I have fallen in love with a fiery creature of incredible power and beauty. A huge hulk of gigantic proportions, belching steam and sulphur. In short, I lost my heart to Mount Etna.
But not only Etna; to the beauty of the towns and villages, the people, the awe inspiring sense of history and above all, the colours, sights and smells that Sicily regaled us with.
We went to Sicily for Señor Faztudo’s 60th birthday, (he seems to have a penchant for visiting mountains on his important birthdays, I’m not quite sure why) We visited some wonderful towns and villages and each one of them was awash with plants and flowers, tumbling from everywhere and bursting with colour.
The ceramics, balconies and colours of the plants were very inspiring and leave me wondering why the Algarveans don’t so more to fill their streets with colour? They have the ceramics, they have the plants, but they don’t do it. Why? I think the answer lies in the fact that culturally, plants for decoration are seen as a waste of water and time (at least that’s how it seems to me in Southern Portugal , please correct me if I’m wrong) Food plants good; decorative plants a bit naughty. Growing flowery plants seem to be seen as the slightly shameful indulgences of women. Women crave them and try to grow tropical Datura, Bougainvillea and other very pretty plants, but it is somewhat to the approbation of their husbands and only the leftover washing up water can be used to water them. Neither must they take up important ground where food can be grown. I suppose it’s understandable. Very hard times, including starvation, are within the living memories of the oldest in our village, some of whom had to eat grass to survive and walk a hundred kilometres or more in their bare feet to work in the fields of the Alentejo under Salazar’s regime.
However, the people of Sicily have also had very hard times and they have no such inhibitions where flowers are concerned. I’ll let the pictures help me do the talking.
First of all the ceramics are so unusual and beautiful. Look at this little orange tree growing out of the head of one of the kings in Toarmina. The choice or an orange tree fits perfectly and looks like part of his jewelled crown.
Then there is beautiful symmetry of these three succulents, like Japanese pagodas, going into flower on a balcony, so casually elegant. Is everyone an artist in Sicily?
And look at these prickly pear cacti in their pots, how did they grow so perfectly alike? Or were they pruned like that?
And the balconies! This one is in Taormina. Well, if you’ve ever seen any more beautiful in the world, I’d like to know where.
Everything growing in Sicily just looks right, casually arranged, not a dead flower head, not a withered plant. Just look at these petunias tumbling out of white wicker baskets in Ortigia; you really have to be able to imagine the outcome before you plant, like an artist. In truth, the Sicilians paint with their plants.
However easy they make it look there is obviously great artistry in their planting and a great deal of love. I was taken by the current date in a small park in Caltagirone and struck by the fact that the number would have to be lovingly rearranged very single day. And look how the ivy is trained to make windows out of the railings!
I began to realise that the casual artistry is all carefully planned. These flower pots were arranged all the way up the steps to the church at Caltagirone to make the shape of a larger flower. How amazing is that?
So what have I learnt from my visit to Sicily to bring to my own garden here? I learnt that you really can paint with flowers, but to keep your painting looking beautiful you have to tend it every day and you need a special canvas and frame, the simplest plant can look amazing in the right container.
I left a piece of my heart in Sicily. I am sure that happens to everyone. I hope one day to return, but in the meantime I am already planning some beautiful container plantings for next year.