15 March 2008

All about plants

Our first aparagus of the season will not be the locally delicacy of the Sologne. It won't even be French, from Les Landes or other southern parts of France. It will be from Agadir, in Morocco. Globalization! Spring comes earlier down there, of course. And I guess there's plenty of sandy soil, which is what asparagus likes.

The neighbors' lilac is setting big buds
and looks like it will blossom soon

It's too bad to get asparagus that comes from so far away — carbon footprint, and all that — and especially when the Sologne crop must be starting to hit the markets about now. But last week when I was at SuperU, I also saw nice white asparagus from Spain in the produce department. I winced when I saw the price: €13.95 a kilogram. That would be almost $10.00 a pound. Talk about gouging!

Any guesses about this tree? It's about 15 feet tall
and grows out on the edge of the vineyard.

In past years, we've paid anywhere from €3.00 to €6.00 per kilo for nice fresh Sologne asparagus, the season for which runs from April to June. Yesterday I needed to run up to the "hard discount" supermarket in Saint-Aignan, Ed — L'Epicier discount — to get some supplies. And there I saw nice, fresh, unblemished, medium-size white asparagus spears for the amazing price of €0.99 for a 500 g bundle. Not much more than $1.00 a pound!

This is hawthorn, or aubépine, which is in bloom now
all around the Loire Valley. The word «
aubépine » means
"white thorn" — alba + épine, according to the dictionary.
Hawthorn flowers are about an inch across.

Ed's asparagus had been marked down from €1.99 to 99¢ for some reason I don't understand. But I grabbed two bundles — why not? It's been a long time since I saw pretty asparagus for such a low price. The spears aren't too fat but they are big enough that peeling them won't be difficult. Yes, you need to peel white asparagus. That's not required with green spears.

This plant looks like some kind of holly to me.
The red berries are a centimeter or half-inch in diameter
and this plant is only about a foot tall. The leave are dry and brittle.

That bargain capped off a beautiful spring day in Saint-Aignan. The sun came out in the morning and the day turned off just partly cloudy with long stretches of bright sun. The temperature hit 17°C. So we finally got our first solid above-60°F day of 2008. Today is supposed to be even warmer, but probably less sunny. A new front is moving in off the Atlantic Ocean this morning.

Looking north from the vineyard yesterday morning,
you could see the cloudy weather moving off to the east.

When Roselyne came to deliver our daily bread, I said: « Alors voici le printemps qui arrive ! » — Springtime has arrived. « Oui, il fait beau. Mais profites- en bien, parce que ça ne va pas durer, » was her cheerful reply — yes, it's nice, but enjoy it while you can, because it's not going to last. Can you tell we have been conditioned to expect rainy weather? It's been very damp for more than a year now.

This was just a few minutes after sunrise.

Last summer when CHM was in Paris, I would call him every week. « Bonjour, CHM. Alors, est-ce qu'il pleut à Paris aujourd'hui ? » Good morning, CHM, is is raining in Paris today? His answer, with a chuckle: « Non, pas encore ! » No, not yet! Often, it was already raining in Saint-Aignan.

I was glad yesterday to find out that those trees with the bright yellow whips growing out of a low stump really are osier, the wicker plant. That's what I thought, and I see on Wikipedia that there is a variety called osier jaune or doré. So that's it.

I didn't notice Callie peeking into this picture until
until I got home and looked at it on the computer.

These "wicker" plants are a species of willow and grow next to the little ponds scattered through the vineyard, including the one right outside our back gate. The people who trim the vines will make a bundle of clippings and then cut a yellow wicker whip to use to tie up the bundle.

The willow "withies" — whips or canes — are extremely flexible. And I read on a web site that you can propagate the plants by cutting off the canes, sticking them down into the ground about 10 inches, and then cuting them off near ground level — they will take root. Maybe we should cut and plant a few. They should grow easily as long as this rainy weather lasts. And then we can cut some withies and take up basket-weaving as a way to supplement our meager incomes!

I keep finding different colors in the primroses growing in the yard.

Now there are some other plants I'm curious about. Their pictures are in this topic. I know there are a lot of you out there who are much more botanically astute than I am.


  1. You ask, we deliver :-)

    The weird tree that seem to have two sorts of leaves (second pic) is Goat Willow Salix caprea. The spikes of narrow leaves are actually the catkins. Goat Willows are either male or female, and this one is female. It is native all over Europe and likes the edges of woods, and often grows in dry places.

    The plant with the lovely red berries is Butchers Broom Ruscus aculeatus, also a plant of dry woods.

    Strictly speaking, your 'primroses' are Polyanthus. Any primrose looking flower that isn't pale creamy yellow is a cultivar with a complex parentage - nobody is absolutely certain which species came together to produce them, but probably Primula veris (Cowslips, coucou in French, native to Europe) and Oxlip P elatior. Primroses proper are P vulgaris.

    BTW, I made Clothilde's croissants aux amandes this morning - miam miam. You are right - enough filling for 8.


  2. PS Forgot to say: It had never occurred to me that aubé was white, but of course it makes perfect sense. A fine exchange of information :-)


  3. Thank you Susan for the information. Just like Ken I was wondering what the first plant was. As for the second, I've seen it many times but never knew its name. I was sure we could rely on you to solve those riddles. As for the primevères, I suspected that all those colored ones were some sort of cultivar, because in my youth, a very long time ago, there was only the pale yellow one!

  4. The coloured primulas are known as Wanda primroses - coincidentally there was a gardening programme on TV last night with a segment on wild primroses and how they interbreed with the Wanda cultivars:

  5. Claudia in Toronto16 March, 2008 06:00

    With your pictures and people's comments, I'll have a little knowledge when I visit the Greenhouse. Your photos of the sky are beautiful.

    On the big screen, I could see Callie right in the eyes. I kept asking her to come out. No luck!


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