For those of us in the northern hemisphere, it is welcome to spring. Our winter has not been harsh but it has been unpredictable with, as is becoming the norm for many areas, extreme temperatures and erratic weather patterns. Dining outside for lunches on the terrace, wearing sunhats to protect against 22C in February and then lashing rain and hailstones the size of golf balls in April, battering blossoms and buds, after the land has become so parched that if we are not watering almost on a daily basis, the plants are withering and dying.
We are planting trees, our annual spring activity. This year, it is citrus, almonds and peach. And two mimosas. I plant for the environment, of course, but also for the colours and the goodies Nature offers in return. Along with every shade of spring green, I am joyous when the tree petals start to unfurl and colours appear. Everywhere here at present is bedecked with wisteria. It lines the winding avenues like yards of bunting and brings the Carpenter bees out by the dozens.
Michel has been harvesting our bitter oranges which we transform into golden marmalade. We used to make litres of vin d’orange but so rarely drink it now – except occasionally served up for guests as a rather snazzy cocktail mixed with champagne – that we don’t bother anymore. This year our orange load was close to ninety kilos. So laden were our trees that I have been putting up notices to give the fruits away to anyone who wants to make their own jam from our organic fruits. If you live nearby, would like some fruits, contact me through Twitter or the Olive Farm Facebook page. They are yours for the taking.
I am becoming rather passionate about not only growing one’s own food but, if there is a surplus, passing it on to others. Food for Free is such a positive concept. Paris is handing out permits for its citizens to create small street gardens wherever there are spaces to plant, even at the feet of roadside trees. Bee-friendly plants, organic produce; food for us and for the pollinators. We are living in a time where we find many homeless on the streets and refugees arriving into towns in need of our help. I would like to see communities taking a step further. Why not involve the jobless, the homeless, the disenfranchised in the community activities? Many of the refugees I have spoken to have fled countries where they were farmers or land labourers. In Syria, for example, they might conceivably have lived by their own olive trees.
The notion of growing food in cities, in inhabited areas, in abandoned lots, is a very important one because so much is being taken away from the earth: forests felled, country habitat disappearing, vast swathes of land poisoned by chemicals, fungicides, that we urgently need to feed back into the earth. We must.
Aside from that, it is so much more cheering to see growth, resplendent with blossoms and colours, than neglect. For years, I have been encouraging the idea of window-boxes for those who don’t have gardens or yards. Community initiatives are also the way to go. And getting out there to plant and grow your own vegetables is terrific exercise. I had a friend – alas, she has sadly died now – who made it her objective to “green-up Islington” in London. She first did a recce of the area where she lived, jotted down all the dead spots. The surround of a church is often a good one, she told me. School yards etc. She went to visit the owners, caretakers, local council, to ask permission and then over a period of some years she transformed those dead zones with their broken paving stones, litter-infested gravel yards, or just earth doing nothing useful. She grew strawberries for the school kids, lettuces, tomatoes, flowers, of course, and planted many trees including fruit trees. Whenever I went to visit her I used to walk the long way from the tube station to admire all that she was achieving. I always thought she was an unsung local heroine tending her small universe with love and generosity.
One of our many rosemary shrubs in full blossom right now. Rosemary has been hailed since ancient times for its medicinal properties. It soothes muscular pains, improves the memory and aids the immune system. It does not require a great deal of watering; the bees love the flowers and, although native to the Mediterranean, it grows easily in most areas. If you are roasting lamb or chicken, sprinkle some onto the skin before putting in the oven. Delicious.
Aside from planting and ground-tidying – M makes the marmalade, not me! – I am rather excitedly preparing for two important events in our lives. Michel has one of those special 0 birthdays coming up and we are slowly (because he is hopeless at giving me his list of desired guests and their contact details) putting together plans for a weekend garden party. Tents, tables, chairs to beg and borrow from friendly neighbours, temporary dance area, levelling off a section of ground for a friendly boules competition, suggestions for menus. The decision as to what to roast outside on the spit. I love it all. The flurry and the anticipation.
Before the party though comes the publication of THE HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE CLIFF, pub date is 16th May. If you are outside the UK, thebookdepository.com ships worldwide for free. Here is their link: https://www.bookdepository.com
I will be doing several events between the UK, Ireland and one in Javea in Spain. Do take a look at the Events page on this website and if you are anywhere nearby please come along to cheer me and to say hello or hola and maybe also buy a book which I will gladly sign and dedicate.
A few of my peers were sent the manuscript and the comments several sent back to the publishers made me blush with delight. It would feel like boasting to copy them here but they can be found under Review: https://www.amazon.co.uk
Both of the blogging sites, LoveReading and Tripfiction, will be running competitions to give away a few copies of the novel so do go to their websites in May to take a look and join in. In the meantime, I am doing a few interviews and writing a short article or two here and there to promote the book. Otherwise, I fill these spring days walking the land and sometimes taking fun photographs such as these.
What else is garden furniture for?
I sincerely hope you will enjoy the book as much as those who have read it so far seem to have done. Feel free to drop me a line and let me know your thoughts.
I look forward to seeing you at one or other of the events if possible before I bury myself away for the summer to party and then to forge ahead with the next book.
Take care of yourselves and the planet. We are all vulnerable and I worry more and more about the greed and incompetence of so many of those who are meant to be our decision-makers.
Thank you for being here and for reading this.