“Everywhere you go, always take the weather with you” – so sang Crowded House in 1992. At the moment, it feels like our Asturian theme tune. In February, the few days when we visited were exceptionally cold. During the previous week, temperatures had been in the low twenties: no sooner did we turn up that they plummeted and Spanish television was reporting unusually high levels of snowfall. Fast forward to late March: it was pouring with rain when we arrived – no surprise (and I’m not moaning), it rains a lot there, that’s why it’s so green and such a great gardening climate. However . . . when the weather lady forecast 40 litres of rain per square metre overnight, she wasn’t joking. It rained and hailed relentlessly and snowed on the higher ground; we woke to a torrent of muddy orange water flowing down the lane and in regions west of us, a local catastrophe was declared as floods caused chaos.
With the promise of much warmer temperatures and sunshine the following day, there was no discussion needed: time to swap paintbrushes for garden forks and get busy outside. Only being there for a week, our priority was to clear enough garden to plant the basics, rather than try and sort it all out at once – that will take years. The potatoes and broad beans we planted in a hurry in February were up and going well.
Gardening on a muddy 45° slope is not for wimps, I have decided; wellies with crampons would be useful. We couldn’t decide whether it’s easier digging from the top down or bottom up (we tried both, the jury’s still out . . . ) but managed to clear a reasonable patch all the same. This is the first garden we’ve had in years which has been a vegetable patch before, not a field, so once the forest of brassicas had gone, cultivation wasn’t too hard going. The soil has been fed well too, it’s deep and rich and teeming with worms.
I love digging more than painting and there was no need for music, my head was dizzy with the sounds of the valley: the river roaring along the valley bottom, cow bells clanking their metallic notes, a couple of cockerels down in the village, competing for king of the muck heap; songthrushes and blackbirds belting out their melodies from the wood, with chiffchaffs, blackcaps, cuckoos and warblers in merry support. I was too distracted by the sights around me, as well. How could I not stop to enjoy the vibrancy of a pair of bullfinches or the pink apricot (or is it peach?) blossom caught against a brilliant blue sky?
How could I ignore the acid yellow butterflies, the same colour as the brassica flowers teeming with pollen-laden bees? How long did I stand and watch the swallows and martins skimming the pasture then wheeling and chattering across the valley, utterly joyful and carefree in their aerobatics? As for the view . . . well, I’m keeping a very careful eye on that one on a regular basis.
Back to work, back to the soil. We had decided to dig a separate patch for salad crops, a flatter, sheltered space in front of a crooked shed, so I left Roger planting the main patch and went to make a start. There were more weeds there, things not to be encouraged – willowherb, goosegrass, creeping buttercup, bittercress, couch grass – so it was hard going in places, not helped by yet another distraction: several lizards skittering comically up and down the shed wall.The bedstead fence is an eyesore but we will have to live with that until we can replace it with post and rail. However, Roger appeared armed with tools to take down the wire netting at the end of the patch and what a difference that made – I couldn’t believe how much light it let in. The soil worked down to a fine tilth and I’ve squeezed in as many seeds as I can: mixed salad bowl lettuce and Little Gems, oriental leaves, spinach, rocket, radicchio and wild rocket, parsley, chervil, coriander, calendula . . . and made a mental note to pop in some nasturtiums and French marigolds when we’re back.
Roger had squeezed a huge amount into the big patch, too: more potatoes, onions, peas, carrots, parsnips, kohlrabi, fennel, spring onions, along with shorter rows of brassicas and leeks to transplant later. There is still so much to come in the shape of tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, courgettes and squash but they will have to wait until we’re back in May. I’m feeling the need for flowers, too. I know it’s sensible to wait and see what happens in local gardens through the summer but can there be any harm in clearing a little patch for a few sweet peas and cosmea? Then there’s the half packet of French morning glory seed I found in the seed basket, perhaps that’s just the makeover the bedstead fence needs? Can I contemplate a garden without borage when it’s flowering wild along the verges? Why does a week suddenly seem like nowhere near enough time here?
Warm – very warm – evening sunshine. The sun still high in the sky, bathing the yard in bright light where a myriad insects danced in the eucalyptus-scented air. On the barn roof, a pied wagtail and black redstart were battling noisily over who got to sit on top of the stone pinnacle (there are two so they could have had one each, but that’s obviously beside the point). Like the clumps of calendula and osteospermum flowering beside my chair, I turned my face to the sun and basked. Perfect. Well, it was until we sat together, making plans and decided that looking at a nasty grey wall just doesn’t seem right when there is such a beautiful view beyond. Wouldn’t it be so much better to be able to look down at the vegetable patch and across to the mountains instead?
Something tells me the sledgehammer will be putting in an appearance very soon. 🙂