Gardening in Portugal – Time to stand and stare



Gardening is a solitary business and on the whole, most of us gardeners like it that way. There is a solace in walking up and down, bending and stretching, stopping to listen to the birds, to admire the view or to gaze at an emerging plant. When I was young, for homework once, I had to learn this poem by W.H. Davies (I have left some verses out, for the sake of brevity)

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—

No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

It’s a trifle twee as poetry goes, but as I work on my garden tasks, I often remind myself of the lines, and take the time to stop and look around me. Mostly I am pleased with the way the garden is developing and feel happy and at peace with the surroundings. But some mornings, I stand and stare and feel desperate. Will we ever turn this side of the hill into a beautiful garden? Can it really be done? When I’m in this mood, I mooch around from one job to the next, never feeling I’ve achieved anything. In the end, I sit down, have a cup of tea and feel very discouraged. The problem for me is the fact that it is such early days. The fruit trees are tiny, the flowers aren’t flowering yet, not all the hard landscaping has been done, I can’t afford the things I need. In short, I have days where I find it hard to count my blessings.

However, recently help has been at hand. I have had a very encouraging weekend and feel renewed and refreshed. I have said before, I miss my gardening community from the allotment in South London. Chats over the fence about gardening have always sustained me and encouraged me. I started to write this blog as a way of recording the progress in the garden. I could have made it private, but then, reading about permaculture led me to one of its principles that I readily agree with. Share your garden. Share what you produce and share what you learn. It’s a simple idea and an easy way of doing something positive for the world. When I was young, I thought the way to make things better which were wrong had to be big things. Now I realise it is the little things around us that make a difference. I have found, to my amazement that there are hundreds if not thousands of gardeners out there on the internet, sharing their gardening experiences. And they are all prepared to chat to you over the virtual fence. How wonderful is that? Gardeners have begun supporting me by adding comments to my blog and I have been reading theirs and learning all sorts of new things.
In the real world (and I’m not saying the Internet isn’t real, just distinguishing between this and the other) we visited a book launch hosted by the Algarve branch of the Mediterranean Garden Society of a new Field guide to the Wild Flowers of the Algarve, published by Kew Gardens. The distinguished authors of the book spoke to us about their long research and how lucky we were to be living in an area which is very special for its floral diversity. Indeed, there are so many wild orchids yards from my front gate, you can’t avoid treading on them as you walk. There is a new association for the MGS in Portugal and they held their first AGM at the same time.

The book launch was held at Quinta de Figuerinha, near Silves, a guest house and ecology centre, nestled on the side of one of those magic hidden valleys you come upon, here in the countryside inland. Before the talk we wandered through the gardens, marvelling at the avocado trees in full fruit and a large Indian Neem tree, orchards of organic citrus and many other trees all of which weren’t there 25 years ago.

I doubt if I have twenty five years left to live, but it’s still inspiring to think that the trees that you are planting now, may be such a beautiful legacy for the next generation. I think this is why the farmers here on this hill and in the valley below treat their trees with such reverence. Many were planted by their fathers, grandfathers or even great great great grandfathers. They produce all their wealth in some cases and many an hour is spent under their branches picking carobs or knocking almonds or olives from them. There is an intimate relationship with every tree.


The next day, a new gardening friend and I swopped gardening visits for the first time. She has a large garden in a beautiful setting and has been working at it for a long time, albeit intermittently as time allowed her. Her artist’s eye had created a tapestry of different colours and shapes which blended beautifully into the vistas surrounding her house. Daisies threaded throughout prostate rosemaries, swan’s neck agaves beaming their antennae-like central spike up towards the sky. She gave me a young pomegranate tree. If we live long enough, I hope we will one day sit under its shade and my garden will look half as beautiful as hers. She said to me as we walked around her creation “What would I do if it was finished?” as though the thought frightened her. This gave me a new perspective. Of course, it’s the journey, not the destination that matters.

So, I return to the garden replenished and try to enjoy the journey, learn to love the weeds as my friend, attempt patience with the slow growth of plants and my losses and failures and believe that it all is moving on as it should. I have punctuated this blog with pictures of flowers taken in the surrounding area to remind me to stand and stare more often.



4 thoughts on “Gardening in Portugal – Time to stand and stare

  1. Hi Jane, I just stumbled upon your blog when I was looking for information about the timing of Algarve harvests and I really like what I’ve read so far (and I intend to read more posts in the future). I was intrigued to see you quoting W H Davies here. The poet originates from my home town of Newport. I’m a fellow occasional blogger and I wrote a post about him on my old blogger site ( I’m very envious of you living in the Algarve. We walked the Via Algarviana last year and I’m just editing a travelogue about our experiences, hence the interest in harvests. I’ve created a list of interesting blogs to include in the book (which I’m publishing as an ebook), so I hope you don’t mind me adding your blogs. All the best. Tracy


  2. Thanks so much for your kind words Tracy and of course you can share a link on your ebook. And I will enjoy reading you blog too. We have something in common as I was born in Newport and enjoyed W.H Davies poems as I child. We live overlooking the Via Algarviana and walk parts of it close to the house. It’s a lovely walk, but there is little publicity or accommodation, especially on the Eastern part, so I am sure your travlogue will be greatly welcomed! Good Luck with it.


  3. What a coincidence!! We’re actually coming to the Algarve for three months on December 1. The plan is to walk at weekends and work during the week. My partner is a freelance editor and I’m supposed to be (finally) finishing my novel, set in Newport. It’s been on the back boiler for three years so I really need to get on with it now. We were surprised how tough the Via Algarviana was – perhaps one of the reasons it’s not walked more. All our information came from the official site, plus a German website Harri found. It’s a beautiful trail and the people we met in the villages en route were so kind to us.


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