Archive for the ‘Plants’ Category

It was another stunning day in La Orotava and the flower carpets as always added a sea of vibrant colours to the already ridiculously picturesque old streets. But although the carpets were sensational, there were other things which caught my eye this year. Images and scenes which brought home to me the real essence of La Orotava’s rainbow coloured celebrations – the first was the sight of four toddlers sitting on the ground picking petals from  flowers.

Child Labour in La Orotava

Child Labour in La Orotava

The carpets are clearly the magnet for the thousands of people who visit La Orotava, but having photographed the carpets over the last few years, I was looking to try to take some different shots, so this year I focussed more on the people creating the flower carpets.

No...it definitely goes there!

"No...it definitely goes there!"

I find them incredible to watch; each family member’s role is clearly defined from the most mundane snipping petals from flower heads to the careful placing of each individual flower to create evocative images. The younger kids are entrusted to carry bags of sacks, a bit of petal pulling and some laying the grass seeds in the less detailed sections…watched closely by the supervising abuelo who barks stern words when they get over enthusiastic. There are even individual carpets created solely by children. It really is an all round family affair which ensures that the tradition will be carried on ad infinitum.

A message of world solidarity...even if the Chinese person has an odd shaped head

A message of world solidarity...even if the Chinese person has an odd shaped head

The family atmosphere even extends to visitors and although by midday La Orotava is buzzing with people, the chances are that if you’re a resident of any nationality, you’ll bump into someone you know.  At various points we bumped into Colin Kirby (admittedly there aren’t many people with blond hair wearing a CD Tenerife shirt, so Colin’s hard to miss), Phil Crean (composing a photograph with a patience I just don’t possess) and our friend, Jose, who we hadn’t seen since last year’s carpets.
As Colin mentioned in his blog, an attempt to ‘storm the tower’ to get some aerial shots was thwarted. But at least we weren’t physically rebuffed like some overly keen young local lads who also tried to rush the entrance to the Iglesia de la Concepción’s tower.
Thanks to Jose, I did manage to get halfway up the tower at one point and snapped a few quick shots before being shepherded back to ground level by a trainee jobsworth. To be fair, I understood his reluctance to let just anyone up on to the roof. It’s not designed for spectators and somebody falling with a splat on a flower carpet might have been spectacular, but would probably have ruined the day.

From a Room with a View

From a Room with a View

To get the full sense of what is going on a few circuits are required to see the streets being transformed from being full of crates of exquisitely coloured petals and grass seeds into an open air gallery for floral masterpieces.

The heat of a June day combined with La Orotava’s muscle testing slopes can make it a test of stamina, but the rewards are always worth the effort and anyway a rest stop at a Guachinche every so often rejuvenates. One of the things I noticed was that carpets retain a similar theme each year. Some alfombristas stick to traditional designs or religious imagery whilst others use more contemporary designs which need a bit of contemplation to figure out. Thankfully Jose provided priceless information when we were stumped. I just couldn’t make out what one carpet was at all until he pointed out it was a fallen angel.

Heres Angel...but wheres Buffy

Here's Angel...but where's Buffy?

As the day progressed, the town became a little less manic and ironically by the time many of the carpets are having their last petals placed, between 4 and 5pm, the streets were relatively quiet. It’s a good time for photographs, but we were shattered. I knew that I really should complete another circuit; that the best shots lay out there waiting for me.
“Home?” Andy suggested.
“Absolutely.” I answered without hesitation. At least for us it’s only a five minute drive.
We strolled past the church again and headed down hill. A little kiosk beside the church was buzzing with some of the alfombristas who, now that their work was done, were enjoying the late afternoon sunshine with a caña in their hands. It looked inviting.
“Cerveza?” Andy suggested.
“Absolutely,” I replied without hesitation.

That’s the problem with this colourful family affair; it’s very difficult to drag yourself away from it.

Click here to see a slideshow of the La Orotava Corpus Christi Carpets

Is it, or isn’t it? We all knew that the calima a couple of weeks ago was a false indicator regarding what the spring temperatures actually were. Thirty degrees isn’t the norm for this time of year, not even in the driest of the southern areas of Tenerife.

Hibiscus - natures restaurant for bees

Hibiscus - nature's restaurant for bees

Sweet smelling fresias

Sweet smelling fresias

So when calima left, temperatures dropped again, but this time only to the low twenties – hardly a hardship. The pattern for the weather on the coastal areas of Tenerife seems to have been pretty much the same over the last few days. Clear blue skies and hot in the morning with some clouds rolling in by around mid day/ one-ish then (clearly the sun likes its siesta too) then by around five in the afternoon the sun appears again to make evening strolls a very pleasant affair.

Destined for the kitchen - Lemon Grass & Oregano

Destined for the kitchen - Lemon Grass & Oregano

Geraniums - always reliable for that splash of vibrant colour

Geraniums - always reliable for that splash of vibrant colour

This morning we awoke to a very distinctive sign that spring might be here to stay. The morning chorus of canaries twittering, doves cooing and the Pavarottis of the lot, the little capirotes singing for all they were worth were joined by another voice; the ‘hoop, hoop, hoop’ of the aptly named hoopoe bird. He’s a wonderful little guy, a bit like a cross between a woodpecker and a roadrunner. Unfortunately I’ve never managed to take a decent picture of him as he tends to avoid our garden and sticks to rummaging around in the verge on the single road which links our house with civilisation.  I usually spot him we’re in the car and by the time I whip my camera out, he’s gone.

Lavender - anothe favourite with the bees

Lavender - another favourite with the bees

Bouganvillea - delicate flowers and deadly branches

Bouganvillea - delicate flowers and deadly branches

Anyway, his song inspired me to take a wander around the garden and see what was happening in the flower display department. As you can see, we don’t subscribe to the ‘Mary, Mary quite contrary’ approach when it comes to gardening. Personally I prefer gardens which are a bit wilder and are allowed to do their own thing to a certain extent (which reading between the lines means an excuse for less mowing and pruning).

Queen of the plants - the bird of paradise

Queen of the plants - the bird of paradise

Some people believe that there aren’t seasons as such on Tenerife and in some ways, depending on where you live, there’s not a great variation in how the landscape looks between summer and winter. Puerto de la Cruz and the north of Tenerife’s payoff for having more rain during the winter is that, come spring the landscape blooms in spectacular fashion. Even in our garden, between Puerto and La Orotava, jasmine and freesias and wild lavender contribute sweetly perfumed scents, whilst the bougainvillea, geraniums and hibiscus add splashes of vivid colour. However, none of them can match the rainbow coloured elegance of the regal bird of paradise plant.

The hoopoe didn’t put in an appearance during my stroll around the garden, but I noticed a few other folks who were, like me, enjoying the warm morning sunshine.

Woody the woodpigeon

Woody the woodpigeon

This guy sunbathing on a leaf

This guy sunbathing on a leaf

...and the king of the sunbathers, Whiskas

...and the king of the sunbathers, Whiskas

But you’ll have to take my word for it because for the life of me, I can’t take a decent picture of Puerto de la Cruz’ buzzing heart.

It’s lush, surrounded and shaded by palm trees and beautiful emerald Indian laurels. There’s a wonderful fountain in the centre where water trickles from oversized yams. It’s bordered by pavement cafes and restaurants and every night it’s filled with Canarian families and visitors to the town. It’s a place which is full of life and smiling people.

This just doesnt capture it at all!!!

This just doesn't capture it at all!!!

Photographing it should be easy, but so far this simple task seems to have eluded me.

Probably one of the lesser known facts about Tenerife is that the island has a cottage industry of small scale beekeepers that produce a range of delicious honeys.
It’s possible to buy multi-flower honey made from pollen from the coast, the hills and the mountains. You can buy single flower honeys made with pollen collected from avocado trees, chestnut trees and the tajinaste plant, which blooms very briefly between May and June in the Teide crater.
The Honey Museum in El Sauzal, responsible for co-ordinating Tenerife’s beekeepers, awards a label of denomination to honeys which meet their criteria for quality, so anyone interested in sampling, or taking home some honey should make sure that jars have that label on their backs (there’s a lot of inferior Chinese honeys about).
There’s one thing to be aware of, the prices for a jar of honey vary enormously. Whatever you do DO NOT BUY honey from a tourist trap; you will be creamed. If you can’t buy direct from the producer, buy at an agricultural market, or even a decent supermarket.

A friend took a jar back to Britain recently. The first place we looked was at the Parador shop in Teide’s crater; the price? A hefty €8.25. Believe me, this is a serious mark-up, but not the worst offender. The price for the same jar at the North Airport was an incredible €12+!
Just as well then that she’d bought her jar at the Al Campo supermarket in La Orotava where she’d paid a much more reasonable and purse friendly €4.75.

Honeys of Tenerife

Honeys of Tenerife

We love chillies, the spicier the better, but for a couple of years after we moved here we struggled to buy them on a regular basis. When we mentioned this to a friend, the only surprise she registered was that we’d even bothered to try to buy them.
“There’s no point in supermarkets selling them; by the time you find a supermarket which sells them on Tenerife you could’ve grown enough to keep your mouth tingling for months.”

She was absolutely spot on. A €0.60 pack of seeds and a flower pot and now we’ve got more chillies than we know what to do with. Every day I harvest a few more and the next day, it seems that another five, three-inch long ones have taken their place.

Last week we used them in Moroccan Chicken, Black Bean Charros and Parsi Eggs. This week we’ll use them in Indian Chickpea Salad, Falafal and Hot Pasta Salsa. It’s wonderful to have such a stock of these aggressive little fellows, but we’re running out of ideas for recipes, so if anyone knows any particularly good ones, we’d really appreciate it.

Hot Stuff

Be Ruthless

Posted: April 24, 2008 in Plants, Spain, Tenerife, Trees, Uncategorized
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Orchid treesIt’s taken a long time for me to realise that on Tenerife, the northern parts anyway, the most effective way of having a beautifully lush garden here is to cut trees and shrubs right back to the bone every so often. The two orchid trees in this picture looked exactly the same three or four months ago, then I pruned the one on the left until there wasn’t a branch left on it, only five bare trunks; a skeleton of a tree. Now look at it, incredible. The speed at which plants grow is frightening. It’s no wonder that Tenerife was a botanists dream.

I hadn’t been looking forward to it, but with the first rains due any day now, the time for procrastination was long over. The orchid tree had become an unruly mess and was sprawling over the herb patch menacingly like a schoolyard bully. It’s not the sawing and chopping that puts me off, in fact I love the whole ‘Tool Time Tim’ element.  It’s the getting rid of the disaster area debris afterwards that adds a real comatose inducing aspect to it.

Every branch has to be cut into manageable pieces with a pair of secateurs and put into garden refuse bags; a painfully long process which leaves me with blisters and aching hands. On the brighter side, it does give a much needed boost to the woodpile. Even here at a 100 metres or so altitude, there’s a noticeable difference in temperature from the coast and during December to March, evenings can be on the cool side; a good excuse to fire up the wood burning stove.

I’d been going at it for a couple of hours, the pile of branches stubbornly refusing to diminish. My motivation, like the strength in my hands, was on the point of taking a vacation when a loud squawking in the distance told me that a flock of parrots were heading my way. I never tire of seeing parrots, so it was the perfect excuse to down tools for a few seconds to watch their multicoloured fly-past. This time there were six of them; large lime green ones heading for the hills, no doubt escapees from Loro Parque (a zoo on the other side of Puerto de la Cruz).

Robin keeping me company Brief interlude over, I picked up the secateurs and with a deep sigh turned to face the chest high pile of branches again to find that I had another avian visitor, a more unexpected one. Sitting on the branches, just a few inches away was a robin with the most vivid red breast. An incongruous vision in the warm sunshine on an island near the coast of Africa. But then, the festive season is just around the corner. Already Christmas lights are starting to spring up around the town. There’s chestnuts roasting on open braziers beside the harbour for the fiesta of San Andrés, so why not a robin in our garden. All that we need now is for it to snow on the volcano (usually happens toward the end of November) to complete the picture. And if I ever finish getting rid of those damn orchid branches that’ll be the Yule time log on the Christmas cake. Chestnuts, robins, snow on Mount Teide and a roaring fire – and it’s warm during the day. You just couldn’t have a more perfect combination.