Orchids and Tomatoes – in April!

For a few weeks already, Spring has well and truly sprung in our lovely corner of France and right now, it suddenly feels as if we have moved into full blown summer. I am no expert but it seems to me that the garden, woods and fields here are all at least a month ahead of where they would normally be in the middle of April.

This morning while walking the dog in the fields behind the house, I noticed that all the orchids are in full bloom which is definitely usually a May phenomenon. Mind you, I still can’t believe that I walk the dog on a daily basis through fields of orchids – in the UK it was a trek through fields of dandelions, nettles and mud so it still feels incredibly exotic to be trying to avoid stepping on orchids and fritillaries and watching lizards scuttle across the path in front of me! The Ariège region is well-known for the diversity of its plant and wildlife, much of it down to the fact that the farmer’s rarely use chemicals on their fields here and much of the land is given over to pasture and grazing rather than intensive agriculture.

The garden too is looking amazing. Of course everyone’s garden looks amazing in spring but this year everything seems to be competing to flower the longest and most abundantly. The vines – usually reticent about budding up too early – are already covered in leaves and the lemon tree is also heavy with scented flowers. Mind you, the grass is growing like crazy too as are the weeds and I expect the slugs are rubbing their tentacles together in excitement that I have already dared to plant tomato plants and sweet corn so early, ever optimistic that we have seen the last frost. At this time of year too there is the lovely juxtaposition of snow-topped mountains seen through blossom and flowers which is a magical sight.

It is one of the many things I love about this region that everything grows so well and prolifically here. I guess it is a privileged climate; a combination of the hot sunshine of the south of France and the protected micro-climate provided by the mountains but also the heavy rainstorms we sometimes get in the spring and late summer that keep the water table high. Much as I love to go on holiday to places like the Mediterranean, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere that is baked and parched. Maybe it is because I have grown up in England but, for me, living in the country is all about greenery, nature’s bounty and the miracles going on around me on a daily basis. Plus the fact that I can grow vegetables so easily – here you just plant them and they grow. The Ariège is certainly the place to live for anyone who wants to live in a perfectly balanced natural environment – and who wants to feel that they have the green fingers of Alan Titchmarsh!

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