A Burgundy diary –  21 May 2022

Teeming early summer

Season of scabious and of vetch; or buttercups and daisies; of pink and white campion; of thyme in flower, or thrift and clover; of marguerite and lush long grass in the field below me. I swear it doubled its height and more in the ten days we were away. The road verges – still not attached by the roadside mowers – teem. The woods are in full summer green.

It would be churlish to lament the lack of rain; the fact that rain only falls when there is a storm; so for now I’ll look out on the abundant summer still green, and quietly pray for generous rain.

A Burgundy diary – 27 April 2022

Ups and downs of April

‘April can be the cruellest month’, as TS Elliot nearly said. Blossom on some trees was coming out early in the month; then frost bit, and I suspect any fruit which was to come on those few trees, has gone. We spoke to the trees which were advanced, begged them to hold back; but I fear they didn’t hear us.

And our poor wisteria. It is flowering against the house; but away from the house its buds have met a frost stunned, shrivelled end. We wait to see if leaves will grow around the frost deleted buds.

Sun followed the frost. Day after day of sun. Then finally on Monday we had rain; and I reckon all the grass and wild-flowers grew their height again in 24 hours. Blossom has blown off many of the fruit trees; and you can see the fruit beginning to form. Now we await the possibility of more frost as May goes on; and we hope it won’t come.

Whilst all this waiting works over us, the orchids in the meadow below the house and the buttercups and cowslips spread though the green, and away to the hedge. By the hedge is a trodden path through the grass; and thanks to an infra red camera we know it is a badger’s path. But we only saw the badger once for a few seconds, lolloping across the field. The night camera didn’t pick the badger up again; but you can see where he nestled in under the hedge at the end of his track.

A Burgundy diary –  18 April 2022

A time of blossom…

It’s a time of blossom and wild flowers here. It is blossom and Easter for this note today. All being well wild flowers will stretch from late January (snow drops) till autumn: 8 or 9 months of why you live in Burgundy. Most of the blossom will have drifted down in the next ten days; though each type of blossom has its short season. For us it has been the peach and nectarine, through plums and pears, to – latest, and still a little tentative – the apple trees and quince.

And then for the waiting to see if the fruit has taken. How much blossom over the summer months will mutate into fruit? Two years we were almost overwhelmed by cherries – how could that ever be possible? This year the cherry blossom – wild cherry and domesticated – is everywhere; but how much will survive any late frosts? We covered a couple of small trees in blossom, to insulate them a little, two weeks ago; but most are too big. Any frost this spring, I am sure, will kill the cherries. Our pears – poires des cochons (says out neighbour) will weather anything. And apples and quinces? Let us see…

What I have learned is that, amongst the blossom, there really can be Yeats’s ‘Bee loud glades’. ‘Loud’ may be going it; but a definite susurration of bees there is. Our bees must be loving it…

Finally, for blossom-spotters: above is apple, and at the bottom is cherry on pears. In between is our young apple-tree, the second sentinel pear (on the left), small plum, quince and cherry trees; and then an oak sized crab apple tree in the lane towards Vergoncey.  

A Burgundy diary –   10 April 2022

Blossom and wild flowers in the Spring

Spring is arriving falteringly. Most of March was warm and dry, luring early blossom to tempt their fate with any April frosts. Wild flowers by the lane-sides and in the forests proliferated: celandine was first, I think (after the snow-drops, of course); then violets, and wood anemone, and cowslips. Dandelions rich and yellow compete with the more subtle celandine, and now perry-winkle with the modest violet. We’ve had leaves form the wild garlic (ail des ours) in salad and quiche already; but soon they’ll be in flower in the woods too.

We went to Paris last week-end, and left two of our smaller fruit trees encased in a sort of white synthetic blanket. And last night again we covered them. I am sure some of our blossoms will have been caught by this recent frost; but many of our trees are hearing our beseeching them and holding back on letting their budding blossoms bloom.

Last year we had no cherries. The year before was a glut. Let us see what happens this year. If the frost comes no more, we’ll have fruit. If it descends on us again, there are only so many trees we can cocoon against it.

A Burgundy diary – 27 February 2022

Creusefond, a ruisseau

I live in a village – a hamlet, in truth – called Creusefond. And that is the name of the small stream (ruisseau) which runs through it to the larger stream, la Drée. The Drée goes on to join the Arroux, which ends up in the Loire and so on to the Atlantic.

Near the spot in my photo is the source of the Creusefond, which itself means the fontaine (fond), or source, of the Creuse – just a petite Creuse (there are much larger Creuses and one département named after one of them, in the south-west centre of France). Our Creusefond goes down the scarp slope of the tree-lined plateau, from near Auxy, passes through the middle of our village and then makes its way through the fields to the Drée; and there gives up its life to the larger river. But, the water in my picture will one day join the Atlantic with all the other streams which feed the Atlantic.

In the undergrowth by the stream there is still little evidence of growth, but leaves were appearing on the wild honey suckle which scrambles through the forest.

A Burgundy diary – 19 February 2022

A walk in the Morvan

On a grey, but mostly dry, afternoon we set off for a walk in the Morvan hills.  It was a part of the area we can see ten miles or so from the barn. Wet green fields sloped away one side of our path (a farm track, at that stage); and the other was bounded by scrubby hedges with field and then pine forest above. A small stream shared the track with us part of the way, and occasionally gurgled away into a neighbouring field. At one point it filled a track-wide puddle which we than had to pass: tufts at the side of the track, stones in the puddle and a jump at the end three of four metres away saw us over its length. We came to a small hamlet with two or three farmhouses. Here the tack was metalled from the hamlet to a small road.

From that road we walked up into the pine forest: a steady firm tack which climbed around the side of the hill. Rain threatened; but mostly it stayed dry. The trees held dark and looming as they mounted the small slope above us. Trunks were black. At the summit the well-used track became grass. Four trees had fallen across the path left there for any users of the path to scramble over. Bramble (ronces) crept unseen across the path, and threatened every few metres to trip us up.

Another three meter deep puddle with scrub crowded edges greeted us as we neared the end of our walk. Feet finally a little wet, we strode the last kilometre to the car and home. And with hopes of longer evenings and more exploring in the Morvan ahead.

Postscript: I’ve found many more snow drops since I put up my last post, mostly in the lane either side of the ‘Pont Romain’ by the barn.

A Burgundy diary – 15 February 2022

Snowdrops and an approach of spring

Only very modest – in size and extent – snowdrops have appeared this year. We have a few small groups dotted around the garden now. There used to be a quince tree (cognassier) outside the back door with a patch of snowdrops in early spring under it. The tree started shedding whole branches a few years ago. It had to go I am sad to say. From that patch of snowdrops only a very few survive amongst the stones I’ve laid around the door.

A few buds are coming on trees and shrubs. Catkins have been in the hazel trees for weeks. Twigs in a few trees are shaded with red. But we still have little rain, even on a cloudy day like today. I used to love evidence of the arrival of spring. Now this is tinged by fears of its early arrival being just more evidence of the worsening climate crisis.

A Burgundy diary – 13 February 2022

Beaune: a cold clear day

Market day in Beaune is on Saturday. Yesterday in cold clear weather we drove up the Autun to Beaune road. It passes 200 metres from our front door. It is twenty-five miles (forty kilometres) to Beaune. The Côte d’Or pretty much starts in Nolay, almost exactly half way up the road. The Côte d’Or department starts just above Nolay. Form there it is Grand Cru wine villages all the way: St Aubin and St Romain (just off the road); then Auxey Duresses, Monthelie, Volnay and Pommard; and just to the right, visible most of the last ten kilometres, is the steeple of Meursault. All are part of the Côte de Beaune.

As we passed through the valley towards Beaune we could see the smoke of the half-oil drums – like barrows – burning last years wine twigs, keeping the vines a little warm in the overnight frost.

Beaune is another world from where we are, this side of the hill. Here it is all cows and green fields and forests. Hedges – or what pass for hedges – are everywhere. There it is sloping vineyards, some trees, and limestone villages where the viticulteurs cluster in their comfortable houses. Paths pass between the vineyards, everywhere; and sometimes more substantial tracks. There are no hedges; though one or two wealthier viticulteurs may have erected a wal here or there.

I love Beaune, but yesterday it felt suddenly almost oppressively chic. Well-dressed people were out in the winter sun, shopping. All the shops – often expensive shops – are still open and doing business (where a substantial proportion of businesses in Autun and Arnay-le-Duc are bust and the premises empty: a combination of local supermarkets and more and more people shopping on-line). And, of course, wine-growing can be hard work, I am sure, but – as Lucie pointed out – it is profitable.

Like Autun, the market was busy. Lots of bistros were open. We ate well and came home through the afternoon light, the vineyards – as Lucie said – like a clothing of tweed at this time of year, spread up the gently sloping hills, and later below the cliffs above St Romain.

A Burgundy diary – 5 February 2022

Prunus in the Jardin de Plantes

On a trip to Paris yesterday I turned into the Jardin des Plantes; and immediately I saw a tree beginning to come into flower. And my first thought was sadness: another early flowering flower, too early thanks to climate crisis.

I looked on the tree – it being the Jardin des Plantes, the trees were labelled. I think the label said it was a prunuiere a l’origanum. I take that to be a form of prunus; but origanum? Certainly what I saw had nothing to do with oregano.

So back to early flowering? I thought back to when I lived in Bristol. The first things to flower, in late January – as I recall – were verbena and prunus (of various sorts). It was lovely then to see these, the first flowers early in the year. So early flowering in the J de P need not, perhaps, have troubled me so much.

A Burgundy diary – 2 February 2022

Is nature getting out of sync as the climate crisis bits

An article in the Guardian today on the climate crisis left me feeling so nearly helpless. One Prof Ulf Büntgen, at Cambridge University, is quoted: ‘When plants flower too early, a late frost can kill them – a phenomenon that most gardeners will have experienced at some point.’ But the even bigger risk is ‘ecological mismatch’, he said, when plants and hibernating or migrating insects, birds and other wildlife are no longer synchronised. ‘That can lead species to collapse if they can’t adapt quickly enough.’ Such mismatches are already being seen, for example, between orchids and bees and great tit chicks and their crucial caterpillar food.

The climate crisis is happening here; and in the countryside you are much more aware of it. Only ten or twelve years ago I can remember coming to Burgundy in the late winter, or early spring. There was often snow here then. In the three years I’ve lived here, there has been a very light fall of snow each winter; and it’s probably gone within a few hours. No snow lies now as it used to lie, for days at a time.

Going back to Prof Büntgen, our orchids have been prolific each May. I only hope they’ll be enough for Lucie’s bees and at the right time. We have a large number of great tits around the house; but will they find sufficient caterpillars for their chicks? Will the synchronicity around the barn here be enough to keep everything in equilibrium as the climate crisis bites.

For bees there is a proliferation of flowers here beyond the orchids in our field; but the late frosts last year killed a lot of the blossom in the fruit trees. We had no cherries where we had a massive crop the year before. The same for quinces; though our cooking pears and a modest amount of black-berries survived in the hedges. For Christmas, there were no holly berries at all on the holly trees in the forest.

The Guadian article spoke of flowers flowering mostly four or five weeks earlier than in 1986 and before. One flower it mentioned is the snow drop. I’ve seen none around here this year.