The retama was a plant that was highly valued by our ancestors: They used it to cover the roofs of their houses, as medicine, as fuel in the kitchen, as brooms…. Because it was so sought after, its specimens were often in short supply.
I was especially happy to work with retamas in the paradise of Zarza de Pumareda. Because this is where a large part of my ancestors come from. Here is also La casita de la Zarza, the century-old family home of my great-grandparents.This beautiful little village is in the Arribes del Duero Natural Park, far away from the big city. And whenever I can, I design with flowers and plants, wherever I am.
This botanical installation was a team effort:
– José, the blacksmith, created the hoops, which are perfect.
– Alfredo secured the base of the structure with stones, to prevent the wind from blowing it away to nearby Portugal.
– Manolo, Arie, Heiltje, Angelines, Carmina, Andrés, Dolores, Ernst… They all collaborated by placing retamas in the structure. Even from far away, a friend from Aliste (Zamora), Jose María from San Juan del Rebollar brought us two huge bundles of retamas so we could use them!
– And as always, Javi, Vicente and Bosco supported the proposal wholeheartedly.
Everyone who passed by gave their own meaning to our big green baby. For some it was the tail of a fox, for others it was a big dragon, for others it was a snake or a huge rooster. Each “artistic expression” has whatever meaning the observer wants to give it. In the process of creation, I tried to respect the shape of all the retama stems as much as possible, avoiding forcing/bending them as much as possible. Because for me, this installation expresses the energies that these lands emanate, that these plants transmit.
I think it is important to remember the value of the vegetation around us. Everything that exists and that we have had around us all our lives exists for a reason. The retamas have deep and very branched roots, which is why they are often used to stabilise dunes or to strengthen roadsides. It is also a plant with a great capacity to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, which makes it very useful, for example, to restore land degraded by forest fires.
Our plant fantasy stood for weeks next to the Pilar de la Zarza de Pumareda, so that everyone passing by could see it. At first it was beautiful, with its white and yellow flowers. Then it dried up, but it remained beautiful… until we finally said goodbye (perhaps) to it in the form of a bonfire. Because we should remember that the retama also has magical properties that are highly prized by witches. Just tell that to the witches.
These magical properties of the retama translate into multiple medicinal uses (it is diuretic, purgative, a pain reliever, etc…), as long as you know how to use it properly. Otherwise, it can be very toxic. It was probably one of the many plants used by healers (the misnamed “witches”) for centuries in the past. Well, the study of all these healing properties, together with the fact that it is possible to say goodbye to it with a bonfire, gave me the opportunity to explore the history of witches in the Spanish past, as well as the hunts to which they were subjected.
The Holy Inquisition appeared as a consequence of the explosive combination of strong social, economic and religious crises. And the witch hunts took place throughout the eternal period from the 14th to the 17th century. Records are sketchy but, for example, it is estimated that from 1616 to 1622 alone, 400 women were accused and executed for witchcraft in Catalonia alone. Some towns, such as Caldes de Montbui, Terrassa, Girona or Ullastret were sadly famous for the existence of witches.
Many of these women were healers or midwives in their communities. Their ancestral folk wisdom had been passed down from mother to daughter for centuries. They were the ones who knew the secrets of “empirical medicine”. Consequently, they were responsible for the health of the community until this persecution began. In fact, many historians consider them to be the first female doctors, pharmacologists and anatomists in the history of the western world. The inquisitors, blind in their patriarchal worldview, considered it impossible for women to have the capacity to be so wise and to possess so much power. The inquisitors were convinced that the power these women had was not their own, but came from sexual intercourse with the devil. And so they considered witchcraft a “special crime”, worse than any other crime they could imagine. Witches had fewer rights than any other convict. Mere presumption was enough to sentence them to death.
I wonder what the scale of such collective madness must be like for the population to believe at face value that, for example, hail, frost or fog were caused by witches? Perhaps because these meteorological phenomena are the most aggressive and most feared by an absolutely subjugated population that depended on cultivation and farming? Perhaps because this situation was favourable to whoever was in power? Many unanswered questions. I wonder how much knowledge about mother nature was lost and how long it has taken to recover it.
Being in contact with nature is like “coming home”, it is finding inner peace. So I wonder what living hell those people should survive in. And I don’t mean the witches.
Back to the 21st century… Just a reminder that if you are interested in reconnecting with nature and discovering the benefits of floral design, put them into practice with a personalised workshop. You can find out more here.
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Do you have any comments or suggestions? Contact me, I’ll be happy to hear from you.