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Sally Beale

The Balearic Islands Branch of the MGS

Past Events   2013   2012    2010    Older

November 2011
A talk about the history, cultivation, propagation and care of olives trees on Mallorca
Following the tradition started last year, twenty-five members met at the Sóller Botanical Garden for an introduction from its Director, Pep Lluis Gradaille, and a fascinating talk by the young Mallorquín agronomist Llorenç Payeras. Last year we learned about citrus growing, this year the theme was all there is to know about olives on Mallorca.

Payeras introduced the talk by giving a history of the cultivation of olives, Olea europaea, and how this hadspread to our islands,brought initially by the Phoenicians and continued by the Romans. The three most popular varieties of olive here are now the Mallorquína, the Picual, originally from Andalucía and the Arbequina, originally from Cataluña. During the 13th century oil was exported on a large scale from Mallorca to North Africa, and from the 15th century until the 18th century oil was traded from the Port of Sóller in exchange for wheat, a commodity always deficient on the island.

Olive trees in our Tramuntana mountains are on average 500 years old, but they can live for much longer, with no special care or extra water, which is why they are such a valuable crop in dry climates. Modern olive farming methods are more intensive than in former times, and fertilisers, pesticides and irrigation are now used to produce early and heavy crops. Although commercially viable, the old-timers say the oil from these fruits has a different flavour from that of older extraction methods.

Following his talk and time for questions, Payeras accompanied us to an ancient olive grove high up in the mountains above the town where, in a raging thunderstorm, with lightning crashing around us, he attempted to give a demonstration of how to prune correctly. Defeated by the threat of imminent extinction, we retired to the nearby finca to enjoy a wonderful lunch, all made from local produce and prepared for us by people from the village. Thus fortified, we inspected a modern olive press on the farm, a stainless steel machine which can process 150 l of oil per hour, before heading down to the old town of Sóller, where we were treated to a very special moment. Inside the 400-year old building of Ca'n Det, we watched the grinding and extraction of oil from olives using the only original working mill left on the island, three ancient and enormous stones turning on their wheel as they have done since the mill began. The only thing that has changed is the use of electricity instead of donkey power, and there was something immensely moving about this sight in today's fast, modern world. It was moving to see everyone's faces as they watched the wheels turn, and the wicker baskets being packed with pulp and stacked under the press to extract the oil. We all went home with a lovely bottle of fresh green oil, and very happy memories of an excellent day.

Pruning demonstration.

Wicker baskets being packed with pulp.

September 2011
Son Menut and the Lluc Monastery Garden
Son Menut is the home of the Forestry Department, the Vivero Forestal, a public institution known as the Centre Forestal de les Illes Balears, run and organised by the Department of the Environment of the Balearic Government. Established in 1933, Son Menut was created to produce trees and plants native to the Tramuntana mountain range, and to conserve their seeds. The finca comprises a well-established and impressive seed bank, which we visited, as well as a large nursery where thousands of trees are grown and brought on, before being transplanted back into the forest. The team who work at the project are enormously enthusiastic, keen and helpful, and we were all immensely impressed by the dedication of these few young people to the nature conservancy of their island.

Following the visit, we returned to the ancient monastery at Lluc, where we were shown the botanical garden started by Brother Macía some thirty years ago. The garden is looked after by volunteers, either monks or young people who offer their services to keep this tranquil place clean and in good order. This was a special spot, conducive to meditation and contemplation, and we all enjoyed moments of peace as we walked around, as well as the excellent lunch which followed in the old monastery refectory.

June 2011
Visit to Mark Whiting's new garden project
This was a beautiful small private garden in a rural area within the Tramuntana Natural Park which Mark Whiting had recently designed for his clients. The site was an old olive grove, situated on steeply sloping terraces which had all been restored and extended. The owners had required a garden of low maintenance and low cost; not being experienced gardeners themselves, they did not wish to become 'slaves' to the garden when they were on holiday. Mark's brief was therefore to provide a low maintenance, low water-consumption garden, full of the colour his clients desired, whilst not detracting in any way from the stunning natural scenery around the site. He achieved this by the clever use of winding paths and different 'rooms' leading off the paths to allow the eye to wander into areas of colour and shape at will. The old Olea europaea trees provided height and structure and a sense of timelessness, whilst Mark's use of Allium, Agapanthus and Rosmarinus provided contrast and colour. The garden appeared much larger than it actually is, thanks to his use of the paths and the gradient of the different terraces. The plants themselves were not unusual, having been chosen to be safe and easy to keep, but the overall effect was that of a large, impressive, full and bountiful mature garden, a real triumph to Mark's skill as a garden designer.

May 2011
Talk by Xa Tollemache
We were incredibly privileged to host the world-renowned garden designer Xa Tollemache at our branch meeting in May. Xa is the cousin of one of our members, and had kindly agreed to fly over for a weekend to talk to us about her work. Xa lives and works at Helmingham Hall near Stowmarket in Suffolk, which boasts one of the few Grade 1 listed gardens in England. Helmingham has been in the Tollemache family for centuries, and Xa has taken it upon herself to redesign the ancient gardens extensively over the last twenty-five years. The 400-acre estate comprises a deer park, a moat, and serene gardens one of which, the walled garden, dates from 1745. Xa has to this added two rose gardens and several knot gardens.

Xa has been designing gardens since 1996, and she has worked in the USA, Scandinavia, London and all over Europe. She describes her style as ¨classic contemporary¨, and says she uses the influence of the landscape, the house and the lives of those who live there for her inspiration.

Xa gave a fascinating talk in the garden at Ca'n Beya where, in spite of rain showers, wind and numerous distractions, she kept her large audience enthralled throughout the morning. Her talk, with slides, told of her career throughout the world, and described how her style has evolved and changed with time and experience. This was a truly interesting morning, and we thank Xa for her enthusiasm and interest.

Text by Sally Beale

March 2011
An organic garden and vegetable growing cooperative in Puigpunyent

Forty-three MGS members enjoyed a fascinating morning at the home of local member Laura Dirienzo, who gardens on 37,000 m2 in the hills above the mountain village of Puigpunyent. The land is steeply terraced and bordered by no less than three mountain streams (torrentes) which periodically run after winter rains and provide all the water needed for irrigation. Ancient drystone walls lend a timeless feel to the wild areas of this special place, and as one wanders from level to level amongst fields of wild orchids, one could be forgiven for thinking that time had left this paradise behind to dream in peace.

The woodland garden.

There are orchards of fruit trees, and olives and citrus, mostly quite young, as well as grape vines, holm oaks (Quercus ilex) and pines (Pinus halepensis). All are looked after, pruned and loved by Laura alone, with practically no outside help. As she told us, the garden is her passion, and it certainly shows.

Laura in her garden.

At the bottom of the land is a vegetable garden, only three years old, but already full of rich composted soil and an impressive selection of vegetables and roots. The plot is run as a cooperative venture by Laura and two keen friends who share the work, the pleasure and the large quantity of produce. Even in March the variety of plants on show was astonishing, and a hollow tree trunk nearby swarmed with wild bees which act as natural pollinators to the crops.

The organic vegetable garden.

As well as the beauty of the garden itself, we were overwhelmed by the energy and commitment of the owner. Laura gardens entirely according to organic principles, mixing and fermenting all her herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers from natural sources, such as home-grown comfrey, wild nettles and horse-tail. These are stored in containers next to the vegetables and used for every treatment necessary to control pests and encourage healthy growth, as are local seaweed and horse manure. A mixture of Neem oil and potassium soap is used to keep aphids at bay, and plantings of marigolds amongst the vegetable crops attract desirable insects.

Sniffing the organic pesticide.

Laura explained that true organic gardening is not difficult in principle, but it does require total commitment and hard work, as one must keep constantly on top of the situation and not allow pests to get out of control. This was a really inspiring and instructive visit and we are grateful to our hostess for taking the time out from her busy schedule to share her lovely garden with us.
Sally Beale.

February 2011
A visit to Renate Goldberger's garden - Calonge

The Balearic Branch began the year with a visit to the fascinating garden of MGS member Renate Goldberger. Renate's garden is more than seventeen years old, so it is well established and self-protected from the cold winds of February by the mature trees which now surround it. Renate is a true plantswoman, and the garden is a reflection of her passion for Mediterranean plants of an astonishing variety. The gravel paths between the beds were strewn with self-seeded anemones, a riot of colour on a dull winter day. This garden is always interesting, as it contains many species that most of us are unfamiliar with, so one always comes away feeling one has learned something after a visit. Renate is an encyclopedia of knowledge in her field, and following her around the garden is always a joy. The visit was very well attended, with over thirty members present.
Sally Beale.

Photos by Sally Beale
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