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.



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


A Prickly Harvest

A common sight in Mediterranean gardens like ours

The Mallorcans call them figues de moro, or Moorish figs, but I just call them dangerous. The prickly pear cactus or Opuntia ficus-indica, if you want to go all Monty Don, is a common sight in rural Mediterranean gardens. Some people grow vast ‘bushes’ of it around the perimeter of their property, as a kind of burglar deterrent. A not unwise choice, since the large flat leaves of this prolific plant are covered in tiny spines that can be extremely irritating if they get into your skin. I speak from personal experience.

We usually avoid going too near our large prickly pear cactus, which borders a short stretch of the lane that leads down into the valley. Funnily enough, when our outdoor cats were kittens, they used to leap from leaf to leaf without any apparent problems, but on the occasion that I stood up from weeding the ground underneath our plant and my forehead hit a leaf on the way up, I had no such luck.

I rushed into the house and looked into the mirror, expecting to see the tiny spines sticking out of my skin. I couldn’t see anything, but if I brushed my hand over my forehead, I could certainly feel them. Dozens of them. The Boss spent a patient half hour or so with a magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers extracting the irritating little devils from my skin. Not an experience I wish to repeat.

Which is why, at this time of the year, when the prickly pear fruits are ripe for the picking, you won’t find me harvesting them. I’ve never eaten one (which I perhaps should rectify) but have heard mixed reports: some people say they’re pretty tasteless, others describe them as delicious. I have a recipe for prickly pear sorbet, but doubt I’ll ever make it. You see, the fruits also have these nasty little spines, and the job of peeling the fruits puts me off.

Last week, a large old Mercedes stopped outside our gates, and the driver hooted for our attention. He turned out to be a passing Moroccan who had spotted our vast crop of prickly pear fruits and wanted to know if he could have some. It seems a pity that they go to waste, so we told him to help himself to as many as he wanted. I hope his wife had some good thick gloves . . .

Handle at your peril!

Jan Edwards ©2012