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.



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!




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.



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:

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.


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.


May all your gardening surprises this week  be lovely ones!


8 thoughts on “Surprise! Surprise!

  1. Hi Jane, I think the plant may be Salvia Pratensis in the rarer rose coloured form, it is just lovely. Be sure to collect the seeds for others to grow, would quite like some for my garden! Really enjoy reading your posts.


  2. How very exciting you know the name. It is indeed beautiful. I have two, the second has come out and is a paler lavender colour. I will certainly save seeds and send some to you. I am so grateful for your reply! It’s made my week and thanks for the kind comments about the blog.


  3. You are so welcome, the plant is great for butterflies, like the bees they need all the help they can get.
    We have a cottage garden here in the Uk and just about everything is planted for the benefit of wildlife. So admire you for taking on the challenge of a garden in the Algarve, had hoped and still hope to be a fellow gardener out there, but that is another story. Would love some seeds so thank you so much for the offer and I would be pleased to send you out any seeds that you might like. Not sure how I get my address to you? This is the first time I have ever posted on someone’s blog and it is all very new to me.


  4. It was a lovely walk thru your garden. Your interesting little blue worm lizard is quite something! We have somethink similar here but the name is escaping me. I’m glad I stopped by your beautiful part of the world!


  5. Hi Jane. Isn’t it great when plants just ‘appear’? You say your salvia has grown huge and I wonder if it might not be a Clary Sage, Salvia sclarea (var. turkestanica), which is usually biennial (but is sometimes a short-lived perennial) and grows really large and produces flowers from the second year.
    It is similar to the Meadow Sage, Salvia pratens, but a lot larger.
    The leaves on the Clary Sage are quite rough and hairy and the plant has a strong scent – liked by some, disliked by others – due to the volatile oils that it contains. It is commonly used in aroma therapy.
    It will be interesting to find out if the off-spring will be the same lovely colour.


  6. Hi Anna,
    Thanks for reading my blog and the reply. It sounds like you might be right, reading your description, especially as the leaves are rough and hairy and the oils are so very strong smelling, when I collected the seeds my hands smelled for hours afterwards|!


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