If every picture tells a story then you can see we have been enjoying another Tale of a Hundred Shopping Trips!
No dreaded supermarket involved this time but an urgent need for the post office and some bags of compost (it’s that time of year) saw us packing a picnic and flask of coffee once again. Bit by bit, poco a poco, we are exploring this astounding coastline and I never fail but to be in awe of its wild and savage beauty. The stunning vistas, the wide open arcing sky, the crash and ebb of the waves, the mournful cry of seabirds and that oh-so-fresh invigorating air make my heart sing. You are never too old for a clifftop jig, it seems!
Even better where shopping trips are concerned, we found a garden centre – quite a rarity in these parts. What’s more it’s a real one, the kind that focuses on selling good plants and seed rather than scented candles and seasonal tat. Oh, happy day! We went to buy a grapevine and came home with a beauty, a white muscat variety. We’re not planning to make our own wine (I prefer to let the Riojan experts get on with that one) but with any luck, we might just enjoy a few little bunches of dessert grapes. To me it just seems the right thing to plant in our Spanish garden and I’m hoping it will make a lovely impact trained against the soft honey stone of the horreo. The people at the garden centre were so friendly and helpful, they even pruned the vine before we left and sent us home with a bag of granular feed for it. I’m hoping it will be happy growing in a large glazed pot; certainly, within a couple of days the tight buds had started to unfurl into the promise of good things.
Staying with fruit and not quite such a happy tale. Storms Felix, Gisele and Hugo roared through our valley in quick succession and literally tore the early peach blossom from the trees like sad pink confetti. We will certainly not be enjoying another glut this year . . . but there is hope: luckily, the blossom is staggered, so the later varieties and apricots are blooming now in much kinder weather and the pollinators are giving those delicate flowers some close attention.
The pear trees, too, have hung on and each day brings greater clouds of snowy blossom.
The figs have been a bit tardy but at last those fat buds are bursting and soon the trees will be decked out in their umbrella of verdant greenery.
Taking a leaf out of our neighbours’ book, we have kept the little orange and lemon trees planted last year all tucked up in horticultural fleece over winter to protect them from the onslaught of the storms. Freed at last from their snowman shapes, we could almost sense them breathing in the spring air and spreading their glossy leaves to the sun in greeting.
We’ve been busy working on Operation Colourful Courtyard this week. There is nothing we can do about the vast expanse of concrete here but we are so tired of the greyness of it all coupled with the general grot and mess we inherited. It is going to take some work, but we’ve had a good tidy up and I’ve started with a few bright containers . . . the first of many planned, plus hanging baskets, plus pretty much anything or any space that will hold flowers. Serious colour warning issued!
One of the many things I love about gardening is the lessons it teaches us about life in general and the need to nurture and cultivate so many positive qualities in ourselves. At this time of year I always feel desperately impatient, urging the weather to pick up and plants to grow, grow, grow. The patches seem so empty – all that bare earth! – and it frustrates me like crazy: come on, get moving!
Of course, I’m being unfair: things are moving, just in their own time and to the true rhythm of nature rather than my impatient expectations. For instance, the first planting of potatoes (Pentland Javelin, Divaa and a local variety) are bombing up in rows of resplendent foliage and the second plantings (Maris Peer) have popped their heads up this week, too.
The broad beans are flowering and keeping the bumble bees very happy; their delicious scent wafts all around the garden and promises so many good things to come in just a matter of weeks. Even if I didn’t love the beans, I would grow them just for that wonderful fragrance.
In the propagator, seedlings push and shove, jostling for space and light: it’s a veritable mini rainforest in there.
Older plants have to come out of their warm cossetting nursery and toughen up; the polytunnel is heaving and we have dug out the cold frame made last year. There are little plants everywhere!
The courgettes (Costata Romanesco and Green Bush) have had to vacate the kitchen windowsill and go outside for sun therapy; they don’t seem too fazed.
Elsewhere there is the whisper and wriggle of new growth. Take for instance the lavender plants I grew from seed; they have struggled to get established and not looked the happiest of plants but now, all of a sudden, they are off at speed. Yes, things are moving: be patient, be reassured, be happy!
Another great lesson from the garden is that of dealing with loss and the unexpected. The stunningly beautiful Banksia rose that last year erupted in huge fountains of the most delicately gorgeous soft yellow blooms is dead. Given the size of its stem (trunk?) it seems it had simply reached the end of its life. What a shame, it was such a beauty, but that’s life – nothing stays the same. On the flipside, though, a couple of surprises which have made me smile this week. First, what I had taken to be a row of radishes in the polytunnel turned out to be a row of mixed spicy salad leaves instead. Now if you think I’m maybe losing the plot, I’d like to point out that there was a row of radish planted there, too, but nothing germinated (radish not germinating, what on earth?) and the first salad leaves to grow were extremely radishesque . . . it was only when I finally realised there was rocket, mizuna, pak choi and a host of other goodies in there, too, that the penny dropped. What a wonderful bonus salad, with a few glossy baby chard leaves, calendula petals, mint and chives thrown in for good measure and a handful of olives for sheer decadence. Fresh, spicy, zingy, zesty, scrumptious stuff (and a sun-drenched evening meant we could dine al fresco, too – what bliss).
Moving on to surprise Number Two. In March last year we were treated to a brilliant day out at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales with Sarah, Vicky, Ben, Annie and William; the weather was bitterly cold and wet but we had a wonderful time nonetheless. The warmest place to be was definitely the Great Glasshouse where much of the planting reminded us of Asturias. For me, the highlight was the freesias, great banks of white, waxy blooms which scented the air and drew Annie’s little nose like a magnet! I am not a ‘souvenirs’ person but I have always loved to plant bits and pieces in the garden as memories of good times so I decided to plant some freesias on account of the happy day we had spent together. From a reputable firm, I bought a pack of multi-coloured corms which had apparently been heat-treated to ensure they flowered in their first summer. Ha bloomin’ ha! They didn’t flower . . . in fact, they did absolutely nothing at all. Zilch. Nada. Much muttering and cursing followed as I wished I’d settled for something else from the glasshouse, Californian poppies, perhaps? Talk about lessons in life once again: I really should have had more faith because over winter, out of nowhere, four of them popped up . . . and grew . . . and formed buds (despite Felix and co doing their level best on the destruction front) . . . and this week, they are flowering. Maybe they think they’re in South Africa? Oh, you little beauties. They are exquisite in buttery yellow and coppery red and that heavenly fragrance is giving the broad beans a real run for their money.
To finish, something else to smile about. When I was a child, I loved the idea of those weather stations where little people popped in and out to show you what the weather was doing. We don’t have one of those but, ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to Lunchtime Lizard. He lives in the rusty old metal post next to the blue seat where we often take our morning coffee or lunch as it’s currently the sunniest spot at that time of day. If there is no sign of him, then we know the weather is on the cool side; if it’s set fair and warm, however, there he is with his reliable little snout poking out of the pole. Daft, I know – but a lot more fun than seaweed and pine cones, don’t you think? 🙂