Wild Flowers in Spain (and Possible Implications for Population Control and the Culture of Death)

During my visit to friends and family in Europe, I spent a a few days in Spain (during the last week of May). My parents have retired there (along with another million Brits). I was lucky in that the time of my visit was just the time when wild flowers are in bloom. I am no plant expert, but I did recognise a lot from my memories of my parents’ garden in England when I was growing up. So I asked them if they would help me identify some of the plants and we set off to high meadows to photograph and identify them.

Also, I am trying to plant an English style perrenial garden in the farm that will be the new Thomas More College campus in Groton, Massachusetts. (I say ‘will be’ because we have to raise the money to build. This is not easy in the current economic climate, so please if anyone feels like donating, don’t hesitate to conact us!) We have been following the planting scheme of the English garden designer Gertrude Jeckyll. From my first spring of planting here in the US, I recognised that many of the Spanish plants are in American gardens too. The photo above is of a thistle called echinops. We bought three to plant and they look pretty lonely at the moment while we wait for them to flourish and multiply. Here in Spain, there is a whole field of them next to my parents’ house just growing wild.

The terrain in this area around Spain is man made. Even the areas where the flowers grow and seem uncultivated would be completely tree covered if they had not been cleared by man. It is dry, shrub filled landscape common in Mediterranean areas called ‘maquis’. Very often the flowers flourish most on road or field edges in the areas where the soil has been turned over by human activity but it has not been paved over or planted with crops. A common plant in the maquis terrain is the broom. There are two common varieties here: Spanish broom and genista (French broom) which has smaller flowers, both are bright yellow. The photo below shows some genista growing on the edge of a cultivated olive grove. In the distance you see a ridge of mountains with pass, appearing as a notch cut into it. For our flower hunting expedition we headed for that pass. There is a footpath there on a disused railway line which allowed for great views and a great variety of species.

The fact that the whole terrain is formed by man raises a question in my mind. What is the natural environment for wild flowers? Would these flowers be here at all if it weren’t for man? If there were no man affected areas, would there be any terrain for them to grow in? Certainly, the ones I saw don’t grow in the areas that are wooded, only on the edges made by man. Perhaps there are some plant experts out there who can answer these points definitively. What I can say is that these flowers are flourishing in those areas affected by man. If this man-affected terrain is the natural environment for wild flowers, and wild flowers are considered part of the natural world (along with the insect life engendered), then we would have to consider man’s activity natural too.

Some extreme environmentalists that I have come across tend to assume that man’s activity is unnatural and always detrimental to the ecosystem. I’m guessing that there others who object to the activities of modern man, but would consider a pre-industrial revolution, agrarian society (which would still create the landscape for wild flowers) as the natural form of activity for man. The first group would like to see man’s effect on the world eliminated altogether, the second vastly reduced.

The reason that this is importantand to consider is that the degree to which we consider mankind’s activity natural or unnatural affects whether or not we consider the the growing human population of the world a good thing or a bad thing. In both the cases cited above: if we consider man’s activity necessarily unnatural; or, taking the less extreme position, the work of modern man unnatural and only that of primitive man’s activity natural, it makes sense to advocate population reduction in the world (and therefore to push for the use of contraception and abortion to control it).

The Christian view is different. For the Christian man is the crowning glory of creation and his activity is not only natural but, potentially, the greatest of all life on earth. In fact, to the degree that his work is inspired, man can actually raise the natural world up to something higher, creating something closer to what it ought to be and to what it would have been prior to the Fall. This is not deny that his activity can be highly destructive also. It depends on how wisely he makes use of his freedom to cultivate the land. The way to deal with polution and mismanagement of the environment, is not to reduce the amount of human activity (by reducing the population), but to seek to transform human activity into something that is in harmony with creation. This is possible (at least partially in this life) through the Church and this takes us again to the question of cultural transformation and liturical reform. Two connected themes I have spoken about often in this forum.

Anyway, we have now reached the high meadow and start to walk along the path through the notch:

We surveyed the scene, book in hand:

And then we started to look more closely. You can see the red poppies and yellow daisies in the meadow. But as you look at the limestone rock outcrops there are more to be seen, for example wild tyme:

Orchids and wild irises:

 Here is another iris amongst a cluster of flowers of helianthemum, the rock rose, a common plant in the the garden.

In our day out, we did take time step back and enjoy the view of rural Spain from this elevated position.

Where irrigated, the ground is extremely fertile. This part of Andalusia exports fruit and vegetables. The view below is beyond that notch in the ridge. There is a high fertile plain hidden away there. The old railway track that we were walking on was built to carry the produce down to the coastline (near Malaga) for distribution. Now the transportation is by road you see trucks driving down the winding road all day during harvest time.

The examples of the flowers shown are as bright and beautiful as the garden varieties. There were many more that I could show, and will perhaps keep for another occasion. Many of these while beautiful in the wild, are not precisely what you would see in the garden, which would be hybrids. This again raises the question of what is more natural, a hybrid developed by man or a wild variety? Anyway, that’s one for a future blog post.

David Clayton

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David is an Englishman living in New Hampshire, USA. He is an artist, teacher, published writer and broadcaster who holds a permanent post as Artist-in-Residence and Lecturer in Liberal Arts at the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. The Way of Beauty program, which is offered at TMC, focuses on the link between Catholic culture, with a special emphasis on art, and the liturgy. David was received into the Church in London in 1993. Visit the Way of Beauty blog at thewayofbeauty.org.

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