Gardening in Portugal – What is a garden?

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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.

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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.

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