Mine is a garden of fluctuating temperatures. Last week it was 32 degrees centigrade. We got our shorts on, dusted off the barbecue, tossed a few juicy prawns on the barbecue and marvelled at the number of bees on our Echium Candicans which is singing its own praises this Spring.
This week it’s 18 degrees, a drop of 14 degrees centigrade. The fleeces have been retrieved, the garden furniture is soggy, it’s howling a hoolie from the Levant and the blossom has all been blown off the plum and peach trees. No doubt the bees are lying on the ground with their furry legs in the air reeling from the shock and about to gasp their last gasp.
What is a poor gardener to do? I ‘ve just about got used to the idea that we have five seasons really, with July and August being like the depths of winter in that most things stop growing and go to sleep, but the sudden changes from day to day are more difficult to understand or reckon with. Last week my globe artichoke plants were wilting because of the heat, now they are being blasted by a unusually cold East wind that’s breaking their leaves off their stalks. My little ridge cucumbers poked up their heads last week, encouraged by the warmed soil. “Oh goodie,” I thought I heard them cheeping “Spring at last!” Silly things! The orange blossom which was smelling wonderful is all on the ground like discarded confetti , wet and forlorn. The chickens are mooching around the garden bedraggled.
This morning my brother posted a picture on his FB page of a beautiful blue sky in my native South Wales, with cherry blossom abounding. It’s probably hard for him to imagine we are sitting here in Southern Portugal freezing out tootsies off and re-lighting wood burning stoves, we haven’t bothered with for the last two weeks. Everyone thinks the sun always shines here.
The effects in fluctuations of temperature are most noticeable in the vegetable plants. They seem to switch off their growth when it is either too hot or cold for their development and don’t resume until at least a week into more comfortable temperatures, which makes bringing vegetables to harvest quite a challenge, even with the soil improvements I have made.
Throughout the garden I am trying to think how to create a better microclimate in different areas. Despite a threat to the wonderful views across the valley to the escarpment in front of us, I am considering growing screening plants, as the winds are really slowing down the growth of some plants, especially the citrus trees. The prevailing wind is from the North West and blows straight at us, for many weeks of the year. I often ponder on why we didn’t choose a more gentle spot to buy our dream home and garden, but I am sure there would be other concerns as every garden has its challenges!
I have been pleased with the gravel mulched area, Beth Chatto stylie, on top of the bank where I have grown a mixture of grasses, Irises and native plants such as lavender and rosemary, salvias and thymes. The grasses blow attractively in the wind and are a great place for the chickens to hang out, like the jungle fowl they are descended from and none of these plants minds being baked!
I am reconsidering the way I grow vegetables. I have given up on the idea of gleaming rows of anything and am going to adopt a “pottager” approach. The area is close to the house and I want it to look beautiful, so I’m going to choose vegetable and herbs which look lovely and plant them as I would a flower garden, for a beautiful effect as much as for eating them, but we will chomp our way through it throughout the year. I love the idea of eating your garden, as I have mentioned before. Everything else is always eating it after all, so I don’t see why we shouldn’t join in!
In order to get out of all this wind, I have to report that the hippy house has been bought and is now awaiting construction by Senor Faztudo! I am muito excited and can’t wait to sit in it out of the wind.
The hippy shed is something I have had in mind for some time. In my youth, I was a bit of a flower child. Some of my more, shall we say, “flowery” and Moroccan inspired tastes in decor were not shared by Senor Faztudo when I met him in 1977 and we over the years we have reached a happy compromise in our choice of interior design. Life’s too short to fight over a cushion I find and you can always settle for a hexagonal table instead of a round one or a square one. But my shed is going to be gloriously decorated solely to my tastes, an indulgence that shall know no bounds. It will be totally over the top, with wall hangings, incense and rocking chairs. Watch this space! I will sit in it in all weathers and the wind can do its darnedest!