Brassica, lettuce and tear peas… inspiration from Sanlúcar

A trip to the sun yields plenty of ideas – but can I grow anything this good?

Late February, Henri’s birthday trip to Sanlúcar in Andalucia. We first discovered the ancient city by accident when disappointed by Jerez. A cab to the coast, the old fail-safe. A place to fall in love.

Here, magical inner courtyards echo the Moors: plants in pots, painted tiles, water, cooling shade. There is a small vegetable plot outside our window. I am shamed by its perfection. Six raised rows, generously spaced: one of brassica, the rest a crisp green lettuce and another redder leaf. There are bitter-orange trees and bulbous lemon, fragrant blossom.

The outside courtyard is a mass of rosemary, abundant with bees, resplendent in purple bloom. Bananas line the wall with ruby flowers the size of rugby balls. Fat pots of arum lilies, 10ft cactus, fuchsia everywhere.

A stork is nesting in the church tower. We start to notice them all over the place. Bundles of sticks on telegraph poles, the tops of tall buildings. They feel like luck as they circle.

Sparrows dustbowl in the sand, swallows swoon. Chickens colonise backyards, busying among broad beans. The covered market is bursting with fruit, vegetable and fish stalls. Small peas, fat fingers of broad beans, tomatoes, all marked with their Sanlúcar origin. Outside, stalls in narrow streets are jammed with shoppers of every age, crowding to buy pungent oregano, wild asparagus and other foraged stems I don’t recognise.

We eat the fragrant peas, the beans, the crisp leaves and tomatoes in local restaurants and return to London inspired. Is this the year I finally learn to be frugal with seed? Even without southern sun, will I grow anything this good? I hope so. It’s finally spring, time to sow our Basque tear peas from northern Spain’s cooler, wetter hills.

Allan Jenkins’s Plot 29 (4th Estate, £9.99) is out now. Order it for £8.49 from guardianbookshop.com

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Allan Jenkins

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