Tag Archive: spain


Floral art outside the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain. picture by Steve Mosley

Floral art outside the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain. picture by Steve Mosley

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Old School Garden – 29th September 2015

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

I’ve looked back at what I wrote to you at this time last year and it began ‘I’m feeling very guilty’.  Once more I find myself confessing to not much happening in the garden, well until the last few days at any rate.

As you know we went on a two week trip to the Hebrides (Mull and Arran) and Northumberland in late August-early September and this, coupled with an earlier spell away in Portugal has meant that the garden has been sorely neglected; but for the harvesting and watering efforts of our daughter, Lindsey and friends Steve and Joan, that is.

My other excuse, and you’ll be bored at me banging on about this, has been decorating, decorating, decorating…and still one more room to go plus some finishing details.

Enough of the excuses, what have I been up to in the garden? Well of late hedge cutting, including an overdue trim of the neighbours’ side of a mixed hedge that forms one of our boundaries. And today I am going to do drastic work on that laurel hedge that backs the main lawn (or should I say ‘Mole patch’). You might recall my plans to create a wildlife pond on the northern side of this and how my plans for the hedge are to:

  • let more sunlight into the pond area

  • reduce the height of the hedge to make it easier to maintain

  • create a sweeping curved profile to add visual interest.

Well, I’ve made a start with hedgecutter and loppers and today I will try to tackle the thicker stems using the wonderful battery-powered chainsaw I was given to trial by it’s makers Ego. And I mustn’t forget to mention Deborah’s efforts in weeding paths and beds, which has certainly made things look a lot tidier.

Despite the neglect nature seems to find a way of surviving and so there’s still plenty of ornamental interest in the garden at present, including a lovely Hydrangea paniculata, Sedums, and of course the various grasses which are now starting to put out their feathery flowers.

There seems to be a good crop of apples on the way to add to those already picked. It’s also been a good year for figs and we are just about coming to the end of the cucumbers, peppers (which were decimated by an attack of caterpillars) and tomatoes (the shortening days and contrasting night time and daytime temperatures are having their effect on what remain on the plants). I’m also rather pleased with the crop of squashes this year, largely planted to provide ground cover while we were away, and they seem to have done this and rewarded us with a winter’s supply!

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Returning to the house renovation side of things, I finally bit the bullet and chopped off the stems of the ivy growing up the front of the house, which had been encouraged to cover up some rather unsightly painting over flintwork (sacrilege). I now plan to remove the dead stems with crow bars etc and then get the builders in to sandblast the front and repoint the stones. Quite an undertaking, but I think it will be worth it in improved appearance alone.

The front of the house with its, now dead, ivy- removing this, sandblasting and repointing the flintwork will be a major undertaking, possibly before winter really sets in

The front of the house with its, now dead, ivy- removing this, sandblasting and repointing the flintwork will be a major undertaking, possibly before winter really sets in

I’ve also been splashing out on some bulbs and spring bedding in the form of violas and pansies, which I’ve started to use in some of the containers that were beginning to look a bit sad. They will hopefully provide a good splash of colour during the dark winter months. Oh, and I came across a plant on a visit to Wallington Hall in Northumberland (more on this visit in due course) which I couldn’t resist; a Crocosmia called ‘Norwich Canary’- as a season ticket holder at Carrow Road it just had to come home with me!

It’s also that time of year when I put out the bird feeders and I was immediately rewarded with the usual crowd of Blue and Great Tits plus a few other species. It is lovely watching them have their breakfast while we have ours.

WP_20150929_10_33_19_ProOn the wider gardening front I’ve re-engaged with my voluntary input at Gressenhall and Blickling. I’ll be posting about the latter in the next few days, and for the former I’m pleasantly surprised at how well my areas of responsibility have come through the summer and into autumn. I went in last week and felt that not much tidying was required so I turned my hand to mowing the grass and edging this. The front entrance border with its mix of grasses, lavenders and shrubs was looking great.

Oh, and I may well be running my garden design course once more. you might remember that the Reepham Learning Community is no longer functioning so my venue at the High School is no longer available. So I’m making enquiries about running a day time course in the New Year using accommodation at Blickling. This looks promising, and it might be especially helpful to use the gardens here as a way of illustrating elements of the course. I’ve also been invited by a former student to give a talk on the basics of garden design to her gardening group near Fakenham soon, so that will help me to keep my hand in on the teaching front.

Well I think that just about wraps up my recent gardening life. How is your garden looking just now? I bet it’s a picture with the weather helping to bring out those lovely autumn leaf colours in your wonderful collection of trees.

All the best to Ferdy Lise and we hope to see you soon, old friend,

Old School Gardener

 

 

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Seafront Walkway, Malaga, Spain

Old School Gardener

A panorama of the Cortijo where we stayed

A panorama of the Cortijo where we stayed

Over our week in Andalucia, we visited the nearby town of Archidona a few times (it had a rather good supermarket). But one day we took our time…

Archidona lies in the foothills of the Sierra de Gracia. Andalucia.com describes the town:

‘… Bordering on the Granada Province, Archidona sits at the very centre of Andalucia, 660 metres above sea level. This rural community dominates the valley over which it presides……

The municipality covers an area of approximately 187 kilometres and has a population of around 10,000. Although, as with many Andalucian villages in the 1970’s, there was a grand exit from the countryside and into the larger cities, Archidona is once again a thriving little town, whose economy still depends to a large extent on the olive groves that surround the area, which yield a very high quality of olive oil…

Although Archidona has grown from a tiny village into a small town, many of today’s inhabitants still remember the days when they played marbles and hopscotch in the narrow streets. In the area knows as “Los Caños de las Monjas“, older residents in Archidona reminisce about gathering together in the hope of finding work in the olive groves, being paid at the rate of 15 pesetas a day. Woman took their washing to “Los Caños” – the public wash place. In those days, if a widow or widower remarried, the young people of the village would stand outside the house of the newly weds and make a dreadful din, often resulting in the groom chasing them down the road, firing rifle shots in the air to scare them off. Things have changed in Archidona and there is more modern housing and good facilities, but the general layout and structure of the town has remained largely unchanged…’

We made for the centrepiece of Archidona, it’s octagonal square, where we ended up having a superb lunch after looking a little further afield, including up to the mountain top church and monastery which overlooks the town…

 

Well, that just about sums up our week in central Andalucia, apart, of course from the actual place we stayed, alongside our welcoming and helpful hosts, Michael and Lisa. So, to round things off, here are a few pictures of the Cortijo which was a beautiful house in a wonderful setting, where I especially liked picking fresh figs and eating newly harvested almonds. It was also a joy to lie in a hammock- something I haven’t done for a long time and which felt almost foetal in its gentle two-way sway and tight wrapping…oh, and I mustn’t forget the warm red wine which we sampled, and sampled, and sampled…

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Old School Gardener

WP_20140918_17_52_44_ProWhilst on a trip to nearby Antequera we made our way out of town (eventually, given a one way system, roadworks and a spanish-speaking Sat- Nav)  to see the nearby limestone landscape of El Torcal. Andalucia.com says:

‘El Torcal Park Nature Reserve is known for it’s unusual limestone rock formations. … within El Torcal Park’s 17 square km are some of the most beautiful and impressive limestone landscapes in Europe. The whole area was under sea until one hundred million years ago.

Then the violent movements of the Earth’s crust forced it upward into hills and mountains up to 1.300 m, the limestone still kept its layered horizontal formation. Because of this, over the millions of years the rain and wind have been able to chisel away at these layers to form incredible shapes…’

Of the three marked routes around this fascinating ‘Karst’ limestone landscape, we opted for the shortest, which took us around 30 minutes…..

The landscape was reminiscent of our recent ‘Tor Challenge’ in Dartmoor.  But here the fantastic rock sculptures (many of the more shapely ones being named after well known objects and animals) are Limestone instead of Granite, and here there was so much more exposed rock crammed tightly together, but again set within another dramatic landscape.

 Old School Gardener

Old School Gardener

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‘Lovers’ Leap’ in the distance- or maybe a slumbering giant?

We took two trips to the town of Antequera, about 45 minutes away. Andalucia.com describes Antequera as ‘the crossroads of Andalucia’:

‘A visit to this historical Andalucían town is a journey almost 5,000 years back in time, beginning with the Bronze Age and the native Iberians. The timeline is there to be followed in this fascinating city’s profusion of burial mounds, dolmens, Roman baths, a Moorish Castle, Gothic churches, Renaissance fountains and baroque bell towers.

The first sighting of Antequera in the distance is that of a typical medieval town, with the spires of her many churches and the walls and towers of the great Moorish fortress silhouetted against the sky. Spread out in the valley below lie rich farmlands irrigated by the Guadalhorce River. For centuries this has been one of Andalucía’s most fertile areas, and is currently a leading producer of asparagus, cereals and olives. In summer, its fields turn brilliant yellow with sunflowers.

The enormous crag of limestone of 880 metres high, that overlooks the town and valley of Antequera (see picture, top) is known as La Peña de los Enamorados, or “The Lovers’ Leap”. The name comes from a local legend about an impossible love affair between a young Christian man from Antequera and a beautiful Moorish girl from nearby Archidona, who were driven to the top of the cliff by the Moorish soldiers, where, rather than renounce their love, they chose to hurl themselves into the abyss.The romantic fable was adapted by 18th century poet Robert Southney in his poem Laila and Manuel about two lovers: a Muslim girl and her father’s Christian slave.

The mountain is also sometimes known as “Montaña del Indio” due to its resemblance to a native Indian from certain angles.’ (It does rather look like a slumbering giant?)

Prior to a rain-soaked walk around the town (ending up with cream cakes and afternoon tea in a rather good cafe), we first visited some of the ancient dolmens on the edge of the town; megalithic burial mounds, dating from the 3rd millennium B.C. The reception building and associated explanatory video were excellent.

 

The dolmen called Menga is thought to be the largest such structure in Europe (25 metres long, 5 metres wide and 4 metres high), and was built with thirty-two megaliths, the largest weighing about 180 tonnes. After completion of the chamber (which probably served as a grave for the ruling families) and the path leading into the centre, the stone structure was covered with earth and built up into the hill that can be seen today. When the grave was opened and examined in the 19th century, archaeologists found the skeletons of several hundred people inside.

Later in the week we explored the town more properly (again seeming to be on auto pilot for cakes and afternoon tea). The old fortress and it’s environs were especially interesting and well-restored, with some good quality, sympathetic newer housing alongside…

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Several of the nearby houses had front door curtains in fabrics in jolly patterns including the story of Don Quixote…

So having seen more of the local area, as well as the ‘jewels in the crown’ of Granada and Cordoba, what more could we fit in before the end of the week in Andalucia?

 

Old School Gardener

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By now we had settled into our week-long home in the mountains of Andalucia. We were even getting used to driving on the ‘wrong side’ of the road.

Today’s trip was to be our furthest afield, taking a couple of hours by motorway. It is a place I’ve wanted to visit for some time, principally because of the Mezquita (the former mosque) now the city’s  Cathedral- Cordoba.

Having found some parking we made our way into the city, even going past one of the old gates in the city walls, which said ‘you’ve arrived’. We stumbled upon a horse show in the buildings originally used to train up horses for the Spanish Royal family. After winding our way through the narrow streets we came out onto the banks of the River Guadalquivir and the stately old bridge which arrives at the edge of the Mezquita and other notable buildings. Later in the day we had a delightful ‘mooch’ around the old jewish quarter of the city and even found a couple of stylish patios (courtyards) which whetted my appetite for the spring festival that celebrates these – that will have to wait for another visit…..

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Andalucia.com describes the City:

‘Cordoba was founded by the Romans and due to its strategic importance as the highest navigable point of the Guadalquivir River, it became a port city of great importance, used for shipping Spanish olive oil, wine and wheat back to Ancient Rome. The Romans built the mighty bridge crossing the river, now called “El Puente Romano”. But Cordoba’s hour of greatest glory was when it became the capital of the Moorish kingdom of El-Andalus, and this was when work began on the Great Mosque, or “Mezquita”, which – after several centuries of additions and enlargements – became one of the largest in all of Islam.

When the city was reconquered by the Christians in 1236, the new rulers of the city were so awed by its beauty that they left it standing, building their cathedral in the midst of its rows of arches and columns, and creating the extraordinary church-mosque we see today.

As well as the unique mosque-cathedral, Cordoba’s treasures include the Alcazar, or Fortress, built by the Christians in 1328; the Calahorra Fort, originally built by the Arabs, which guards the Roman Bridge, on the far side of the river from the Mezquita, and the ancient Jewish Synagogue, now a museum. Cordoba’s medieval quarter, once the home of the Jewish community, is called “La Judería” (The Jewry), a labyrinth of winding, narrow streets, shady flower-filled courtyards and picturesque squares such as La Plaza del Potro. In early May, homeowners proudly festoon their patios with flowers to compete for the city’s “most beautiful courtyard” contest.’

 The Mezquita was undoubtedly the highlight of the day, its sheer size (both outside and in) taking my breath away. The inside was a fascinating and beautiful mix of Islamic and Christian symbols and art. The contrast between the relatively simple Islamic decoration and the gold-leaf splendour of the cathedral created within it was startling; and also evidence of the rather brutal way in which the Catholic church muscled in and sought to out do the evidence of Islam. This even extends into the large paved space outside- the original mosque wash basins set into the surface have been filled in and orange trees now fill them with their roots. It was the simpler, but exquisite architecture of the mosque that somehow left the most powerful impression on me, and which also probably appealed more to my own artistic taste…

 

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After this we took a tour around the royal palace (the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos), that sits nearby and is one of Cordoba’s major landmarks. Originally built in the 8th century as a caliphate residence, this complex of buildings and gardens reached major significance during the Middle Ages, when the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella lived there.

The Alcázar is a composition of massive fortress and royal palace and has some impressive water gardens; complete with statuary, topiarised Box and Yew, a series of arched fountains reminiscent of the Generalife in Granada, and some curious red flowers. I think they were some sort of Celosia but were quite tall and showing distinct evidence of fasciation– when a fault in the growing tip of the plant causes the stems and the flowers to flatten and become fan-like. Apparently some varieties of Celosia are raised especially for their dependably fasciated flower heads, for which they are called “cockscomb” …

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Rather numbed by the day’s series of wonderful sights, we made our way back along the motorway and mountain tracks and once more to another late night supper by the pool. Could we manage any more beauty on this scale?

Old School Gardener

I’ve been writing about my recent trip to Andalucia, and in my last post covered the day we spent in Granada and especially the palaces of the Generalife and Alhambra. One of the powerful impressions of this visit was how water can be used to enhance a particular feeling or ambience of a space, so I took a couple of short videos to demonstrate this. The first is from the Generalife and is of a series of fountains in a fairly narrow court or garden. The feeling I get is of an active space, one which you’re encouraged to move through, onwards to the palace…. would you agree?

The second sound is of the Patio of the Myrtles in the Alhambra’s Nasrid Palace; a  simpler, larger space where the barest burble of water adds to the restful atmosphere, and as I said in my previous post, the space is almost like an ‘outdoor cathedral’ in the way that sound is softened… enjoy…

Old School Gardener

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