Garden Sage

Whenever I spend February in Saint Montan I’m reminded of so many chilly, winter days in Devon where I gardened for 20 years. Saint Montan is often described as sitting at ​‘les portes de Provence​’ and the summers do indeed feel Mediterranean; but the season of short days often feels far from the warm weather…

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Meat-Free February

In January, when Sir David Attenborough urged us to recognise that “The moment of crisis has come” in our efforts to tackle climate change, the achievements of two of my heroines came to mind. Five decades ahead of Greta Thunberg’s admirable campaign, two women gave an early warning of the serious environmental damage to our…

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New Year Resolutions

I gave up making new year resolutions decades ago. By February memories of what I’d promised to do – or not to do – had faded due to the urgent pressures of the moment and life in general. But this year will be different: I resolve to wage war on unwelcome visitors to the garden.…

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Fish Soups

After the excesses of festive eating, I long for simple food – plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables plus the delicate flavours of fish with its gentle, soothing texture. Fish soups come high on my list of desirable dishes at this time of year when the cold seas surrounding the British Isles produce some of…

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December Decorations

Celebrating the winter solstice is an ancient tradition that is pre-Christian and associated with Pagan rites. The shortest day of the year on 21st December was marked by Celtic priests, known as Druids, who gathered mistletoe to then bestow a blessing – the berries symbolising the seeds of life in the year ahead. The present-day…

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Sweet Chestnuts

While Perigord is recognised for its superior walnuts the Ardeche is world-renowned for sweet chestnuts. Towering chestnut trees, ​Castanea sativa,​ grow wild in the Haute Ardèche, where the hillsides are clothed with these majestic trees bearing handsome deckle-edged leaves. Growing wheat or other grains is not feasible in much of this mountainous region so for…

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The Virtues of Ivy

I gave up growing box, Buxus, following the devastation caused by the Asian box tree caterpillar, Diaphania perspectalis, when it arrived in Saint Montan. The sight of both cultivated box, clipped into attractive shapes, and wild box bushes that were growing freely on the hillside, reduced to dry, shrivelled skeletons was sad and ugly. So…

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The Timeless Appeal of Ardèchois Crique and Swiss Rösti

Why do we shred potatoes, I ask myself. After all there are so many other excellent ways of preparing, cooking and serving this popular tuber. Yet, throughout Europe, potatoes are grated, either raw when making an Ardèchois-style crique or half-cooked for a Swiss rösti. Both these types of potato pancake are fried, so perhaps it’s…

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Garlic in the Garden

The Capital of Garlic say the road signs as you approach the town of Piolenc in Provençale Vaucluse, where 2000 tons of Allium sativum are grown each year. On the feast of St John, close to mid-summer day, the town celebrates the ‘Stinking Rose’ with music, a parade, and countless stalls selling garlic in many…

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Vine Leaves

Last year my 25 year-old grape vine decided to leave home. After forming a close relationship with a telephone wire it soon reached half-way across the road and even produced a few bunches of black grapes dangling provocatively above the traffic. In March, it was time to curb its enthusiasm and major surgery was called…

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