This was the second mild winter in a row for us here on Kea, proving the common view that when it is fiercely cold and wet up north, down south it stays mild and mainly dry. After a few good rains in November, January turned up full of sunshine, and February left us hoping for more rain, but in vain. Signs of spring are here, with colorful patches of flowers on the green slopes. In our corner of the world green is the color of winter.
Last November, after about ten years, we drastically pruned the old almond trees. They seemed to like it and in February, during some of our coldest days, they filled with glorious blossoms in different shades of pink and white; the air was carrying the sweet smell and soon bees came buzzing as if it was summer. Now the trees are green with fresh leaves and the flowers have turned to fruit that has started to ripen; the green almonds are still tiny, fuzzy and crunchy-soft inviting us to pick and bite, ready for pickling. Those of you who will join us this year will taste them, probably at the welcome dinner.
Fig trees have started to grow leaves again; and how beautiful these first yellow-green shoots are! They make us yearn for our signature grilled and caramelized sea bass, wrapped in large fig leaves. At the end of last summer, for the first time, we tried to preserve a few fig leaves for the winter, so that we could wrap and grill fish even when the fig trees were bare. We are happy to report that vacuum-sealed fig leaves keep very well in the refrigerator. This year we plan to make more packages to be able to enjoy one of our favorite dishes all year round.
At the edge of our vegetable garden, borage, one of our thriving semi-wild greens, is now filled with vibrant blue flowers, edible, crunchy and delicious, with a fresh cucumber-like taste that is a nice surprise on ourspreads and salads. We only hope it will continue to blossom until May, when our first guests arrive. On the dirt road across from our gate we discovered Anchusa, one of its cousins, part of the large Boraginaceaefamily; its dark purple flowers are spectacular and we plan to collect some seeds and scatter them under the olive trees.
Anemones, mostly red, are prevalent in our property. Weekend visitors mistake them for poppies, which bloom later in the spring. As the olive trees are just starting to fill with buds that will soon become flowers, the dogs love to play around them and search what’s left of last year’s rotten, fallen olives, which they love to chew. These fermented, wrinkled olives are no longer bitter but somewhat sweet, with a deep umami taste!
Yellow Phlomis lanata—also called ‘woolly Jerusalem sage’–is one of the most common plants on Kea. It is part of the sage family but has no aroma; the plant endures the dry summers unharmed, and, more importantly, spreads an invading fuzz which repels the goats and so it can be seen on the bare Kea hills where very few perennials survive outside fenced properties.
Bees love cistus and devour the nectar in the heart of the fragile, wrinkled petals. Indigenous to Kea purple and white cistus shrubs will soon be in full bloom later in the month.
Another shrub that is getting ready to bloom is our Ebenus cretica. We brought it to Kea from Crete where it grows wild. Real hardy, it dries up completely in the summer to emerge again with the first rains and bloom in the spring. Its flowers vaguely resemble the bright pink lupins, as they belong to the same Fabaceaefamily.
Last, but not least, our fragrant freesias are the first of the bulbs to blossom each year. We planted those around the almond tree on the eastern porch, years ago, for Frossoula, Aglaia’s mother who loved them. Yellow, white, purple and pink, they fill the air with their captivating aroma, which will accompany us for quite a while, up until Easter. Like the first fig leaves and the multicolored wild flowers, they perfectly illustrate the circle of seasons, something city people often miss, as we did when we lived in Athens.