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Posts tagged ‘France’

An hommage to Jean Giono

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The Man Who Harvested Trees and Gifted LifeThe Man Who Harvested Trees and Gifted Life

Today my sequel to French author Jean Giono’s 1954 masterpiece The Man Who Planted Trees and Grew Happiness is published. My book — The Man Who Harvested Trees and Gifted Life — is released to coincide with the 46th anniversary of his death in October 1970.

Of some 30 books The Man Who Planted Trees was Giono’s most popular and enduring work. His simple yet beautiful writing emphasised the power of the written word, and opened my mind to environmentalism, revealing how everyone can help make the world better for nature.

In the Foreword to my new book I write:

The Man Who Harvested Trees and Gifted Life - read more on Amazon


The Man Who Harvested Trees and Gifted Life

“Giono’s aim was to popularise tree planting, and his allegorical story contrasted the benefits of environmental restoration with the futility and destructiveness of war. More than 60 years later we are following a path towards unprecedented environmental change, and perhaps even greater societal upheaval. At the same time, humanity is drifting ever-more distant from the natural world. Planting trees is now a popular social norm, but harvesting trees is more often associated with exploitation and destruction, even though good silviculture (forest management) is equally important in the care of our forests.”

Jean Giono was born on 30th March 1895 the son of a shoemaker and laundress. He died aged 75 on 9th October 1970, having rarely left his beloved town of Manosque in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department of south-east France. The only significant time he spent away from home was during the First World War when mobilised for four years, two of which he spent at the front, serving as an infantryman at Verdun, Chemin des Dames, and Kemmel. His experiences made him a fervent pacifist, and his strong anti-war stance became a central theme alongside environmentalism in many of his books.

Henry Miller wrote that reading Giono was a “cosmic delight”. His writing transformed Provenance into a place that included adventure, intrigue and passion.

There is a Jean Giono centre at Manosque which acts as a focus for research and dissemination of his work, set in a beautiful historic building with landscaped gardens. Read more

For a list of 30 distinct works, many of which have been translated into English, see: Jean Giono’s works on GoodReads

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Poplar and mistletoe

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poplar and mistletoe in Normandy, France
poplar and mistletoe in Normandy, France

poplar and mistletoe in Normandy, France. Lumix GX7, 7mm, f5.6, 1/200sec, ISO125.

I escaped to France last week during the hiatus of the launch of The New Sylva – appropriately enough losing myself among the bocage and marais in Normandy.

There, Spring was well advanced yet the mornings full of misty promise. I stayed with my family in the very beautiful Parc naturel régional des Marais du Cotentin et du Bessin (read more). I was amazed by the amount of mistletoe present on the trees among the hedgerows and marshes, which grew on nearly all tree species. Its favourite host appeared to be poplar.

I waited in the cold with my camera early one morning until the mist just accentuated the amazing growths of mistletoe on this poplar tree, while the top of the tree itself was lost in the low mist. There, down on the lowest part of the marais (marsh), skylark and moorhen accompanied me to the waking of a new dawn.

See more of my black & white photography

Gabriel Hemery

Weekly photo challenge: sunset

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Sunrise in the Cevennes

I enjoy the subjects provided by the Weekly photo challenge.  This week I’ve cheated, just a little, as the theme is Sunset and I have posted instead a sunrise. I like this photo so I thought I could get away with posting it.

While on holiday in France in July, I woke up very early one morning and, leaving the family still sleeping in their beds, climbed to the nearest peak. The Cevennes mountains are very wooded, and so often the views are limited unless you are in a clearing or at the very top of a hill. I found a viewpoint with great views across the stunning wooded hills in the pink of dawn (see another photo I took that morning but looking West). I waited patiently as the red glow increased in the East and took many photos as the sun appeared as a glowing giant ball behind the wooded ridge. You can see why photographers refer to this time of day as the magic hour.

Sunrise in the Cevennes

Sunrise in the Cevennes, France. DMC-GF2, 200mm (400mm 35mm equivalent), f11, 1/250 sec, ISO100, tripod.

More from my Weekly photo challenges

Gabriel Hemery

Growing walnuts for their nuts – the cultivar revelation

August 16, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

One walnut tree is not necessarily the same as another walnut tree.  Many people will have planted a walnut seed in their backyard waiting hopefully for the growing tree to produce a crop of nuts.  They will appear of course, as that is the wonder of nature, but the tree may be 20 years old before it crops.

Many people don’t realise that there have been available commercially for decades, many selected cultivars of different walnut varieties. No gardener would think of planting a wild apple or pear and expect a good crop of fruit of known quality.  It is just the same with walnut.  Choose a cultivar that has been bred for its nuts and you will be rewarded with consistent crops of nuts of a specified taste and quality.  Even more attractive is the fact that a grafted walnut cultivar may start producing nuts only 3 years after planting in the garden or orchard; compared to the 15-20 years for a seedling tree.

walnut fruit tree

walnut cultivar varieties

  • Fernor – A modern (1995) French variety.  Late to leaf, precocious flowering, lateral fruiting and blight tolerant. Its fruit is late to ripen, large size and of excellent quality.  In France, yields of 1 tonne per hectare at 6 years-old are usually attained, and 4-5 tonnes per hectare when mature.
  • FranquetteA traditional French variety, representing 75-80% of orchards (15,000 ha) in just two French production areas (ref).  Late leafing, good productivity, excellent nut quality.  It is a terminal bearer (1- 2 fruit per terminal) which requires only light pruning.  Yields are only moderate compared to modern lateral bearing varieties such as Fernor and Lara. Partly self-fertile, bearing fruit at 3-5 years. Late fruiting season, nut size mid to large. Resistance to blight.  It has a light blond shell, and its fruit has a delicate taste.
  • Lara – French variety (developed 1980s), good fruit quality, precocious and highly productive. Early bud break and fruit ripening. Average vigour, quite upright in habit and lateral bearing.
  • Ronde de Montignac – An old French variety.  Fairly vigorous growth, semi erect habit, light cropper producing small/medium-sized nuts with high quality kernels.  Late to leaf so it can avoid Spring frost damage.
  • Some other French varieties
    Marbot (preferred variety for fresh walnuts), Granjean (fleshy fruit with distinctive taste), Corne (good disease resistance, sweet taste, fine texture), Mayette (sweet rich favour) and Parisienne (vigorous and productive when mature, can be grown on less fertile sites).
  • American varieties – caution is required when planting some of these varieties in Europe due to problems from early leafing in Spring.
    Chico (excellent variety), Hartley (vigorous growth and productive fruiting), Pedro (good productivity and suitable for temperate climates).

Gabriel Hemery


Weekly photo challenge: mountains

August 9, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

Sunrise in the Cevennes
Sunrise in the Cevennes

Sunrise in the Cevennes, France. DMC-GF2, 120mm zoom (240mm 35mm equivalent), f11, 1.0 sec, ISO100, tripod.

Sunrise and valley mist in the Cevennes mountains of south east France.  The forests contain a large proportion of sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) trees, alongside downy oak (Quercus pubescens) and various pines and spruces.

Gabriel Hemery

La France et ses forêts

July 14, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

Chene d'Ecole, Belleme Forest


Translate to French

Aujourd’hui, c’est la Fête Nationale en France: today is Bastille Day in France.  It seemed to be a perfect occasion to celebrate France and its wonderful trees and forests.

Le peuple français et ses forêts

The trees and forests of France are deeply engrained in the French people’s psyche.  As a fellow tree blogger recently wrote:

“French schoolchildren are being bussed out to Forests to ensure the next generation will experience and connect with trees and introduced to the fact that forests are as vital to health and life as the blood within them or food at their table.”  read more …

Les forêts de la France

France forest cover by department

Reproduced from the IFN. Click image for an excellent guide to French forests (in English)

The country has three times the proportion of forested land than the UK (read more).  The French National Forest Inventory (IFN) estimates that there are 1,380,000 km² (53,000 sq mi) of forested land in mainland France; 63% is broadleaved forest.  Public ownership of forests is about 26%, compared to 18% in the UK (read more).

France is blessed with so many large forests, with six departments having more than half their territory covered by forest.  Here’s a list of France’s largest forests, over 100 km² (1,000 hectares) in area (compare to the UK’s largest forests):

  • Forêt des Landes (12,650 km²) – Aquitane
  • Forêt d’Arc (11,225 km²) – Rhône-Alpes
  • Forêt du Mont-Ventoux (800 km²) – Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
  • Forêt d’Orléans (340 km²) – Centre
  • Forest of Fontainebleau (250 km²) – Île-de-France
  • Forest of Rambouillet (220 km²) – Île-de-France
  • Forêt de la Montagne de Reims (190 km²) – Champagne-Ardenne
  • Forêt d’Iraty (173 km²) – Aquitane
  • Forêt d’Othe (155 km²)- Champagne-Ardenne
  • Forêt du Mont-Aigoual (150 km²) – Languedoc-Roussillon
  • Forêt de Compiègne (145 km²) – Picardy
  • Forêt de Haguenau (137 km²) – Alsace
  • Forêt de la Hardt (or de la Harth) (130 km²) – Alsace
  • Forêt d’Orient (130 km²) – Champagne-Ardenne
  • Forêt de Retz (130 km²) – Champagne-Ardenne
  • Forest of Chaux (130 km²) – Franche-Comté
  • Forêt d’Arc-en-Barrois (100 km²) – Champagne-Ardenne
  • Forêt du Haut-Vallespir (100 km²) – Languedoc-Roussillon

The IFN produce a very clear guide to French forests that is free to download.  It includes various maps of forest cover, type and distribution, plus individual guides for the main forest species.

Chene d'Ecole, Belleme Forest

Chene d'Ecole, Belleme Forest, is over 300 years old and stands 40 metres tall

La gestion des forêts

Forest management in France is typically of a very high standard; in both public and private hands.  Having retained a high forest cover, the French have kept intact a close relationship with their forests, or a strong ‘wood culture’.  This is typified in broadleaved forests where trees are managed on 200 year cycles to produce some of the finest oak in the world, such as at Bellême in the Orne department. Here the fantastically tall and straight tall oaks are retained until they produce a good crop of seeds (mast).  Then, and only then, they are felled.  A year later the open ground is carpeted with a tiny forest of naturally regenerated oak seedlings, which are then nursed progressively to produce the next generation of oak standards.

Les arbres en France

France, like the UK, has many wonderful ancient or veteran trees.  The oldest tree in France is reputed to be a hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) dating from the 3rd Century at Saint Mars-sur-la-Futaie.  If you have an interest in ancient trees this excellent Veteran trees in France blog is highly recommended.

In some areas of France, especially for example in Normandy, trees and hedgerows form a unique patchwork landscape with pasture: the Bocage.  The landscape is similar to that found in parts of the English counties of Cornwall and Devon.

It would be impossible to write about France and trees without mentioning the tree-lined avenues that line canals, rivers and roads.  These are iconic for many visitors to France, probably more so than for residents.  Most people love them but for some, they represent a health and safety nightmare and are thought to be claustrophobic.  I am most definitely a fan though.

And finally …

For a Francophile writing about France I can’t sign off without mentioning the French term for charcoal, le charbon de bois: this is one of the most beautiful and poetic-sounding French terms.

Gabriel Hemery

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