Archive | May 2014

Surprise! Surprise!

 

Harebells from Canada

Harebells from Canada

One of the most magical pleasures that comes from making a garden is the small surprises that you come upon suddenly as you make your daily rounds. They may not be earth shattering, but they always bring a smile and a reward for all the hard work done. They also compensate for all the failures and keep you going on, even when the sun has shrivelled your seedlings and the wind has run amok amongst your perennials.

So here is a little diary of the week’s surprises.

My first surprise this week was a patch of harebells, (at least I think that’s what they are, although they have six petals rather than the normal five) coming into flower from some seed a friend gave to me. The wonder of it for me was that these were seeds brought all the way from a Canadian woodland by my friend’s sister. They came in an old vitamin bottle with the mysterious title “T’s blue Canadian woodland plants” I had no idea what they were. I have nurtured them through the long soggy winter rains and now here they are, come to life again in the Algarve. A beautiful lucky dip. They must surely wonder where they are and how they got here. I love the way that seeds can be transported around the world and it brings me to mind the Tradescant family 350 years ago, who voyaged the world far and near to bring seeds back to England and who really founded English gardening. Although here in the Algarve, bringing in plant material has brought its dangers, with invasive species smothering some areas of the Algarve countryside.

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The second surprise was some salvia flowers. I have a habit of buying my potted herbs in a well known German supermarket, where they are very cheap and well grown. I’ve bought some very surprising varieties of herb and aromatics there, perhaps inspired by the Portugese enjoyment of teas made from herbs. There has been Absinthe and Stevia, Pennyroyal  and Orange Mint and many others over the last year. They are all flourishing. However, very early on, I realised that what was labelled as common sage wasn’t. It was inedible and the leaves were very thick. It survived last Summer, looking rather poorly and sorry for itself and so I put it in the ground. And now it has grown huge and produced lovely flowers. Here it is. if anyone can identify what variety of salvia it is, please let me know!

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The third surprise was a gift of a broody hen. The Excellent Builder brought her to me, having promised some weeks ago. She is a beautiful older hen and I am trying to think of a name for her. My little flock have been wonderful at producing eggs every day, but they are not inclined to go broody. And nor do I want them to really, but I would like to have a few more hens. So Mother Hen has arrived to act as surrogate and hatch their eggs and look after the baby chickens. Hopefully. However, there has been much shenanigans since her arrival. A chicken flock doesn’t take kindly to newcomers and mine is no exception. They’ve pecked her and mocked her and generally been very mean. She has not been welcomed, to say the least and I have had to give her separate quarters or she is never going to get the peace she needs to settle on a nest. She is now strutting about inside her separate area, mocking them as she eats the tasty tidbits I offer her, knowing they can’t get in.

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The fourth surprise was an avocado tree I planted from a pip. I put it in the bathroom cupboard back in the winter and forgot about it. I found it looking very leggy with lots of roots, put it in the compost and here it is, putting out its first leaves. I already have one avocado sapling in the garden, but I think there is room for another. People here about says its better to have two. I know that growing it from a pip might not produce a good variety, or a tree having any fruits at all, but it will be fun to see what happens. I always remember a neighbour in Camberwell, London, who planted an avocado pip in his terraced garden next to our, close to a factory wall. he said he had had a tree in his garden as a boy in Pakistan and would like to have one here. I laughed at the time, convinced it couldn’t survive outside but it grew about 20 feet tall over the years we lived there. Whether it was the warmth of the factory wall, or the will of Allah, I could never be sure, but certainly he had the last laugh.

The fifth surprise was the worm lizard I found under a pile of rocks I was moving. At first I thought it was a giant earthworm as it was the same colour and segmented. but then I realised it was more snake like. I love the way you just come upon these strange creatures when you are gardening here. I deposited him carefully onto the stone wall running alongside the garden and went to look him up.

Here he is:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iberian_worm_lizard

The sixth surprise was my French beans popping up. I am having terrible trouble with growing beans here. I just think the temperatures are very confusing to them and I have had trouble getting them to set seed. I’ve already had one lot go wrong and now I am trying again. So it was good to see them popping their little heads above ground.

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And the final surprise was that one of my gladioli, which I swear was a lovely maroon colour last year is purple this year. Just the one! How could that be? Never mind, it’s beautiful anyway.

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May all your gardening surprises this week  be lovely ones!

Come into the Garden, Moored!

We have had a busy period with lots of visitors and have had a few weeks of being tourists, both here on the Algarve and in Southern Spain, where we visited some  of the small white villages on the Costa de Sol, the Tabernas desert near Almeria and the Alhambra and Generalife Gardens in the Alhambra for some Moorish inspiration,

I took pictures along the way with an eye on inspiration for the garden, so here are a few thoughts.

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I saw this lovely combination of tables and chairs and flowerpots outside a restaurant in the village of Mijas. Everwhere in Mijas, the white walls were lined with blue flowerpots containing the same bright red geraniums. It made me think about what accent colours I might use in my own garden.

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I found this great swathe of bright colour a surprising choice outside the inner Palaces of the Alhambra, but cheerfully pleasing. I was wondering what other plants might have this range of colour, lilies, roses , geraniums perhaps? English gardens tend to be muted in colour, which I also find beautiful, but there is something very uplifting about these bright colours under a clear blue sky and the green of the box offsetting them.

 

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This beautiful dry garden was found on Barril beach, close to Fuseta on the Algarve. It has no water at all and the broken bones of a discarded fisherman’s boat reminds me how lovely flotsam and jetsam can look in the right setting. I suppose my equivalent would be a carob stump or a piece of volcanic rock.

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 A lesson in simplicity inside the Alhambra. Cool water, giant cypress trees forming natural pillars with their roots underplanted , long trails of ivy hanging down, the quiet benches. It reminds me to try and create a sense of peace and calm in my own garden where there are sitting spaces, even though I know I can never create anything as beautiful and stately as this.

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A perfect frame and a beautiful perspective in the Generalife. Are there ways of framing things in my garden?

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A dream for the future, outside the Alhambra palace. And an inspiration that such beauty can be made by human beings and nature together.

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Small beginnings outside my front door, with some pink ivy leaf geraniums against a camellia in a pot! Enough dreaming, time to pick up the hoe and tackle the mayhem caused by our absence!

 

 

Oh-Oh, I’ve lost the plot!

 

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Beautiful weeds

 

Help! My garden is out of control. In short, I have  lost the plot. About  six weeks ago it rained for a whole week nonstop. The weeds loved it. They looked very pretty dotted around the garden, in fact you can scarcely call them weeds, some of them, such as Chrysanthemum Coronium, Borage, Mallow or wild Delphinium, you would pay money for in a garden centre. Then we  had lots of lovely visitors for a few weeks, so we spent our days lazing around, commenting on how pretty the weeds were over a glass of Alentejo red. Then we went to Spain for a week, to admire Moorish gardens and exclaim at the Sierra Nevada. We came back to mayhem.

To some extent I like weeds, see my previous post here:

https://gardeninginthealgarve.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/weed-and-write/

But the weeds are unruly and unfettered. The dandelions blow fairies all over my vegetable garden; the rye grass, so pretty in the evening sunlight, has no respect for the needs of the fruit trees growing amongst it and greedily robs them of water and nutrients; the thistles tower above my newly planted shrubs and to top it all, Senor Faztudo has hay fever of the worst kind. So he is sneezing and coughing and spluttering and I am wringing my hands and wailing as the roses disappear amongst the triffids.

At times like this it’s hard not to panic. It’s been bone dry for six weeks. The soil has turned to dust. My cabbages and kohl rabbi and broccoli have stopped growing  because it’s too hot. and Señor Faztudo is muttering about the cost of a turnip. He reckons they have cost us about five euros each in water. “Yes, but they’re organic”, I reason. He looks at me darkly.

I make a cup of tea, sit on my favourite piece of the wall and try to count my blessings. Which are many. For one, I have this beautiful garden and time to devote to it. Parts of it are looking good already after a year. Quite a few things are still alive and some are even thriving. The gravel mulch technique  works well, with little water.

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The gravel mulch terrace

My herb garden is taking shape. We have eaten broad eans, peas, turnips and greens from the garden all Spring. And the chickens have laid an egg each every day. True,  the carrots were contorted into all kinds of twists and turns and for some strange reason and  beetroot, one of the easiest vegetables  in the world to grow, won’t form roots, but the Jerusalem artichokes my sister sent me from England are three feet high and the globe artichokes are doing well. We lost one of our mango trees and yet another Bougainvillea bit the dust, but we won’t let that get us down. Mostly.

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Globe artichokes in Gravel mulch

 

Some days though, it’s hard in the garden. The sun beats down on your head and the dust gets up your nose. The ticks which inhabit the tall grass crawl up your trouser legs and your cherished seedlings, which you’ve nurtured through a long winter shrivel up. I am writing this blog in the hope that in years to come, I will be able to look back at the journey of making this garden and celebrate the the trials as well as the tribulations.

I have cheered myself up by visiting the local Chinese supermarket. They abound in the Algarve region and are similar to pound shops in the UK.  They have everything for sale and my intention was to buy some organza bags, the sort you put wedding favours in, to protect our fruit from mediterranean fruit fly.

Ceratitis capitata, the Mediterranean fruit fly, causes huge damage to a wide range of fruit crops. It is native to the Mediterranean area, but has spread to many parts of the world, including Australia and the Americas

Adult medflies lay their eggs under the skins of fruit and the eggs hatch within three days, the larvae developing inside the fruit. Last year, as soon as the peaches on our young trees became ripe, they were all ruined by the fruit fly. I am not prepared to use pesticides, so have bought the bags to tie around the fruit in the hope it will keep the fly out.

I must say that as I tied the pretty bags to the peach tree, I aroused considerable curiousity from passers by. Several of the Donnas walked back and forward a few times giving me sideways glances. I expect they think I am indulging in some sort of weird Welsh tree dressing custom, but the proof of the pudding will be in the perfect peaches. I have left a few unbagged as a control. It has recently come to light that bees are dying in the winter due to the use of pesticides, so I am hoping that by doing this and having such splendiforous weeds in my garden, Iam doing my bit for the bee populations in the area.

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Fruit Fly protection

Around the garden, the area outside the front door is looking pretty, with some Malope “Trifida Vulcan” grown from Sarah Raven’s seeds given to me by a friend and many of the cuttings and succulents donated by a neighbour with a beautiful gardening have rooted. I hope I can nurture them through the fierce heat to come.

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Maolpe “Trifida Vulcan”

 

I have very little shade in my garden yet and this is proving to be a problem for new plants. We have planted many young trees and shrubs and I can’t wait for them to grow to provide more shaded areas. It’s confusing to me to have to put succulents in the shade to help them grow faster in the hottest months, and certainly ivy leafed geraniums and true geraniums cant take full sun. and thrive. Someone described July and August as a fifth season, when everything goes to sleep and this notion has been helpful to me.

So, back to the grindstone. I think it was Rudyard Kipling who said “Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful!’ and sitting in the shade.” But Gwynnie doesn’t seem to know that.

 

Gwynnie the cat.

Gwynnie the cat.