The tantalising occasional glimpses of tazettas in Provence on previous trips had prompted us to make a trip this February to see if we could see their distribution and perhaps identify them more accurately. James did a fair bit of internet research over the winter and decided to concentrate on the area around Marseille. French amateur botanists had posted some helpful photographs and sites in the south, but very few were of true tazettas. We knew and had seen N. dubius over a wide area around Montpellier, usually on quite stony dry ground, but we hoped to extend our knowledge of the larger tazettas on this trip.
When we set off from Yorkshire on 26 February the weather was grim, murky and cold. It was like driving through a grey tunnel. This continued all the way through France via Reims and Lyon where we had the addition of snow lying in the fields. At times, when you are driving on the autoroutes, there’s so little traffic you seem to have the world to yourself. We amused ourselves by spotting the buzzards and hawks that perched at regular intervals on the field posts. On the third day we were approaching Aix en Provence and finally saw the sun, pale and intermittent but welcome nonetheless.
It was still very cold and our searches on the following two days which took us via possible sites all the way down to Marseille and Cassis on the coast were fruitless. There were two conclusions that we came to. The first was that the winter had been cold and was still gripping the land, making it an unusually late spring. The second was that Marseille had grown enormously out from the coast and every bit of wild terrain seemed to have been built on. This building was ongoing and insidiously eating up any wild sites that remained.
We decided to move north and west, to the Cevennes area, where we had seen tazettas before, and switched our base to Ales. By this time we had realised that James had had his jacket and camera stolen, probably from the car en route, having checked with the various hotels we had stayed in. So when we eventually found N. dubius and N. assoanus, the N. dubius in unusual profusion, the N. assoanus just stating to come into flower, we couldn’t photograph them. I picked the one N. assoanus that was open and was immediately reminded of its main characteristic, apart from its perfect form, that I had remarked on when we saw them previously in 2007. At the other side of the road are the vines of the Pic de Loup and James had photographed the vines and the flowers, which on that occasion, two weeks later in time, were all flowering. My comment at the time was that it was a pity that they couldn’t smell the gale of perfume that was swirling up from them. I still wonder about the significance of this strong pleasant scent. Most N. assoanus I have sniffed at have a quite light and not very pleasant smell. By the way, if you see any of the red Pic de Loup wine, buy it, its wonderful, and 15% strength. Just to make us feel worse, when we found the field nearby where we had seen what we thought might be N. patulus growing everywhere, there was not even a leaf to be seen. This was very much a case of “right place, wrong time” so we decided our tazetta search would have to be another year and a warmer season.
Above left (click on picture to see the flowers) N. assoanus growing opposite Pic de Loup, above right with vines in the foreground.
N. assoanus was previously named N juncifolius and in 2007 we were fortunate to be able to view Requien’s preserved botanical specimens from April 1843 at Avignon (see above).
France has much more to offer than narcisses sauvages, and we explored the amazing Millau bridge, tallest in the world flung across the gorge of the Tarn, the Cirque de Navacelles, an equally astonishing geological wonder created by a river which caused the ground to sink. (photograph left taken with Wendy’s phone)
Home via the Beaujolais region and its lovely wines, and three days in Arras and its beaus arts exhibitions consoled us somewhat for the lack of flowers. As we left France on Sunday 10 March the weather was deteriorating and by Monday northern France had been closed by blizzards of snow, even the high speed Eurostar train service was cancelled. So, a truly awful spring. As I write this on 20 March we are still in the grip of winter, snow falling and worrying about our show daffodils, the early show in London is six days away. Global warming seems rather fanciful at this point.