Darwinian Gardeners 7th April 2018
On April 7th a group of 30 gardeners went by coach to visit the famous, but little known Cueva del Puerto caves of Calasparra. Fortunately the coach driver knew the way, it would have been easy to miss the tiny signpost marking the narrow road up to the large, but almost empty visitor centre. These hypogenic caves were formed millions of years ago by groundwater rising and falling and eroding the soft limestone, and have been enhanced by the formation of stalagmites, stalactites, curtains, corals and 'popcorns' caused by rainwater dripping into the caves from above.
The caves were discovered in 1963, and after several years preparing it for visitors, building paths and stairs, opened it to the public. We walked slowly for about 500 metres admiring the wonderful formations, cleverly lit to show them at their best. Then after a short talk by one of our guides, we walked back the way we had come, admiring everything from the other side. An hour and a half later we emerged, climbed back on the bus and drove through Calasparra to the restaurant Coto Riñales where we had an excellent menu del día.
Darwinian Gardeners Wild Flower Walk
On March 4th a group of gardeners were led by Chelo on a wild flower walk along a section of the Via Verde. Chelo trained as a park ranger, and is an expert on wild flowers. Along the way we saw a good selection of spring flowers which thanks to the recent rain were abundant. We learnt to recognise several plants which are good to eat; the leaves of wild rocket, wild Swiss chard and Purple Mistress (moricandia arvensis) and we tasted the flowers of Vipers Bugloss, which look pretty in salads. Chelo pointed out some wild flowers which would do well in our gardens, due to their drought and pest resistance. Along the way she knew where to find orchids, and we several Sawfly and Dark Bee orchids. She also explained how the yellow Cistanche (known in Spain as Wolf’s Penis) is a parasitic plant and how a small purple ‘weed’ is being used in the fight against breast cancer.
An unexpected bonus were the ruins of a large Roman Villa and the quarry for wash stones. The rain clouds were gathering, so we walked briskly back to our cars, reaching them just as it started to rain. The walk was followed by lunch at the Siena Restaurant in Mazarrón.
As well as our regular monthly event, the gardeners this month had the opportunity to visit a private garden whose owners specialise in growing cacti. In the older part of the garden, which has been established about 15 years, there was a wide variety of cacti and aloes. The owners talked very knowledgeably about the care and propogation of their plants. In another area of dry garden there were many more cacti and aloes, many of them in flower-
Three comercial-size greenhouses contained breeding stock, including new varieties hybridised by the owners. Here were cacti, succulents, lithops, and aloes in varieties too numerous to mention.
We were able to buy plants for our own gardens, and were entertained to home made cake before leaving for lunch after a thoroughly enjoyable visit.
Our regular monthly event was a visit to the Astronomcal Observatory at Puerto Lumbreras
Our regular monthly event took place on the evening of February 24. A group of 27 gardeners visited the Observatory in Puerto Lumbreras. We joined the coach at various locations around Mazarrón and were driven to the Bocadillón restaurant in the centre of town, where we had a very nice meal.
Then an exciting drive on a narrow, winding road up to 800 metres where we found the Observatory. After a brief film we split into 2 groups. In turn, one group used the telescope where, one by one, we saw bits of the moon magnified 700 times, while the other group went outside to look at the constellations – The Great Bear, Orion and Cassiopeia stood out, the others were more difficult to see due to the brightness of the moon. All very interesting and informative.
Gardeners Visit Aguilas
On January 14th 2018 a group of 37 of us drove to Águilas in order to join the Tourist Train for a guided tour of the historic Railway. We met by the Railroad Monument, a locomotive built in 1889 in Glasgow. After an excellent introduction, in English, by our guide Anabel, we drove to the Railway Museum, located below the railway station. Here we found a fascinating photographic exhibition and tools used throughout history, as well as several models of trains in motion.
The next stop was at the start of the Sendero del Hornillo, we walked along the elevated path, where several tunnels and mineral deposits are located. Anabel explained how the mineral trains unloaded their cargo into the storage tunnels below. At the height of activity, from 1903 until the civil war, around 84 trains per day brought silver, lead and iron down to the port. We then admired the loading platform from the view point above.
Anabel then led us into one of the storage tunnels, recently refurbished and now a museum. The walls were lined with pictures taken at the beginning of the twentieth century, by the British manager at the time.
Lastly we rode around the bay so that we could have a better view of the "Embarcadero del Hornillo", the majestic ore loading platform built in 1901 by the Compañía Britanico de Ferrocarriles del Sureste.
The tour finished at 1:30, perfect timing for lunch. We walked to the Fu Zhou Chinese restaurant, where we enjoyed an excellent meal.
Darwinian Gardeners Bodega Visit
On Saturday 30th September 2017 a group of 30 took a coach to the Hondon Valley to visit the Bodegas Cerdá.
After a brief wander around their well-stocked shop we gathered around Carolina to hear all about the winery. It was founded in 1885 by Carolina’s great grandfather, and now 4 generations later it is the most important Bodega in the Valencian Communidad.
We started on the ground floor where white wine is stored and fermented huge stainless steel vats. Then we went underground to the cellars where we saw the French and American oak barrels which are used for the red wines.
Carolina explained patiently the terminologies; Roble, Cosecha, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva and also the various grape varieties which they use.
We then went back upstairs to their lovely courtyard where tables for a tapas lunch and wine tasting were laid up, under a giant palm tree. We tasted a white; Chardonnay for the men and a fruity white wine for the women, then a cava – brut for both sexes, then a red wine, Cabernet Sauvignon for the women and Syrah Crianza for the men. The tasting was completed with a shot of Pedro Ximénez, a sweet liquor, which some liked and some didn’t.
We then moved into the shop for more tasting and buying the wines which we liked. A particular bargain was a 3 litre organic red wine box for €8, though sadly we couldn’t taste it.
Our purchases completed we strolled into the village of Hondon de las Nieves where we found a nice café for a little more to eat and drink, before boarding the coach for home.
Gardeners Visit to COATO Co-operative
On May 9th a group of 30 gardeners visited the COATO cooperative in Totana. After dressing up in white coats and fashionable hats we followed Conchi into the almond processing plant. Here the local farmers bring their crop to be turned into powder, slithers or whole almonds.
We then moved into the paprika area, where we learnt that the ñora pimientos are firstly dried by the farmers, either in the sun (rare nowadays) or in giant ovens owned by various cooperatives. COATO then extracts most of the seeds, leaving a few, because they help to extend the shelf life of the paprika. We then had a tasting to demonstrate the difference between Chinese and Murcian paprika.
Then we visited the packing area, where that day, they were packing broccoli. Most of the boxes were destined for the UK, some were organic, some were not.
Lastly we visited the Bio Shop, where most of us found something interesting to buy, and then Conchi presented all of us with a carrier bag full of COATO goodies.
This interesting visit was followed by an excellent lunch at the adjacent restaurant.
Darwinian Gardeners Coach Trip to Ceiza
A large group of Darwinian Gardeners joined the coach for a trip to the Floración in Cieza. We were met in Cieza by Pepe who was our excellent guide for the morning. We drove through miles of orchards of stone fruit, peaches, apricots and plums. Sadly the blossom was almost finished, and the fruit was starting to form. We learnt that the bales of straw smoking between the trees is to protect them from frost, and learnt that there are three other methods of protection; in some fields there were what looked like paint cans, which were in fact little heaters, in other fields the heaters were suspended up above the trees, and tarpaulins are pulled over to keep the heat in, and then there were systems of atomisers to coat the blossoms in water, which when frozen protects them from temperatures of below zero.
We were impressed by all the manual work involved, firstly thinning the emerging fruit, then picking it and later pruning the trees. Workers come from Morocco, South America and, of course, Spain.
At 12:30 we arrived at the Visitor Centre where Pepe gave a small talk about the history of the peach tree, before some of us sat down for lunch. Due to a lack of chairs half of us lunched standing up. An endless supply of grilled sausages, lots of bread, tomato relish and apricot jam made up a typical farmer’s lunch.
Darwinian Gardeners Brewery Visit
The Darwinian Gardeners visited the Bizantina Micro Brewery on Saturday 4th March.
We gathered outside in a chilly wind while Luisa told us all about the brewery. Including the interesting fact that Guinness was discovered by accident when the barley was burnt. The beer master couldn’t bear to throw the barley away and used it anyway – the result was Guinness.
We also learnt that the barley is imported, mostly from Germany and the hops come from the UK. Then in small groups, (it really is a ‘micro’ brewery) we were taken to see the production line.
There are just two people employed here, the owner William, from Columbia and his Spanish assistant Luisa. They brew the beer and then bottle it by hand. It is possible to buy the beer, a pale ale or a lager in el Corte Ingles and drink it various bars in Cartagena. Although it is more expensive than the usual mass produced beers, it is certainly worth giving it a try.
When we finished tasting the lager and the pale ale we drove into the centre to the Bar/Restaurant Los Mineros where we had an excellent lunch.
Darwinian Gardeners first 2017 Outing
On February 4th, a group of 28 of us visited José’s nursery in La Majada in order to buy bedding plants. Almost all of us came away with more plants than we had intended to buy. It was so hard to resist popping yet another colourful plant into one’s box.
Back at the bar Puente in the village Andrew Brown hosted a question and answer session. There were many interesting questions, and I’m sure we all learnt something new.
This was followed by a very good lunch, and lots of lively conversation. The raffle raised over €50 which will go towards the Lions’ “Inoculate against Measles in the Third World” Program
Darwinian Gardeners November Outing
On Saturday 26 November fifty two members of the Darwinian Gardeners made their way to San Pedro de Pinitar for our annual pre Christmas visit to a poinsetta nursery. The sight when entering the greenhouses was amazing and the effect of so many poinsettas in one place was really lovely, plus in the smaller greenhouses were poinsetta plants of different colours, although we were advised that these do not sell very well to the Spanish market as red is the colour of choice. The week following our visit the nursery was getting ready to ship 400,000 plants to Madrid and they were especially proud last year that plants were sent to the royal palace.
Lots of plants were purchased by the group at very good prices before making our way to the Chino Big House restaurant in San Javier, which was easy as you only had to follow a car with poinsetta plants on the back seat. Everyone had a very good lunch and four lucky people won raffle prizes.
Darwinian Gardeners Day Out
The November event of the gardening club was a coach trip to Elche, which, because of the concentration of between two and three hundred thousand palm trees, is a Unesco World heritage site. It is believed that the presence of so many palms dates back to Phoenaecian times, 2,500- 3,000 years ago.
The main focus of our visit was the Huerto del Cura, a 13,000 square metre garden which includes more than a thousand palm trees and many varieties of other plants, all beautifully landscaped, with pools, fountains and delightful shady walks and seats
The garden is well over a hundred years old, and was developed by a local priest, Jose Castaño Sanchez, who owned it until 1918, hence the name, which translates as garden of the priest.
Across the road from this garden is the Museum of Palms, which includes among its displays much information about, and examples of the traditional intricate palm leaf craftwork which is a speciality of the city, and is made from bleached palm leaves. The leaves are covered by black fabric or plastic hoods which prevent them from turning green. The museum also has a garden which demonstrates traditional irrigation methods.
After a leisurely lunch we returned to the coach and eventually arrived at the Carmen del Campillo, near Catral. This garden has been developed along with the house and all the buildings during the last 36 years by its owner, who started with an empty field.
Totally enclosed from the surrounding countryside by tall trees and walls, this garden has very much the feel of a traditional arabic setting. There are hedges creating tiny courtyards some with pools or water features, and many pleasant seating areas where visitors can be served drinks and snacks. An aviary and arabic style music complete the exotic ambience.
Altogether a most enjoyable day.
The Darwinian Gardeners are an initiative of the Humanists of Murcia. Other activities organised by the humanists include two monthly walks, one easier and one harder, a monthly games evening, a philosophy group, and a discussion group. Most of our activities culminate in lunch or dinner.