Life seems out of sync. Colours are missing. Dawns started to have the lustre of silver dew back in August, long before the usual onset of autumnal freshness.
On one of my ambles I savoured the company of a silver-washed fritillary butterfly (Argynnis paphia), lover of oak woodland and brambles, a big beauty, swift and powerful. But where are all the painted ladies, the red and the white admirals, peacocks and tortoiseshells? Is the early dew a portent of harsh winter? Is the absence of some of the eminent butterflies the consequence of climate?
I always think of my late mother when one of these wonders of nature flickers by. She planted gardens to coax them and would relish their vivacity. It matched her own.
It is a long while, too, since I have seen a large blue butterfly, a flagship for conservation should one be needed. It is needed, of course: We need stories of endangered survivors like these, even if it is a social parasite.
The large blue female lays her eggs on the leaves of wild thyme, of which we have an abundance. Then, at a certain stage, the larvae wander off and will perish unless they are found by a certain species of red ant (Myrmica sabuleti). The ants take the larvae back to their nests where they spend most of their life cycle in safety, feeding on ant larvae. How is this possible? It seems the large blue butterfly has evolved the ability, in larvae form, to mimic the larvae of a queen ant, both chemically and acoustically. The ants are fooled into caring for it.
Countless caterpillars of the rose sawfly (Arge pagana), mustard and green with black spots, are munching their way through the leaves of Maggie’s roses. The female insect saws parallel cuts into fresh shoots of the host plant and the eggs are deposited into them.
As with the large blue butterfly, what is under our noses never ceases to amaze.
Of ants in general, there is no short supply at Mother’s Garden. Irrigation pipes are their super highways through the undergrowth – red, stinger, black, dinky and juggernaut, we have them all. Everywhere the tireless workers trundle back and forth along cleared routes, some carrying home huge pieces of plant debris, to mounds of bare earth perforated with entrances. They may well be able to carry 100 times their body weight, but I wonder why the beefier members of the colony never help the doggedly determined little one carrying the largest load.
Not budging one millimetre was a stubble-chinned Egyptian grasshopper (Anacridium aegyptium ) that had settled on the cottage door, easy to identify because of its striped eyes. I did, however, check if this was another early warning, to discover they are solitary with no tendencies to swarm in Biblical proportions. That’s a relief. This adult was a pretty dull grey, but the tiny young ones (nymphs) can be bright green, or a shade of brown, even orange.
I was doing my rounds, and the next stop was the swimming pool. There is no telling what will appear in there, and I endeavour to check of a morning before holiday guests arise, stretch and consider taking a dip.
After saving several floundering insects I cleaned the filter and removed the less fortunate, which that day included a black and white bee that still has me stumped. While I had it under the magnifying glass beside the barbecue a fearless and menacing ichneumon insect stalked about the marble work surface. What an example of our complex, unfathomable world. Then back in the office, my mind on such small yet immense things, a tiny snail emerged from the underside of my desk and, oblivious, sauntered across my computer keyboard.
With socks hung out to dry on the mountain line we ready ourselves for nut and grape harvests. First, though, we lug the industrial cast iron nutcracker outside and work through nuts unbroken since last year.- almonds, hazels and walnuts.
Lightening storms and downpours have delayed the final ripening of the grapes by a couple of weeks, and the crack of thunder was echoed by the crack of a fat branch on the fig tree giving up under the weight of fruit, leaf and water.
An adult European whip snake coiled in the recess next to the electricity meter to escape the downpour (the meter is far from the house in a brick column at the top of the land) and it would have been wise to stay there. As the clouds moved on a snake-hunting short-toed eagle cruised overhead, harried by two brave small birds which I couldn’t distinguish. There was then a flurry of feathers as our two resident ravens chased away a goshawk.
The wind that carried the storm flustered then abated and the sweet scent of wet wilderness, herb and tree, hung in the golden evening air. Night fell and the stillness of the valley was paced out by the beep-beep-beep calls of the tiny scops owls (Otus scops) as I went to bed, having learned a little more.
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Mother’s Garden Extra Virgin Olive Oil has been awarded a gold star in the coveted UK Great Taste Awards 2015. This is our fourth golden honour in the annual GT Awards.
Would you like to try some? We have just 1400 litres left, available in 2 litre and 5 litre containers and also cases of 6x500ml bottles. See our shop for details.
URGENT STOCK CHECK
A sudden rush of orders for our Mother’s Garden fresh arbequina extra virgin olive oil means we only have 24×5 litres available until the next shipment lands – first week of July.
Any urgent requirements for a 5 litre please let us know, otherwise we can take advance orders now for delivery in the first week of July, for all sizes – 5 litre, 2litre and cases of 6x500ml.
As you appreciate, our policy is to hold stock in the UK for only a very short time, because it is vital for quality that we carefully store your olive oil at the mill here in Catalonia until we ship. This is on average once every six weeks throughout the year. We will be working hard bottling at the mill in the coming days.
We thank you all for your love of our fresh extra virgin olive oil and your continued support of Mother’s Garden. If you are new to the website and Mother’s Garden and are searching for the finest olive oil please say hello.
Martin and Maggie
NEW HARVEST AVAILABLE FOR IMMEDIATE DELIVERY
Order before 5th of January and you will get our premium new harvest olive oil at current prices.
5 litre – £37.50 (2015 price £38.50)
2 litre – £17.50 (2015 price £18)
6x500ml – £39 (£40)
Never tried new harvest arbequina olive oil?
This is a winter fruit and now is the perfect time to get the full benefit of the juice, packed with nutrients and flavour.
Why is premium olive oil considered a summer food? Now is very much the time to enjoy it – drizzled on poached eggs, steamed fish or vegetables, as a tapas base or just for dipping.
ANOTHER ACCOLADE – with this year’s harvest our little cooperative village mill has come second in all of Spain in the benchmark Romanico Esencia awards for the finest arbequina olive oil in the world’s leading and largest olive oil nation. Fantastic.
You may have read that Mediterranean olive production is down by as much as 40 per cent after groves suffered from drought and extreme heat in May and June, their peak blooming period when moisture is vital to develop a good crop. This has pushed prices through the roof. We held our price last year but are forced to raise it a little this year.
Order online at 2014 prices at http://mothersgarden.org/products-page
Summer sighs, olives begin to swell on the trees and we beaver with Mother’s Garden farm work in the early or late hours, or in the shade of the house or barn. In the early afternoon we are in the office, talking olive oil to people from all over the world.
Every day more and more new customers are contacting us to order fresh olive oil, so thank you. We have stock in the UK right now, so please get in touch if you would taste the difference. You can also visit our the online shop.
Here’s the puzzle.
We have started the annual clearing of the barn in readiness for the September grape harvest (we made about 100 litres of farm wine from the little vineyard beside the house) and the all-important November olive harvest.
Hidden in a dark corner behind the olive nets we found some pottery – mud vases all sealed but for one. We find these everywhere and it is a fascinating story. Do you know what they are?
We will tell you later in the week.
Keep well. Eat well.
Here is some fresh extra virgin olive oil good news if you live in Cornwall.
First, we are delighted to be now working with top Cornish chef Ben Quinn, whose refreshing approach to food includes Catch and Cook seafood barbecue feasts, dinner parties in your own home, Cook Together Eat Together family feasts, bespoke menu Pop Up Parties, and wonderful Wedding fayre. His business is worldwide. If you have a special occasion or just want an exceptional food experience in a group or as a family, with Mother’s Garden Fresh olive oil on the menu, get in touch with Ben.
Second, if you want to try one 500ml bottle of our fresh olive oil it is available at Argal Farm Shop, just outside Falmouth on the Hillhead Road. Tel 01326 372737 or see the shop’s Facebook page. Colin and Stacey have a host of other treats for foodies, including homemade cakes, pasties, chutneys, cheeses and even organic skincare. Do you have a deli or farm shop in the Newquay or Penzance areas and would like to stock our fresh olive oil or to ask about it? Please get in touch.
Third, we have more and more Cornish foodies buying direct – 2 or 5 litre containers – and saving on transport by being part of a hub or group who share a single delivery. Again, if you are keen to have fresh olive oil with all its goodness and flavour, at the centre of your table then please get in touch. Some friends who have worked here at Mother’s Garden have done olive oil tastings at some Cornish markets for us – maybe some of you have already tasted some.
Mother’s Garden – cold pressed, exceptional low acidity, one village mill, and we tell you the pressing dates.
FRESHNESS, PROVENANCE, QUALITY
STOCK UP FOR SUMMER FEASTS AND SNACKS – we have a new supply of fresh, award-winning extra virgin olive oil from our village mill in Britain now for immediately delivery.
More and for foodies who want the finest, freshest cold pressed arbequina extra virgin olive oil at a sensible price, bursting with goodness and flavour and with exceptionally low acidity, are joining our customer list.
Try it for yourself.
And for orders over £100 (why not share a delivery with family or friends?) we will refund you the delivery cost, meaning you can get our fresh oil for as little as £7.50 a litre.
Provenance, quality and freshness – trust the tree that is Mother’s Garden.
WHY FRESHNESS MATTERS.
If you just have a question and not an order that’s great too. Just ask.
Or come and see us here in The Priorat, Catalonia and experience Mother’s Garden. We have a few holiday cottage weeks left unbooked in May, June and July.
Keep well. Eat well.
The mountain comes and goes. The air is heavy with thunder, rugged with the contours of rain clouds that take, give back and then take again both distance and perspective.
We were forewarned that this rare storm would be upon us at sunrise, even if last night a vast, touchable moon smiled on a valley day that seemed to cradle life. We were woodlanders for a few contented hours, taking out more pines to bring shafts of light to old olives, oak saplings and all manner of dormant seeds blanketed by needles. It is always good to be in the thick of it, to feel it, hear the whispers of our true context.
The 10 acres that are the sum of Mother’s Garden contain such a sweet muddle of living things and contours, even soils, that it can seem far greater a space. And while there is, we feel, a fair trade between us and the other residents it needs constant reflection and occasional hard labour.
We are on a south facing rise. The farmhouse and holiday cottage are fifty metres back from the lane, shielded from tarmac by our small meadow, a few olive trees and some half managed fruit terraces. To the east is our vineyard, behind we have an olive grove and our water reservoir.
At the top of the land there are more vines and two small almond groves, but across the middle of the farm runs a seam of woodland patterned with trails both human and boar, with piles of seasoning logs, where slowly but surely a long-forgotten life is returning.
It will remain woodland, but it is changing as we seek to bring balance, light and diversity, with one eye on the fury of summer fires. In occasionally spending the pre-breakfast hour weeding out the pines we have found song too. It took just the first effort of clearing for the robins, finches, blackbirds and others to flood that space.
This harmony is happening all the quicker because we have David and Melissa from Australia here. They arrived in early December having wandered south from the Arctic Circle in their camper van and, as happens here, they have exchanged labour for shelter. They seem contented, as are we, and we know it helps that we live in the heart of the world’s best rock-climbing area. Sense, strength, intelligence and laughter, all timely. I will tell you about them in my next blog, but now I must away to the corner of my mind where another screenplay is pacing.
Meanwhile, remember to get in touch if you want to savour some amazing fresh, new harvest extra virgin olive oil. We have stock in the UK now. All you have to do is go to our shop and order or get in touch. We need to keep it moving with your help. Pleasingly, more and more people are in tune with Mother’s Garden and bookings are now coming in for the cottage which will be open through to September. We have had more than 1000 visitors now. Have you seen our Facebook page? This has more photographs and regular updates.
As for the mountain, it as emerged from the gloom and we hope the calm returns before this evening, when the annual St Anthony parade of horses, donkeys and colour carts is scheduled to rattle over the cobbles of the nearby town.
Oh, before I go I must mention Pau’s visit. His name means Peace. He rolled up a couple of weeks ago and asked me if I remembered him. I did not.
Pau is 31 and runs an art cafe in the theatre in Tarragona. His grandparents used to own our farm and he and his family lived on the neighbouring farm. Mother’s Garden – L’Hort de la Mare – had been a fundamental part of his childhood, the land of grand adventures, of grazed knees and wolf cries from the top of trees.
Grandfather Enrique, who handed us the great key to the front door nearly 14 years ago, passed away last year and the family have slowly but surely been sifting through the accumulation of a lifetime. Among the possessions was an oil painting of the farmhouse, seen from across the great circular reservoir, a record as rich with the warmth and light that are as much a part of this place as the tangible treasures.
He thought we might like it. Now, like then, it was hard to find words.
It is early. Another peaceful December day of edifying treasures begins. Golden light gushes through the mountain pines and kindles the silver haw frost. All glitters in a breath of beauty, even the battered wheelbarrow waiting beside the wood store.
Birds charm the blue sky. The last of the fig leaves begin to fall from boughs, followed by random pearls as the sharpness of sunrise quickly melts to green and brown.
All good things pass. But not hope. There is so much nourishment for the senses and spirit when I remember I am a human beings and should, well, simple just BE once in a while.
Suddenly, so few words left in 2013. Every syllable must count.
All people who live close to the soil have similar hearts, priorities and understandings – a grounding, or need for it, that is seeded in everyone. The similarities overshadow the differences, especially when set beside the memories of our rural English childhoods and those of our parents. I have talked of journeying back in time and it is true.
How lucky we have been to find and be able to share Mother’s Garden. We have had more than 1000 visitors now, from all continents.
There is nowhere like nature, and more so any garden which we tend, to offer an immeasurable security in an insecure world; a sense of place. However tiny, even a crowd of pots or a single yard of soil, can hold the truths, lessons, fulfilments, beauty and peace of mind to infuse life with an indefinable calm, a measure of existence.
This has been my home for nigh on a quarter of my life now. Goodness.
What more have we found here beyond perspective? I always say, simply, time. How scarce it is. But we have had the years, hours and seconds of Ella’s and Joe’s childhoods for which, like all, there can never be any going back: the privilege of disconnecting as much as possible – seeking to shield as much as possible – Ella and Joe from the vortex of immoral, de-stablising commercialism until they have had a chance to find their feet, their voices and a real understanding of what happiness should mean; that it does not have a price.
The hope is that in the muddle, shadows and rush of a wider world they will have an inkling of where to stop, breathe and be revived in times of need: To not be afraid to walk along in nature, but be sustained. We dare even to wish they may do more – join the calm, clear voices challenging and pressing to change a system of gross economic obsessions that threatens to suffocate fundamental human values and rob society and its core – the family – of key securities. I firmly believe most people sense this need, deeply.
The native North American Iroquois Indians have a golden rule, a binding law. It is known as the Seventh Generation.
This ancient nation never makes a decision without considering how it will relate to the welfare and well-being of their descendants 140 years in the future.
“What about the Seventh Generation? Where are we taking them? What will they have?”
In the current context it hardly bears thinking about, but that is the point. It has become so critical that most people do feel driven to think about it, to question.
I firmly believe the blind-eye world is coming to an end, driven by the paradox that in an age-of-plenty there is a palpable struggle to survive, and the pit-of-the-stomach knowledge that we are living beyond our physical and mental means, while some people on the beset planet have gross wealth and others starve.
As for the Earth and the Iroquois, imagine that 2000 years ago they or the Romans had cracked the atom and harnessed the power. What would the world look like now? The proliferation of nuclear with its implicit dangers and gross, ageless consequences have not stopped us because we crave the power now and, bottom line, there is money to be made. How have we somehow blanked out that which is unpredictable yet inevitable – violence, be it human, geologic or climatic? It is not and never will be a stable world yet we persist with today not tomorrow.
Forgive me but I have to say these things, as much in hope as anguish. So much good is being discussed
I am writing more than ever now. My four books have been followed by screenplays, and perhaps next year we will be able to tell more of the feature film based on my English novel Count The Petals Of The Moon Daisy, the book I came here to write.
In tandem with Moon Daisy, a project now being co-run by two film companies, winter has seen me begin work on another screenplay – a love story set here among the vineyards, olive groves and mountains of the Priorat in southern Catalonia.
While we continue to consider the following chapters of our lives, we have decided to walk the same path a little longer, opening the cottage to visitors again in 2014 – come and stay why don’t you? – while pressing on with our burgeoning fresh olive oil business.
With assistance from friends around the world we now have a business Facebook page, new labels, a revamped website (all comments welcome as we seek to improve it) and more and more customers who appreciate how special fresh extra virgin olive oil can be.
We have even taken a deep breath and sent some wonderfully fresh new harvest oil home to England for Christmas, so get in touch if you would like some. A rare treat.
Must go. We have a young Australian couple staying and helping on the farm and we are clearing some flower beds beside the front door. A beautiful horseshoe whip snake has just emerged out of the front dry-stone wall of the farmhouse to bask in the December sun. Nature could not be more close, or wonderful.
Keep well. Give yourself some time this festive holiday. Think about the Seventh Generation. Happy Christmas from us all here at Mother’s Garden, and wishing you and the world a peaceful year ahead.
Going in a flash – Our October shipment of Mother’s Garden extra virgin olive oil has sold at record speed even before it arrives in the UK on Wednesday.
BUT there are still 20 cases of 6x500ml available, so if anyone would like to reserve a case (special offer £36 for six glass 500ml bottles which make tasty Christmas presents or dinner party gifts) please get in touch. (*£10 delivery charge for orders under £100).
If you wanted a larger container, the good news is we are getting set for harvest in mid November and there will the freshest possible Mother’s Garden extra virgin olive oil available in Britain in December. It is vital to pre-order to be sure of your NEW HARVEST olive oil – and if you especially want unfiltered olive oil we also need to know in advance.
So, please get in touch by clicking here and telling us what you need.