8 March 2011

Is it nearly here yet?

One joy of living in Portugal is the fact that you have more daylight than the UK.  When it is pitch black over there, we still have light here which is quite funny considering that both countries are on GMT.  The bonus of this extra light is the fact that I no longer get those 'blues' from lack of light that I used to get periodically during the autum and winter in the UK.  At present, the days are lengthening rapidly and the mornings are lightish by 7.00am.  Makes you feel more positive and definitely gives you more energy.

I get very bored of the sterotypical comments about it must be nice to live in the sun all year round.  Do people not realise that winter is a season all over the world?  There again, a young portuguese student of mine on a exchange visit to a summer camp in America, could not believe it when she was interrogated by the kids on whether they had the same days of the week and months as the US????  Better still was "do you have computers in your country?"

Winter can be just as harsh here as in the UK.  Snow is normal in the north, around the area of the border with Spain, and the temperatures drop well below freezing. The majority of houses do not have central heating.  Electricity is incredibly expensive here so even new houses that are built with underfloor heating or standard central heating, you find people are wary of using them because of the bills.  Gas is either bottled or LPG tanks (out of the question for most people).  To keep warm, gas heaters (with gas bottle), oil heaters or electric convector heaters are the norm and if you are lucky enough to have an open fire or wood burner, you make sure it is well stoked. 

Sofas and beds get more throws or blankets on them to tuck yourself into and sheepskin slippers are brought out to counteract the effects of the freezing tiled floors.  I thought it hilarious when I first saw one of these in the window of a shop, but then realised that for an elderly person in an unheated house, it must be a wonderful thing, especially the heated ones.  I have been told that in the old days, it was quite normal for a family to sit around the kitchen table with a heater under it to keep warm during the evenings.

The Big Slipper!

In my last house, apart from the fully tiled floors, I also had tiled walls in the living room.  I would spend the winter surrounded by two heaters, covered in throws and a large woolly scarf to keep my neck warm.  Tiling is super for the summer, but boy, it's cold in the winter.  Luckily now we have a house with only tiled floors and a tempermental wood burner!  The wood burner is fantastic when it is behaving but when it has a hissy fit, it decides to throw its ceiling on the coals for no good reason.  After getting a serious talking to (ie swearing) by Glenn, it will behave again for a few weeks.  We are fortunate to have a supply of wood for it but I believe the general price for a ton of wood, delivered, is around 100 euros.

Another thing to cope with in the autumn and winter is humidity.  This can be at 100% some days which is not particularly pleasant.  I have old pine furniture, loving dragged across from the UK and when you touch it when the humidity is high, it feels wet.  In my first apartment in Lisbon, I could never make up my mind whether my bedsheets were freezing cold or just wet.  Horrid sensation.  Now, thank goodness due to a sale on Ebay, I got an electric blanket which has solved any problems.

I am writing this looking out over a very damp patio.  Our first anniversary in the house was last Saturday and true to form, the weather was exactly the same as the day we moved in.  Last year we had so much rain it caused untold damage everywhere and drove everyone mad as it never seemed to stop.  The few days prior to our move had been rainy but sporadic so we were hoping for a good moving day.  Not so.  At 8.30am the heavens opened and continued to open for the rest of the day.  We think we had in the region of 6 inches of rain that day.  Our little lane leading to the property, was like a fast flowing stream. 

The last week or so had been beautiful with lots of sun and warm enough for Glenn to top up his tan, but Saturday, just to make a point for our anniversary, the sky went black, the lightning flashed, the thunder crashed and it chucked it down in torrents.  Hailstones were covering Cascais and we wondered whether we would be able to get out for a birthday dinner we were going to.  It did eventually stop and although it was a moonless night, we managed to get to Cascais and back through puddles and mini lakes.  Yesterday we had the same again but this time, it was us that got the hailstones.

The force of the rain can be a nuisance where the garden is concerned.  Not so much with the flower beds, but the pots with bulbs or seeds, even without their base plates, get flooded very quickly and in some cases, the earth is forced out with the strength of the rain.  At times like this, we try to put the most vulnerable pots under the shelter of our 'pergola'.  If the rain is light, we will leave them out because the difference between watering from the tap and from the heavens is huge.  We put the strawberries out for a drink and they have bloomed.  We now have flowers and even the colour of the leaves has improved.  We did get worried about our lemon tree as she has her first adult lemon ripening and various babies starting.  She has weathered it well so far.
Lucy the Lemon Tree

Strawberry pots after their drink of fresh rain
We have a raised flower bed on our patio which has reasonable soil but we have been adding potting compost over the past year to raise its level and to feed it.  It has been trial and error on what grows and what doesn't too.  Fuschias are doing well and so are lavendars but some bedding plants could not cope with the sun and died very quickly.  I am now trying just to fill it with shrubs and keep the bedding plants to pots which can be moved around depending on where the sun is.  I have also got a climbing jasmine, a honeysuckle, a tentative climbling hydranga, a hebe that outgrew it's smart, refurbished old wood burner and a spiraea.  I also have some mint and rosemary struggling under the trees.

Raised flower bed last summer

Container vegetables last year

We had our first attempt at container vegetable growing last year - very enjoyable and with quite some success.  Our tomatoes  lasted all the way throught to October.  Rocket and lettuce were fun but the courgettes and aubergines did not work.  The dwarf beans and carrots were good but the main thing was the taste - just so fantastic.  I also grow all my own herbs.  We already have tomato seedlings growing like hay at the moment, as well as sweet peas and am waiting for the rocket and basil.  As it warms up, I will be prowling my garden centre for inspiration!
A couple of weeks ago.  They now all have four leaves and have been potted on

Opposite our front door are the vineyards and rose bushes which our landlords have kindly allowed me to adopt.  When we moved in the roses were full of black spot and did not look as if they had been tended properly for quite some time.  I dead headed vigorously and they rewarded me by blooming all through the summer and one bush right up until the end of November.  A month ago during spell of fine weather, I decided to give them a severe pruning knowing that roses quite like it.  I am thrilled to see that they are now showing new healthy growth and hopefully will be keeping my three flowers vases full throughout the summer again.
Happy, healthy roses

Today, I was so pleased to see that my crocus have started to bloom - Spring is nearly here - yipee.

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