I promised a post on the wildflowers, but I have been so busy looking at them open-mouthed I haven’t been able to tear myself away from the gazing at them to write this post. Every now and again you get an “eighth wonder of the world” year here and this is one of them. The fields and hills are alive with the bright red heads of poppies and the cheerful yellow field marigolds, like a happy yellow sea.
Cistus, both pink and white light up the hills, intermingled with the lavender stoechas we get here, a lovely dark purple variety which the bees love and occasionally viridium, the green version. Every now and again I come across a bush with flowers of the deepest blue imaginable, the blue of a kingfisher’s wing, a lithodora.
As we drive to the nearby market town of Loule, through our favourite hidden vallies, I cannot get too far without stopping and exclaiming and jumping out to take photos. Senhor Faztudo is very tolerant. He knows the wild flowers are my second greatest love.
I have made no secret in last posts, of my admiration for the Algarvean “weeds” They must be the most beautiful in the world. I have learned a great deal about them in last years, largely due to my friend and Portuguese teacher who lives in a nearby village. She has been collecting stories from ederly local people about the uses of many of the plants that grow here, as they have been the region’s medecine store from time immemorial, some of the knowledge perhaps being handed down from generation to generation since the time of the Moors.
Some of the herbs still used today are Malva, or Mallow, seen to be excellent for the digestion, used as a tea or put as a poultice on festering wounds to pull the poison out. Another local favourite is the beautiful Thymus capitatus, which grows in abundance on the hills bere and is used as an antiseptic or to strew agains insects and fleas in the house. The flower petals of some of the more abundant plants, particularly wild Dill are used to adorn local churches during their Saints’ Days and petals are used to make patterns on the pavements outside.
Recently I went for a wild flower amble with some fellow gardeners amongst the hills and springs of the little village of Alte, where in the shade of the carob trees, wild perwinkle made a beautiful carpet. The long stems were used to tie the faggots of brushwood brought back to light the bread ovens in time gone by. We also saw the impressive blooms of Scilla Peruviana, a plant I couldn’t believe would grow wild when I first saw it, as well as the beautiful sprays of Asphodel “the lilies of the field” from the bible which adorn the paths hereabouts, making them look like a wedding aisle.
I have been collecting seeds in the Autumn and also rescuing any plants I have seen torn up by the diggers clearing the land for agricultural uses, but obviously I don’t pick or uproot plants, as that is both illegal and immoral. I actually fear for the wild peony, which seems to be disappearing in recent years, and although I know several places where they grow I tend to keep quiet about the exact whereabouts.
You can see history in the plants too. In my garden and in our village two plants grow in abundance. Alexanders, or Black Lovage, which were used by the Romans instead of celery and Wild Asparagus, which the farmers hate as it has deep roots and prickles, but which produce edible shoots which local people pick and eat in January, after the autumn rains. They were also perhaps brought by the Romans and since an arachaelogical excavation in our village has turned up artefacts from a Roman villa, it is quite likely that we are seeing plants that were brought here two thousand years ago.
Sometimes a passing Portuguese neighbour scratches their head when passing our distinctly natural looking garden. Why would I want to grow all those plants that just grow everywhere as weeds on the “mata” or bush? For me, nothing delights me more than walking out every in the garden in the mornings and watching these beauties flourish, without water or special care on our patch. I nurture them and feel honoured when a new wild flower makes itself at home here. The butterflies, bees and I all greet their return with joy and satisfaction each Spring. It’s a wildflower Paradise, my special slice of Eden.