Making Room for the Mushrooms

In its new home … for a few days

During my time at the BBC in Oxfordshire, I was invited to be an auctioneer for a charity evening in the small village of Bladen (the final resting place of Sir Winston Churchill).

Before the event began, there was the usual opportunity to peruse the lots going under the hammer. One of these caught our attention: a wooden carving of some mushrooms, standing about as tall as me. It had been carved by someone with considerable talent out of a piece of wood from the nearby Blenheim Estate.

‘Wouldn’t that look fantastic in Mallorca?’ I said to The Boss, mindful that we’d soon be moving from the UK to our new home on the Spanish island. Fortunately, he agreed. As the auctioneer, I couldn’t bid for the item, so The Boss agreed to do it from his seat in the audience.

We weren’t the only ones lusting after this gorgeous garden ornament. Sadly for us (but happily for the charity in question), the carving went for a much higher bid than we could manage.

However, after the auction was over, we met the artisan who’d made the mushrooms and when we told him we’d liked to have bought his carving he offered to make us one, and we agreed on a price.

Mushrooms to Mallorca

Our wonderful mushrooms made the trip to Mallorca without incident and were eventually installed in our fledgling garden in a spot between two agaves. Have you any idea how enormous agaves can grow? We didn’t when we planted these two small ones – gifts from a kind neighbour.

Before long, the mushroom carving was hemmed in by agaves of a matching height. Agaves have dangerous spikes on the tips and sides of the ‘leaves’ and close contact is best avoided. We left our wooden feature where it was until it was no longer fully visible.

Fallen … and split again

When we started our latest garden project (not yet finished, folks), we decided to liberate our mushrooms from their ‘prison’, only to find the wood had dried out and the mushrooms had split vertically into two separate garden ornaments, being held up by their captors. Inevitably, The Boss sustained an unfortunate number of attacks from the spiny agave ‘leaves’ in the process of retrieving our wooden feature. One of which required a quick visit to the local Urgències hospital department, some antihistamine pills and anti-inflammatory cream.

New Lease of Life

The Boss did a fantastic job of glueing the two halves of our wooden garden feature together, and we found a new location for it under our rather handsome tree, where we’d be able to enjoy looking at it. The next job would be for me to give it some wood treatment. But before I could do that, a freak, strong gust of wind blew through the garden and felled the feature – splitting it back into two.

Now, where did we put the rest of that glue?

Jan Edwards ©2021

Our New Mallorcan Garden Project – Part 1

A few years ago, we replaced the old wooden, outdoor dining table and chairs on our main terrace with a Moroccan tiled-top table and iron chairs. The old wooden set was scruffy and somewhat wobbly but was usable, so we put it in our field just beyond our garden area. Afforded some dappled light and shade from our tree, it turned out to be a useful lunch spot, often cooled by the lunchtime breeze known here as l’embat. We used it a time or two when my dad and Uncle Ray visited, but the weeds under the table and chairs were scratchy around our legs.

Last spring’s strict Spanish lockdown gave us time to do something about this. Over a period of several weeks, hours were spent pulling up weeds until we had only bare earth beneath the furniture. Inspiration struck: what if we put down some weed matting and then gravel, to stop the weeds returning? We’d have yet another decent area to eat and drink or use our laptops during the day.

This became our new project, which would have been completed were it not for a major obstacle. Except for supermarkets, pharmacies, and a few essential businesses, nothing was open. We couldn’t buy weed matting or gravel. By the time lockdown ended and businesses were allowed to open again, our thoughts were elsewhere … we were in the process of having our guest bathroom converted into a guest shower room.

More Weeding Required

And lift!

This summer we’ve been getting up early to take advantage of the cool, fresh air before the sun has risen too far over the ridge. And our 2020 project has been revived. Sadly, the weeds had all returned over the winter, requiring another mega weeding effort. This week we reached the stage of buying the weed matting and the gravel.

Big packs

We hitched up our trailer and visited Juan Lliteras, the construction-materials company on the Felanitx road, where we bought what’s called a ‘big pack’ (yes, they use the English) of gravel. We’ve bought stuff from this yard before and have been impressed by the man who served us (who may be the owner), who is one of the smiliest people you could meet. It’s also impressive that the business is open weekdays from 7am until 7pm, without closing for lunch.

We returned home and parked the trailer close to the area where we’d be working. Our intention was to lay the materials early next morning.

To be continued …

Jan Edwards ©2021

Summer’s Arrived in Mallorca

Porto Cristo in the sunshine. The biggest boat belongs to tennis supremo Rafa Nadal

It’s officially here: summer 2021. In terms of the tourist season in Mallorca, it’s a late start – although some visitors from Germany began coming at Easter. At the moment we’ve seen few signs of many British tourists, because of the requirement for quarantine on their return home. From various media reports I’ve seen, that requirement could be lifted soon for those who are fully vaccinated. We shall see.

Our part-time neighbour and friend Vicky came to stay for a couple of weeks to check on her property and attend to things that needed doing. She had prepared for the subsequent quarantine by filling her freezer back at home.

The first thing to know about owning a second home in the countryside – a finca – is that there is always something to be done by way of maintenance or repair. A holiday in one’s rural second home usually begins with fixing things or organising a técnico to visit the property to sort out problems.

Beyond Repair

Some things, however, are beyond repair. One of those is the old cart we inherited when we bought our finca. Someone asked me the other day if we still had it. Yes, we do.

A very old bougainvillea keeps this cart more or less standing

During the last winter we looked at its poor state and wondered whether we should remove it. The Boss feared it could collapse and banned me from weeding in the area, just in case. One day I spotted a lot of the creeping weed Galium acarine, sometimes known as sticky bob or sticky willy. We’ve been plagued with it this year and I’ve pulled out metres of the stuff from just about every area of the garden.

The dreaded weed was threading its way through the old bougainvillea which grows from under the cart. Well, that had to go, or I feared we’d have no beautiful bracts this summer to add colour to this patch of our land. When The Boss spotted me at work near the cart he came to join me and we tackled the weeding together.

Up close and personal, we discovered that although the cart has collapsed on one side, rocks (of which we have a lot) and the old bougainvillea are forming the equivalent of a girdle to keep it all in place. The cart lives on … and the tidying of the sticky bob that The Boss and I did has paid off, as you can see.

Busy, Busy …

Our friends Maureen and Peter, other part-time English neighbours, wrote to me a few days ago, pointing out that they hadn’t seen a blog post for a while. We’ve been busy.

There have been various appointments here and there – one of which was to organise new persianas – the slatted window and door shutters that are a common feature of Spanish properties. We had the wooden ones replaced at the front quite a few years ago and now it’s the turn of some of the shutters at the back of the house.

I’ve also been busy working on getting my debut novel Daughter of Deià published. Because I have little patience, I am leaning towards the indie publishing route. Traditional publishing takes a long time and that’s if you can even find a publisher who’ll take you on. It helps to be a celebrity, apparently. I’m not.

My research into self-publishing, or indie publishing, suggests I am at the base of a steep learning curve, but I love learning new things, so I’m girding my loins for the journey and looking forward to holding that published book in my hand.

Wherever you are, I hope your summer has begun well and that you have the pleasure of looking forward to a holiday, somewhere, soon.

Jan Edwards © 2021

A Burning Need

Goodness, where is this year going? Although Mallorca is not in lockdown, restaurants, bars, and cafes have been closed for what feels like ten years (at least to those of us who do all the cooking at home). Establishments with terraces were allowed to open these again from Tuesday, March 2nd – albeit with limited capacity and an obligatory closing time of 5pm. We’ve not yet been out for lunch, as the weather’s been dull and chilly for eating out, but we have had a coffee on a terrace – in a tiny bid to help a local business. Lunch out is on the agenda for next week, when I hope it will be a little warmer and sunnier.

The Boss and I have spent most of our time at home, although there have been the weekly food-shopping trips and coastal walks for some exercise and bracing sea air. The lack of variety in our daily lives has meant that time has seemed to pass quickly. Relatable?

Well, cue some major excitement! We had a bonfire. Yes, that’s what passes these days for a thrill around these parts. In truth, having a bonfire where we live is a heart-rate-raising activity, because it brings back memories of the wildfire that swept onto our land from a neighbour’s out-of-season bonfire which reignited without warning and spread like… you guessed it.

We hadn’t had a bonfire on the finca for almost two years, partly because we are able to have one for a limited period in the year (usually October to April, but dates can vary depending on the weather conditions) and we just didn’t get around to doing it when we were allowed. As a result, we had what looked like a scaled-down version of Mallorca’s tallest mountain, Puig Mayor – in the UNESCO World Heritage Site Serra de Tramuntana mountains – near the end of our field.

The Boss was Chief Fire Master and he’s super-cautious, lining up a large, full watering can, and the garden hose unfurled and connected to the outdoor tap. Yours truly was there to provide a second pair of eyes on proceedings and, given how chilly it felt to me on the day, to enjoy the heat. From start to finish, our bonfire activities took around two hours – after which we rewarded ourselves with coffee and cookies for a good morning’s work.

‘That’s a long-overdue job off my list,’ The Boss said, with a sigh of relief, as we looked at the smouldering black circle of ash where once a mountain of garden detritus had stood. Perhaps it’s best I don’t tell him I’ve already started a new pile…

Update on Dusty

He’s forgiven us. Post-operation, Dusty is now coming for his meals at the same time as his siblings and we are able to stroke him again. Let’s hope no further trips to the vet’s are required.

Jan Edwards Copyright 2021

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