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Archive for the ‘gardening’ Category

Jo's scented terrace in Los Aceviños, La Gomera

When the winter storms and cyclone Xynthia hit Tenerife, they took the tangled mass of hedge which borders the bottom of our garden, bent its back low and hung its flowering heads in shame, so low over the nectarine and peach trees that no light was penetrating to the buds.
When it gets to the point that even Mother Nature is giving me one almighty hint that my gardening input has fallen way below par, I have no choice but to take action.
So, three weeks ago, armed with a €10 tree cutter and two rusty, blunt saws; Jo, Jack and I set about trying to free up the nectarine tree. After four sweaty hours of grappling with entwined, overgrown branches beneath which we wouldn’t have been surprised to find Sleeping Beauty, we’d cleared about one fifth of the hedge and allowed the sun to fall on the nectarine buds.

Jo declared our saws useless; suggested we invest in some proper tree loppers and returned to her mountain home on La Gomera where tackling two months of overgrown rain forest would feel like gathering buds in May after the trials of our hedge.
Meanwhile…we bought some tree loppers.

A profusion of flowers as Spring reaches the mountains

Last weekend was Jo’s birthday party and we went over to La Gomera on Friday to help her organise and celebrate.
We arrived at her finca at 6pm in a hot and sticky calima. As we trailed down the forest path to her terrace, we were enveloped in rich, heady perfumes. The slopes bordering the path were awash with wild lemon thyme; the terrace was a blaze of sweet-smelling freesias and spicy jasmine interspersed with vibrant lavender and the elegant heads of white Calla lilies. From the front of the terrace, the garden spread down the barranco in a profusion of orange nasturtiums punctuated by pink geraniums, more freesias, the ruby flowering spikes of aloe vera and delicate faces of purple daisies.

At the end of the house where the terrace leads to the ‘new garden’ we walked through a haze of lemon blossom and freesias to the delicious vanilla scent of a Heliotrope in full flower. We sat on the terrace until late, inhaling the perfumes which intensified with the night.
On Saturday morning, enthralled by every new discovery of scent, colour and form I wandered Jo’s garden with a growing sense of shame and determination.

It's enough to inspire even the most reluctant of gardeners

We arrived back on Tenerife late on Sunday and by yesterday evening, I’d left the keyboard and headed, new tree loppers in hand, down to the hedge. An hour later, with barely any flesh left on my bones from the midges, I’d hardly made any impression at all.
But I’ll be back there tonight, and tomorrow night and at the weekend until I’ve cleared that hedge.

Then it’s time for the avocado tree to be tackled…

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One of the delights of living in the north of Tenerife is that, although we’re now into our fifth month of proper summer (glossing swiftly over September’s propensity to cloud over in the afternoons at the moment) and looking forward to another six weeks or so of it, we do still have seasons.

With November comes the rain, usually tremendous monsoon showers which swell the summer’s parched earth. Then the nights grow cooler signalling time to put the quilt back on the bed. By late December or early January we’re ready for the winter’s first fire, when the logs are brought in to sit by the wood burning stove, the kindling is laid and the ritual first flames fill the living room with their flickering glow.

Of course, having a wood burning stove means you have to have wood, and lots of it. Stoves are hungry and can eat their way through a wood pile in no time. Last winter was the longest and coolest we’ve experienced since moving here and left our wood supply seriously depleted. So when a couple of weeks ago our neighbour gave us 18 small pine logs, the remains of trees that had been pruned to death last year, it was very good news indeed.
The logs were gratefully received and ‘temporarily’ dumped onto the back terrace where they made a great deal of mess of sawdust, pine resin and dirt.

Our new rustic feature...

Our new rustic feature...

A couple of days later we offered to host a meeting of our friends and colleagues John (Sorted Sites), Julie (Tenerife Tattle) and Colin (Colin Kirby). The weather was extremely hot and the shady terrace was the perfect venue so something had to be done – fast.
Laying the logs diagonally in front of the kindling store at the bottom of the path was the ingenious solution. We created an instant rustic feature that hid the messy kindling pile and provided a rather elegant staircase for Whiskas to use at the same time. Purr-fect (ouch).

Whiskas new staircase

...and Whiskas' new staircase

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Some people fantasize about winning the lottery, others about rescuing Johnny Depp from imminent life-threatening danger and then he’s so incredibly grateful to them that he suddenly realises he’s fallen hopelessly in love with them and…ahem, sorry, where was I? Oh yes. But not me.

I fantasize about a tree.

I’ve just spent the past hour and five minutes raking enough leaves from the lawn to fill an extra large sized garden refuse bag, mowing, clipping and then raking again. I put the sprinkler on, came inside to get some water and check email and when I returned, the lawn was already splattered with leaves from the bloody great avocado tree that dominates my life.

We’re living in perpetual autumn with ‘the beast’, it’s fallen leaves filling bag after bag which then have to be hauled down to the car park and the wheelie bins. The only time it stops shedding leaves is in spring when it blossoms and then sheds tons and tons of seeds.

So while I sit with my well earned beer and let my thoughts wander to daytime fantasies, it’s watching two thirds of  ‘the beast’  fall gloriously to the ground that brings a wry smile to my face. I know it’ll grow back again, quickly and stronger than before, but for 5 or 6 glorious months I’ll be able to concentrate on rescuing Johnny again and save myself a whole lot of sweat and garden bags.

And the really great thing about my fantasy? It wouldn’t take a lot to fulfil it.

So, can anyone lend me a thirty metre ladder, hard hat and a safety harness?

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(see ‘The War of the Peaches‘)

It’s all over bar the shouting.

The peaches were ripe enough to pick by Wednesday and over the course of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, we picked basket after basket of plump, sweet, juicy peaches.
We spent the whole of Friday afternoon and Saturday cooking, the food cupboard is full and the fruit bowl is still groaning under the weight of peaches.
There’s more fruit on the tree which is yet to ripen and we think we may be able to get another batch of jam out of it.
But with most of the main branches stripped, here’s the nearly-final tally on the war:

  • 30 lbs/13.6 kilos of peaches picked to date
  • 10 lbs/4.5 kilos of peach jam produced
  • 10 lbs/4.5 kilos of peach chutney produced
  • 2 full branches heavily laden with peaches deliberately left for the tree rats to enjoy.

When nature’s abundant, everyone’s a winner!

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…similar to the War of the Roses but with only one ground upon which the battle is being staged; the peach tree in the garden.

On one side we have the rightful owner of the garden and heir to the peaches; me, and on the other we have the scavenging pretenders to the throne; the tree rats. Naturally, being a Manchester lass, I consider myself to be on the side of the Lancastrians and have placed the rats (sorry, York) on the side of the Yorkists.

The War began three weeks ago when the peaches reached a size deemed edible by the Yorkists, despite the fact that any self-respecting Squire could see they were plainly unripe. That being so, peach after peach was ‘nibbled’ during the course of night time raids leaving the fruit 90% untouched but completely ruined and the rats with diarrhoea.

Since then, night skirmishes have resulted in the loss of about 5 kilos of fruit and every morning I have the unpleasant and soul-destroying job of removing the injured soldiers from the field and unceremoniously chucking them onto the compost heap. Casualties on the side of the Yorkists have, I’m sorry to admit, been just one soldier hit on the arse with a pebble whilst retreating from a branch in a daring sunset raid.

The Prize

The Prize

Then last week the temperature notched itself up to summer time levels and the sun shone from morning til night sending the peaches into furry amber sweetness; not ripe enough for harvesting, but fragrant enough to give off deafening ‘eat me’ signals to the enemy.

On Saturday night I posted sentry from the terrace with a small stash of pebbles and a flash light at the ready but the Yorkists smelled the trap and there was only one sighting. Reduced reactions due to wine consumption resulted in no  enemy casualties that night.
On Sunday morning five big, fat, peachy dead soldiers were laid to rest on the compost. Tragic.

Another weekend of blazing sunshine and we now teeter on the brink of the deciding battle of the war.
Every day the peaches are checked for harvest-readiness; pick them too soon and they won’t ripen fully, thus throwing away the prize. Leave them another day and the cover of nightfall will inevitably see increased casualties.

I’ve just checked the tree and we can’t be more than two days away from harvest.
Will the rats face their Battle of Bosworth this week and despite winning so many skirmishes lose the trophy to my jam and chutney store cupboard for the coming year?
It’ll be in dispatches.

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As a visitor to Tenerife, you’re likely to discern only minor differences between your January and your June holiday. In January the backless dress you’ve been saving for your last Saturday night when the tan would be optimum may have to stay in the suitcase, or you may decide to wear it anyway and go for that ‘I may be frozen but hey, check out the tan’ look, but other than that, the long sunshine hours and the flowering bougainvillea will be pretty much constant.

jasmine cascades over the terrace wallBut in the garden, spring arrives with an assault on the nostrils when the jasmine and wild freesias come into flower filling the air with their transient scent which drifts through the windows and causes me to almost hyperventilate in my attempts to greedily drink it all in while it lasts.
As well as being perfumed, the air has notched its temperature up a few degrees heralding the abandonment of socks and the return of sandals. For feet which have been cosseted for the past 2 months that can only mean one thing; some sun and a varnish make-over.
So when yesterday dawned glorious with a monotone sapphire sky and temperatures in the high 20s, I headed to that litmus test of spring’s arrival – Puerto’s main beach of Playa Jardín.

As I suspected, on arrival at the beach, the tell tale signs were evident. The rows of sunbeds which decorate the rear of the beach are normally almost fully occupied by the dark brown, oversized bellies and non-too-pert, naked breasts of the retired British and German ‘swallows’ who over winter in Tenerife and for whom tanning is a way of life. Yesterday, hardly any of the sunbeds were occupied, the swallows having flown north for Easter and the summer.

Instead, one or two Spanish mainlanders were sitting below their brightly coloured umbrellas on the water’s edge where they wouldn’t have far to walk if the urge for a dip came upon them. Most of the middle ground was occupied by young, good looking Canarios for whom the warmer air had tempted them to cast their clouts and allow the sun to turn their perfect bodies a shade more golden. It’ll be another month and another five degrees or so before their parents venture onto the sand; for them, the prospect of a day on the beach in winter is about as tempting as a January dip at Scarborough.

The spring tides, which last week had been gathering pace filling the ocean with white caps and smashing against the harbour wall, had taken the day off and were gently lapping the shore as if they were the Med. The lifeguard changed the flag from yellow to red but nobody took any notice, including the waves, and after a while the lifeguard lay down on the sand with his head propped on one arm, ready to spring into…well, a snooze.
As the sun rose higher the sand became hotter prompting the inevitable spate of the phenomenon known as ‘Daniel Craig to Lee Evans in the space of sea to towel’ to occur up and down the beach.

I lay back listening to the strains of ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ coming from an ice cream van in the distance which had at first evoked a sense of nostalgia and a mild curiosity as to what exactly the line “stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni” meant, but had begun to feel like the onset of insanity as it played over and over and over again.

In the land of eternal spring, how do you know when the seasons change? It’s in the sights, sounds and smells.

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For the past 6 weeks I’ve been locked in combat with the over sized avocado tree that dominates the garden.

Every morning, I step onto the terrace filled with joy for another beautiful day and my feet cushion on the carpet of seeds from the avocado tree which overnight, have covered every surface. I sigh, look up at tree, take the sweeping brush and painstakingly set to work removing the sticky little blighters from table, chairs, steps and terrace and bagging them up.
By lunchtime, it looks as if the sweeping brush and I have never formally been introduced and I have to repeat the sweep of the area before I can sit down to eat. Over lunch, coasters act as ‘tapas’ for the water glasses and every salad has turned into an avocado salad by the time I’ve finished eating it. So far, “15–love” to the tree.The victorious avocado tree lords it over the terrace
Then last week we had a blustery day and the volume of seeds quadrupled in the space of a morning. Refusing to provide amusement for the tree by sweeping into the wind as seeds rained down on me, I let them fall to their heart’s content until they were virtually ankle deep. “That’ll take the last of them out” I mused.
“30–love” to the tree.

When the breeze died down I spent an hour teasing seeds from every corner of the terrace while they fell and lodged into my hair and trickled down the neck of my T-shirt. When I went inside, a trail of them followed me through the house and when I tried to sweep them out, the ones that had previously refused to leave the head of the brush suddenly decided to make a bid for freedom and joined their colleagues in a ten yard dash around the living room.
“45-love” to the tree.

Last night the day’s drizzle turned to a deluge. This morning the bird baths are overflowing. The pot with the end of last year’s chillie crop is almost floating in its tray. The terrace at the front is pale and patchy, long lines of sand deposited from the calima rain have dried along the border of each tile and filled every crevice in the ceramic. On the horizon, Mount Teide has acquired a fresh thick coating of brilliant white snow and its peak stands out against the iridescent blue of this morning’s sky like a brand new creation.
At the back of the house a million avocado seeds lie in drifts where the deluge has deposited them like seaweed after the tide; along the steps, under the table, around the jasmine pots and the watering can. They lie in soggy heaps that will be impossible to move until they’ve dried out which might be a full day, or longer if it rains again. Looking up at the tree, I can see fresh flowers forming that will soon turn to seed.
“Game, set and match” to the avocado tree.

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