CONFLICTING theories concerning husbandry jostle beneath the olives. Traditionally, here in the Alpujarras, the earth beneath the trees should be kept bare to ensure every droplet of water is drawn up into the fruit. An alternative train of thought is that groundcover should be encouraged to insulate the soil and prevent evaporation. It’s all very scientific, but in a basic sort of way . . .
On my wanderings I meet a chap called Chris. He tells me that groundcover is essential and works on several levels because it attracts insects – which enhance plant fertility – and captures the early-morning dew. For these reasons it should not be cut back. Bare earth is old thinking.
I like the sound of capturing dew. It has a mediaeval feel to it. Dew ponds, perch ponds, rambling herb gardens and the call to vespers. That sort of thing.
So I allow my groundcover to flourish. This is an easy and not unpleasant task, and one I can recommend to gardeners everywhere. Bees buzz and birds sing amid my carpet of rich greens. And from the earth spring strange plants, the most prevalent of which are barley and borage.
Barley was once a staple crop in this part of Andalucia, so it’s not surprising it seems to flourish everywhere. The remains of circular threshing floors can be found in remote areas, high in the mountains and down in the valleys.
Borage is native to the Mediterranean and can be eaten as a vegetable. According to Wikipedia, the Germans use it in grüne soße (green sauce), the Mexicans in salsa verde (which sounds like the same thing), the Italians stuff ravioli and pansoti with its leaves, and in Poland it is used to flavour the national delicacy – pickled gherkins.
And because I’ve just planted some gherkins, this leads almost seamlessly to my next post. I love it when that happens . . .