When it comes to Provence, I always think of the colours, especially in late winter and early spring. It all begins in January, with the hillsides of the Cote d’Azur, turning bright yellow, with the sight of the Mimosa trees coming into flower.
Then in February we start to see the first almond blossom around us in the Luberon, trees covered in white and pink blooms, a sure sign that spring is finally on its way.
But the sight that really makes me smile is in late March and early April, when the cherry orchards across the Vaucluse come into blossom, creating snow-drifts of white petals framing some of our favourite views and landmarks….
Little orchids start to appear in the verges, along with other delights including perfect miniature daffodils, their tiny flowers not much bigger than a thumb-nail….
And beautiful low-growing purple irises, not the miniature dainty version I have seen before, but simply larger irises that appear to have been through the ‘Honey I shrunk the kids’ machine…..
But the sight that brings me almost to a standstill each spring, is that of the Judas trees coming into flower, creating a shocking pink highlight amongst the fresh green of the emerging leaves. We first saw the sight, when we drove through the valley to visit the house, before heading up to the ‘Notaire’ to sign the final contract, and wondered what they were, .
I had never seen anything like it – the vivid, fuscia pink, creating a wonderful show on the hills and alongside the roads around Apt. I had no idea what they were and contacted a friend with a photo just to ask and the reply came back – The Judas Tree.
It wasn’t a tree I had heard of, but now is one of my favourites, and I eagerly watch for the first signs of the colour starting to emerge from the buds in early April, as a real sign that Spring is on its way. Chatting to a neighbour about them, she told me that the provencal word for them is ‘Pachin-pachau’ , based on the sound the seed cases made as they knock together in the wind, and I love this name, so have taken to using it.
The colour is just beautiful and like the Legend of Roussillon, explaining how the ochres got their colour, The Legend of Roussillon – a tale of illicit love and a tragic end! there is a rather gruesome tale behind its name.
The tree is actually an Eastern Redbud, but the legend explains that it hasn’t always been that way. The tree was always renowned for being a beautiful tree found in Judea and other parts of the Middle East and carried swathes of white flowers every Spring. This took a dramatic change though when Judas Iscariot chose it as the tree to hang himself from after betraying Jesus to the soldiers of Caiaphas.
It is said that the tree couldn’t deal with the shame of what had happened and that following Judas’ suicide the tree no longer bloomed with white flowers, but instead blushed turning the flowers the vivid pink that we see now.
Of course this is just one of the legends, another is that the flowers appear to resemble a hanging man below the branches (which is slightly more gruesome), but it is most likely (although slightly less fanciful) that it has just resulted from a redaction in the term ‘Judea’s tree’
Whatever the real story behind it, this tree lights up my Spring, is one of the first shocks of colour to brighten our local landscape and will forever remind me of the day we finally realised, our long held dream, of owning our own little bit of Provence……