Having lived here two years now – can you believe that? – I think I can safely say that spring is my favourite season in Portugal. Winter here isn’t as barren as in the UK – after all, the olive trees and pines and eucalyptus are in leaf all year round, and as Portugal is notoriously wet in winter, the grass is also lush and verdant. This winter seemed especially wet, and cold, and LONG – even longer given that we were in yet another Covid lockdown – but from late January it was clear that Mother Nature was waking up.
The first signs of life were from the Japanese quince, which very quickly became covered in cheery bright red flowers that put a smile on my face every day. Each morning I take the dogs for an early morning stroll on some wasteland opposite the house and over the space of a few weeks it went from being a blank green canvas to a riot of yellow and white as the gorse and broom came into flower. Looking across the valley I could see the white sprays of bridal broom brightening the landscape like a flash of fireworks.
In February another splash of yellow was added to the palette as wood sorrel appeared among the grass. And then the fruit trees came into bloom – almost overnight the three plum trees along the bottom of the garden transformed from bare branches to a mass of white blossoms. They were closely followed by the apple, pear and cherry trees and a mass of delicate pink and white petals highlighted the landscape for a couple of weeks until it all fell like confetti drifting in the breeze. At ground level, the sorrel was joined by sprays of purple heather and wild garlic, its scent hanging heavy in the air.
March, and the more flamboyant flowering shrubs – magnolias, azaleas, lilacs – burst into colour. Huge calla lilies peeked over the tops of garden walls and there were fields full of lupins, the seeds of which are a popular snack here.
As we moved into April wild flowers made an appearance in the verges – tangles of periwinkles intermingled with rich red poppies, delicate creamy rock roses, sunny corn marigolds and fresh camomiles. But the wisteria was the star of the show – every wall and even some trees seemed to have a bush growing up it and the smell as you walk past was heavenly.
May and the weather warmed up. Fire safety regulations mean land needs to be cleared by the middle of the month and the air was filled with the buzz of strimmers and chainsaws. The freshly cut grass is fast losing its vibrant colour and gradually the land is turning a burnt umber as it dries out. Gardens are now full of roses, each more colourful and elaborate than the last, and umbrella milkwort provides a splash of yellow to the verge. Hydrangea bushes add blue, pink and purple to the canvas. And in the woods, ferns that were only tiny sprouts yesterdays are now as tall as me.
It’s been fascinating watching the changes as winter turned to spring to summer. Now the focus is on fruit – the trees are laden with plums, figs, olives and apples, and the vines are beginning to bear the first grapes. What changes will I notice over the coming months as we move through summer to autumn and back into winter? I can’t wait to see.