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Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

Sometimes, the depth of my own stupidity confounds and amazes me and it’s little compensation that on this occasion, Jack is equally guilty of being thick … or is it just astoundingly naïve?

Those who know me will be aware that I have long yearned for the pruning of the thirty foot avocado tree that dominates our garden shedding seeds that reach ankle depth every spring and creating a state of perpetual autumn and shade.

At the end of November 2010, a storm brought down a branch onto the roof of the house. The damage was negligible, just some broken roof tiles, but the warning was enough to convince me that it was time to take the threat of the tree seriously. So when, just before Christmas, a couple of guys who were cutting back trees on the golf course asked us if we would like them to tackle the avocado tree, we naturally jumped at the chance. I explained that we have a hungry wood burning stove and a rapidly diminishing wood supply and the guys said they would cut the wood into logs for me as part of the job.

From this....

Fast forward to two weeks ago when the presupuesto (estimate) for doing the job finally arrived. We felt it was a very fair price for the work involved and agreed that work could begin last Monday morning. Jack and I cleared all the breakables from the garden on Sunday, set the alarm clock for pre-light and waited for our team of arboriculturalists to arrive. Monday was a no-show, as was Tuesday and we feared that the endemic Tenerife work ethic of ‘I can’t be arsed’ had reared it’s ugly head to scupper us.

But on Wednesday, at the crack of 9am, our two valiant wood cutters arrived, armed to the teeth with ladders and chainsaws and began to peruse the job in hand. By 1.30pm, not a single branch had been cut and two more workers had arrived to join the discussions. By the time the chainsaw gang clocked off at around 6pm, we could already discern sunlight where there had been none before and a small pile of cuttings had begun to appear at the bottom of the garden where we’d cleared space for them.

The next morning the gang of what was now five workers arrived bright and early and the chainsaws began in earnest. Jack and I fought back the urge to stand and gawp as branches began to rain down just feet from the house. Instead we got on with our work. We were due to go south that afternoon to stay the night at the Hotel Jardín Tropical and complete a review for Tenerife Magazine.  At the point we left, a good fifty percent of the tree had been cut, the garden was completely buried in cut branches and there were two piles of logs on the go, one at the back of the garden and another at the side.

We returned the following afternoon to find that the tree had been cut to the agreed height. Sunlight flooded the garden and the branches and debris had largely been removed leaving a whole mess of sawdust and leaves across the garden. Now returned to our original workforce of two, they laughed and chatted about the fact that we could now put a swimming pool on the lawn and a barbecue on the raised patio and that the house would now be considerably warmer in winter.

On the lawn – and this is the part where our inexplicable stupidity comes to the fore – were the same two piles of logs that had been there when we left.

The drastically pruned tree

 

We were tired and had just a two hour turnaround in which to catch up with some work before we were due to go back out to meet friends in Puerto. We could hear the clean up operation in full swing and stayed out of the way, until I noticed wheelbarrows full of logs being pushed down the garden path. On enquiring where they were going we got a long and desperate explanation about the job being bigger and more dangerous than at first anticipated and that extra workers had had to be drafted in, with promises of payment in wood being made.

We could see what an amazing job they’d done and that they had in fact used five people to do it so we agreed that they could take the pile of logs at the side as long as they gave us some more of them first. Amidst much huffing and puffing, they agreed and reluctantly sent some logs flying onto our pile at the back of the garden. Finally, the job was done and we were due to leave so we paid them in cash, along with a little bonus and a dozen bottles of beer for a job well done.

It wasn’t until we spoke to our neighbour on our way out and she told us that a lorry stacked high with logs had left from our garden the night before, that we realised what had happened.
Arriving back after dark on Friday, we had to wait for daylight before we could examine the garden properly. When we did, we found that our pile consisted mainly of cuts of wood that would struggle to keep a barbecue alive over a summer, hidden beneath a few slightly bigger, kindling sized branch cuts, and the dozen or so decent sized logs that we had insisted they put back. The whole of the rest of the 100 year old, thirty foot avocado tree had vanished without trace leaving us with a garden full of sun, and no wood.

Our wood pile - less than 10% of the tree's yield

 

It’s hard to know which emotion takes centre stage – anger, resentment, stupidity, naivety or just plain astonishment that we could let someone steal a giant avocado tree from the garden and we gave them a bonus and beer as they’d made such a clean job of it.

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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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(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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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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