Cultivated or wild, spring flowers are always a welcome sight…
Winter here feels very much like it did when we lived in Southern California. Cool temperatures, oftentimes rainy and sometimes windy. Winter in New Jersey, on the other hand, was a soul-sucking experience especially when it dragged into late April or when the Polar Vortex decides to add to the misery by bringing snow in May!!
Even if it wasn’t snowing it was most likely raining. Everything was grey – the sky, clouds, ground, buildings, even people. It made winter nearly unbearable. I suppose that is why folks crave a break and head south for a dose of much-needed warmth and sunshine (assuming winter sports aren’t your thing). In the 8 years we lived in New Jersey Won and I never took a vacation during winter, typically because the first couple of months of every year were incredibly demanding for me at work (year-end reviews to write and performance evaluations to conduct, annual planning to finalize, annual performance goal setting, the never ending pitch to secure funds for maintenance and major projects, then rejiggering your budgets and plans when the funding is reduced or denied outright, blah, blah, blah…). No matter. We found other ways to cope. We had great friends who were always up for a spur of the moment get-together to commiserate about the sucky weather over a tasty cocktail or glass of wine and some yummy food. I miss you guys!!
We arrived in Portugal on January 13. It is now May 8 and it felt like winter was barely winter. Yes, we had our fair share of rain, but the temperatures were pretty mild and there were plenty of days when the sun was shining brightly. At first we thought it was odd and slightly amusing to see the Portuguese wearing big coats with hats and gloves when it was no colder than 5 degrees Celsius (41 degrees F – which is considered ‘shorts weather’ in New Jersey). However, as we have acclimated to Portugal, we’ve noticed that we are beginning to think it is chilly when it is 14 C (57 F). Ha! The Portuguese will get the last laugh because next winter I predict we will be joining them in wearing coats, hats, and gloves.
Happily, because winters are so mild here, the landscape isn’t devoid of green during the winter, but there are deciduous trees so it was particularly nice to see them coming back to life these past few weeks. And, of course, the flowers. All the flowers are coming into bloom. No matter who you are, flowers have the power to make you feel better. The colors alone brighten your day.
As Won and I have walked our neighborhood and the coastline, we’ve been intrigued with the various plants, flowers and vegetation. I don’t know all the names of the plants (even though I did my best to search the internet), but thought you might find some of them as pretty and interesting as I did.
Let’s start with some that are familiar to most people like ornamental apple blossoms and wisteria. So pretty!
Occasionally, we would come across a plant that was completely new, and to be honest, this one was pretty scary!!! Check out the thorns on that puppy! How would you even weed? V e r y c a r e f u l l y. I have since learned that these plants are called Crown of Thorns and they live up to their name. Yikes!
On one of our exploratory walks near our home we stumbled upon a field of cheery wild daises. Talk about a wonderful surprise! After a bit of research, I learned that the yellow flowers are Pallenis maritima (Asteriscus maritimus) which are native to the Canary Islands and Portugal.
But those weren’t the only flowers we saw that day. When we looked a bit closer we also found morning glories and nasturtiums. Even a thistle has a kind of “don’t touch me” architectural beauty to it.
While all these flowers have been wonderful to see, what I really love is the coastline and all the interesting and colorful plant life there. The ocean is so mesmerizing that if you don’t tear your eyes away and focus, you will miss the incredible variety and beauty right at your feet.
So let’s take a closer look at one of the more abundant plants, the ice plant. It is a succulent that, I learned, is not native to Portugal and is considered an invasive species. These plants produce neon pink, bright yellow and pretty purple flowers from March to June.
Another flowering plant that you see everywhere is scabiosa (also called pincushion). It is a delicate lavender flower on slender stems that rise from a bushy base and wave gently and happily in the breeze.
There are also carpets of bright pink and sunny yellow flowers that punctuate the landscape. That shocking pink/purple “carpet” you see below is osularia deltoides or deltoid-leaved dewplant. I tried unsuccessfully to learn the name of the yellow flowering plant. Deb – do you know what it is? (Deb, a longtime friend, is a master gardener living in Southern California.)
While those can be real show stoppers, I found some tiny little blue and orange flowers coexisting together in a tangle of happiness as well as a blanket of soft lavender flowers against dark contrasting foliage, and one little guy who decided to strike out on his own.
There are also strange flowering plants both large and small. The large one below, a century plant, is about to bloom (that thing is TALL!). The small one, which, based on my search, is a genus of orobanche (aka broom-rape). I almost picked it…I need something to clean my champagne flutes.
The last few flowers I want to share were so pretty and perky I just had to include them, but don’t know their names. [Update: The day I posted this, my friend, Taffy told me the flowers below are gazanias (African daisies). Thanks Taffy!]
While I was researching the flowers I have seen, I also learned that the national flower of Portugal is lavender and that lavender belongs to the mint family. Scilla, daffodil, thyme and marjoram, laurels and clematis are also native to Portugal. No dill though…(still grumbling about that, but my friend Birgitt in Germany is sending me some seeds!! Thanks, Birgitt!)
In addition to all the flowers I have seen, non flowering plants add striking texture, color, and movement. Check out that silver plant on the left, it looks like its from another planet. I was intrigued to see those snails tucked up inside that agave century plant on the right.
Lovely grasses create beautiful movement.
And there were even more interesting types of succulents! (Update: A big thanks to Taffy once again for researching and identifying the following succulents. You’re the best!)
And then there were these fuzzy plants, similar to lambs ears. They came in small (10 cm/4 in width), medium (20 cm/8 in), large (31 cm/12 in) and extra large (61 cm/2 ft). I think they might be verbascum thapsus (aka great mullein or common mullein), but not sure.
Before I sign off, I thought I would share a few pictures of the ocean and its many moods. It’s simply magical.
Portugal is charming the socks right off me. I feel like I could walk the same stretch of coastline and find something new to delight and surprise me every single day. The ocean’s moods are enough to fascinate me alone. Walking along the coastline is always a refreshing, cleansing, and delightful experience. I hope you can come for a walk with me soon.
From Portugal with love,