Gardening in Portugal – Going out on a limb for trees

 

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”
―   Martin Luther

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If only I knew how much longer I am going to live here. Or indeed how much longer I will live at all! Since I am approaching my three score years and ten, albeit eight years hence, I start to eye up my plants in the light of the fact that many of them, especially the trees, are likely to live a lot longer than me once I’ve planted them. That’s a nice feeling of course, a sort of memorial to me and Senhor Faztudo, but nevertheless, I would rather like to get some pleasure or even fruit out of them before I push up the daisies beneath them! When you are younger, you never think of such things. You don’t go to the nursery to buy a plum tree and wonder if you will eat a luscious plum from it before you die, it isn’t a question you need to ponder over. But the citrus trees have already taken five of my years to reach fruition, and whatever I plant now, especially fruit tree wise, I’d rather be able to eat whilst I’ve still got some teeth!

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We’ve planted a lot of food trees in our garden which are already starting to produce. Last year, the walnut tree we planted four years ago, which wasn’t even that big when we bought it, gave us four tasty nuts which I added to some crushed basil and made walnut pesto. I was astounded really, thinking it might take much longer to bear fruit. Many trees you buy nowadays are grafted and produce fruit in a few years. The hass avocado tree we planted has only been in five years and last year we got 11 avocados. Another planted from a pip, although growing strongly will take longer, I think. Maybe I’ll get an avocado by the time I’m 70! The citrus are finally coming up with the goods though and about time! They were slow and miserable to begin with, their leaves turning yellow and with occasional outbreaks of sooty mould and leaf miner damage, they hung into life, complaining piteously and causing me a great deal of grief. I got so exasperated at times, I shook my fist at them and threatened them with the chop. But to my joy, this year we had a tree full of huge juicy lemons, and no sooner had the last one been drizzled over a cake, the tree was full of young green lemons again. We also had oranges this year and although more tangy than sweet, I am sure as the trees mature, the fruit will be sweeter. I value the peel almost as much as the fruit, since it is unwaxed and free of chemicals and great as a tea additive or in cakes. When I go down to put the chickens to bed at night, the perfume of the orange blossom is heady and in the morning, the new Spring growth seems to have got even greener in the night.

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Fruit trees can be bought very cheaply in the markets at at local nurseries, much more cheaply than in the UK. You can buy an olive tree or an orange tree for six or seven euros. But that’s not the real cost of it. The cost lies in the water and the care you give it. It’s very costly to water a tree for a couple of years and then lose it. And a wise person will not buy too many trees that need a lot of water to get established, only to give them a glut of one type of fruit. You need to think far more carefully than we did about this. Choosing trees with different fruiting periods and growing those, like pomegranate or arbutus unedo, that need less water, is something to think about in these drought ridden times. There is also the Mediterranean fruit fly to consider, a really pesky and pernicious fly that damages your fruit at the very end, just when you are getting ready to eat it. It is very hard to escape it completely, especially of you don’t want to use chemicals, The fly damages later fruit, past mid June, so winter oranges, and early stone fruits like apricots and early peach varieties are best.

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There are trees in the garden that were here since we came and some of them a great deal older than me. Villagers remember playing as children under the ancient olive tree at the back of our house, before there was even a house here. Noble carobs, several hundred years old with thick girths and knarled trunks, which the builders incorporated into the perimeter wall, rather than disturb them. They stand as a testimony to those who planted them, the fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers of the men and women of this village. And this reminds me, that none of the trees on this piece of land are our trees. Others will pick their fruit after we’ve gone, care for them and wonder what stories they have to tell. I hope when I am gone though that the trees will whisper something of me to the wind. I like to think of that.

Gardening in Portugal – the never ending story.

 

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Chicken in her natural habitat!

Hi again! It’s been a while. When I started this blog I decided it was never going to be a tyranny and I would write it only when I felt like it. It seems like I haven’t felt like it for a while and I’ve  been pondering on the reason. Perhaps it’s because I originally saw it as a diary of starting a garden from scratch and now it’s almost a proper garden, I’m not sure what to write about. However, the other day, I realised that the garden will never be finished and I am still working on it, day by day and will be for the rest of my life.  It’s just now I’m now filling in the twiddly bits, refining, not working with a broad brush. I am almost at the stage where I take some plants out and out others in and cut plants back as they are becoming overgrown.

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Chamanthe and Solandra maxima-Beauty and the Beast!

My sister, when I asked her what she had learned from all her gardening endeavours,  once told me that the most important thing about a garden is the soil and I’ve found she was absolutely right. Improving my hard rocky clay soil is my daily preoccupation, but not my digging in, by covering. I never dig nowadays, I am a converted “No Digger” I won’t be able to dig in a few years anyway and I am becoming more and more convinced it’s not good for the soil. My garden is big and it’s a job to cover it all with with mulch, it’s a question of where to get the material from. The Algarve isn’t full of woods and woody material like the UK and shredded material is rare. Every single piece of branch, leaf or any other organic material, apart from oleander, which I am a bit afraid of as it’s very poisonous, especially with the chickens, goes back into my garden. I have written before about my “Stork’s nest compost heap” This is a giant circular heap, enclosed by chicken wire, into which I toss all my garden waste.  weave the whippy olive branches and other branches around the outside of the heap to give it rigidity and I build it really high. I take care to build it away from stone walls where rats might get in it easily and site it where the cats and chickens have some access. One has to be aware that a big heap of material like this is a potential fire risk in the summer.  I use this heap as a sort of giant raised bed. I pile soil mixed with copious quantities of horse manure on the heap and plant courgettes and squash directly into it. The whole heap gets watered as I water the plants throughout the summer and it produces enough courgettes and  squash to feed a small village. It doesn’t look very pretty in the photo below but in the Summer, it will be a mass of huge green squash and pumpkin leaves, creating a green oasis in my parched garden.

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In the Autumn, when it’s half the size, I take it to bits, remove the compost and barrow it up the hill to the winter vegetable garden to place on my no dig winter vegetable beds. I lay it on top of sheets of cardboard, water it all and then wait for the first rains, before planting plug plants like cabbages, kale, beetroot and lettuce. Since I plant quite early in September, when the ants are still awake, its impossible to sow seed, since it is all immediately carried off by the ants. At this time of year, in cold March, I sometimes risk some seed, maybe turnips or carrots, which I seem to be hopeless at growing for some reason, sown straight into the ground.

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The fruits of my compost heap!

Since I can’t afford to put my precious compost everywhere, I’ve been very impressed by the research done by Linda Chalker Scott of Washington State University into  the use of arborist wood chips. Plentiful in the UK and the US, these are very hard to come by here and I have had to content myself with asking the man who supplies our firewood to bring me what he has, which isn’t the best, as fresh cut wood chippings are recommended,  but it does the job. The worms pull the wood chips and sawdust down into the soil. The wood chips can rob the soil of nitrogen if you dig it in, but I don’t worry as it’s on the top and the chickens are leaving their little nitrogen presents everywhere too, in my orchard, which help to avoid depleted nitrogen. When I say “orchard” this sounds very grand, but in reality I don’t have much space and have planted the fruit trees very close together. My neighbours are always shaking their heads about the spacing, but I think I just need many small trees of different types and if they don’t get too big because they compete for water and nutrients, all the better. Who wants more of one type of fruit than you know what to do with? The excess of fruit just makes you feel guilty and under pressure if you can’t process it all, what I would like is a variety. Most of my trees are edible, or useful. I can’t see why, in an area with such sparse water, you would plant too many things you can’t eat. I think edible trees are beautiful, with great blossom and you can find both evergreen and deciduous edible trees. Other areas of my garden, given over to perennial drought resistant plants are mulch with a thick layer of gravel.

I realised the other day, that there is hardly one plant in the garden I now consider a weed. I nurture my nettles, dry the leaves for tea and use them as a liquid fertiliser. This year, I candied my Alexander (Smyrnium Olusatris) stalks, as you would for Angelica; the chickweed and Bermuda Buttercup and dandelions are all picked to feed the hens. I transplant Borage  from anywhere it’s not needed and replant it to another for the bees. I have milk thistle and wild giant hollyhock (Malva) in my garden, both magnificent plants. (I picked and dried the thistle heads to extract the seeds, but haven’t got round to it since last year!) The chrysanthemum coronium tops, which grow in abundance in the Algarve, can be eaten when young in stir fries. I do have some couch grass I don’t like much, but the chickens don’t allow it to get far round the garden and you have to have one thug to shake your fist at!

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Candied Alexander Stalks

So now I’ve reawakened my blog for the Spring and seeing that the garden will never be finished,  I’ll continue to write about it. There is still much to learn and one day in the future, I will pass this garden onto someone else and hopefully they will read it and understand it a little and not rip it all out and put in a lawn and palm trees! I hope they will continue to respect the planting, although I know the land is only borrowed by us all and would return to nature happily if left. I often see garden plants still growing in the abandoned gardens of old cottages. I love the way some plants cling on, for years, merging with the wild varieties taking over, a rose, once the pride and joy of the farmer’s wife, watered with the washing up water and still scrambling proudly over the porch of an empty house. Even some of the weeds, like the Alexanders, were brought here long ago by the Romans, who used it like celery to feed the armies, for its vitamins. Now there’s a thought! What will I leave that was never here before? Purple Kale maybe, or parsnips (if only they would grow!)

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Sunset over the Algarve

Gardening in Portugal -a posy story

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I went into the garden this morning and picked a vase of flowers. Finally, there are enough flowers growing  to pick a bunch for the house, I have waited a long time for this moment. I arranged it into a posy and took it into the workshop, where Senhor F was working on a woodcarving and presented it to him, for after all, the garden is his too. He smiled and made the right noises,  at least. Having presented it to my one and only, I took it proudly to the kitchen, put it in a simple jug and gazed at it for a long moment. After a while, I went into the hall and set it against the magenta wall for a photo, because that is what you do nowadays, photo everything.

As I looked at the beautiful bunch of natural perfection, I realised that each flower was a paragraph. The whole bunch of flowers was a story.

It starts with the pink roses, sent to me as cuttings from my sister in law’s garden in central France, just as she was leaving her beloved garden which she grew from scratch to go and live in an apartment in Spain. Her love of roses carries on in its blush, every time I look at the rose, I remember how she pored over catalogues to decide which new beauty to add to her collection. Now a couple of her precious specimens lives on in my Algarve garden.

Then there is the  “Sunset rose” a supermarket rose I had my doubts about at first, being British and inclined to subtle colours, but I planted it for my Senhor F, who was born in the Caribbean where bright colours abound and gradually I have come to love it. It shines out its brilliance so strongly you can see it from the very top of the garden. I try not to think that it looks like one of those 1950’s frilly swimming caps. I rather the fact that reminds me that we are in the sunset time of our life…but in a good way.

The Agapanthus behind is from a cutting given to me by my lovely neighbour. She loves them, but one hot day when I was passing I found her labouring to uproot their deep tangled roots out of a bed and move them somewhere else, giving me some precious offcuts in the process. Watching them now in full flower, I am always reminded of her on her knees on that hot Autumn afternoin, struggling determinedly  with her difficult task.

The Clary Sage has become one of my favourite plants in the garden. It’s provenance is is unusual. I bought it from Lidls as a salvia, which indeed it is, but not of the edible variety one would usually encounter in supermarkets. I didn’t know what it was back then and watched amazed when it grew into the beautiful tall biennial which returns to my garden every year, self seeding or grow  with a bit of help from me. The bees love its sweaty aroma, and I don’t mind it either, although someone once gave me some seeds back from a plant I gave her in a bottle labelled “Seeds of stinky plant”

There is also a Plectranthus barbatus flower spike, the plant a huge beast that was sold to me at a local plant fair as a medicinal plant, good for the stomach and liver, three leaves in a tea. I tried it once and a more bitter foul tasting brew you couldn’t find! If it doesn’t kill you, it would have to cure you,

At the back of the display, there is some society garlic, Tulbaghia, brought to me by my sister who is making her own garden north of here, and a little spike of wild Asphodel, which planted itself in my garden from a wild seed and which has become one of my favourite plants, for it is a “lily of the field” and toils not, nor spins. And indeed nor do we much at this point of the year. However, that will change as I have just ordered some seeds and soon it will all begin again, for the seasons they go round and round, as the song says, and so does my garden story.

Gardening in Portugal – Reflections through the eyes of others

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The central step down the bank, built from the natural stones, which also acts as a channel for rainwater to the Orchard below.

Thanks to my friends in the gardening group for permission to use these photos, none were taken by me. I am amazed at their talent to only show the good bits to their best advantage!

It’s five years, more or less, since we started making this garden and a few weeks ago, for the first time, I showed it to some gardening friends. For me, it was an important step, it felt like I could dare to admit, for the first time, I had a garden to show anyone. It has been a long road to get to this point and I felt as nervous as a mother taking her daughter to her first prom.

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The glass wall on the terrace, designed to marry old and new . It was a worry, but plants now adorn the shelf.

Up until the last year, despite being an active member of Facebook gardening groups, where I have received huge encouragement and support, I have avoided joining formal gardening associations, and there are quite a few in Portugal. This is the first real garden I’ve ever had and I have both been too busy working on it to join any group and much to shy to even call it a garden. However, last Autumn I was invited to join a group of gardeners new to Portugal and it seemed the right kind of group for me.

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My hippy shed…someone said it looks like a folk museum..but I am the oldest exhibit!

After some very serious tidying up and path sweeping, the day arrived clear and bright  and more importantly, with an abatement of the wind which had been steadily howling around the house in the previous days before our visitors arrived. I had sneakily bagged a slot in the Spring as my garden is at its best at this time! Despite some trepidation at the prospect of trying to explain my gardening journey, I felt encouraged and renewed by the support and feedback given my gardening friends young and old, alternative and mainstream on what has been my daily toil and delight since we came to live here.

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Gay Profusion

Seeing the garden through the eyes of other gardeners, in my eyes, somehow made it a “proper” garden. It was like cutting the ribbon at a new venture, I felt the need for something slightly “official” Not that this means the end of work on the garden, for that never happens…but more that I could come to draw a line between “making” the garden and refining it. It was a kind of significant birthday party.

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The dry river bed, also made to prevent erosion

Our group was a slightly tentative but supportive one. We all had new gardens and felt a bit shy of showing other people the place we had spent our love and toil on, but it turned out to be a very pleasant and non threatening experience, not least helped by the fact that after our garden tour, we sat down to a shared lunch where everyone had brought a dish. I  was one of the last in the group to have a visit and I learnt something from each and every garden. The gardens ranged from those with the main principle being to raise food, through to more formal inherited gardens and I found visiting them and hearing other people’s plans for them truly enlightening.

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Spot Mumma hen and her chick -my chief manure suppliers and weed eaters!

I learnt how to hot compost, how a composting loo works, how to think about the garden in terms of “rooms” and work each area, how important sitting areas are, what to do with sorghum and many other little tips. I learnt that each person has their own plans and dreams, that a garden is a very individual thing and that gardening is a very much an activity which unites people across ages and nationalities. If I was queen of the world for a day I would decree each new born baby received a plot of land to tend and grant them a day a week to devote to it. I think this would solve many of the world’s ills.

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The grassy area on top of the bank-I always envisaged this swaying in the wind that whistles around our hilltop and it does!

The photos on this blog of my garden are all taken through the eyes of others, thanks to them for giving permission to post them here. The views which they chose to photograph is in itself interesting to me, as it helped me to see things through new eyes. Most importantly, I have made new friends and gardening friends are wonderful to have.

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The dry garden

Gardening in Portugal -Poppies in Paradise

 

0961B606-FD14-4702-92E7-500232ADE675.jpegI promised a post on the wildflowers, but I have been so busy looking at them open-mouthed I haven’t been able to tear myself away from the gazing at them to write this post. Every now and again you get an “eighth wonder of the world” year here and this is one of them. The fields and hills are alive with the bright red heads of poppies and the cheerful yellow field marigolds, like a happy yellow sea.

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Field of Poppies

Cistus, both pink and white light up the hills, intermingled with the lavender stoechas we get here, a lovely dark purple variety which the bees love and occasionally viridium, the green version. Every now and again I come across a bush with flowers of the deepest blue imaginable, the blue of a kingfisher’s wing, a lithodora.

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Lithodora

As we drive to the nearby market town of Loule, through our favourite hidden vallies, I cannot get too far without stopping and exclaiming and jumping out to take photos. Senhor Faztudo is very tolerant. He knows the wild flowers are my second greatest love.

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Field Marigolds and Chysanthemum Coronium

I have made no secret in last posts, of my admiration for the Algarvean  “weeds” They must be the most beautiful in the world. I have learned a great deal about them in last years, largely due to my friend and Portuguese teacher who lives in a nearby village. She has been collecting stories from ederly local people about the uses of many of the plants that grow here, as they have been the region’s medecine store from time immemorial, some of the knowledge perhaps being handed down from generation to generation since the time of the Moors.

Some of the herbs still used today are Malva, or Mallow, seen to be excellent for the digestion, used as a tea or put as a poultice on festering wounds to pull the poison out. Another local favourite is the  beautiful Thymus capitatus, which grows in abundance on the hills bere and is used as an antiseptic or to strew agains insects and fleas in the house. The  flower petals of some of the more abundant plants, particularly wild Dill are used to adorn local churches  during their Saints’ Days and petals are used to make patterns on the pavements outside.

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Wils Lavender Stoechas

Recently I went for a wild flower amble with some fellow gardeners amongst the hills and springs of the little village of Alte, where in the shade of the carob trees, wild perwinkle made a beautiful carpet. The long stems were used to tie the faggots of brushwood brought back to light the bread ovens in time gone by. We also saw the impressive blooms of Scilla Peruviana, a plant I couldn’t believe would grow wild when I first saw it, as well as the beautiful sprays of Asphodel “the lilies of the field” from the bible which adorn the paths hereabouts, making them look like a wedding aisle.

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A ford near Alte

I have been collecting seeds in the Autumn and also rescuing any plants I have seen torn up by the diggers clearing the land for agricultural uses, but obviously I don’t pick or uproot  plants, as that is both illegal and immoral. I actually fear for the wild peony, which seems to be disappearing in recent years, and although I know several places where they grow I tend to keep quiet about the exact whereabouts.

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Silla Peruviana

You can see history in the plants too. In my garden and in our village two plants grow in abundance. Alexanders, or Black Lovage, which were used by the Romans instead of celery and Wild Asparagus, which the farmers hate as it has deep roots and prickles, but which produce edible shoots which local people pick and eat in January, after the autumn rains. They were also perhaps brought by the Romans and since an arachaelogical excavation in our village has turned up artefacts from a Roman villa, it is quite likely that we are seeing plants that were brought here two thousand years ago.

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An Alentejo meadow

Sometimes a passing Portuguese neighbour scratches their head when passing our distinctly natural looking garden. Why would I want to grow all those plants that just grow everywhere as weeds on the “mata” or bush? For me, nothing delights me more than walking out every in the garden in the mornings and watching these beauties flourish, without water or special care on our patch. I nurture them and feel honoured when a new wild flower makes itself at home here. The butterflies, bees and I all greet their return with joy and satisfaction each Spring. It’s a wildflower Paradise, my special slice of Eden.

Gardening in Portugal- It’s raining Clay Pots!

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Cântaros

It’s raining buckets, or as the Portuguese say Portuguese “It’s raining clay pots” “Chove a cântaros”  If you had just moved to Portugal, you might wonder why you came, since the view out of my window this morning, is distinctly Welsh, not Algarvean at all. It’s hard not to wish it would stop, when your wheelbarrow has become a wildlife pond, your no dig bed a marshy haven for slugs and your cistern overflow pipe a waterspout, the water overflowing in a fecklessly wasteful fashion away down the hill.

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My garden lush with the rain

However, I am trying hard not to regret my rain dancing, which I did perpetually throughout the dry Winter and early Spring months, when it was so warm and dry you wondered whether it would ever rain again. For one thing is certain, it won’t rain from early June until October, unless we have a real freak of nature, and it will be hot, sometimes up to the 40 degrees C, and we will have to hide from the punishing sun by 11am. So how can I regret the sweet, persistent rain that has been falling since that wonderful moment on February 23rd when the heavens first opened to break the long drought.  Really it’s been raining ever since with the odd day of respite, as the Depressions from the Atlantic, pushed  by a cold weather pattern in the North, sweep in one after the other.

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A Camellia enjoying the rain

I have become slightly weather obsessed, I freely confess.  I have discovered an app called “Storm” which has weather maps all in pretty colours which show you the approaching Depressions. I watch them swirling about somewhere near the coast of Philadelphia , a huge battle going on between the warm winds pushing up from Africa (little orange arrows)  and the cold winds coming down from the North (little blue and green arrows) and then the tail of rain (green and yellow blobs) sweeping our way across Portugal, bringing the rain we so badly need and the less welcome waves to bash our shores, destroying the beach cafes and sweeping the beaches into disarray. Gazing into my IPAD screen at the weather patterns, I feel a bit like Zeus, gazing down on the Earth from lofty Mount Olympus. I just haven’t got the power he had to poke up a tempest here or an earthquake there, luckily!

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The rain on our plain from “Storm” weather app

Along with watching the weather on apps,whilst I am stuck indoors unable to garden,  I have also discovered that our neighbors have a personal weather station which records every five minutes and posts the results on the Internet, with the ability to look up historic weather information in detail. I always enjoy playing with databases, and messing about with it has made me realise that although it has rained and rained, because the Autumn rains failed last year we are still short of the normal rainfall for the season by 100mm. I share the website here in case you want to explore it for your own area, https://www.wunderground.com/wunderstation Just type your area into the “Search Locations” box. And click on “History” for historical data. Some of  dams in the Alentejo, at the time of writing are still only at 59% of capacity and here in the Western Algarve 69%. More rain will not go amiss, no matter how much we are looking forward to the sun shining again, so we can get out in our gardens once more.Here is the link for the dam capacity in case you’re interested.

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This year though, I do have my new greenhouse to potter around in even when it’s raining or windy and this has made a difference to my attitude to the rain Señor Faztudo made it as a lean-to  against the hippy shed so it’s quite sheltered, especially from the north side and it’s rather nice to hear it drumming on the roof and dribbling into a makeshift water butt, which we have rigged up inside the greenhouse so I don’t have to go outside in bad weather to get water.

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The greenhouse/potting shed

I also have the hippy shed next door, where I have installed a camping stove so I can sit there with a cup of tea and even cheer up the shivering chickens now and again with a blast of loud  music from my hippy shed sound system, aka my digital  radio, as they try find shelter under the chicken shed as this weird wet stuff they don’t have to contend with the rest of their year falls unremittingly.

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The hippy shed…a hark back to my young years

The drought this year has concentrated everyone’s minds on preserving the water when it does rain. People who garden in a dry climate think not only about what they plant, but also about storage for the months when it definitely won’t rain. The torrent of  water is running off the roof right now reminds us of how much we craved it when we didn’t have any. We have a large cisterna collecting rainwater from our roof and also all the rainwater that is running down the drive is directed by the paths down into the orchard for the trees.

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The cisterna and terrace overflow

Having a garden on a hill is a good thing when it rains heavily as you can collect water on terraces at each level, but on the whole, the garden remains well drained. Friends into permaculture techniques dig “swales”, ditches filled with spongy materials  to capture water and then plant on “berms” higher banks alongside them so the plants continue to access the stored water in the drier months. I haven’t really got the room to do that, but the bottom of the garden is certainly flooded with water and as its level much of it remains for the tree roots to access.  I am also experimenting with the idea that Vetiver grass, with its very deep roots may bring water to the surface to make it available for plants as I  have noticed my globe artichokes do better where they are planted next to Vetiver, so I am going to plant some closer to my trees.

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Salvia in full flower in my garden

The most exciting thing will be when the rain stops and the sun shines and the fields around here becomes the eighth wonder of the world as they burst forth with wild flowers in all their glory. I’m poised with my camera, I can’t wait. Watch this space for a wild flower display to beat all wild flower displays! As soon as these clay pots stop pouring water.

Gardening in Portugal – No Way Hosé !

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The Whipsnake kinky hose

This is a whinge about hoses, impossible things, they drive me to distraction!  Before I start ranting, as this is definitely a subject I get very hot under my gardening collar about, I will pause to pay respect to the fact that hoses have been used by people for transporting water for over 2000 years, ever since the first ancient Greek picked up an ox stomach and intestines and a light bulb went off (or an olive oil clay lamp, more likely) and decided to use it as a flexible pump and fire hose. I suppose that the intestines of an ox were used for many years after that, because it wasn’t until the 1600s that the very first flexible hose was made by Dutch inventor Jan van der Heyden, probably to water his tulips. Nowadays we have the strong PVC hoses we have today, mostly made in China, but thankfully lasting longer than ox intestines, which must have got quite mushy and smelly in the end. What I want to know is, if hoses have been in development for thousands of years, then why do they still kink and tie themselves in impossible knots? You would suppose in all that time, the problem of the incessant kinking would have been resolved. Perhaps it’s the curse of the poor Ox, in retribution for the disrespect paid to its tripes for so many years. Whatever it is it drives me crazy on a daily basis in the summer.

Picture the scene. It’s a very hot summer’s morning and I have gone off down the garden to water the fruit trees. First of all I unwind the green horsewhip snake from the hook on the wall, where I spend ages trying to make it neat and tidy last night. It immediately contorts itself into a horrendous knot. The fruit trees start up their  gentle moaning, “Water! Water!” At this point, I wonder why we have never invested in one of those “roll your hose” up contraptions. Somehow we aren’t “roll your hose up” type of people. I pull the doobrie off the watchermacallit on the tap and untangle the knot, all the while remembering Maya Angelou’s saying “I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lightsShe might have well said “tangled garden hose” I wonder if she is up there somewhere in heaven with her arms folded watching me effing and blinding, as I lose my temper with the knot. I would would really welcome a rainy day right now. I obviously haven’t learnt very much about patience in my 62 years on this earth. Finally the knot is unknotted. I put the doobrie back on the watchermacallit and turn on the tap, only to be squirted at very high velocity (can velocity be applied to water?)  by a water spout soaking my face and hair, temporarily blinding me. Hopping about to the bemusement of my farming neighbours out sorting their melons, I struggle to get control and turn the tap off, aligning the watchermacallit back on the tap where it came loose, my hair and face soaked. I have been watered it seems, but the plants have not. I hear the fruit trees sniggering through their thirst and glare at them angrily.

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The dreaded Whatchermacallit

By this time, the sun is higher in the sky and the plants are drooping piteously. I sally forth expectantly towards the end of the hose. I stare in disbelief. Señor Faztudo  has replaced the Nozzle of Doom on the end! Now the Nozzle of Doom is a huge point of contention between us. Señor Faztudo  says the Nozzle of Doom saves us bucketloads of water, but I maintain it is it a water cannon for destroying all in its path. Sure, it means you can turn the hose off when you aren’t using it, but the water comes out at such force you can’t do anything except blast the plants into oblivion. Now I am really fuming. The plants start a new, louder wailing “Water! Water!”  Ignoring their pleas, I stomp off to the hippy shed temporarily and light a joss stick, stroking the bemused cat  to calm myself down.

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The Nozzle of Doom

Returning in somewhat better humour, I remove the water cannon attachment and start to assuage the thirst of my plants. Within a short time, a kink appears somewhere near the top of the hose. I sigh, put the hose down by the nearest tree root and return to unkink it. On my way back I trip over the hose, narrowly avoiding falling over, I resume and the hose wraps itself around one of my favourite plants, a tender darling, snapping off one of her stems and then kinks anew,  The sun rises higher in the sky and I’m losing the will to live. And as for winding it all up again at the end, don’t get me started!

So now I have shared my problem, let’s go a little further into the technicalities. I really hate those Watchermacallits and Doobries, the things that you have to join hoses to taps, hoses to each other, to connect things etc. They must have been invented by a sadist.  You never have the right one for the right thing, they never fit tightly, they always spurt water out, they completely and utterly defeat me. Oh, but Señor Faztudo can ALWAYS make them work, which he seems to me to be pretty smug about. As though there is something wrong with me! What is that about? I cannot tell you how fed up I am that I always have to ask him to sort it all out for me. Every time.

You might think a solution would be those new-fangled curly hosepipes. They look like they should work, are very neat and lovely and don’t get in a kink. Well we had one for two weeks before it broke at the neck.  It was very expensive and very short lived, so I have lost faith it them altogether.

By now, you may be asking why we don’t sort out some irrigation. We do have some seeping soaker hoses in some parts of the garden, but even they are a wind up, because every now and again one of my cats takes a fancy to bite into them and make mini fountains. These go on for weeks, because I can’t  bear to try and cut that bit out and rejoin with some of the Watchermacallits.  I have looked at all the little irrigation pipes and rubbery bits and timers and malarkey at the agriculture shop and I just know that life will be far worse if I buy them. The holes will clog up with calcium from our hard water, the bits will get lost. I will never enjoy my garden again. I am not going there. I also have a great fear of timed systems since I have heard so many stories of the timer breaking whilst people are away, with them either coming back from holiday to a huge water bill or a dead garden.

So that’s my whinge about hoses. I expect people may tell me  me what an idiot I am and what a wonderful thing hoses are and how you can get this oojamaflip and that and it all works like a dream. Luckily, we are going through a period of much needed rain right now and the hose torture is postponed for a while, so calm in the garden is restored.