Exiting Asturias airport, travellers pass a huge hoarding displaying a beautiful panoramic photo of the Asturian mountains and the caption ‘Vuelve al Paraíso’ – come back to Paradise. For us, it certainly feels that way; there is such a lovely sense of homecoming and, nestled back in the peace of our green valley, it is hard to believe there is a world of hustle and bustle, cars and concrete out there! It’s even better when there is such a definite taste of spring in the air.
It is raining today, torrential downpours that swamp the mountains in cloud and skitter off the barn roof in huge raindrops like marbles. No surprise, it is only the beginning of February, after all. That said, ‘winter’ here is nothing like we would recognise or consider normal – it’s short and sweet, very mild and gentle and the days when we can’t get outside are few and far between. Recent days have been truly beautiful, warm and sun-drenched, so naturally the garden has beckoned.
The polytunnel has been officially finished for some weeks and we wasted no time in putting it to work. Roger made a path edging using old timbers left in the barn, then laid a path using stones we dug out when levelling the patch for the tunnel and a top layer of broken roofing slates.
The staging is an old door, freshly painted to keep it waterproof, sitting on a couple of decorating trestles. The whole lot can be removed later in the spring when we’ve raised seedlings and are ready to plant in the ground. So far, I’ve planted trays of ‘Greyhound’ summer cabbage, ‘Litte Gem’ lettuce and ‘Ailsa Craig’ and ‘Bedfordshire Champion’ onions, along with a few tall pots of sweet peas. Roger has asked if there’s a reason why I planted more than 100 cabbage seeds when there are only two of us and one cabbage easily does more than one meal . . . Whoops! Put it down to the sheer excitement of having a new polytunnel, my love, and remember that cabbage is really, really good for you. 🙂
Yes, I will probably have to rein in my exuberance if we aren’t to drown in vegetables this year but what a happy sight to see the first little crops appearing!
Beyond the tunnel, we’ve had one of those satisfying weeks where lots of big jobs have been done – not the general ticking-over maintenance sort of things, but structural changes that make such a difference and help to tidy the whole place up. I’ve finished forking over the entire vegetable garden, tickling in the compost I spread a few weeks ago. Oh my word, what a great job the worms have done for us; the soil is beautiful and I’m itching to plant. (Patience!) I cleared a scrappy patch of grass and weeds at the top of the main veg patch and Roger made a path edging from old terracotta roof tiles; here we’ve planted our beautiful ‘For Your Eyes Only’ anniversary rose which I hope will be happy to put roots down into the ground at last. We will be able to enjoy its exquisite beauty from our seating area (also on the list for a makeover this year). It bloomed three times last year – what a star!
We’ve also been planting fruit trees, something that always makes my heart sing. We have had to take out several old fruit trees which were diseased or dead and planted in silly places but it has always been our intention to more than replace them. Creating an orchard area and extending the range of fruit we grow here is an ongoing priority. So, we have put a ‘Royal Gala’ dessert apple and a ‘Reine Claude d’Ouillins’ yellow gage plum in the larger orchard area and a ‘Conference ‘pear and a Spanish ‘Picota’ cherry variety below the house. They are all very sturdy trees, almost as tall as me and at eight euros each, tremendous value for money. Fingers crossed for some beautiful blossom and delicious fruits to come . . .
Another ongoing project is creating terraces to make gardening easier. In many ways, we have become used to working on a steep slope but terraces certainly help, not least to keep the soil at the top of the garden. It’s hard work, especially as all the stone has to be hauled, but Roger has made a great job of replacing a temporary earth bank with a smart stone wall at the top of what was the ‘squash patch’ last year. That now gives us three decent terraces and a large slope below for planting in this area of the garden, as well as my little ‘salad patch’. Needless to say, I have already filled it all in my mind . . . and that was before the gift of some unusual squash seeds from my lovely Finnish friend. This will be an interesting project to compare crops at opposite ends of Europe, but if I am to do it full justice, something tells me I might need to borrow a little bit of field from the cows!
We have also started to tackle the fencing down the side of the lane. This is very typical of the messes we inherited here, no bedsteads this time (thank goodness) but the usual pickle of rotten posts, metal building props, sagging wire mesh, rusty barbed wire and piles of building rubble. Having laid the hazels into a hedge further down, we are planning to take out the old fence and open up some more garden to the lane but the top part needs to be fenced off to keep wild boar out. We are putting in a simple wire fence which will look much tidier and also create a strip of border on the lane side just perfect for flowers. Hopefully, a splash of colour will look far more attractive than the previous eyesore.
On the subject of flower borders, I’ve been busy trying to sort out the area on the horreo path ready for planting. Roger told me I would never dig out that huge hydrangea root and although we both knew he was right, my own particular brand of pig-headed stubbornness saw me passing several hours in the trying. Eventually, I had to admit defeat and no wonder: in the end, it took a crowbar and rope attached to the tractor to heave it out!
The ‘border’ hasn’t been gardened for years and is a complete mess of brambles and other horrors, as well as the inevitable piles of building rubble (how can one property have so much rubble?) so it’s slow-going. It’s interesting, too, teetering on the edge above the courtyard – no time for vertigo – but bit by bit, a border is appearing and I am having a happy time planning the planting. Nothing too tall or boisterous, just lots and lots of gorgeous colour and scents. First, however, there is another hydrangea root to tackle where I’ve parked my fork in the photo . . . oh, good.
One of the benefits of the mild winters is that we are never without flowers or insects visiting them, but this week there has been a noticeable increase in activity: the garden and surrounding countryside have been alive with honey bees and bumbles as well as large yellow and peacock butterflies. How can I not let pak choi go to seed or borage set itself where it wants when they are such valued food sources for these busy beauties?
The birds are busy, too. There are several resident robins outsinging each other in glorious competition, blackcaps trilling in the kiwi vine, great tits and blue tits flirting and fighting over nestboxes, resplendent bullfinches nipping the buds off the peach trees, a host of little green warblers fidgeting through the trees and mistlethrushes calling loud and clear from the woods. The valley below echoes with the rush of the river, the sound of lambs and the gentle murmurings of village life as folk tend their gardens and turn faces to the sun; in the soft, evening light, clouds of tiny insects dance and a flock of long-tailed tits chatters merrily around the garden. Ah, Asturias – paradise indeed!