|Mediterranean Garden Society|
The Balearic Islands Branch of the MGS
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.