When I was a child we had a garden with a view of Wales. My bedroom looked over the Wye Valley from the English side and in those days you could look up and see a little steam train puffing along in the distance. It was part of my daily life and although it was breathtakingly beautiful, I suppose I took it for granted. It looked like this
I grew up and went to London and for the next thirty years I had tiny gardens in terraced houses. The view here over the fences separating one family from the next was interesting, to say the least, but I can’t say it was beautiful. It was fun watching what each family chose to grow. My Indian neighbour had an avocado tree, planted close to back walloff the Victorian suitcase factory behind our garden and promised it would bear fruit one day. There was the odd large plant with serrated leaves that the student growers kept quiet about. But you had to crane your neck to see a star and the sun always set quite early over the factory wall
We bought this house in the Algarve because we fell in love with the view. The house is built on the North side of what was probably an extinct volcano; a flat topped prominence with a rocky outcrop across a level bottomed valley. Curved hills frame the 180 degree view, and because they are different distances apart they show themselves in subtle degrees of colour, blues, dark purple, pinks. As I look at them at sunset or even at dawn my hand involuntarily wants to pick up a paintbrush. I want to capture this beauty for all time. But you never could. No camera could portray it, no painting perfect it.
Our house faces North. My father always counselled against buying a house facing North. Good advice in England, but not necessarily the case in The Algarve. There is only one house on the South face of our hill and Roman ruins have been found on this North side. Generations of Portugese can’t be wrong. We have the shade of the hilltop behind us in the Summer, but the view is always in the light. The sun rises beautifully on our right and sets beautifully on our left.
So I am a gardener with a view. I plant my seedlings on the flat wall top facing East. The blue jays squawk loudly as they pick over the last of the olives in the field next to me. The hills above Tavira, which we saw burning from our balcony in the terrible fire the year before last, are tranquil. As I plant sedums on top of the cisterna, the clouds scud across the rocky outcrop, lighting up a pair of buzzards circling in a thermal. My trowel poised, I cannot believe the good fortune that brought me here.
I can see the smoke coming from the woodburning chimneys in the little village where some friends of mine live and wonder how different the village would have been in the time of the Romans or the Moors. The almond blossom was there I know, because of the ancient legend of Ibn Afim, a Moorish prince with a wife from the a northern lands, who planted the almond trees so that the blossom would remind her of the snow and stop her feeling homesick.
The view cries out for sitting places in the garden and we intend to sit and stare a lot. I have put one under the ancient olive tree on my vegetable plot. I imagine a sort of covered seat right up at the highest point in the garden, but probably not covered with vines, as Señor Faztudo doesn’t like the idea of geckos dropping down his neck. And I hope to build a hippy shed one day, facing Spain, where I can play Leonard Cohen and bring Señor Faztudo tea and oranges that come all the way from my garden.