My garden is as dry as dust. Here in the Algarve it is what I call the fifth season, the desert season, when the plants are deep asleep or hanging on for grim death until the first rains. In my Uk garden, I accepted that everything was asleep in the winter cold; all stopped and there was nothing to be done until the first signs of Spring, as the ground thaws. Here, it is so tempting to start watering lavenders and rosemaries, bringing about their certain death from fungal diseases and hard not to feel mournful and wonder if the garden will ever come back to life again. I have chosen to have a dry garden; colourful summer plants are limited to pots or areas close to the house. The rest is a sea of browns and soft greys right now, the Aeoniums, proudly plump and rosette like in the Spring, have become small buttons and Aloes are curling and turning a protective red.
I get very doubtful at this time of year, I wonder if I am doing the right thing in this muddled naturalistic design which reflects my own nature; half farm, half villa garden; mainly for my pleasure but also for our guests, although there aren’t many in this weird covid year. People don’t understand, they feel sorry for me almost, when they see everything dried up and then I feel a bit sorry for myself. Feeling sorry for yourself never really brings about any change or anything good. You have got to get uo and get on with it, it’s the only remedy.
My doubtful feelings were compounded recently, when I visited some beautiful gardens in my village belonging to my neighbours. Some people in our Algarve village are from tropical countries, the Caribbean and Africa and of course they aspire to grow the both colourful and useful plants of the countries of their birth. They have green thumbs, indeed they only have to breathe next to plants are are rewarded with food aplenty. I swear, the plants seem to bend towards them lovingly when they walk past…what do they have that I haven’t got, I wonder? Well, they are all lovely souls, it’s true, but they have also used water and mulch and even the design of their gardens very cleverly. But I guess the key is also in the irrigation, something which I only have in a very small area. When I return from seeing and admiring their beautiful creations, everything planned carefully and each plant healthy and colourful, I find myself suffering from garden envy and then I have to sit down and give myself a talking to and remind myself that I am not them, will never be them and that my garden is beautiful too, just in a different way. Someone said to me “ Envy is a natural feeling – I believe it exists to help us to push ourselves to excel further!” That helps me deal with my struggles to believe that my garden will evolve more and more, whilst I still stick to my dry garden principles.
Whilst I have been pondering on all this, a virtual gardening gardening friend introduced me to the work of Piet Oudoulf, whose naturalistic style of garden design is as inspiring as that of Olivier Filippi and fills me with excitement. He talks about the beauty of plants throughout the seasons, including dead plants and in the video below, you can see what he means. What a cornucopia of hazy beauty! The garden becomes a moving impressionist painting you can walk into. How Monet would have loved it! Whilst we have to be mindful of the fire risk in the Algarve, it isn’t at all beyond the realms of possibility to create a naturalistic design here, perhaps with a little less grass and more thought for paths as firebreaks etc. And how the insects love it! I am excited again and already planning for Autumn planting and more seed catalogues. I can now foresee the possibility of planting many more plants than I even have already and if I choose the right plants, I won’t need too much more water. The only problem now is that I need to find plants which chickens don’t eat.
So as I walk down through the sunset light to put the chickens to bed, I squint my eyes trying to figure where I will be putting my new plants. A new year is beginning in the Algarve from the first wonderful rains and hope springs eternal in every gardener’s breast.