Lessons in life (and lizards)

If every picture tells a story then you can see we have been enjoying another Tale of a Hundred Shopping Trips!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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The pear trees, too, have hung on and each day brings greater clouds of snowy blossom.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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In the propagator, seedlings push and shove, jostling for space and light: it’s a veritable  mini rainforest in there.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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).

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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.

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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? 🙂

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14 thoughts on “Lessons in life (and lizards)

  1. I love your pops of colour from the pots and the bench. And those petals in the salad. Whilst it may seem a bit slow this year, it looks like there is a lot going on, and lots to look forward to from your garden!

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  2. H’mmm – must see whether I could teach our lizards to do the same..Though there is Tuftie, of course – it’s raining if her ear tufts are like spikes when she appears on the windowsill.
    Gosh, I envy your freesias!

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    • Your Tuftie is adorable! We have a few red ‘ardillas’ round here but seldom seen which is a shame, they are so pretty after those thuggish greys which are the blight of the UK. The last time we grew freesias was on the tiny balcony of our flat in Cyprus – wow, must be 30 years ago. They are one of my all time favourites, not sure how they will behave now but can I assume they will come back each year?

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      • Freesias and hellebores were my mother’s favourites. I tried to grow freesias but they didn’t survive the winter. Most of the hellebores have survived and they are always my joy – the first flowers of the spring.
        – Tuftie is very much in evidence; I can’t really concentrate on anything in the morning before she has got her morning cashewnuts – if I don’t notice her she arranges a demonstration on the windowsill.

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      • Ah, she is very definitely a squirrel with her head screwed on! I love hellebores, too, but we have none here and I haven’t seen any round and about. I loved the way in previous gardens they set seed and came up in all sorts of crazy new colour mixes thanks to the bees (a bit like the granny bonnets) – never quite got over the prices they commanded in the shops, though.

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      • There should be at least wild green hellebores (Helleborus foetidus) in your part vicinity, that I know – saw them near Barcelona but was told they grow in the mountainous northern part of Spain.

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      • Actually, Anja, now I think about it we have seen wild green hellebores in eastern Asturias, in the limestone gardens high in the Picos mountains. They were growing with clumps of eryngium and clouds of blue butterflies. I’ve just been for a run and scoured our verges: bluebells, primroses, violets, lady smocks, wood sorrel, stitchwort, granny bonnets, orchids, red deadnettle . . . but not a hellebore in sight. Did here the first cuckoo, though, so I’m happy!

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  3. Love your weather station! We rescued a lizard from one of our cats last week but it was still all cold. There is hope it might come out from the stone wall this week – we’ll have temperatures in the 10s! Those blasted spring gales. Good thing you have some later-blooming varieties too. Talking of plant loss, I lost a beautiful white hibiscus last year – also of old age, I think. Luckily I had taken some cuttings and one of them survived the winter and Jim’s aunt’s weeding. Must propagate some more this year. From here it looks like there’s plenty going there already. Your outdoor potatoes look like our polytunnel potatoes. Yesterday when I was weeding, I noticed the first camomile seedling and tons of calendula seedlings. So things are finally getting going.

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      • Spring has officially sprung here! Gorgeous out. Just spend the afternoon weeding. Everything is coming back to life, including the ground elder and the couch grass! I see your first globe artichoke harvest is not far off.

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      • Yep, globe artichoke is looking good – I defy any creature to do for it this year! So glad spring is in the air for you but not such good news about the weeds; why do they always respond to the warmth before everything else?

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