Archive | September 2013

Gardening in Portugal – It’s raining!


A local river, swollen from the recent rains


It’s raining,  solidly now, for a week. Heavy, stair rod rain at times, light kiss your cheek rain at others.  How the garden needs it! The last rain we had was way back in May and I can almost hear the trees and the few plants that I already have in the garden sighing and giggling  in delight.  I’ve  been running in and out of the house like an excited  child with only my socks on. Foolish me.

Which bring me to thoughts about water, such a precious resource, and the problems of having both too little and too much of it in this climate.

For those of you who come to the Algarve only in the summer months, you would be very surprised to see it at this moment. My view across the valley is completely obscured with mist and I can  almost imagine myself back in Wales. After a week of rain the parched and yellow fields are blackening as the stalks of the undergrowth, cut down by the farmers against fire and  so that their carob and almond trees don’t get robbed of water, start to blacken.  I know I must go into the lower part of the garden where I have large piles of dead chrysanthemum coronarium and wild chard and bring them up the steep driveway to build lasagna beds in my vegetable garden. But I will have to wait for better weather, because for now it is wet, slippery and inhospitable in the garden, the red clay mud sticking to my boots wherever I walk.

One very important aspect of living on a slope is drainage. A veritable torrent of water can rush down our driveway when it first rains. The above is a photo of our  local river last Autumn, which is bone dry in the summer! The parched ground means that at first rain, the water runs off, taking any gravel with it in its path and gulleys can open up in the banks, creating mini gorges. Mediterranean plants do not like their feet in water too long, so thinking about where to site the lavenders, cistus and santolinas is important. This Spring we had about two months of continuous rain, then four months of drought. So we have planted the fruit trees at the bottom of the garden so that they can benefit from the water run off during the long, dry months of Summer.

Our house was new built and although not to our specifications, we were able to get the builder to put in a large tank or cisterna as they are known here in Portugal, as part of the build. This collects all the rainwater from the roof, which is very helpful in the summer months. I shall write more of cisternas and how the Portuguese have used them and managed water for centuries in another post.



A Nora, a well system developed by the Moors

Our grey water also feeds our trees through a simple filter and gravity system. It feels good in the Summer to know all the shower water is going to plump up the lemons and oranges (although the trees are  not big enough to bear fruit yet)

But I’m  waiting impatiently for the rain to stop. I have a new shed and I’m itching  to get some seeds in to catch the Autumn vegetable slot. My beds are not very developed yet, but I hope to have some success with cabbages, turnips and other Autumn vegetables.

More of the shed next blog. My husband, hereafter known as Señor Faz-Tudo, put one together for me last week. We painted it grey but only one shade. I just need another 49 sheds of grey now!


Gardening in Portugal – What is a garden?


I went to a talk yesterday, organised by the Algarve branch of the Mediterranean Gardening society on Garden Design for water wise and sustainable gardening, by Marilyn Medina Ribeiro, a landscape designer who has lived in the Algarve since 2008. She started with the question “What is a garden?” It was a question we all found surprisingly difficult to answer and one which I have been pondering.

I really wonder when making my new garden how I can possibly compete with the breathtaking beauty all around me here in the Algarve countryside.? Just take a look at this view from my front windows this Spring, at the meadow across the road.


Or this at the bottom of the valley! How can I ever improve on this natural beauty? How can I make sure what I create is in harmony with all this and not at odds with it?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My new garden is full of newly turned soil, not good topsoil, but soil brought land nearby.  Last Autumn we went to the local market and bought some fruit trees, toiling the whole day to put them in. We watched over them anxiously as the North winds battered the house. We watered them through dry spells, tied them to stakes, fed them with donkey manure. Then we watched in amazement as the wild flowers sprung up all around them. A particularly wet Spring for the Algarve, encouraged the Chrysanthemum  Coronarium, both the white daisy variety with the yellow centre and the pure yellow one to spring up everywhere. I have paid for these in England. And here they were in their  1000’s! We waited and watched. We walked amongst them with our mouths open. We took pictures and marvelled.  And then, a little too late, we realised we could no longer find the fruit trees! A breathtaking jungle had developed and the daisies were 12 feet high.

We had to do battle with strimmer and rake for three days before we emerged, covered in caterpillars and other things too horrible to mention. We just about saved the starved and strangled trees. But what do I do next year?  I love the chrysanthemums, but there must be some moderation. Which is where I guess, we, as gardeners come in.  We encourage and discourage, tame and prune, pick and choose, fuss and leave. This is the difference between a garden and nature on its own.

Gardening in Portugal – A blank canvas?

When I was a teacher, I always loved the start of the new term. It  seemed to present such an opportunity for new promise, creativity and achievement. Halfway through the term though, I was often on my knees with exhaustion, wondering why I ever became a teacher at all in the face of such a workload!  But this new garden and this new phase in my life won’t be like this. I am resolute! I want each gardening day to be a delight, not a tedious chore. And so I have to make the garden pleasant and easy to work; easy to manage and fun to create, with just enough work to keep me happy but not so much that I feel over burdened.

But sometimes it looks like a bigger challenge than I can deal with and friends and family shake their heads ominously and say “A lot of work here. How are you going to manage?”

Quando era professora, sempre amei o início do novo turma. Parecia apresentar grande oportunidades para novas promessas, criatividade e realização. No meio do turma, porém, estava muitas vezes de joelhos com exaustão, perguntava-me  porque me turnei uma professora em face de tal carga de trabalho! Mas este novo jardim e esta nova fase da minha vida não será assim. Estou   resoluto! Quero que cada dia de jardinagem seja uma delícia, e não uma tarefa tedio.

Assim  tenho que fazer o jardim agradável e fácil de trabalhar;  fácil de gerir  e divertido de criar, com apenas o suficiente trabalho para me manter feliz, mas não tanto que me sinto sobrecarregado.
As vezes parece no entanto um desafio maior com que posso lidar, e os amigos e familiares agitam as cabeças duvidosamente dizem: “Há muito trabalho aqui, como é que tu vais suportar?”


Here is the good news and the bad news then. The good news is much of the hard landscaping is already done. There are walls all around and a fence on top, terraces at the back and many mature trees.

The bad news is that the soil is very poor, heavy heavy red clay with some more limey clay  and lots of stones.

The good news is that I have some flat land at the bottom of the garden. The bad news is I have a lot of slope.

The good news is I have a large cisterna which collects all the rainwater from the house and mains water. The bad news is we often have drought for four months of the year and then periods of very heavy rainfall. The temperatures are often over 30 degrees for prolonged periods in the Summer and we are on an exposed hillside with very strong winds.

The good news is my husband and I are still fit and healthy. The bad news is we are in our fifties and therefore racing against time to get things sorted out.

But to me, it is my Mount of Olives, and I intend to turn it into a Paradise.

Aqui está as boa notícias e as más notícias tamben. A boa notícia é que muito do paisagismo difícil já está feito. Há paredes em volta e um sebo em cima, terraços na parte de trás e muitas árvores maduras.

A má notícia é que o solo é muito pobre, barro  vermelho pesado com um pouco mais de cal e muitas pedras. A boa notícia tambem é que eu tenho alguma terra plana no fundo do jardim. A má notícia é que eu tenho no resto, uma encosta. A boa notícia é que eu tenho uma cisterna grande querecolhe toda a água da chuva da casa e água da rede. A má notícia é que muitas vezes temos seca duraate quatro meses do ano e, em seguida, períodos de chuvas muito intensas. As temperaturas são muitas vezes mais de 30 graus por períodos prolongados no verão e estamos numa encosta exposta com ventos muito fortes. A boa notícia é que meu marido e eu ainda estamos emforma e saudável. A má notícia é que estamos em nossos cinqüentas  e, portanto, corrida contra o tempo para resolver as coisas.
Mas para mim, é o meu Monte das Oliveiras, e eu pretendo transformá-lo em num paraiso.

Nikki & Len's new house

Or perhaps I should just leave it. Because this is what happened to it last Spring. But more of that in the next post.

Ou talvez devia dexia como está, porque e o que aconteceu na primavera passada no proximo.





Gardening in Portugal – The adventure begins!


I am about to embark on a lifelong ambition, to make a garden from scratch. For some reason fate deemed   I should have both time and a reasonable plot of land to turn into a beautiful garden. In short,  I’ve been given what I’ve  asked for all my life with the added bonus of time.  I hope I am granted the health and strength to complete this joyful  task to its completion. The extra  challenge is, that life has unexpectedly given me the opportunity to build this garden in the hills of the Algarve, giving it a delightful and interesting dimension.  My previous life, in Camberwell, South London, afforded me a very small terraced garden and an allotment. I enjoyed the sense of community that the allotment gave me and miss my gardening friends there greatly. But I am hoping that the readers of this blog, if indeed there be readers, will be my gardening companions along the way, virtual companions over the garden fence, if you like.

Jardinagem em Portugal – A aventura começa!

Estou prestes a embarcar numa ambição ha muito desejado, para fazer um jardim a partir do zero. Por algum razão o destino me concedu tempo livre e um lote razoável de terra para se transformar num  belo jardim. Em suma, eu tenho recebido que eu pedi toda a minha vida com a vantagem adicional de tempo disponivel. Espero que me é concedido saúde e força para completar esta tarefa com alegria até a sua conclusão. O desafio inesperado que a vida me tem dado a oportunidade de construir este jardim nas colinas do Algarve, dando-lhe uma dimensão agradável e interessante. Minha vida anterior, em Camberwell, sul de Londres, tinha um pequeno jardim com terraço e um loteamento. Eu gostei muito do comunidade que o loteamento me deu e  sinto muito a falta dod meus amigos de jardinagem daquela altura.. Mas eu estou com esparança que os leitores deste blog, se de fato houver leitores, serão meus companheiros de jardinagem ao longo do caminho, companheiros virtuais cado lado do sebo do jardim, para assim dizer!

I am not an experienced gardener, but neither am I a beginner.  I was brought up in the Wye Valley, in South Wales, a most beautiful part of the world. Now I find myself on the side of a hill once more.  I always took a great interest in “God’s Garden” the wonderful range  the flora and fauna around me. My mother encouraged  me, teaching me the names of many of the wild flowers around.  I  went to London as a young woman and spent the next thirty years tending my children, my marriage and my career, trying to garden wherever I could in between the melee of  roller skates and bicycles. Eventually, I got an allotment and  it gave me great joy as I  learned to grow vegetables and herbs and how to grow more organically and intuitively.

Eu não sou um jardineira experiente, mas tambem não sou um novato. Fui criado no Vale do Wye, em Gales do Sul, a parte mais bonita do mundo. Agora eu encontro-me numa ladeira da colina mais uma vez. Eu sempre teve um grande interesse no “Jardim de Deus” a maravilhosa variedade da flora e fauna em meu redor. Minha mãe me incentivou, ensinando-me os nomes de muitas das flores selvagens a minha volta. Fui para Londres  ainda mulher jovem e passou os próximos trinta anos cuidando dos meus filhos, meu casamento e a minha carreira, tentando jardinar onde pidia, entre os montes de patins e bicicletas.Eventualmente, recebi um loteamento (horta)  que me deu  grande alegria aprendendo a cultivar legumes e ervas que cultivam mais organicamente (bio) e intuitivamente.

My husband and I have been coming and going to the Algarve for over 20 years, encouraged by a beloved friend, a true plantswoman, who bought a house here and loved her garden. She has gone to the great garden in the sky now , but I am sure she will be here with me in spirit as I try and follow in her footsteps and get to know all the mediterranean plants she loved. There will be many challenges along the way, not least the poor soil and lack of water.  But as I look around me at the beautiful hills and how breathtaking the plants are , without any water other than sparse rainfall, I know that nature will teach me a lot. As will my Portugese neighbours, especially as I  master the language which I am struggling to learn!

Meu marido e eu temos andando num via-vem até o Algarve há mais de 20 anos, e fui incentivado por uma amiga querida, um verdadeira mulher das plantas, quem comprou aqui uma casa e adorava o seu jardim. Ela já esta para o grande jardim do céu, mas eu tenho certeza que ela vai estar aqui comigo em espírito quando tento  seguir os seus passos para conhecer todas as plantas mediterrânicas de que ela amava tanto. Haverá muitos desafios ao longo deste caminho, não menos  importante, o solo pobre e falta de água. Mas olhando a minha  volta para as belas colinas e as plantas deslumbrantes, sem pingo de água a não ser da precipitação é essa cassa, eu sei que a natureza me vai ensinar muito. Assim, como é que os meus vizinhos  portugueses, especialmente quando eu domino a língua que eu estou lutando para aprender!

So come with me on the journey! Hopefully we can learn from each other…one of the true delights of gardening and a common understanding between people.

Então venha comigo nesta viagem! Espero que possamos aprender uns com os outros … um dos verdadeiros prazeres da jardinagem, e o entendimento comum entre as pessoas.