Top Tip of the Month: Orchid clips for your hair

orchid clips for the hair

Really successful orchids, the blowsy ones whose heavy blooms weigh down the stems so much that they need two clips to keep them anchored to the stick, are everywhere at the moment.  My top tip of the month is to let your orchids flop and steal the clips for your hair.

At a garden centre, they cost less than the clips you can buy as hair accessories, £2.84 for 25 as opposed to £4.00 for 6 at Claires Accessories. AND they don’t break as easily! Bargain.

Gaudy, garish and green

Bright green I can accept, even in February. And pink or white blossom is fine in early spring. garden gaudyBut the blowsy reds, oranges, blues and yellows of late spring, although tantalising, are a bit vulgar. I fall for them every time, the gaudier the better. The only consolation I take is that occasionally I do come up with something with a bit more class.


Like this basket of tete a tete for example, hanging near my shed wall. tete a teteOr this lovely orchid that I found on our hillside in Spain last week. It’s about 10 inches high and Lindsay Blythe, local expert and brilliant plantswoman, identified it as a pink butterfly orchid or Orchidacea papilionacea. I think this variety may be Heroica since it’s flowering now in mid-March and others flower later in April.

butterfly orchidI was excited to imagine I might have found something rare, but in fact it’s quite common in dry meadowland across Europe, from the Caspian Sea in the east, all across the Levante and north Africa, right up the western Mediterranean and north into the foothills of the Alps. Common as muck, but far more beautiful.



eucalyptus deglupta

What’s going on in winter?

frankie confettiNothing in Andalusia stands still in winter. Once January has burst its pink and white almond blossoms, the people dress up like clowns, paint their faces and carnival like south americans. This particular parade requires everyone to throw handfuls of confetti at each other until its in their underwear.

Back up in my garden in the mountains, the first year’s growth on this clementine tree is protected with some fleece but inside its wrap, as Javier explains, it’s bursting with blossom.javier explains citrus blossom

And whilst everything is preparing this month to go crazy on our hillsides in March and April, producing swathes of wildflowers without any intervention at all by Piet Oudolf, spring flowers SpainChris and I have decided on the final trees we’d like for the bends we have created.

The first is the magnificent rainbow eucalyptus that I first saw in the Fairchild Tropical gardens in southern Florida. eucalyptus degluptaYou can’t really believe your eyes when you first see this tree. You think you’ve wandered into a Disney park by mistake. But it’s real.

mature luma apiculataThe second tree is one I have coveted for some time. First seen in the Abbotsbury Sub-tropical gardens in Dorset, I’m assured it will grow in hot southern Spain, so we’ve carved this site for it. If we can find a sturdy multi-stemmed specimen, it should look spectacular. More spectacular than me doing my tree impression.

site for chilean myrtle

3 pots of dwarf irises

3 pots of dwarf irisesThese three tiny ceramic pots of dwarf irises are actually more successful than the ones in the heart-shaped basket I shared on my last post. Somehow they seem to be reaching for the sky, stretching up like a yawn after a long sleep. They’re a sure sign that spring is on the way. Also, the green moss contrasts better with the deep blue flowers than the yellow moss I used in the basket. So, I’ll know better next time. That will be the formula for next year.

Dwarf Irises

Before Christmas, I threw a handful of these deep purple dwarf iris bulbs (variety “Harmony”) into this wicker heart-shaped basket hoping they’d bloom for Valentine’s Day.  They have quite a romantic look about them with their perky lips and yellow eyes. But as you can see, they’re a month ahead of themselves. Can’t even find Valentine’s cards in the shops yet to go with them! It’s all about timing isn’t it?

Creating the most beautiful garden in the mediterranean

That’s a pretty stupid goal to have set myself. First of all, how would you ever know yours is the most beautiful garden in the mediterranean? It’s not as if there were a Michelin star award system for gardens where inspectors swarm round with clipboards, smelling your jasmine and measuring the girth of your bottle palms.

Next, even if you do create what you think is beautiful, will other people feel the same? Isn’t being in a garden an entirely emotional, subjective and highly individual experience? I don’t care for roses, for example, and won’t have them in my garden. Yet a mediterranean garden without roses is for some as unthinkable as a night at home watching a movie without a curry.

I have to accept that we will never know if we have created the most beautiful garden in the mediterranean, nor will we ever agree on what is beautiful. But it won’t stop me trying.

Parkinsonia microphylla, or palo verde – the green stick tree that captivated my husband in California

At least we’ve put things in place now and the bones of the garden are visible. Like this small copse of trembling Parkinsonia at the entrance. It bursts into bright yellow flowers after rain and its tiny leaves shake without even a breeze.

The kitchen garden with its crinkle-crankle wall is built, fitted with electricity and water and the orchard is in – all the citrus you could want, plus walnut, pistachio, avocado, mango. It now waits for me to be there more to plan out the herbs, vegetables and flowers that will make it a truly remarkable pottager.


western paths

The mixed wood on the west hillside.

And the wood on the west side of the hill, wrapped up against the cold last winter, with pods of fleece like little ghosts, has survived its first year and is beginning to give definition to the paths we carved last year. In amongst the native retama, carob and oaks, we have planted acers, liquidambar, pines and elms to give colour.  Now we wait for them to mature.

The palms we planted several years ago have grown rather slowly but these cycas have done really well. I love cycas. They look as if they’re made with cheap but strong plastic. The kind that scratches you as you walk past. But actually, they’re one of the strongest and oldest plants on the planet. Cycas survived the meteor that destroyed the dinosaurs. They love our dry warm hillside and have doubled in size and produced so many offspring already that we’ve set up a nursery and will transplant them when they’re ready to leave home.


And the path that entices visitors down to the southern end of the plateau, to enjoy a sundowner cocktail or sit around the fire pit and tell stories is in place. And the steps off that end down the “walk of saints” have been poured. It’s all there. We’re just waiting for it to grow. We have done the major structural work and should, perhaps, take this time to pause, reflect and dream of what it will look like in 20 years time, when it will finally be ready.

south ridge



Wrapping lemon trees and people

I thought that the climate we had bought into in Andalusia was relatively mild. You know, sunny, cool winters and hot summers. A place where citrus fruits gamely rode from one season to the next and orange trees were either horny with blossom or heavily pregnant with fruit the whole year round.

wrapping lemonsBut it appears that in their first year or two, we have to be a teeny bit careful. So when Javier planted our new orchard, he asked his team to wrap all the trees so they’d be protected from frost in their first winter. Here’s the video of a juvenile lemon tree being swathed in gardeners’ fleece. It looked so cosy I almost asked the same to be done to me.IMG_5247

And talking of which, each year when we buy our christmas tree, we send the youngest member of the family who’s with us through the netting machine that they wrap the trees in. It’s become a family tradition. Here’s a picture of Amine who helped me choose the tree getting wrapped.IMG_5227 Perhaps we’re starting a trend here – garden processes that can be done to humans. Pruning? Grafting? Deadheading? Now there’s a thought.