Towards the end of this October I had my second visit to La Cortijada Los Gazquez in the mountains of the Sierra María-Los Vélez, where I am designing a dye and pigment garden with Simon and Donna Beckman. It is part of a trans-disciplinary project called ‘Sistemas Efímeros’ (Ephemeral Systems), focussing on the old water catchment system on the land. You can read more about it on the Joya: arte + ecología.
I revisited the terrace where we are going to build the garden. In the clear autumn sunshine, the crisp dry meadow rustled as I walked through it.
It was time to clear the land in preparation for the garden in the coming year, but before we did so, I managed to collect some seed of some meadow flowers that we could use in the garden as dye plants. They are difficult to identify in such a dry state after a long dry summer, but it is either Centaurea jacea (brown knapweed) which is quite common across Europe, or a sub-species, Centaurea dracunculifolia which is native to Eastern Spain. Brown knapweed has been used in the past as a yellow dye, so we should be able to make yellow pigment from the leaves and flowers.
In order to clear the land, we had help from Andrés, who is currently volunteering at Los Gázquez. He is from the area and his family have farmed the land for generations. Before they got to know him, Simon and Donna had wondered about the bearded young man they saw tending his flock of sheep, book in hand. He is a qualified vet and will be leaving soon to start a job in Belgium. In the meanwhile, he is a great help, not least because of his local knowledge and anecdotes. For instance, he told me the local name of the ‘split-crotch aprons’ that I had sewn for the team after spotting a photo of farmers wearing them during harvest in the local museum – they are called a 'zamarro'.
At the end of the day we had a very careful bonfire of the cut down meadow. We have to take care in such a dry landscape as a forest fire could easily spread. Andrés separated the large pile into smaller piles in cleared fields where flying sparks posed no danger. We will burn some on the original land and dig the ash into the soil to return the nutrients to the future garden. As we watched the bonfire, while the sun went down, we realised it was halloween – a festival believed to have pre-Christian roots in marking the end of the harvest and the death of the year, the end of one cycle in order to start the new.