Bagneres De Luchon, in the department of the Haute Garonne, is a gay town of some 5,000 inhabitants. A friend told me that he once suffered so much from the heat there in June, that he determined never to go to the Pyrenees again. We were there the second week in June, and we suffered more from rain and cold, and were very glad of a fire in the evening.
Except to the south, in the direction of the Porte de Venasque, one of the chief mule passes into Spain during summer, where there are fine snow-capped mountains, the scenery from the town is not grand, but it is within easy reach of the wildest parts of the Pyrenees.
It is the nearest town to the Maladetta, their highest point, in which the Garonne rises, and among whose rocks is one of the last strongholds of the ibex or bouquetin, the "wild goat" mentioned by Homer. Eagles and vultures are to be seen sailing about the sky near Luchon nearly every day, and bears, which in the Pyrenees are neither mythical nor formidable, descend to within a few miles of the town after wild strawberries, which abound there.
We heard of two female peasants lately gathering wild strawberries who were suddenly confronted with competitors for the spoil in the shape of a she bear and two cubs. It was doubtful whether man or beast was the more surprised. The cubs began to growl, but their dam gave both of them a box on the ears for their bad manners, and led them away. As for flowers, the neighborhood of Luchon has the reputation, perhaps not undeserved, of being the most flowery part of the Pyrenees.
We went the usual expeditions from the town, in spite of the weather, and I will try to remember what plants we noticed in each of them. The first trip was to the Vallee du Lys. In spite of the spelling, the name suggests lilies of the valley, but we are told that lys is an old word meaning water, and that the valley took its name from the number of cataracts, not from lilies, there.
However this may be, a lily grows there in great profusion, and was just coming into flower toward the middle of June. It is the Lis de St. Bruno (Anthericum liliastrum), a plant worthy of giving its name to a valley of which it is a characteristic feature. Still more conspicuous at the time when we were there were the Narcissus poeticus, abundant all round Luchon, but already past in the low meadows near the town, but higher up, at an elevation of about 4,000 ft., it was quite at its best, and whitened the ground over many acres.
I looked about for varieties, but failed to detect any special character by which it could be referred to any of the varietal names given in catalogues, and concluded that it was N. poeticus pure and simple. Pulmonarias were abundant along the road, as also in the whole region of the Pyrenees, the character of the leaves varying greatly, some being spotless, some full of irregular white patches, others with well defined round spots. They varied, too, from broad heart-shaped to narrow lanceolate, and I soon concluded that it was hopeless to attempt any division of the class founded upon the leaves.
Besides the beautiful flowers of Scabious mentioned before, a new feature in the meadows here was the abundance of Astrantia major. A pure white Hesperis matronalis was also common, but I saw no purple forms of it. Geranium phaeum also grew everywhere in the fields, the color of the flower varying a good deal. Hepaticas were not so common by the roadside here as at Eaux Bonnes, but are generally distributed. Many of them have their leaves beautifully marbled, and I selected and brought away a few of the best, in hopes that they may keep this character. I was struck everywhere by the one-crowned appearance of the Hepaticas, as if in their second year from seed.
On the mountains, where they were still in flower, I did not find the colors mixed, but on one mountain they would be all white, on another all blue. I do not recollect to have seen any pink. Meconopsis cambrica is common in the Pyrenees. I observe that in Grenier's "French Flora" the color of the flower is given as "jaune orange," but I never saw it either in England or in France with orange flowers till I saw it covering a bank by the side of the road to the Vallee du Lys. I was too much struck by it to delay securing a plant or two, which was lucky, for when we returned every flower had been gathered by some rival admirers.
Another expedition from Luchon is to the Lac d'Oo. This, too, is famous for flowers; but especially so is a high valley called Val d'Esquierry, 2,000 ft. or 3,000 ft. above the village d'Oo, at which the carriage road ends. Botanists call this the garden of the Pyrenees, and, of course, I was most anxious to see it.
The landlord of our hotel was quite enthusiastic in his description of the treat in store for me, enumerating a long catalogue of colors, and indicating with his hand, palm downward, the height from the ground at which I was to expect to see each color. I was afterward told that he had never been to the famous valley, being by no means addicted to climbing mountains.
During the first part of the drive from Luchon we saw hanging from the rocks by the roadside large masses of Saponaria ocymoides, varying much in the shade of color of the flowers. This is a plant which I find it better to grow from cuttings than from seed. The best shades of color are in this way preserved, and the plants are more flowery and less straggling. As we got near the end of the carriage road, the meadows became more crowded with flowers known in England only in gardens.
Besides such plants as Geranium pyrenaicum growing everywhere on the banks, the fields were full of a light purple geranium - I think sylvaticum. Here, too, I noticed Meconopsis cambrica with orange flowers. Narcissus poeticus was also there, and so were some splendid thistles, large and rich in color. But the most remarkable part of the coloring in the meadows was produced by different shades of Viola cornuta carpeting the ground. We noticed this plant in many parts of the Pyrenees, but here especially.
From the end of the road I started with a guide for the promised garden of the Val d'Esquierry. By the side of the steep and winding path I noticed Ramondia pyrenaica - the only place I saw it in the Luchon district. Other notable plants were a quantity of Anemone alpina of dwarf growth and very large flowers, covering a green knoll near a stream. A little beyond, Aster alpinus was in flower, of a bright color, which I can never get it to show in gardens. These, with the exception of a few saxifrages and daffodils of the variety muticus, were about the last flowers I saw there.
GROUP OF ALPINE FLOWERS
Promise of flowers there was in abundance. Aconites, I suppose napellus, and also that form of A. lycoctonum with the large leaves known as pyrenaicum, were just enough grown to recognize. The large white Asphodel, called by French botanists A. albus, but better known in gardens as A. ramosus, which grows everywhere in the Pyrenees, and the coarse shoots of Gentiana lutea were just showing.
Further on the daffodils were only just putting their noses through the yellow dead grass, which the snow had hardly left and was again beginning to whiten, for the rain, which had been coming down in torrents ever since I left the carriage and had wet me through, had now changed to snow. Still I went on, in spite of the bitter cold, hoping that I should come to some hyperborean region where the flowers would be all bright; but my guide at last undeceived me, and convinced me that we were far too early, so we went down again, wiser and sadder, and I advise my friends who wish to see the Val d'Esquierry in its beauty not to visit it before July at the earliest.
I have still one mountain walk to describe, a far more successful one, but it must be deferred till another week. - C. Wolley Dod, in the Garden.
Turtle shells may be softened by hot water, and if compressed in this state by screws in iron or brass moulds, may be bent into any shape, the moulds being then plunged into cold water.