Problems in paradise

It had all been going so smoothly that I suppose something was bound to happen. There we were, at the end of what had in reality been a ten-month journey, just a couple of hours from the start of our new life in our new home. We had food and wine on board. The sun was shining. Life felt good. Cue God’s Great Banana Skin: a burst tyre on the motorway. This is not a great situation at any time (especially when towing a trailer) but it became ten times worse when we discovered that during recent work in a local UK garage, the wheel nuts had been done up so tightly they wouldn’t budge. Not a whisker. What did budge was the wheel brace which crumpled like a piece of Yuri Geller’s cutlery. No option then but to be rescued by a tow truck and taken to the nearest garage for new tyres – quite a test of our fledgling Spanish. Picture a travel-weary, slightly fraught Englishwoman trying to explain to Señora Peugeot and several of her other customers why the odometer reading wasn’t in kilometres. Bad enough that the steering wheel was on the wrong side but miles? Really? Fortunately, the initial bemusement and confusion melted away as we all collapsed in fits of giggles. However, there was more chaos to come on our (later than expected) arrival at the house . . . a burst, or at least badly corroded, water pipe doing a very impressive sprinkler act all over the bathroom. Emergency plumbing hadn’t been on the to-do list for Day 1 but that’s life, isn’t it? Anyway, disasters dealt with and things started to look much rosier, especially with the kind welcome gesture of fresh eggs and lemons from our neighbours.


Down to work. The kitchen has always been the heart of our home; we are planning to completely renovate the one here fairly quickly so our priority in the short term was to create a clean space for cooking and eating in. The previous owners had left a couple of basic cupboards, oven and gas cooker which, after a good scrub, proved to be serviceable and after a lot of cleaning and moving of things around, a decent space emerged.


There is a huge pantry which desperately needs renovating (those wonky shelves really annoy Roger but they’ve had to stay for the time being!) but another serious cleaning session and we were able to find storage room for all our kitchen gear. Good start.


Needless to say, that was enough time spent indoors and it didn’t take too long to turn our attention to things outside. We’d taken a gamble planting a vegetable garden several weeks ago and hoping it would survive in our absence – we lost. Of course we knew the annual weeds would be a problem on freshly turned earth this year but we hadn’t accounted for the snails which annihilate pretty much everything at the first hint of germination. They are everywhere!





We weeded the whole vegetable garden and strimmed back the vegetation from around the edges then checked to see what we had: potatoes and broad beans, a few leeks and onions, a very short row of parsnips, one Swiss chard and a few scrappy red mustard plants.


In the separate salad patch, things weren’t much better: one lettuce, two Swiss chard and a couple of calendula. There is a decent row of rocket but it has been reduced to lace by flea beetles.



Time to replant and declare war on snails, using as many different tactics as we can muster. On a hopeful note, the tomatoes we transported and planted a couple of weeks ago are going well and have flowers on them (English tomatoes growing in Spanish soil up French poles – I like that). We bought some extra tomato plants, and pepper plants too, at the local market this week to boost the numbers, and also planted the travelling squash and courgette plants. Snails permitting, we shouldn’t starve.


In our meadows the grass and wild flowers are growing rapidly and Jairo has let his cows in to graze. They are a lovely herd and are proving to be quite nosy neighbours, having a good look over the fence to inspect business in the garden. ‘El toro’ likes to make his presence felt by pawing the ground around the water tank and sending clods of soil flying over the wall into the veg patch. Now, come on – snails are one thing, but bull issues in the garden . . ?



One of our major jobs here is to sort out the fences and gates, which all seem to be combinations of old bedsteads, wire netting, building props and miles – sorry, Señora P – kilometres, of barbed wire. Everything has been twisted and tied together and stapled to within an inch of its life: why use one staple when you can use twenty? With the netting removed from this bit of fence, the view down the valley suddenly opened up.


The space behind it was a jungle, so I cleared the weeds to give the raspberries a chance and popped in a few spare squash plants.


It’s a great little space – flat, which doesn’t happen here much and really deep soil. Next year, I think it will do for salad and flowers. I’ve been using my new wheelbarrow, which was a gift from my colleagues when I left school. It’s a brilliant piece of equipment which is perfect for the steep terrain with its two wheels and solid tyres. Thanks, St George’s! 🙂


Meanwhile, Roger had decided to tackle the elaborate fence around the kiwi pergola. The kiwi is enormous and threatening to take over the whole barn so we have reduced the size to make it a bit more manageable, leaving it to grow along the front and side of the barn but taking it away from the back. There is another rare flattish patch here which we’re thinking would be perfect for a small polytunnel in the future; first, though, it’s down to the fencing pliers and several thousand staples to remove . . .


It is so beautiful here.


At one point this week, I was quietly hand weeding in the veg patch and enjoying the sunshine when I suddenly realised that – apart from my own breathing – I couldn’t hear another single human sound: no vehicles, no machines, no voices, nothing . . . just the river, a cockerel and donkey in the village, cow bells and a chorus of crickets and birds. Perfect. I love the fact that the English word paradise is believed to have come (via French, Latin and Greek) from the Persian word for ‘walled enclosure’ meaning garden and was reminded of this by Nando, the engineer who came to install our phone and internet access. Casually stirring four spoons of sugar into his coffee and reflecting on the surroundings he said, ‘ Esto es un paraíso.’ Yes, I agree it is a paradise – albeit a snail-infested, staple-ridden one! 🙂




4 thoughts on “Problems in paradise

  1. I shudder at your snail photos! Gastropods are definitely not welcome in paradise. We’re going out on nightly killing sprees at the moment. The Glasgow method (stab with a sharp knife) works very well on the slugs and is rather satisfying. Going to set up beer traps this week. But everything else looks gorgeous. We have two bulls having braying matches across the road at the moment. Not so peaceful!


  2. Mmm, Roger is doing what he calls ‘snail farming’ every morning, literally picking them up by the bucket load. Part of the problem here is all the holey brick walls and metal pipes which are perfect living quarters for them, they have to go. We are quietly fighting back though, there are even a few things surviving germination and actually growing now!


  3. Good to hear things are settling in…when not under snail attack, and from the look of it you will be able to well and truly catch up with that polytunnel atmosphere (murmuring not jealous, not jealous under her breath!). Weather has been surprisingly good here so plenty a growing in our veggie patch – including the Ground Elder(if only the snails would eat that. Have found a wool based slug and snail repellent very effective here so maybe we could send you some over? 🙂


    • Wool based repellent sounds interesting, especially if it’s effective. Some years ago I read about spreading sheep’s wool around plants to stop the slimy ones getting to them, and having lots of bits left over from spinning I gave it a go. Ha ha . . . they loved it, used it like little duvets to hide under! Enjoy the good weather and good luck with the ground elder :-/ Hope the ‘space rocket’ grew well!


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