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Gardening in Portugal -Poppies in Paradise

 

0961B606-FD14-4702-92E7-500232ADE675.jpegI 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.

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Field of Poppies

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.

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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.

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Field Marigolds and Chysanthemum Coronium

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.

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Wils Lavender Stoechas

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.

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A ford near Alte

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.

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Silla Peruviana

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.

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An Alentejo meadow

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.

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Gardening in Portugal – No Way Hosé !

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The Whipsnake kinky hose

This is a whinge about hoses, impossible things, they drive me to distraction!  Before I start ranting, as this is definitely a subject I get very hot under my gardening collar about, I will pause to pay respect to the fact that hoses have been used by people for transporting water for over 2000 years, ever since the first ancient Greek picked up an ox stomach and intestines and a light bulb went off (or an olive oil clay lamp, more likely) and decided to use it as a flexible pump and fire hose. I suppose that the intestines of an ox were used for many years after that, because it wasn’t until the 1600s that the very first flexible hose was made by Dutch inventor Jan van der Heyden, probably to water his tulips. Nowadays we have the strong PVC hoses we have today, mostly made in China, but thankfully lasting longer than ox intestines, which must have got quite mushy and smelly in the end. What I want to know is, if hoses have been in development for thousands of years, then why do they still kink and tie themselves in impossible knots? You would suppose in all that time, the problem of the incessant kinking would have been resolved. Perhaps it’s the curse of the poor Ox, in retribution for the disrespect paid to its tripes for so many years. Whatever it is it drives me crazy on a daily basis in the summer.

Picture the scene. It’s a very hot summer’s morning and I have gone off down the garden to water the fruit trees. First of all I unwind the green horsewhip snake from the hook on the wall, where I spend ages trying to make it neat and tidy last night. It immediately contorts itself into a horrendous knot. The fruit trees start up their  gentle moaning, “Water! Water!” At this point, I wonder why we have never invested in one of those “roll your hose” up contraptions. Somehow we aren’t “roll your hose up” type of people. I pull the doobrie off the watchermacallit on the tap and untangle the knot, all the while remembering Maya Angelou’s saying “I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lightsShe might have well said “tangled garden hose” I wonder if she is up there somewhere in heaven with her arms folded watching me effing and blinding, as I lose my temper with the knot. I would would really welcome a rainy day right now. I obviously haven’t learnt very much about patience in my 62 years on this earth. Finally the knot is unknotted. I put the doobrie back on the watchermacallit and turn on the tap, only to be squirted at very high velocity (can velocity be applied to water?)  by a water spout soaking my face and hair, temporarily blinding me. Hopping about to the bemusement of my farming neighbours out sorting their melons, I struggle to get control and turn the tap off, aligning the watchermacallit back on the tap where it came loose, my hair and face soaked. I have been watered it seems, but the plants have not. I hear the fruit trees sniggering through their thirst and glare at them angrily.

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The dreaded Whatchermacallit

By this time, the sun is higher in the sky and the plants are drooping piteously. I sally forth expectantly towards the end of the hose. I stare in disbelief. Señor Faztudo  has replaced the Nozzle of Doom on the end! Now the Nozzle of Doom is a huge point of contention between us. Señor Faztudo  says the Nozzle of Doom saves us bucketloads of water, but I maintain it is it a water cannon for destroying all in its path. Sure, it means you can turn the hose off when you aren’t using it, but the water comes out at such force you can’t do anything except blast the plants into oblivion. Now I am really fuming. The plants start a new, louder wailing “Water! Water!”  Ignoring their pleas, I stomp off to the hippy shed temporarily and light a joss stick, stroking the bemused cat  to calm myself down.

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The Nozzle of Doom

Returning in somewhat better humour, I remove the water cannon attachment and start to assuage the thirst of my plants. Within a short time, a kink appears somewhere near the top of the hose. I sigh, put the hose down by the nearest tree root and return to unkink it. On my way back I trip over the hose, narrowly avoiding falling over, I resume and the hose wraps itself around one of my favourite plants, a tender darling, snapping off one of her stems and then kinks anew,  The sun rises higher in the sky and I’m losing the will to live. And as for winding it all up again at the end, don’t get me started!

So now I have shared my problem, let’s go a little further into the technicalities. I really hate those Watchermacallits and Doobries, the things that you have to join hoses to taps, hoses to each other, to connect things etc. They must have been invented by a sadist.  You never have the right one for the right thing, they never fit tightly, they always spurt water out, they completely and utterly defeat me. Oh, but Señor Faztudo can ALWAYS make them work, which he seems to me to be pretty smug about. As though there is something wrong with me! What is that about? I cannot tell you how fed up I am that I always have to ask him to sort it all out for me. Every time.

You might think a solution would be those new-fangled curly hosepipes. They look like they should work, are very neat and lovely and don’t get in a kink. Well we had one for two weeks before it broke at the neck.  It was very expensive and very short lived, so I have lost faith it them altogether.

By now, you may be asking why we don’t sort out some irrigation. We do have some seeping soaker hoses in some parts of the garden, but even they are a wind up, because every now and again one of my cats takes a fancy to bite into them and make mini fountains. These go on for weeks, because I can’t  bear to try and cut that bit out and rejoin with some of the Watchermacallits.  I have looked at all the little irrigation pipes and rubbery bits and timers and malarkey at the agriculture shop and I just know that life will be far worse if I buy them. The holes will clog up with calcium from our hard water, the bits will get lost. I will never enjoy my garden again. I am not going there. I also have a great fear of timed systems since I have heard so many stories of the timer breaking whilst people are away, with them either coming back from holiday to a huge water bill or a dead garden.

So that’s my whinge about hoses. I expect people may tell me  me what an idiot I am and what a wonderful thing hoses are and how you can get this oojamaflip and that and it all works like a dream. Luckily, we are going through a period of much needed rain right now and the hose torture is postponed for a while, so calm in the garden is restored.

 

To my Valentine, Garden.

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A Rose from my Valentine

Dear Garden,

I know you will be surprised to get this letter from me, after all we’ve been together for five years and seen each other every day, so you might wonder at the need for this sudden formality. However, I have the desire to tell you and indeed all the world, just for posterity, how much you mean to me. It wasn’t love at first sight, I admit.  It was the view beyond that attracted me first.  That handsome and inspiring rocky outcrop on the other side of the valley, with the little white village nestling in its armpit grabbed my attention over your shoulder. The mist at its feet was ethereal, the translucent evening light dazzling. I wanted to gaze at it for all eternity. When I finally turned my attention to you, it was quite a shock. You’d undergone some upheaval I admit, recent building works had left you in considerable disarray. Dishevelled and uprooted, discombobulated even, I wondered how I would even begin to work with you to set things straight, let alone help you become the beautiful garden I’d desired all my life. I wondered if I’d ever have the energy to mould your banks, build your steps, form your paths, make your beds, and plant the seeds to make you whole.

As I was wondering all this, Spring came all of a sudden and I turned my attention away for a second, absorbed in the almond blossom and the sparkling sea. When I returned to you, you gave me flowers. Your battered soil  was covered with every kind of beauty, wild chrysanthemum, their daisy heads sparkling like crowns; sumptuous borage alive with bees; wild fennel, home to the Swallowtail; asphodel; poppies in five different shades of red. You  smelled divine too. I breathed in your heady scent.  I turned away from gazing at the rocky outcrop and fell head over heels in love with you. A love which just grows and grows.

You’ve  been very patient with me whilst I try to understand you. You are a foreigner to me, a garden from a far off land with many things to teach me. I thought I was recovering you, but in fact you’ve recovered me. You’ve been a hard teacher at times, rejecting my attempts to inflict my will on you, even killing the tender plants I placed in your care, or shrivelling up my most beautiful efforts and stamping on my dreams. But I know  really you are only mirroring back at me my need for  control, gently teaching me to work with you, not against you. To teach me that we two are one.

So, dear one, it’s been five years since we became  intimately acquainted. I walk your new paths every morning and tend to your trees, both the old ones, planted long ago by other lovers and the new, my gifts to you. There will be new lovers for you too, and although I feel a tinge of sadness at the thought, I wish you well. Love can only be true when you set your lover free.

So, I  think I’ve found the flowers you like, those with strong roots and a tough demeanour, the enduring ones. I’ve planted you herbs to nurture you  and left you precious wild plants to cover you in the Spring. I have learned to give you just enough water, not too much, to feed you at the right time and in the right way. I’ve nourished your bones and in return you’ve nourished my soul. As I learn, you become more beautiful and so do I.

When I am gone, for I will go before you, remember me.  I will be in the hot wind that blows from Spain in the summer and the cold gusts rattling your bones from my homeland in the North;  I will be in the mists that shroud you; the light rain that kisses you. I will be in the special places where we spent hours together;  I will be under the ancient olive tree. For I love you more than words can say and you have healed me and left me whole. One Love. Jane

Gardening in Portugal – Seeing the wood from the trees

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Almond and Olive logs:this year’s and last.

The sound of buzzing chainsaws are filling the valley at the moment and ours is one of them. Well, not ours exactly, as we have enlisted the help of a friend who is much more experienced to do some  difficult tree work. The expertise arises in understanding how to deal with very heavy boughs that need to be cut safely, calculating how they will fall and where they will land to avoid damage, either to the structures they hang over, or the person handling the operation. There is much rubbing of chins between Señor Faztudo  and our friend , as this is a serious business indeed, since it involves people’s safety. I keep out of it, preferring to potter elsewhere and leave the experts to deal with it, as it scares me.  When people buy a house with lots of land, as they often do when they come to Portugal, they don’t realise how much work it can be, even to maintain the trees, nor do they realise that trees and what they produce are the main crop for most farmers in Portugal, especially in the Algarve.

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My cat checking out the olive tree

When we arrived at this house, whilst the garden was completely undeveloped, the builder had preserved every tree he could, which left us with several olive trees, some very ancient, as well as mature almond and carob trees  to care for. Some of these trees were planted by the ancestors of people in our village and the builder of our house remembers playing under the olive tree at the back as a child. It seems like an important business to be custodians of such venerable trees.

Some of the our trees are overhanging the roads and after a while, tree boughs can become too heavy and the branches unsafe.  The old carobs, in particular, have brittle, huge trunks, resembling an elephant’s leg and are very heavy.  For this reason the  carob tree is known as “the widow maker” by local people, because, for sure if a large branch fell on you, that would be the end.

Over the past few years, I’ve  come to enjoy this tree work in the early part of the year , which has a beginning, a middle and an end, unlike some jobs in the garden which go on forever. Señor Faztudo saws up all the medium branches with a handsaw, after the chainsaw has done its work, to create kindling for next year’s winter fires. These branches are mainly olive and burn very hot  in our woodburning stove, useful to get the fire up to a critical heat before adding the bigger logs. I use an electric chipping machine to chip the smaller branches to use on the paths in the vegetable garden at the back. It takes quite a long time but it’s therapeutic and we  need the biomass, because it all improves the soil.

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Cut wood to be processed

At the end, we are left with a small pile of scraggy stuff to burn , and I pull up a chair and enjoy this little bonfire, which is far too dangerous to have at any other time of the year and which reminds me of camping trips in Norfolk and my childhood in Wales. I even leave a potato in foil in the embers for my breakfast.  It’s a pleasure tinged with sadness though, as I think of all the people in Central and Northern Portugal who lost so much in the fires at the end of last year. Many people are cleaning their land of combustible material at the moment under a strict government directive to reduce the fire risk to properties before next Summer and we are still in an extreme drought situation over half of the country, which is very concerning if it continues into another summer.

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Almond twigs for kindling or chipping


Altogether, our wood harvest this year came to about a tonne, which would have cost us about 130 euros to buy and lasts us about a month in our wood burning stove, so our work is rewarding financially too. I ponder how our hard work cutting and stacking the logs and hauling them all up the hill to the woodpile to dry out for a year, is keeping us healthy and saving in gym membership, as well as hopefully keeping us warm next winter. Going to the gym , which we used to do in London, seems so silly when I think about it now. My garden is my gym and my muscles are strong and my legs sturdy as I make my way up and down the hill carrying one thing or another or pushing the wheelbarrow. I strongly advise any retired person to find a garden on a hill to keep fit!

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A graft of peach branches onto a bitter almond tree

Pruning trees has all kinds of purposes, I have come to discover; to make trees safe; to produce and stimulate new growth; to keep the fruit trees low enough to be able to harvest from them; to make grafts, and to keep the tree balanced with air flowing through the middle to prevent fungal disease. Pruning can be quite controversial, some say it weakens the tree, some say it makes it stronger. Olives in particular divide people, especially where thy are clipped for ornamental purposes. I have a small wild olive on my terrace which we keep clipped to be able to admire the view and prevent too many olives falling on the tiles. But I  have to say I don’t feel at all good about it. I don’t really like extreme pruning of trees. Hedges are different, but a noble olive need to be allowed to grow more naturally, for my taste, although Señor Faztudo  doesn’t entirely  agree with me, and he is generally the Keeper of the Trees.

 

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Big Daddy Olive


As I chip away, a sort of meditative exercise once you’ve cut all the knobbly bits off that won’t go through,   I note the different properties of the twigs I am dealing with.  The olive twigs are whippy and thorny. I reserve some olive branches to keep chickens off my Agapanthus bed and as pea sticks. Olive doesn’t rot down quickly, which is both a good and a bad thing, but definitely good for pea sticks and chicken defenses. . Almond is very woody and brittle and great for chipping for use on paths and also very good as small kindling.

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Olive chipping used as a mulch

Carob is knobbly and weird looking, almost prehistoric, but burns cheerfully with straight branches that go in the chipper easily. The leaves make good compost and the area underneath an old carob has fertile soil and provides shade for many beautiful wild flowers, not least the striking azure Scilla Peruviana, an amazing sight in the Spring.

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A number 1 for a wild olive

Our labour produces a satisfying pile of logs for next season, stacked away from the house to avoid it becoming a fire risk in itself. They will stay there a year or more before being dry enough to use on the fire. We put the wood on a pallet off the ground against the wood boring insects that have been quite prevalent this year, and bag up the kindling to leave in a dry place. We don’t really need to cover the wood like you do in the UK, because we know by next October, when it’s ready to burn, it will be bone dry after the hot summer.

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Bean sticks or is it art?


So now the trees are tidy and safe, we have  pea sticks aplenty and chicken defences, mulch for our paths and a bean wigwam for the beans I will plant in May and wood stacked against the cold of next winter. All feels well with the world and  I can see the wood from the trees!

Gardening in Portugal- If you know its name it’s not a weed!

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Patch or Alexanders, Self seeded Aconite (delphinium, very poisonous)  and Chamanthe

It’s raining again, oh Lord, it’s raining again! And you know what rain means? It means weeds!
But nowadays,  that don’t impress me much, because I know the name of most of them and as my gardening friend and Portuguese teacher often says, if you know the name of a plant, it isn’t a weed.

I’ve  had the joy and delight over the past few years of discovering that most of the weeds in the Algarve  are useful for something. Do you want to thicken cheese? Use the petals of a  cardoon, Cynara cardunculus, as a rennet substitute (although, what kind of domestic goddess makes cheese? Not me..well not yet anyway!)  Have you got a toothache? Chew on the leaves of the field marigolds, which are an anodyne.  And don’t bother buying fertiliser for your plants, just soak a few nettles , Urtica Dioica),  in water for a few weeks, water down the resulting liquid (holding your nose tightly as the pong is indescribable) and the job is done. Furthermore nettles are great in soup and if you’re feeling particularly strong, you can whip yourself with them to alleviate rheumatism!

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Nettle, Urtica Doica

Of course some weeds can kill you, so you have to be super careful, as there  isn’t much room for mistakes. Take the Umbelliferae family for example. The plants are very similar in this family and  whilst the Alexanders or Smyrnium olusatrum, brought here by the Romans,  can be eaten in all  its parts,  Hemlock , Conium maculatum,  is in the same family and is deadly!  Of course, this may be useful if you want to do your husband in, but since Senor Faz-Tudo is my beloved,  indispensable companion and hasn’t finished the greenhouse yet, that’s not likely in my case!  Even the experts don’t always seem to know definitively. I bought a book on foraging in which it said you can eat the flowers and leaves of Aquilegia, and told everyone in a gardening FB group you could eat it, making a total fool of myself, because it’s actually from the ranunculus  family and dangerous to eat. I hope I wasn’t responsible for anyone’s death  (nervous laugh!)  So readers, this is a disclaimer. Please, check out any plant for yourselves before you eat them. This is a great place to do it: Plants for a Future What a labour of love that web site is!

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Alexanders, Smyrnium Olusatrum

I have left some areas in my garden specifically for the weeds to grow, especially in the vegetable garden, where the chickens don’t venture, as they are so useful for so many things. (I actually left them in the chicken’s half of the garden  too but they ate them all, although I suppose we got them back in their eggs) Nettles are quite hard to find in the wild around my house, as they prefer nutritious ground with some shade, so they are particularly precious to me and I only ever pick half of them to use, so I can be sure they will continue to drop their seed and come back next year. The local women used to dry them for use as very nutritious fodder for chickens and other animals as they are full of iron and other vitamins and minerals.They can also be eaten in soup, and as soon as they are boiled they lose their sting.  I have lots of dandelions too and I feed them to the chickens and also, when the leaves are very young, add them to salads, in small amounts as they are very bitter.

The  garden is overrun with Borage plants, Borago officinalis, again something I encourage, as they are very good for attracting bees as pollinators for my beans and fruit trees. The flowers are very pretty and look great put into ice cubes in the fridge to jolly up your cocktails, and although the leaves are edible, they are very hairy, you’d be unlikely to eat them unless you’re a goat.

Although the tradition is dying out a little now, local women all have their recipes for “chas” or teas using local “weeds” Malva Silvestris , the common mallow or wild hollyhock is still used in tea to settle sore stomachs, or the leaves boiled and used for a poultice on festering wounds or cuts as it draws out the poison and soothes and heals. Wild thyme and rosemary are both anti-bacterial and can be uses as “pick me up teas” in the morning. The wild thyme here is amazing and I have collected the seeds of several types from the wild in the hope of encouraging  them to grow in my garden.

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Malva  or Mallow

 

Interestingly, unlike in Greece, in my experience, Rosemary isn’t used much in the South of Portugal for cooking, with people preferring to uses salsa (parsley) or green coriander (coentro)

My friend is collecting  “dicas” or uses of common herbs, before the very considerable knowledge of the older countrywomen here is lost. It seems there are many beneficial plants, some of them indigenous to the Algarve and some imported from peoples coming into the Algarve, such as the Carthaginians, Romans or Moors  or brought back from the colonies of Portugal in Africa or South America  in more recent years.

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Patch of Nettles and Chrysanthemum Coronium 

But before you go out with your poison sprays or hacker and commit carnage, at least try to identify your weed and see if you can use them for anything, using the “Plants for a Future” database. It seems crazy we spend so much on cosmetics, remedies and leaf teas when any of them are derived from things we call weeds in our gardens. It’s lovely to wander around the garden and see teapot potential and bath bombs where once you just saw plants which made you cross!

Gardening in Portugal – The Cats That Walked By Themselves

 

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Subordinate Cat

I am going to tell you about my cats.  I consider them very important members of my gardening team as  I wouldn’t have thought of having chickens without them.

Subordinate Cat in full camouflauge

Because  he loves me, Señor Faztudo  tolerates the chickens, as long as they stay in their half of the garden, although he says we should re-name that part of the garden “Poo corner”  But what about the cats? Why have we got them? I suppose the answer to that, is that he dislikes  mice and rats – a lot. We lived in a terraced house in London and once, the cellar was overrun by mice after some building works next door. We still shudder to think of it , as we had to really fight back to get rid of them. And there is a carob processing plant in the village, which is why no one minds the feral cats we have hereabouts, they do a very important job.

A  friend of ours who worked in cat rescue  found a nearby farm-house with  two kittens living in the barn, needing a home. I wanted females as they are better mousers, in my experience and two little balls of very frightened fluff arrived.  The condition of their adoption was that we had them spayed,and vaccinated which we, of course agreed to.

On their arrival, we immediately had the problem that Señor Faztudo didn’t want them in the house, so I made them a warm bed in the cellar. However, it became clear in a very short time it  was cruel to leave such young kittens alone and so they were brought into the house under sufferance, where a dark box in the warm kitchen soothed their initial fears. But feral kittens are taught to hide in the day  by their mothers and somehow on the second day, the smallest kitten disappeared completely and was nowhere to be found. I thought it may have crawled up the central hoovering system and was in a terrible panic when the other kitten also did a disappearing act! Two hours later I had pulled out every box from every cupboard, shouted “kitty kitty” down the central hoover conduit until I was hoarse and taken the washing machine apart. Zilch…nada….

A little while later, I was on the loo and suddenly an awful smell began to attract my attention. Worried that there may have been  something badly wrong with me, I suddenly heard a pitiful mewling and both kittens emerged from behind the bidet covered in poo.  Panicking and to hide the fact that the cats had done the terrible-awful behind the bidet I scooped them up in one of my best hand towels  and washed the poor little things under the bidet. All of Senor F’s worst nightmares were happening at once! Bedraggled, but none the worse, the kittens went back in their box and so their lives with us began.

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Boss cat up the ladder

The kittens entertained us mightily  for the next six weeks, but Señor F held firm in his resolve that they would be outside cats and actually, I agreed with him. Both our previous London cats had lived outside, and were very healthy for it. They always had a warm bed in the shed, were fed a good quality meal once a day and did  a great job keeping rats and mice out of the garden. And there is the added advantage  of not bringing ticks and fleas into the house with is an inevitable by product of having animals, even with treatments. The key thing is to feed them at the same time every night, and let them in the house, just for their meal, so they know where they belong. And  of course, if they hate it, they are at liberty to go and live elsewhere (which in fact, one of our cats in London did, at the age of eight, but that’s another story)

Little by little our kittens grew and Señor F tolerated them swinging on his trouser leg, dashing in and out of paper sacks and cardboard boxes and scratching the sofa to death, with good grace. After a while, they began to venture outside and get used to their surroundings. I’ll call them Boss Cat, the white one and Subordinate cat, the tri-coloured one,  to protect their anonymity. One day, Boss Cat didn’t come home at night. I was distraught and feared she had been eaten by something, a fear which was made worse by venturing into the garden and shining a torch into the tree to see dozens of pairs of eyes of something! I hoped they were feral cats who would look after a kitten, but I went to bed in tears. The next morning  there she was at the door, bright as a button and none the worse for her adventure, although she didn’t do that again for quite a while.

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Over  the next few months the kittens  became more and more adventurous, only returning to the house in the evening. At first, like all young things they had their ups and downs. Subordinate  cat ate a black gecko and had a very sore throat for a few days. Boss cat got beaten up by a huge Tom, despite being spayed and was very wobbly for a while. Subordinate cat got her foot caught in a rabbit snare and it was red raw…she must have been released by the farmer, but it healed. All of this was worrying, of course, but I tried to accept it as an inevitable part of their freedom and we were always on hand to take them to the vet if they needed treatment. Every night I fed them a meal at the same time, so I could keep an eye on them and they have nearly always come home and always a few days later if they have gone roaming.

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For their part, they have done their job well. Despite having chickens and vegetables growing in my garden, I have never seen a rat or mouse unless it was dead and in the process of being consumed. The downside is occasionally they eat lovely birds, the saddest was a green woodpecker baby. Boss Cat once fell in the pool swiping at a swallow, to her great surprise and found quite quickly, she could swim! And I once found quite a large snake on the mat, playing dead. I picked up up on a stick and it sprang to life, quite crossly. At the point I could only say I was glad the cats don’t live indoors!  They have a bed each in the porch and occasionally on a winter’s night I can be seen furtively slipping a hot water bottle in their beds, although with the thick coats they have, I doubt if they really need it. If  Señor were to see me he’d say ” you’re turning those cats into wusses!”  They have lived with us for four years now and have learned wily ways to cope with their surroundings. They don’t even eat my newly hatched chicks and I like to think they know they are “family” but sit on top of the coop as though guarding them from other cats. I love to see them about the garden enjoying their independence, although I also feel honoured  when they come and sit on my lap and watch the chickens with me from the hippy shed. I would have more if I could, but Señor F says two is plenty to take responsibilty for and, as usual, there is some sense in that!

Do the Pokey Pokey….

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After the Deluge

It’s time to do the Pokey Pokey. Not the Hokey Cokey, although on a beautiful day like this, I’m in, out, in, out and shaking it all about. No, the Pokey Pokey is what I do at this time of year, after the rain has fallen in glorious tumults. For the last two weeks, the clouds have rolled in from Africa, bringing with them lightning, thunder and lashings of rain in Biblical proportions. And now we are renewed and I can take up my poker and plant!

I have said before, I am a lazy gardener. I can’t be doing with too much fussing and pruning and preening. Because of various of life’s twists and turns, not least the exchange rate as a result of the  Brexit effect and a series of domestic breakages, I am also an impecunious gardener. I can’t afford to purchase  trays of sumptuous plants (which is just as well, because I probably would have killed most of them) so I have to propagate. Now I know the Pokey Pokey propagation technique sounds a bit rude, but I can assure you there is no sex involved. I just take an iron rod as long as a walking stick,  the sort that reinforces concrete, and walk around the garden cutting bits off one plant, poking a hole and popping the bit in, quite deep. Then I whisper a few magic words (“Hokus, Pokus, please don’t Croakus!” ) and hope for the best. About half of the time it works, chickens and cats, drought and tumult permitting. Obviously it works better with some things than others ; great for lavenders, roses, and succulents; not so great for more tender things. For these I use the “Jitterbug” technique. A garden designer in the Algarve, Marilyn Medina Ribeiro, taught me to  let the leaves of whatever plant fall down and create a little skirt around the plant, even though it’s planted in a gravel mulch (never be too tidy in a garden, it doesn’t pay off)  Also, I don’t cut off any bottom branches until the Spring. Then after the rain, I wait a little while and look under the “skirt” (Why is gardening so rude?)  Usually I find a lot of rooted branches in the leaf mulch, which I gleefully separate from the Mother plant and settle somewhere else in the garden, although it’s a rather dangerous technique as invariably I encounter a creepy crawlie that seriously gives me the jitters!   Although, it’s a slightly dangerous technique from the point of view of unexpected surprise, from one plant, comes forth many and it’s worth the danger! Very satisfying.

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A “Gives me the Jitters Bug”

Early in the morning, after I’ve fed the chickens,  I can be seen in  parts of the garden where the chickens don’t go (they gobble up any seeds dropped) doing the Hippy Hippy Shake. This is the propagation technique which involves me cutting off all the brown heads of plants, like the lovely Clary Sage I bought in Lidls  few years ago,  and bringing them back to life by seed propagation. It’s like sprinkling fairy dust as you go round the garden shaking out the seeds. The chickens look on longingly through the bars of the fence. Poppies also enjoy a good shake out, as do Nigella (not Lawson you understand!)

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I do try to grow from seed, but it’s so hit and miss.  I plant them and watch anxiously for ages and nothing happens, then invariably I forget what I’ve planted and plant something else of top of it. By the time it puts it little head up, I have no idea what it is. As far as organisation, labelling etc, there’s no hope for me,  I’m 60 now and it isn’t going to happen. It’s still worth trying though, because even getting one plant to maturity creates propagation possibilities. I have one Hidcote blue lavender out of a batch of seedlings, most of which fell by the wayside and now I’m taking cuttings from it. I have seeds from a smashing red and orange Gaillardia and some gorgeous  aquilegia.

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Señor Faztudo is in the garage banging away as I write  (what IS the matter with me today?) building me a greenhouse for Christmas. I rather suspect his motivation is his growing collection of small trees  from avocado, mango and various other pips which he plants at random into my flowerpots and expects me to look after. In vain, I tell him I don’t know where we’re going to out any more trees, but he’s somewhat obsessed. In the past we’ve had experience of getting fruit trees to maturity and then having to leave them to someone else as we move house or give up an allotment plot. I think he is determined  to get something to eat before we peg it.

So, if you’re thinking of propagation and you feel a bit unsure, remember if I can do it, you cancan too!

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Lavender hedge created with the Pokey Pokey propagation technique.