When you think of flowers in Provence your mind tends to think about fields ablaze with poppies or the purple flashes of the lavender fields and the vibrant markets are home to stalls piled high with locally-produced fruit and veg or selling honey, created by bees that visit all these flowers…….
So often we have cycled or walked past hives set on the edges of Lavender fields or placed at the edge of the garrigue and you’ll always find a pot of the locally-produced honey in the cupboard
The gentle buzz of bees going about their business, visiting flower after flower, pollinating each bloom & collecting nectar as they go is a backdrop to our daily walks and rides, along with the chirp of other insects busy in the fields.
Without these insects Provence (and the rest of the world) would be a very dull and unproductive place, but sadly the bees are under threat from pesticides and there has been a marked decrease in their numbers over the last few years.
Over the last few years though France has been taking steps to reduce the use and impact of pesticides, and we have seen road signs highlighting that the verges are pesticide-free….
…. but over the last couple of years we have seen other signs too that Farmers have been changing to more natural methods.
This summer the poppy fields have exploded with colour and have been so vibrant, filled not only with poppies, but other wild flowers too, resulting in a wonderful backdrop of colour being added to the stunning landscape.
…. and the Lavender fields too,are also looking a little different, with many now looking a little brighter with wildflowers sprouting amongst the purple stripes, adding even more natural beauty to an already wonderful sight.
Up at Viens, just a few kilometres away from us, Poppies have been painted on the roads around the village, part of the ‘Nous Voulons Des Coquelicots (We want Poppies) campaign targeting the use of pesticides.
Increasingly the local Farmers’ Markets are seeing stalls selling Agriculture Biologique (AB) Organic produce and more and more vineyards are selling organic wines. It really feels as if there is a strong and developing will to reduce pesticide use and develop more natural food processes here.
So you can imagine the enjoyment we had, spending an afternoon on a French language workshop with Marina from Ecole Franci Discendum in an organic garden, where the producer Olivia grows herbs and flowers for her unique and rather wonderful Tisanes.
In a valley below Viens, she has a small plot of land (happily with its own fresh-water springs), where she has established Le Jardin D’Ô, using organic processes to grow a wonderful selection of plants that she then uses in her products.
The garden is a real oasis of calm, with the background buzz of insects busily going about their work.
There is a real ‘local’ feel to everything she does, from the lavender ‘paille’ left over from her neighbour’s distillery being used as a fertiliser and the woody mulch coming from a local Recycling Centre….
…. To the fact that everything is created using plants grown on her plot of land or foraged from within a small radius of the garden.
There are certainly no excessive ‘food miles’ here and where particular flavours aren’t available locally she will find a way of getting it through a plant that can be grown there instead (eg using Lemon Basil to get a distinct lemon flavour, as the lemon trees of the Côte D’Azur are too distant)
Olivia focuses on growing plants that she can use in her Tisanes, picking leaves and flowers that she then dries in her purpose-built, solar-powered and heated drier, which she built thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign.
The scent of the leaves that she had in the drawers of the drier when we visited was incredible, filling the air with a heady blend as she opened the doors.
Our afternoon passed quickly and easily as Olivia explained her work and her passion for the garden she has established there.
We listened, whilst also completing a questionnaire prepared by Marina to guide our French learning too.
At the end of the afternoon we had a chance to wander through the plants collecting leaves to take away to make our own Tisane, picking the plants that appealed to us most (mine being lemon balm and sage with a sprig of Sariette )….
And an opportunity to see all the products Olivia produces…
I must admit I love her approach to the packaging & naming of the Tisanes… Back in the UK I have the Aquarelle blend, which is a delightful, calming mix with a flash of blue from Cornflowers
But the others are just as wonderful and this time I came away with a sachet of ‘Au Lit P’tit Loup’ for a night-time drink…
Although I was equally tempted by the zesty ‘Un Tournesol à Ma Fenêtre’ simply because its name made me smile and I do love a citrus scented tea to start the day….
At the moment Olivia sells her products online and also at local markets and in the Luberon Bio shop in Apt, but I have no doubt that with her passion and energy that her plans for the future will come to fruition.
As we drove away chatting about the afternoon it was hard to believe that we had just spent 3 hours in a French listening, comprehension & conversation class. The way Marina works with other small local producers and individuals adds a totally different feel to the lessons and helps to integrate learners into the local area too…. as we found later in the week when we spent an interesting few hours learning about a local Artisan Brewery ….. more of that in a future Blog.
If there is a better way to extend our French language skills and find new and wonderful local businesses then I’m yet to find it.
Merci Marina et Olivia