as you could
see there was scorched grass, with odd rocks and scrub
oaks and junipers, and fig trees growing out of tiny
cracks in the rock. You half expected to see an antelope
or a lion emerging from behind a clump of bushes. Wild
herbs seemed to enjoy the mountaintops, and we found
rosemary and lavender growing wild in lay-bys.
However, a few miles
further on you could find field after field of vines,
to feed France’s worldwide wine industry, or huge
groves of old gnarled olive trees. In village gardens
there were cacti growing along wall tops, covered in
juicy prickly pears, which were for sale in the markets.
Can’t say I fancied them (though they looked better
than the potted ‘testicles de coq en gelée’
that were for sale in one motorway services!), but even
so it was amazing to see so much produce coming out
of the dry land.
The only real wetness was in the valleys, and some places
had a very jungly feel. We spent one afternoon on the
way there visiting La Bambouseraie, a bamboo-only garden
in an irrigated valley near Anduze. Unlike the wild
scrub plants of the Languedoc, the bamboos were enormous.
We have got bamboos at home that are twice my height,
but here they were like trees, and growing in forests.
They were amazing. Some of the kinds that would grow
to three or four metres in England can apparently get
to fifteen in the warmth of La Bambouseraie.
I’m not really a gardener, but it is good to see
such different country and things growing so differently.
Can’t wait for Florida next Easter. That will
be different again.
See also the Helping Hands workshop:
with a hot, dry garden
reprinted with permission from Greenfingers.com