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Mallorca: Cap de Fibló

by Yannick Vu
photographs by Yannick Vu

For the full article see The Mediterranean Garden No 43, January 2006.

It was a phenomenal shock when, after what I thought had been a very windy night, I woke up on that Sunday morning, 11th November 2001, and discovered from my bedroom window the bright spots of thousands of oranges scattered on the green grass like a Renaissance carpet, the row of cypress trees neatly lying on the vegetable garden, aligned like corpses after a battle, and the fact that I could see a house never visible before. I went to other windows and each time the same unusual views lay before me, with huge pine trees uprooted and piled up in a chaotic fashion. First disbelief, then evidence; it was true, we had been visited by something unexpected in our latitudes, a catastrophe one usually sees on CNN reporting from Cuba or some tropical paradise visited by tourists and tornados. It went on for two days. The trees kept falling as my husband Ben, helped by Edgar, Pepe and Alicia, sawed and cleared the pines barring the road to the gate. A few days later, after the 87 trees blocking the access had been cleared, we could finally go to the village. There we realised that we had been at the heart of the tornado called in Mallorquin Cap de Fibló, whereas Alcudia, the nearby village, was nearly normal. The following Thursday we were hit by a hailstorm, which lasted for half an hour and reduced the leaves of the surviving trees to a pulp that immediately blocked all the drainpipes of the terraces, provoking spectacular leaks in the house and creating an even more desolate landscape, if that were possible.

The day after the storm was bright and windy and we decided that there was no alternative but to evaluate the damage systematically. Under the glaring winter sun, starting at the seaside, we walked all the way to the top of the hill in that eerie, unfamiliar landscape. At the end of the morning the counting was finished. We soon realised that we had lost more than 700 trees: mostly ancient pine trees of imposing dimensions, practically all the cypresses, some carob trees and even some wild olive trees.

It was a pioneering task to uproot all the gigantic though shallow stumps of the pine trees that had colonised the entire valley, the hill and the torrent in particular. We buried them on the banks to avoid future termite and Blastophagus infestation. This allowed us to clean the bed of the torrent and thus prevent inundation in case of excessive rain, as had happened in the past. The branches were mulched thanks to a voracious and powerful composting machine, which soon transformed them into neat sizable heaps. All the trunks were speedily evacuated. Slowly the machines and the men brought back some order into this chaos. It was reassuring to hear the concert of chain saws from morning till dusk.

My task was to clear the rose garden and the orange grove of all the debris that covered everything in sight. Getting up in the dark, I did my daily computer work before daybreak, and from dawn to dusk I relentlessly slaved in the mud, carrying tons of waste in my beloved wheelbarrow, like a very lonely but undefeated ant. I wished there had been more ants to help me though.

Nearly a month later, we had got used to the idea and were making plans for the future wall, which was to replace the cypresses and turn the rose garden into a real "Hortus Conclusus", since now the plot was badly exposed to the north winds. We ordered climbing old roses, which were soon to grace it and were valiant enough to bloom the following spring. One year later we added a pergola, which is now a spectacular sight in May.

Only three years later - since the rainfall had been poor and consequently the wood decomposed slowly - were we able to distribute the compost on the remodelled and bare banks of the torrent and sow wild plants like Borago oficinalis, Centranthus ruber, chamomile, anis, wild leeks and carrots, Salvia verbenaca, Clematis cirrhosa, Papaver rhoeas, all kinds of species that thrive in this dry climate.

Along the torrent under the pine trees that had completely disappeared we discovered a number of decent oak trees, which we pruned; now, four years later, they look very dignified and have prospered significantly since they are liberated from the conifers’ oppression. The same is true of the wild olive trees, which spontaneously grace the whole landscape with their minute silvery leaves and give it a biblical touch with the asphodels at their feet. In the lower part of the torrent just before it reaches the sea, we have cleaned the underbrush and planted thousands of irises, native to the place. When we arrived 25 years ago I found a few clumps of totally naturalised white and purple subjects and every three years I divided them. They are probably Iris albicans and Iris chamaeiris. We have now established a fine plantation of them, either as border plants in the “Hortus Conclusus” or en masse in the lower part of the torrent, mixed with Zantedeschia, Gladiolus communis and Narcissus papyraceus.

Obviously the views towards the sea are brighter; we can now see the lighthouse of the little islet of Aucanada but the winds are fiercer since fewer trees are there to block them. Somehow one is not too nostalgic about the invading pine trees and the vegetation that grows vigorously under the oaks and olive trees is no longer suffocated by the acidic pine needles; it is a great pleasure to see healthy stinging nettles prosper close to self-seeding giant nasturtiums. Oak and olive trees seem to resist the strong winter winds far better and they produce a good compost with their leaves. It will take time, though, to replace what is gone and if one doesn’ t take serious measures against erosion, the island could lose much of its good topsoil close to the sea during the frequent torrential rains.

To prevent erosion, we do not plough the sloping fields any more since we realised that the rain was taking all the topsoil to the torrent and then to the sea, leaving us the stones on the surface that gave the landscape a lunar and desolate quality. We bought a device which, attached to the tractor, speedily buries the stones and mulches everything it encounters and that enabled us to rebuild some topsoil. In winter the fields look like elegant meadows, actually of a prettier shade of green that the Californian grass of the golf course next door whose greens are a poor sight in winter with their unattractive brownish colour. In summer our fields have a light straw colour that contrasts nicely with the dark green of the carobs.

All the fallen trees now have their monument, a beautiful natural stone four metres high on the face of which we engraved the date of the catastrophe 11-11-1. Erected at the entry of the Foundation, it is a reminder of nature’s unpredictability. It is clearly man’s duty to prevent further damage.

Summarised by The Editor, Caroline Harbouri. 

View before the storm.

View after the storm November 2001.

The garden in 1998.

The same view in January 2002.

A wall to replace the cypresses, March 2002.

The new pergola in May 2002.

The pergola covered in roses by May 2004.

By June 2004 'as though nothing had happened'.

White irises in April 2004.

A monument to the lost trees marked with
the date of the storm 11.11.01.
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