The Hidden Treasures of Castell de Castells
Moving to Castells in the mid 80's I was part of a trickle to Spain soon to become a deluge. I cannot recall there being any other "Brits" actually living in the village at the time though one or two moved in shortly after. English, at that time, was certainly a foreign language and my Collin's Guide to Holiday Spanish was the next best thing to useless. However waving my arms with a Spanish accent seemed to enable me to communicate sufficiently to be able to buy the staples of life though the range available then, as opposed to now, was somewhat limited to say the least. Those were the days when visitors from the U.K. brought "survival" parcels with them containing all the goodies without which you felt that life was incomplete - Bacon, Cheddar Cheese, Branston Pickle, Worcester Sauce, Teabags and decent Toilet Paper! Then came Pepe la Sal and independent life began again.
I moved out in an October and quickly realised that no-one had told me that, even in Spain, there is a winter! My old village house was an experience such as I had never encountered before and the tales of my first few weeks are legion. Many of the roads, scenic though they may have been, were such that whereas you may have attempted them in a hire car you most certainly would not have tackled them in your own, especially during or after a storm of which we had many more then than now.
However then came Spring and I found myself in a Wild Flower Utopia.
I had spent the bulk of my adult life working with Wildlife both at large and in captivity but, in the U.K., that life had been lived at such a rate and I was so busy being busy that I never had time to look around for looking around's sake. Now, with time on my hands for the first time in years, I found myself surrounded by the forebears and counterparts of plants I had long known in cultivation but had never encountered in the wild.
Many people living a sedentary life on the coast will never know the botanical jewels they are missing. The main flowering season up here is a little later than on the coast and extends from late March through June. I will not, here, deal with the ubiquitous species known to all with a floral bent, such as the Antirrhinums, Umbellifers (Cow Parsley type plants such as Fennel, Moon Carrot and a host of others) and other common species but will confine myself to those rarities of the plant world for which many Alpine Gardeners would give their eye teeth.
Amongst the earlier flowering of these are two Narcissi of which one, Narcissus Assoanus (who dreams up these names?) otherwise known as Rush Leaved Narcissus, is fairly widely distributed in Spain whilst the other, Narcissus Dubious, is quite rare. The first is a diminutive and highly scented variety and, approaching Castells "the back way" via Tarbena, it can be found, in March, from the ascent to Col de Rates right through to the hills just above the village. This flower is a typical Daffodil Yellow in colour and almost exactly resembles some of those better known garden "trumpet varieties" - but in miniature. Plants are only a few cms high and easily overlooked. The second, N.Dubious, enjoys a similar distribution but in only intermittent populations and is never numerous - certainly in this locality. The flowers are the purest white and there are several to a stem. Again it is a diminutive and highly scented plant and easy to miss. During the same flowering period as these latter two species the sharp eyed can find one of the earlier Bee Orchids, Ophrys Speculum, or Venus' Mirror Orchid, scattered throughout. Bright blue in colour, diminutive in stature and a joy to behold. We are, indeed, fortunate to have several distinctive Bee Orchids around the village and the list makes impressive reading. Sombre Bee, Ophrys Fusca, is an early flowerer though not striking in appearance when compared to the slightly later Sawfly, Ophrys Tenthredinifera, and Woodcock, Ophrys Scolopax. Even these last two are put in the shade by the strident colours of Yellow Bee Orchid, Ophrys Lutea, which can be found in a number of localities near the village with a particularly robust colony just above Pla de Alt. Normal Bee Orchid, Ophrys Apifera, deserves a mention as, around Castells, it occurs in a variety of striking colour forms with sepals from pristine white to the deepest purple. The most rewarding to find is, for me, the enigmatic Contů.