“I’ve a surprise for you mummy. Close your eyes”.
“Oh I love surprises.”
“Now open them”.
My son, dishevelled and shoeless, handed me a bowl of juicy looking, dark red blackberries. The first of the season. “Aah, thank you, that’s a lovely surprise”, I said, pleased at his thoughtfulness.
“Can we have a goat?” he said, having bribed me with the blackberries. “Do goats eat brambles?”
The following day, having already eaten yesterday’s offerings, I suggested he pick some more so I could make a crumble. “No. It won’t be a surprise”, he said. “You’re missing the point, mummy. It’s the surprise that’s the thing, not the blackberries”.
We all love blackberries. They’re healthy. Packed choc full of goodness. They make great pies, smoothies, a substitute for sweeties. They grow around our house in abundance.
I love the way you pop a blackberry in your mouth, crunch the pips and get a shedload of vitamins. When I washed them in the UK worms would float out of them. Blackberry worm and apple crumble. I wonder, sometimes, how many worms I have eaten in my life, eating the fruit straight from the bush. In Portugal, surprisingly, I haven’t yet seen a worm wriggle out.
I expected to miss blackberries when we moved to Portugal. We used to have them the size of a small walnut snaking their way up the side of our garage and into the yard. I was struck with sheer delight when I spotted them in the hedgerows at Castelo Branco last year. They are the epitome of food for free. They are also spawned from one of the nastiest blighters known to man. For this reason I will be the happiest gardener/home maker alive if I never see a blackberry in or around my garden EVER again.
When we bought the Lisbon house, which currently remains nameless and so for the purposes of the blog I shall now rename Quinta Blackberry, we couldn’t get to the bottom of the garden for the brambles. We tried to hack a path through. We didn’t get far. Somewhere in there were olive trees. I could see the tops poking through. Who knew what was also there? A vineyard maybe. An apple orchard. Plums. All we could see were brambles which tore at our clothes and summer sandels.
When we were house hunting every uninhabited house had its share of these thorn bushes. I ruined a new pair of beautiful black French boots viewing the gardens. I will never forgive them.
The brambles had to go. It was the first job we gave to our Portuguese builder, Diggory. The yard was still full of rubbish after our estate agent, Era, had promised to clear it for us after we’d made a deal with them. After constant chasing it became apparent they were never going to organise this. Diggory, our builder, got the job. His brother and another three guys worked from nine till nine, collecting and loading rubbish, hacking away and chopping. I was exhausted just watching.
But lo! The following day a miracle had occurred! The brambles ten feet tall at the side of the house had gone. We could see the end of the garden. We had…..I went and counted….37 olive trees. Yay! Even a plum tree.
A few weeks later I’m hanging out the washing with a makeshift line strung between the olives. The odd thorny plant still twists its way round the trees with fruit hanging temptingly. The brambles are flourishing once more, growing between the cracks in the paving as though going for gold at the Olympics. I wear wellies down by the olives even though it’s dry, sometimes 25 degrees and rising, to keep thorns from scratching my skin. Time to do battle with weed killer. Then the plough. Maybe a goat. Do goats eat brambles?