The Evolution of a Mallorcan Country Garden

We bought our rural finca in Mallorca in July 2002, although we didn’t come to live here until April 2004. The previous owners—who have become good friends—had the place as a holiday home and did little to the land at the back of the house. I, however, had Big Plans. There would be rows of lavender, vegetables growing, and fruit trees. In my dreams.

Shoulder-high asphodels awaited us. A whole field full of them. When I looked up ‘asphodel’ in my dictionary, I found ‘an everlasting flower said to grow in the Elysian Fields (literary).’ Everlasting is a good description: it’s really difficult to get rid of them; you can cut them down, but underneath the ground, they grow from bulbs that look like bunches of obese grapes. How many of those must we have dug out of the ground? However, I’m sure the gods and heroes of Ancient Greece appreciated their asphodels.

Creating a Garden

Over the past sixteen years (gardening didn’t begin until after we’d moved here), we’ve almost eradicated the asphodels. The odd one pops up and I quite like the flowers when a vast swathe of them isn’t dominating the land.

We decided to create a garden, which would extend from the house down to our second set of gates. The Boss did the heavy stuff and I ‘designed’—as I went along—what said garden should be like. It had to be Mediterranean, because our water is brought to us by tanker and we didn’t want hefty water bills. And, after all, we do live on a Mediterranean island.

Baby aloe vera and agaves formed the start of the garden, thanks to donations from kind neighbours. Digging holes to plant them brought home a cruel truth: our land is almost all rock and stones. The depth of the soil is only a few centimetres in places. Rather than plant things where we wanted, we ended up planting them where it was physically possible.

Looking through some old photos a day or two ago, I found one that reminded me what our garden looked like in 2006. It’s amazing what you can achieve with limited soil or irrigation—and no gardening expertise whatsoever.

Jan Edwards ©2020

What to Do with Surplus Home-grown Produce

Beetroot ready to use

Sadly these didn’t come from our finca garden

After we’d bought our finca in rural Mallorca I had dreams of creating a vegetable garden, once we had set up home here. I would pluck sweet cherry tomatoes from their vines, unearth golf-ball-sized new potatoes, and harvest plump peppers for my culinary creations. Alas, it was not to be: the shallow layer of soil on our land disguises a foundation of rock – unsuitable conditions for a budding veg gardener.

I did once try to grow potatoes here. The several plants looked healthy enough above the ground, but when we eagerly dug up our spud bounty, it amounted to just five potatoes.

I do know, though, of people whose gardens produce such an abundance of fruit and veg that they can’t possible eat, freeze, or otherwise preserve it all. If they can’t give away the surplus, it goes to waste. Such a pity.

Trade your surplus

Anyone living in Mallorca with surplus home-grown produce this January may be interested to hear about ‘Beetroot Barter’ – taking place in Palma de Mallorca later this month.

‘Beetroot Barter’ is the brainchild of Sylvia Wynans, whose Facebook page Wholesome Living is worth perusing. Even after making a supply of chilli paste, Sylvia had lots of chillis left over and it prompted her to think about the amount of surplus home-grown produce that goes to waste.

Her thoughts led to the idea of a food-trading event, at which backyard ‘farmers’ across Mallorca could swap their surplus produce for someone else’s.  As the idea was formed, Sylvia realised the initiative needed a name and asked her husband for ideas: “The first thing he said was ‘Beetroot Barter’,” she told me. “We love beets!”

She then had to find somewhere to hold the event and turned to British businesswoman Justine Murphy of mymuybueno Deli in Palma de Mallorca – who loved the idea and offered Sylvia her premises as the venue.

Need to know

If you have a glut of home-grown goodies from your garden and would like to be part of the inaugural ‘Beetroot Barter’ (and perhaps help shape future events), here are the details:

Date: Saturday, January 26th

Time:  11:00-13:30h

11:00-12:00h – Allocated for a group discussion to design the guidelines for trading and organising similar events elsewhere (Sylvia would love to see this initiative spread to towns and villages around Mallorca – and indeed beyond our island). Anyone with food-retail, marketing, or other relevant experience, is welcome to join the discussion.

12:00-13:30h – Trading time. Swap your oranges for apples, your eggs for home-made jam, or simply donate your surplus produce for the benefit of others.

Venue:

Food at mymuybueno Deli

mymuybueno Deli

mybuybueno Deli* in Palma de Mallorca. Located in the centre of the city (on the first floor of the building opposite the main Correos or post office), the Deli is a very short walk from the Antoni Maura underground public car park.

*address is C/ Tous i Maroto 5B.

The event is free to enter, but you are asked to spend 8€ in the Deli (which serves delicious food that’s all made there and is free of lactose, gluten, and refined sugar).

Take your own shopping basket or boxes: no single-use plastic will be available for packing.

For more information, see the Beetroot Barter page on Facebook.

Hear Sylvia talking about this initiative on Saturday 12th January on Table Talk on Mallorca Sunshine Radio 106.1FM or streamed online at the station’s .com

 

Jan Edwards©2019

Pot luck in Manacor

Our mission – which we had no choice but to accept – was to find a new flowerpot to replace the one that was recently blown over and broken by a particularly fierce gust of wind. Usually this would entail a trip to one of the garden centres in the area. I’ve written before about garden centres in Mallorca: I have yet to find one to match the gorgeous Burford Garden Company – a place in the Cotswolds I used to love visiting.

The trouble with garden centres in general is that I find it hard to leave them with only the one thing I intended to buy. And I am not a shopaholic by nature. Go in for a bag of compost and I’m likely to emerge with a pot or two of herbs as well. One local garden centre was selling large nets full of home-grown oranges for juicing…well, I couldn’t resist those, could I?

In one of the better local garden centres, I once bought a large mirror for the guest bathroom as well as a new trowel. Clearly it would be more economical to go straight to a terracotta pot manufacturer, cutting out the middleman (and their range of tempting goodies).

Traditional Mallorcan terracotta

Black wood smoke often billows from a local factory on the outskirts of Manacor and it was time to check the place out. The kilns weren’t fired up the day we visited but the place was already well stocked with terracotta flowerpots and pretty much anything else you could want made from terracotta (Mallorcan ceiling and roof tiles included).

Inside the terracotta factory

Tejar Bandris’s terracotta factory near Manacor

Tejar Bandrís is a family business of master artisans and Toní told us he was the third generation in the firm. As we were the only customers, he spent some time telling us that people come from all over Mallorca and beyond to buy from him. If you buy an old finca on the island and want some authentic terracotta features, this is the place to come. Soooo many things…. Focus, Jan!

Terracotta products Mallorca

Potty about the choice!

Terracotta goods at Tejas Bandris

These look attractive over lights on exterior walls

It didn’t take long to choose the perfect pot – handmade on a potter’s wheel. Although we didn’t see the wheel in action while we were there, just the thought of it took me back to my school pottery classes. I never did master the art of throwing a pot that didn’t look like a cheap souvenir of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. (Demi Moore made it look so easy in Ghost).

English spoken here…

If you’re in the market for a well-made terracotta pot – or anything else fired in a kiln – it’s worth checking out Tejar Bandrís. Even though we’d be speaking Spanish, we’d only been there a few minutes when Toní asked if we were from England (why is it so obvious?) and, hearing that we were, said he’d like to practise his English for the rest of the conversation. Useful to know if you want to visit but don’t speak much or any Spanish.

At least we know where to go when the next gust of fierce wind wreaks havoc on our terrace…

©Jan Edwards 2017

Cracking the problem of removing a dead almond tree

When do you give up on an old Mallorcan almond tree? We have a few on our finca and they’re past their prime. In spite of that, they are covered in beautiful blossom in the early weeks of each year and offer a reasonable crop of almonds in the autumn. They may be old, but we love them, so they can live out their years in rural Mallorca without fear of a chainsaw massacre.

Mallorcan almond blossom

Blooming lovely!

Sadly, two of our old almond trees were badly damaged in September 2014, when a mini-tornado cut a swathe right through our field. We removed the broken branches then and left the trunks in the hope that there would be some regrowth.

Three years on there was no sign of any life remaining in these two trees. One is set within a stone wall, so must stay (or the wall will tumble down). The other has stood in the middle of the field looking rather forlorn – but removing it would require more than a bit of brute human force. We were pondering this very challenge just the other day, having coffee in the field, while The Boss supervised yet another bonfire. (Fire. It’s a man thing).

I’ll say this for The Boss: he gets things done. I was sitting writing at my computer – my back to the French doors facing the field – when I heard a loud unfamiliar noise. I turned around and our neighbour Lorenzo was in the field on his tractor, pushing the old tree trunk over. He’d been trundling up the lane and stopped for a chat; The Boss asked if he’d be able to pop in sometime to remove the tree (we’ve paid him to do tractor-related jobs before) and Lorenzo said he’d do it there and then. It took just moments to do.Almond tree felled

Down…and destined for the log store

Fungi on an old tree

The tree was dead but the fungus wasn’t!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any man in possession of a large field must be in want of a tractor – or a kindly neighbour with one. Thanks, Lorenzo (and Jane Austen).

©Jan Edwards 2017

Poppies popping up – but not on our finca

Rural Majorcan poppies

A blaze of colour, although the farmer probably didn’t appreciate the invasion of his cereal crop!

Poppies seem to have been late emerging this spring on Mallorca. Perhaps it was because of the huge amount of rain that fell on the island over the winter months?

I love poppies and was keen to plant some in the garden, imagining a future scene reminiscent of Claude Monet’s famous Poppy Field. A welcome gift of California poppy seeds was liberally sewn over the small patch of our garden that has more than an inch or two of soil.

Lost to the lane

Last year a few of these seeds did grow into poppies but, this year, we haven’t had a single one in the garden. However, the wildflower-strewn verges of our lane have become home to a few that are more West-Coast America than rural Mallorca. Ho hum. Well, this is a breezy island…

A touch of Monet on Mallorca?

Elsewhere in rural Mallorca poppies are having a field day (pardon the pun). On our way back from an appointment in the town of Sa Pobla yesterday we spotted a particularly colourful field. I didn’t have my camera with me, so the image is courtesy of my iPad. And there are quite a few similar displays of poppies elsewhere on Mallorca…just not in our garden.

Text and photo Jan Edwards©2017

A gap in the garden

Something was missing when we looked out at the garden yesterday although, strictly speaking, not missing at all as it is still very much present …

In January this year we noticed that one of our huge sword plants had sprouted a stalk that looked like a giant piece of asparagus. It quickly grew taller and we knew that this was the beginning of the plant’s death knell. It would produce flowers, then eventually die. We had no idea of timescale but hoped it would survive so that our visitors in the spring could see it.

Sky-bound

Sky-bound

It survived until yesterday, nine months later, and all of our visitors this year were able to see what looked like a freaky type of tree. We’d been wondering how much longer it would last, as it still looked pretty green and healthy. The flowers it had sprouted up on high were a magnet for the local bees and, after the flowers had died, small green things replaced them. These baby swords would drop to the ground regularly and we’ve been scooping them up to avoid our garden eventually turning into a spiky no-go zone.

For most of its nine months, The Spike had had a tendency to lean, and we’d already worked out more or less where it would land if it fell over before we could remove it. When it crashed to the ground some time yesterday (we missed the event itself), our predictions turned out to be accurate.

The End

The End

Now we just have to dispose of the ‘trunk’ (which we’re told secretes an irritating fluid you don’t want to get on your skin) and pick up the thousands of baby sword plants from the garden path. Then decide what to do about the new gap in our garden greenery.

©Jan Edwards 2016

 

Spring has sprung on Mallorca

A recent writing project has left me feeling a bit ‘written-out’. I’ve scribed around 12,000 words in the past few weeks on this one project – in addition to other articles, and posts on http://www.eatdrinksleepmallorca.com. No wonder my computer screen has been gazing blankly back at me when I’ve sat down to write about our life in rural Mallorca. It was as tired as I was; my keyboard and I needed a little time apart.

So, as it’s spring, I grabbed my camera and headed into our garden and field, to take a few photos of the mix of cultivated and uncultivated delights that remind me why it pays to get off my writer’s bottom (well spread) and get out into Mallorca’s great outdoors.

I hope that, wherever you are, spring is making itself known to you too.

The view from the roof of our water tank ... not somewhere I venture up to very often!

The view from the roof of our water tank … not somewhere I venture up to very often!

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First ever blossoms on our blackthorn bushes - brought over from the UK by good friends. Sloe gin? Maybe in a few years' time ...

First-ever blossoms on our blackthorn bushes – brought over from the UK by good friends. Sloe gin? Maybe in a few years’ time …

 

 

Looks like the beanstalk – but where’s Jack?

In the early days of setting up a garden in the field of our finca home in rural Mallorca, we had no idea quite how large everything would grow. It seems that the lack of soil depth on our rocky land has been no deterrent to growth: aloes, agaves, ‘swords’ (I have no idea of their official name), and yuccas, have all grown to sizes beyond our expectations.

I used to wonder when our garden would be considered ‘mature’. Well, I think it’s now: one of our ‘sword’ plants has sprouted something akin to the beanstalk of the famous fairytale, and resembling a giant stalk of asparagus. If only. Think of the culinary treats . . .

Sky-bound

Sky-bound

We know that the stalk will eventually throw out a flower and, once that has died, it’s goodbye plant. Although it’s quite exciting to see this thing grow (and it’s making fairly rapid progress out there), this mighty plant, having flowered, will wither and keel over. We’ve checked its future trajectory and our roof seems to be in no danger, but The Boss will have quite a job to dig the dead plant – and what are probably quite impressive roots – out of the ground. A decade ago it was a small and rather sickly thing when a kind neighbor gave it to us to help fill some of the yawning space that was crying out to be a Mediterranean garden.

No wonder it's called the sword plant . . .

No wonder it’s called the sword plant . . .

Although the evil spikes on the end of each sword-like leaf have punctured various bits of our bodies during gardening sessions (ouch!), we’ll still be sorry to lose such an impressive architectural plant.

 

 

 

Happy New Year from rural Mallorca

Christmas bauble

Our artificial Christmas tree spruced up for the festivities.

When we were planning to move to Mallorca we decided to buy a good-quality artificial Christmas tree in the UK for future use. We were pretty sure that finding a real Christmas tree for our rural Balearic island home would be as unlikely as winning El Gordo (‘the fat one’) – the hugely popular Spanish lottery draw that takes place each year on December 22nd.

We’ve still not won El Gordo (perhaps buying a ticket would help?), but only a few years passed before real Christmas trees started to appear for sale in garden centres and plant shops on Mallorca. They’re not as popular as they are in the UK – where we used to queue in the grounds of Blenheim Palace to choose and buy our tree. But, for the record – if you are planning to move to Mallorca (or spend Christmas in a holiday home here), you’re sure to find a real tree to decorate.

Without a real or artificial tree, all it takes is some imagination (and a bit of time) to come up with an alternative. Yesterday, in the hilltop town of Artà, we spotted a clever Christmas-tree-shaped decoration made from wooden coat hangers, decorated with bright baubles, in the window of a boutique.

But my favourite Christmas-tree-that’s-not-a-tree was this one – seen in a baker’s shop window in the same town. I give you . . . the ensaïmada tree.  The ensaïmada is the emblematic pastry of Mallorca – so what could be more appropriate?

Ensaimada Christmas tree

A tree with a difference!

My next post will be in 2016, so The Boss and I take this opportunity now to wish you a Happy New Year. Thank you for reading Living in Rural Mallorca during 2015!

 

 

October: a month of contrasts on Mallorca

A late afternoon bath for this robin.

A late-afternoon bath for this robin.

This coming weekend on Mallorca we shall be turning back the clocks, marking the official end of the summer. It’s been a long hot one and, although we are already two-thirds of the way through October, we are thankfully still having a few lovely warm days. When the sun shines, we open doors and windows during the day to let in the warm air. As things cool, we close everything up but, in the evenings, the living room of our home in rural Mallorca already feels a little chilly.  Oh, for cavity wall insulation . . . if there were a cavity to fill.

Winter drawers on? Not quite yet . . .

We’re at the time of year when the lightest of summer clothes (and certainly anything white) is consigned to storage bags and boxes under the beds. (Buy an old Mallorcan property and you’re unlikely to find many cupboards for storing stuff). But we’re not ready yet to shrug ourselves into sweaters and woolly socks during the day. My much-loved Menorcan sandals (highly recommended for comfort) and I won’t be prised apart until my feet lose all sensation because of the cold. I’ve even worn shorts in the past fortnight . . . but also seen locals wearing thick sweaters, scarves, and boots . . . in temperatures up to 25 degrees Celsius!

The house ‘wardrobe’ also changes. The light sheer curtains that blow gently in the breezes of the warmer months will be replaced by curtains with thermal linings. I’ve already retrieved one pair from storage, ironed them, and hung them. Another two pairs to go . . .

Winter/spring

October is a month of contrasts outdoors too, with signs of winter, but also of new beginnings. No wonder the Mallorcans call this season winter/spring. We have a garden with plenty of new growth (a lot of it weeds, I should add), but our family of ‘adopted’ cats is eating heartily as though preparing for a prolonged trip to Siberia. On Sunday evening, despite the diminishing daylight, it was warm enough to eat a BBQ dinner outside, for the first time in a few weeks. But a visitor earlier that afternoon reminded us that there may not be too many more alfresco dinners: on our birdbath – sprucing himself up after a long flight south – was that feathered emblem of winter, the robin.

The photo of the robin was taken from inside the house, and the close-up was achieved by cropping the image.