Gardening in Portugal – Secrets and Lies

Echium Candicans "Pride of Madeira"

Echium Candicans “Pride of Madeira”

I hereby make my confessions. Are you ready to hear them?   Everything in the garden is not always rosy, and it’s time I fessed up.  I have made many gardening faux pas since being here, some more costly than others. I’m going to share a few with you on the grounds that you won’t make the same mistakes.  Also, I  hope you will share yours with me, so I don’t keep making a fool of myself!


Ants carrying off booty

The first embarrassing confession has to do with ants. I have a little patch of my garden, where I fancied creating a colourful array of wild flowers.  There are whole areas not intentionally devoted to wildflowers, (Señor Faztudo refers to them as weeds, much to my chagrin) but this patch was rather bare and ready for a sprinkle of  seeds. I envisaged a sea of pinks and purples come the Spring, visited by colourful butterflies, as pictured on the exciting seed packet.  My neighbour Donna Maravilhoso looked on with some bemusement as I tilled and watered the ground and sprinkled the “weed seeds” where she thought the favas (broad beans)  should go, but tactfully, she didn’t say much. The next morning, I came out just as she crossed the road to give me some cabbages for my sopa. She looked over the fence and shook her head dolefully. To my amazement a long line of huge ants were carrying all my seeds off into their nest! For the next few hours, the long march continued.The robber ants methodically making off with each seed.  I considered pouring boiling water down their nest, egged on by my neighbour, but couldn’t bring myself to do it. I reasoned there would only be another colony somewhere else and besides, I love the ants. The next day all the seed had gone. My second confession, Oh Best Beloveds, is that I didn’t know that there was such a thing as frost in the Algarve. It was a great surprise to me to wake up early one morning and find that Jack had been in the night.  There are microclimates throughout the hills where we live, 5 degrees of frost on the valley near the river bottom, but none on the hills. It often rains up here, when there isn’t a drop on the coast.: windy up here, but none down there and so on. So I have lost succulents and tender plants to frost. I spent nearly 80 euros on bougainvillea and the like and lost the lot in my first winter. And when they died, I dug them up and threw them away without waiting to see if they would come back to life. Once established, they often do come back to life if they are cut back, so I’ve heard. In fact, I have witneesed this with a neighbour’s Brugmansis, which rose again like the Phoenix.

portugal 017

A robin, perched on a Rosemary branch

My third secret failure is that I didn’t know plants go to sleep in July and August and there is very little in flower then. You can’t water them awake. I found this out the hard way and  wasted a lot of water learning that. (Forgive me, Water Goddesses, for I have sinned) I also spent quite a bit buying overwatered, overblown, petunias and trying to plant them in rock hard clay soil.  They turned up their petals and croaked, very quickly. Some of my vegetables went to sleep when the weather got hot, especially the brussel sprouts  and I dug them up thinking they were dead, when they could have revived and carried on growing in the garden. Other failures have been trying to grow runner beans (they grew beautifully, had lovely flowers but never set seed) nurturing a pot of grass which I thought were Spring onions and thinking you could mix vegetable gardens with free range hens. I also planted my tomatoes in the hottest part of the garden as I would in England and they shrivelled up as soon as it got really hot!


My hens scavenging in my parched  garden

I brought all my garden tools from England thinking they would be useful. It makes me blush to think of it now. Have you ever tried forking cement?  The tines buckled and the spade handles snapped off. I have now got a good selection of mattocks and hackers, not to mention a pickaxe and a mallet.  The only tool  I bought that has been very useful is a sort of scraping sharp hoe that scrapes the weeds off the top of the soil.(  I have just made the mistake of googling “hoes” to try and find out its name. The search wasn’t very helpful; try it on images and you’ll see what I mean. A search for “Garden Hoes” works much better). The name of the hoes I was looking for is a “Scuffle Hoe” This is a useful article about hoes here and you can see the scuffle hoes: I also bought a dainty little electric strimmer from England that I used to use to strim the edges my London  allotment. Algarve weeds weeds need a real strimmer. Unfortunately, I cannot manage it, so Señor Faztudo has to wield it. He looks like Mad Max as he wildly beheads the wild spinach and long grasses. My final confession is about guano.  I buy this in big bags from the agricultural store. I believe it is an organic fertiliser made from bat or bird droppings. As I think I’ve said in an earlier post, it  smells indescribably bad. Rather  like a dead fox wafting on the wind on a country walk, times ten. But I didn’t know this when I spread it all over the garden on the day we decided to have a Spring barbecue for our guests who had just arrived from England! I thought the smell would dissipate quickly. Even the smell of delicious barbecued meat could not disguise the pong. I won’t be doing that again!

Stinky but Good Guano

Stinky but Good Guano

My final secret is that I only have three things in flower in the garden, some Strelitzia, an Echium Candicans and a Plum tree. But the poppies, wild mallow, milk thistles, ragwort and chrysanthemum coronium are all about to burst out in all their glory. I hope to improve on the cultivated plantings next year. I have had to focus on the structure and food plants for the moment. And I have much to learn about what to plant and how to make it look good.

Strelizia Reginae

Strelizia Reginae

So, if you want absolution for your sins, tell Donna FauxPas and I will give you a penance-three hours on your knees weeding! I’m off to do mine now.


4 thoughts on “Gardening in Portugal – Secrets and Lies

  1. Hi!
    Good to know about the robber ants. By the way have you had any problems with snails? I have seen them munching away on my almond trees. Your ´hoe´search made me smile 🙂 I brought a pick-axe with me… because I remembered usign one in Kenya. I´ve already used it a couple of times here. I bet the ground gets rock hard in summer as you mentioned.
    Boa noite!


  2. Hi Zephyr. There’s a good way to deal with snails around here…eat them. The Portugese are all out in the misty mornings at the moment collecting them. They clean them by putting them in a bucket of flour for a week and then heat them slowly with a lovely sauce of tomatoes, onion and parsley. Haven’t done it yet, because the chickens eat all my snails, but I am tempted!


  3. Dear Donna FauxPas
    Forgive me for I have sinned.
    I find the best way to deal with my gardening errors is to blame them on Señor FazNada.
    Requesting forgiveness,
    Donna SabTudo


Please talk to me. I am struggling here!

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