Posts Tagged 'lifestyle'

The Man Who Planted Trees

Illustration by Frédéric Back, 1987

The tale of Elzeard Bouffier, a solitary shephard who devotes himself to reforesting a desolate portion of Provence, in southern France, was originally written by Jean Giono, who was asked in 1953 by an American Publisher to write about an unforgettable character.

Apparently they meant him to write about a real character. When the editors objected that there was no record of a Elzeard Bouffier ever having died in Banon, France, Monsieur Giono informed them that, even though fictional, he was none-the-less unforgettable. Unable to publish the work now written, Jean Giono donated the story freely “to all humanity”, seeking no compensation then or in the future. It was soon after published by Vogue in 1954 and has been retold repeatedly and in many different languages. Never having received financial compensation for this tale was felt by the author to be completely fitting to the values expressed in the story.

I have a copy of this story published in 1985 by Chelsea Green, with beautiful wood engravings by artist Michael McCurdy and an afterword by Norma L. Goodrich (Professor Emeritus of French and Comparative Literature at the Claremont Colleges).  I have never forgotten this story and recently picked it up and reread it yet again, prompting me to post this information.

In modern times, some publishers have sought to take over the copyright of this popular story, generating outrage from many literary and environmentalist camps. There has even been a movement to remove the text of the story from various internet resources and prevent the online publication of works such as what I am sharing with you now.

Here the storywas adapted into an animated short by illustrator/animator Frédéric Back in 1987, narrated by Christopher Plummer, and produced by Radio-Canada (posted to YouTube in four parts) .



Book: The Way We Live Alfresco

The Way We Live Alfresco

The mediterranean climate perhaps affords more days per year for spending time out-of-doors, consequently the quintessential image of sharing a meal outside in Italy, France, Spain or another Mediterranean country. This is not mere romantic folly – often the most pleasant place to spend such time is indeed outdoors, and planning the garden with this in mind should not be overlooked.

A British expat friend living in Southern Spain once told me “Gardens in England are for strolling, gardens in the Mediterranean are for sitting”. Think about it – the cooler, overcast weather of the UK usually propels garden visitors to keep moving, if only to stay warm through mild exercise, and garden design has evolved under this basic survival need, whether conscious or unconscious. In warmer mediterranean climates, one may seek warmth in finding a south facing wall or sunny area, but in summer, a bit of shade is often sought instead – in both cases the natural inclination is to tarry a while to enjoy the effect of that micro-climate.

While the images presented in The Way We Live Alfresco* are by no means exclusively from mediterranean climates, they do illustrate a wide variety of simple ways in which living outside in such regions could be accommodated. A picture is worth a thousand words and so the lack of text in this work is seldom noted, enthralled as we are in the handsomely captured garden and courtyard vignettes. I use these pages to ignite my own ideas for outdoor designing as well as to encourage client to consider new possibilities for the enhancement of their lifestyle through alfresco living.

*alfresco is defined as ‘outside of a building’ or ‘in the open air’.


The Dry Garden: More drought ahead?

North Hollywood resident Gilda Garcia replaced her lawn with a mix of drought-tolerant plants. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

LINK: The Dry Garden: More drought ahead?.


The heat of summer

Fontaine et panorama, originally uploaded by ThéoBoy.

We recently had a very serious brief heat wave – after most of the summer being shrouded by our pacific ocean fog. It was a relief to finally have some sunny weather but the intensity of the heat took us by surprise! Very unusual for our area, but it made me recall that many other parts of the mediterranean climate can routinely receive hot dry temps during the summer months.
This warm dry period is actually our dormant season and usually a time we’d like to also be dormant in the garden. ‘Mad dogs and Englishmen’ as they say. It makes a lot of practical sense to plant your garden with species that will not be trying to come into their peak during these difficult months. The lack of water (we get no rain for 6 straight months!) also makes gardeners appreciate this precious commodity. Rather than huge artificial waterfalls and spraying fountains (both of which evaporate far too much water) it is still pleasant to have a quiet bit or water play in the summer garden in mediterranean climate regions, especially if one can easy put a hand into its coolness while passing by.


A typical July day here in Berkeley

Folks are often perplexed by our local ocean fog. Even though it is tempting to conceive that it has actual evil intent (we just saw it stay offshore until just before 4th of July fireworks were scheduled to go off, where it rushed onshore!), it happens for reasons that are pretty easy to understand.

© MMIX Earth Environment Service (annotated by me) The Pacific Ocean is a relatively cool body of water, which moderates our coastal environment, keeping it from becoming too hot in summer as well as too cold in winter. Our interior valleys, far from this influence, do experience much warmer summer temps (as well as colder winter lows). As this warm interior air rises (orange arrows in the image at left), it creates a vacuum that pulls in air from surrounding regions. Because of the convenient gap in our coastal mountain ranges at the entrance of San Francisco Bay, this replacement air comes through the ‘Golden Gate’, pulling the ocean fog along with it (blue arrows).

The ocean fog is there because of the difference between the cooler Pacific ocean (due to upwelling cold water from ocean depths) and the relatively warmer air temperatures.  This is the same reason that the Atlantic coast of Portugal, and the Pacific coast of central Chile, both have a similar fog effect, and why you seldom see fog on the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea, which is a warmer body or water.

Sights of fog spilling over our coastal hills are very familiar to long time residents. Sometimes when a warm inversion layer holds the fog down, this cool air can only come in through the lowest points. The main ‘low point’ along this part of California coast is the Golden Gate, which is why it is so picturesquely half-shrouded in fog. Where does the fog go as it spills through this opening? First stop is Berkeley, where we live! I work in Oakland, which often warms up during the day in July, but back home in Berkeley, the fog can sit all day. My tomatoes are not particularly happy right now, and the rose is developing mildew, and many other warm-loving plants are in a sort of suspended animation, waiting for the occasional warmer day. But those that DON’T like the heat are enjoying a longer season that otherwise!

Predicting when the fog will come has often been elusive, especially to the layman. Either you get caught unprepared like the many San Francisco tourist who we see shivering in their shorts and tropical shirts brought especially for ‘sunny California’, or we take no chances and drag around various layers of clothing that can warm us if the fog suddenly engulfs our current location. S.F. Bay Area Fog Forecast Weather reports are seldom specific enough to be of much use, but recently a friend directed me to this page which shows the immediate fog forecast via an animated .gif (shown at right), complete with date and hour. I’ve been referencing it lately and find that it has been very accurate – a real use for me as I travel between Oakland and Berkeley each workday – two regions with distinctly different fog patterns!



Ca l’Arqué – Badalona, originally uploaded by rafael pujals.

This blog is a means of sharing thoughts that occur to me while working on various related projects relating to gardening in the world’s various mediterranean climates. I make no guarantee regarding timeliness though I intend to maintain a certain amount of consistency. I welcome your reactions and your own thoughts if they are relevant and constructive to learning more about the opportunities we have in this benign and wonderful climate.

A blog by Seán A. O'Hara

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Flickr Group: mediterranean climate garden