Photo by Lucy Brzoska
Black stamen on borage flower
You can hear it’s spring by listening to the walls of Montjuïc castle, which ring with house sparrow chatter.
With the breeding season underway, streams of energetic chirping issue from countless nesting holes. Round the corner, away from the clank and grind of the port, a repeated “pupuput” call drifts across the silence of the castle moat, and a familiar flat-topped silhouette appears on the barbed wire: the hoopoes are back. Generations of these elegant birds have been unobtrusively raised in a well-hidden cavity nearby.
Plants also find useful habitats in this 18th-century fortress, benefitting from the years of erosion. An incipient fig tree has rooted in a crack in the faded sandstone walls, which were quarried from the cliffs below. Common borage, an early spring flower that swarms up the slopes of Montjuïc, stages a final invasion by sprouting from the castle itself.
As borage flowers droop quite heavily, it’s handy being able to look at them from below to appreciate their heavenly hues—a deep sky-blue verging on violet. Close up, you can see prominent black stamen meeting together in a sharp point. People pick the flowers as an ingredient for salads, adding an unexpected scattering of blue stars among the tomatoes. In Aragon and Navarra, borage is grown as a vegetable, though the leaves need careful washing to remove their spiky hairs.
If the scything squads of Parcs i Jardins permit, a rare white variety of borage sometimes grows in the grass of the castle moat. Other white stars shining on Montjuïc in March are the asphodels. These milky flowers are attached to wand-like stems, opening up one at a time, while others wait their turn above. Able to grow in the most impoverished earth, the asphodels cluster in sparkling bushels round the base of the castle and raise your spirits at winter’s end.