Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Miniature gardens and bonsai


Miniature gardens are special. Stand-alone microcosms with their own eco system and in the main self-reliant. Here at La Pasera we have several miniature gardens that we have created from scratch using driftwood, left-over concrete, roof tiles or broken pots.

The front boundary wall has a collection of 12 or so miniature concrete gardens all in differing stages of development and evolution. Any spare concrete we have left at the end of building work is mixed with gravel. A mould is loosely prepared in bare earth and the concrete shaped then covered with more earth. This gives the finished receptacle a residue of nutrients that encourage mosses and lichens to grow. We also insert a short piece of bamboo through the base of the pot which will be removed when dry to leave a hole for drainage. Left for a week or so in the soil they will harden after which they can be cleaned and planted.

We find succulents survive well in these shallow pots and rarely need watering. Similarly with old roof tiles, succulents work well. With roof tiles, we cement a few pebbles on at either end, fill with soil, plant and decorate with fine washed gravel.

Do you remember the piece of driftwood we collected from the beach? (story here) This has also been planted and a miniature garden created that will develop and grow over-time.

On a recent trip to town we spotted an unusual piece of studio pottery on a second hand stall, we bought it for a couple of euros with the intention of filling it with house leeks and siting it on the terrace.When we got it home, on closer inspection, we noticed a signature and date; needless to say after a bit of research we found a potter on Flickr that we think is the artist. We have sent email to him and hope he can confirm or not if he is the artist, In the meantime we will keep it safe just in case it is worth a mint (one can live in hope).

We also have a large glass bottle that we need to plant, similar to the carboys you find in the UK. Really not sure what to plant in it yet so any suggestions would be welcomed. I used to have a bottle garden many years ago until it was watered every day by an over-enthusiastic friend who was looking after the house whilst I was on holiday. Bottle gardens never or very rarely need watering after the initial setting up.

We just have the one bonsai tree but would like to grow more. We have plenty of native trees and shrubs that could be miniaturised but bonsai do take a bit more looking after than your regular miniature garden.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The kite festival in Asturias

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As with most events that take place in Asturias, it takes a streak of good luck, a strong wind and a tweet, facebook post or newspaper item falling into your lap on the day an event is likely to take place for you to get to hear about it. Sadly, the marketing of many events is random and generally poor, so much so you generally get to know about something once the dust has settled and it has already taken place.

Not having a TV, taking a regular newspaper or listen to local radio puts us at a disadvantage granted but seriously, marketing and promotion is not something they excel at around here. We do read online Spanish newspapers but it was a random post on facebook on Saturday morning that alerted us to the Kite Festival that was taking place on a local beach so we decided to change our plans and take a look.

Much to our delight there were some pretty impressive kites and quite a few interesting kite flyers who were more than willing to share their passion for all things kite. There were a myriad of designs, sizes, abilities, tricks and turns and it  was really fascinating to witness the many stunt kites and gadgets they were using.

One kite had a remote control camera mounted on the control string and was taking aerial shots of the bay and the event (I want one) and another had a teddy bear attached to a parachute that ascended up the tether to a trigger near the main kite that released the bear which then parachuted back down to earth with a gentle and perfect landing (I want one of these also). The weather was sunshine and clouds with a moderate wind although many of the participants stated that they would have like a bit more.

We chatted at length to several participants and learnt quite a bit so it was well worth the effort. We walked along the coastal path and enjoyed the festival from near and far. It is a real shame that events such as these are not better promoted as there were few people around apart from those connected (literally) to the kites and their families.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A new date-stone for La Pasera

It has always been in mind to create a date-stone for La Pasera. Something that would mark the date we got the keys to the house. Luis had already made a small mosaic to commemorate the date the house was built but we wanted something slightly more quirky.


When the studio/workshop was completed we saw the potential for mounting a larger and striking date-stone made out of mosaic on the gable end wall. In addition, the growing collection of mosaics in and around the garden also serve to act as a showcase for the range of mosaics Luis produces.

Opus Lapilla.  Mosaic limestone ridges or river stones.
The four elements - one of three mosaics for the main drive

We thought long and hard about what we could design. We have always loved art deco and used to be avid collectors of art deco pottery, glass and ephemera. With this influence in mind Luis and I decided that we would like a clock in the Art Deco style, with fixed hands that would mark the year we got the keys. Can you spot what year this was?

The date-stone 2006

It has yet to be mounted but we need to repaint the house this year and we will also paint the studio so until then it will remain under wraps. I wonder what the villagers will think when it is eventually mounted? We really like the finished clock face and now plan another for the other gable end but this time with a real working clock mechanism and hands - con tiempo...

Gallery of images here: Mosaics

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Water in the garden

As I write this blog post and stare through the raindrops on the study window it all seems a bit pointless to be talking about the need for water in the garden. We have had one of the wettest and coldest springs for a few years, much the same as the rest of Europe from what we see and read.

View out of the study window - a brief spell of sunshine

In the brief spells of good weather it reminds me how important it is to have several aquatic habitats and features in a garden. Whenever the sun does shine through, the birds and insects re-emerge and make use of the various water baths we have around. Blackbirds, goldfinch, greenfinch, sparrows, siskins and many more really enjoy a fresh drink and bath whenever the weather permits.

In addition to the bird baths we have a smallish pond that is home to about 16 or so fish. We started off with 4, 1 died and then three years later we had about 30. Some were transferred to the pond at the Donkey Sanctuary and the rest remained here only to be attacked by our visiting Heron. We thought we'd lost the lot over winter but as the weather warmed, about 16 emerged, seemingly unscathed by their ordeal. 

The pond, surrounding rocks and bog garden also act as a suitable habitat for a variety of garden friendly visitors including frogs, toads, hedgehogs, small and large lizards and, a whole array of insects.

 Once the better weather arrives we will be treated to displays of dragonflies and damselflies as they emerge as nymphs and metamorphose before our eyes on the grasses that border the water.

We have a sawn off barrel on the terrace that is also filled with water, a rock and a couple of water-loving pot plants and occupied by several large toad tadpoles. They are already growing limbs and will soon be on their way, controlling the slug and snail population in the vegetable garden.

We also harvest rain water from the roof of the shed which helps water the vegetables and fruit when the warmer weather hits. All in all, the addition of a few receptacles for collecting water helps create and promote habitats and refreshment for a whole host of animals, birds and insects. Wentworth and Gawber also prefer to drink fresh rain water rather than tap water and can often be found drinking from a variety of bowls and dishes we have around the garden. It always leaves me wondering how unnatural our tap water must be, because given the choice, they will always choose fresh rain water. 

Wentworth at his vantage point in the bog garden

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Walking in Asturias 14: In search of Lago El Bricial


If you enjoy walking in stunning mountain scenery with very few people around then the Picos de Europa mountains are ideal. The magnificent limestone peaks, diverse flora and fauna, wooded valleys and extensive high pastures never fail to impress.

Lago La Ercina

An area that attracts visitors to the Picos are the two mountain lakes, Lago de Enol and Lago de la Ercina. During the busier summer months you can only take your car up to the lakes before 8am then it is only accessible by a procession of mini coaches that come and go at regular intervals. At this time of year there are hardly any visitors and access by car is unrestricted.

Lago de Enol

The ascent is not for the feint hearted as the road is narrow with very steep winding sections that have little or no protection to the significant sheer slopes to the valleys below. Usually no problem until you come across a coach or  herd of cattle.

This spring we decided to go in search of the third lake Lago El Bricial. This lake is seasonal and only forms during winter and spring due to the melting snow and ice. We arrived following a 1100 meter ascent by car and parked in the main parking area near Lago Enol.

We have walked in this mountain range on numerous occasions and it never fails to impress. The route is reasonably well sign posted for this part of Spain and once you get more than 500 meters into the walk you rarely see anyone.

Typical way-markers

The stone Shepherds' huts with their weighted down roof tiles are magical and are dotted around the landscape on the high mountain pastures.

After an hour of walking and taking photographs we came across Lago El Bricial and walked around its shores. It appeared to have two sources of mountain water, one from and underground gully and the other from a magnificent cascade and waterfall. We had been here before but in the height of summer when it is a green and lush pasture.

Vega/Lago El Bricial

We stumbled upon a wolf print in the snow just next to the waterfall, truly magical. We have heard wolves in the mountains but never spotted them and probably never will so a wolf paw print is some compensation.

The walk carries on through a beautiful wooded glade and we came across what we first thought was an animal enclosure but discovered it was a barrier to a deep, very deep cavern. The sound of gushing water below echoed in the stillness.

The mountains are home to many animals and birds including wolves, wildcats, brown bear, chamois, chough, vultures, eagles and fox but unless you are exceptionally lucky or patient it is rare to see the mammals.

A flock of Cough high above

The highlight of the walk was the abundance of wild flowers in particularly the Narcissus bulbocodium which was in abundance and the Gentiana Acaulis which I think is my favourite blue coloured flower.

The walk and a long lunch stop took about 5 hours but we didn't rush and took many photographs. The walk is circular and easy going but walking boots and a stick are recommended. Here are a few more photos including a rare snap of me...

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Slow Worm: Anguis fragilis - Coitus Interuptus

As regular readers of our blog know we love Slow Worms. They are a legless lizard and are known to be semifossorial (burrowing) in their nature but spend a lot of time, especially at twilight, looking for food i.e. slugs and worms. They enjoy basking in the warm sun and especially like damp places such as long grass and cavities in rocks. Like other lizards, they have the ability to shed their tails if captured by predators (autotomise) but it will re-grow, only smaller.

Our compost heaps are like magnets to the local population of Slow Worms. They love the warm and damp conditions and can often be found under the black plastic covers. This week we were just about to empty one of the compost bins when Luis screeched as he unveiled a pair of magnificent specimens in the middle of mating. On first sight he thought it was a snake (he hates snakes but loves Slow Worms).

Needless to say we couldn't move them and left them to carry on with their Friday afternoon affair. Later in the day we returned, they had finished their coupling and we carefully moved them to another compost bin where they could lie back, listen to a bit of Barry White and whisper sweet nothings to each other.

They give birth to live young so we eagerly await their arrival and the future decimation of our slug population. More about Slow Worms here.