It’s the first really cloudy day in months, which is why I haven’t written about my garden here for many a week…why be writing about it when you could be IN it? And we have been in it, every moment we could, with time in between to try and make a little money to put into plants or the projects we want to move forward. Southern Portugal has been very beautiful indeed this year. The relentless winds that persistently wuther round our hillside haven’t been seen much this year, they have all moved further North and just as the drought was really impacting on the garden, there was a week of torrential rain and within a week, an “Autumn Spring” appeared!
Over the last weeks, I have begun to have faith that we can start to use the word “garden” when describing our little patch of the rural Algarve. We have nearly finished the hard landscaping. The hippy shed is settling in nicely and I have painted it a cerise pink inside. It is becoming a place of contemplation for me, a place to sit when I have let the chickens out in the morning and just “be”. Really, I don’t think I’ve ever had that kind of space in my life before. My life has (happily) been packed full of busy-ness and comings and goings. My own space has just been a corner here and there in a house full of toddlers and later on, teenagers, with the only place of quiet being the bath. The furniture and furnishings have always been a compromise between Señor Faztudo, (who favours a round kitchen table) and me (who prefers an oblong one). So I love my shed. It will be a quiet place to sit. I’m not going to work in it or make things or do things. And I will festoon it with the things that the universe provides for it (You can always tell an old hippy!)
I have been preoccupied with thinking about organising the garden for the future during my musings in the shed. This may have been prompted by my looming 60th birthday, as well as the aches and pains I suffer from my garden labours. At this moment in time, I don’t know whether we will stay here until we’re very old, but I do know I’d like the choice. This means the garden needs to be low maintenance. We might still be able to walk up and down it when we’re 70, but I doubt we’ll be up to serious strimming or boulder heaving as we’ve had to do up to now. So we are trying to get as much organising done now before it’s too late.
We’ve now got a path around the entire garden, so we won’t have to slither around in the mud any more. When I’m older, I think I will look back in wonder to think we lifted every stone in these paths about 5 times, but this is what we did! We’ve also worked on weed proofing the garden as we don’t want to use chemicals, mulching and gravelling the Mediterranean grasses and drought resistant bit to keep weeds down and capitalising on water retention as much as possible. We’ve also mulched the orchard part with wood chippings to improve the soil, as well as keep weeds at bay (steering clear of pine because of the recessionary caterpillar) The chickens roam around freely and eat most of the annual weeds and although we have to endure a few holes and keep them away from the vegetable plot, they are very good little gardeners.
Speaking of chickens, I’m afraid I confess to becoming more and more besotted with them every day. This is NOT meant to happen. I am a farmer’s daughter and generally fairly unsentimental about farm animals but the chickens are so entertaining and fascinating to watch and generally cleverer than I thought and I’m afraid I actually love them…what am I going to do when I have to eat a cockerel? Dear oh dear!
We have two new little Dutch bantams with feathery feet, as poor Mrs Chicken has really not come up with the goods motherhood wise. A friend brought them for me from her large flock. They are so pretty and I named them Miss Henny and Miss Penny. They seemed devoted to each other as they explored their new surroundings. However, not long after their arrival, the Great Chicken Drama began! Of course, it is always the chicken keeper’s fault and I take the blame. I thought I could let them eat with the big girls in the evening and they would go in, go to sleep and all would be well. But they had other ideas. As dusk approached they got very anxious and started to look for trees to fly into. We had clipped one wing, but undeterred they flew up onto the fence and I just managed to grab Miss Henny, when Miss Penny flew off over the fence into the thicket beyond! Now that thicket is a jungle of spiky wild asparagus, overgrown olive trees and I am quite sure full of predators, including feral cats and big snakes. I took my life in my hands and beat a path through the spikes, fighting off the fear of giant rat snakes but couldn’t find her anywhere. I returned with a sad heart, which wasn’t made any better by Miss Henny crying for her sister in the coop.
The next week I looked for her every day, but heard and saw nothing. On the seventh day, she rose again! At dusk, on my way to put the other chickens in, I heard an indignant chicken clucking in the thicket and realised my cats had flushed her out. Spotting a dark shape in an olive bush I crept up on her, but she heard me at the last minute and flew off, but as luck would have it she flew into another tree nearby and this time I caught her. She let out the most dreadful death squawk which set all the chickens in the coop cackling as I put her safely in the coop. The next day she was very hungry, but none the worse for wear and has now taken her place in the flock, with no desire to leave again! Miss Henny was delighted to have her sister back. What larks! Bantams are very different to the bigger girls, less inclined to trust humans and more flighty. And they go to be about half an hour earlier than the others. I hope they will settle down and go broody so I can hatch some chicks.
I have reached the stage in the garden now where I have plants I can divide and make cuttings out of and I’ve been doing that a lot this autumn. I have also received lots of cuttings from friends with gardens, some frangipanis, rose cuttings from my sister in law’s garden in France, a lot of which have taken and succulents, which I totally fell in love with when visiting a friend’s garden, where they were resplendent in antique terracotta lobster pots. I have also planted seeds of three different sorts of nepeta and have lots of interesting seeds from my sister, including “Society Garlic” which is doing very well and some spinach seeds from a Portuguese gardening acquaintance. I love this “exchange” of plants. It makes me feel as though I have a piece of everyone in my garden as I walk around it.
The vegetable garden isn’t doing too badly, although it’s still a work in progress and I haven’t been able to devote enough time to it whilst I’ve been knocking the rest of the garden into shape. I have some cabbages, a few fava beans, some lettuce, leeks and mange tout. But we wouldn’t get fat on it! However, I’ve been working diligently on the soil. I have made terraces using vetiver grass and put lasagne beds in between. I have also built a raised bed that looks a bit like a stork’s nest in the orchard part of the garden as it’s much sunnier there in the winter and I hope to be able to protect it from the chickens by the virtue of it being raised and perhaps covered with a bit of chicken wire! I think it will be great for squashes and it’s a really good way of getting rid of all the garden rubbish. I suppose it’s a Stork’s Nest Lasagne Keyhole bed with a bit of Hugelkutur thrown in. As long as it produces I don’t really care what it’s called!
My ornamental garden, which I do irrigate once a week, is starting to grow. It’s a strange hotch potch of things thrown together, but I’m sure it’ll work out. I’m trying to achieve a lush, slightly jungly feel in contrast with the rest of the garden. The mulch which I put on it in the spring really paid off and the plants have been much happier through the summer. It’s a difficult part of the garden, west facing and in the shade of the house for a lot of the day, shaded for most of the winter and then blistering hot for a few hours in the afternoon in the summer.
As I said, Ive been very inspired by seeing other people’s succulents growing and have begun to appreciate how beautifully they flower and how well they do for little return, once you understand their basic needs. The most important thing I’ve learned is that in the great heat of the summer, they are better placed in the shade. I frizzled them when I first had them and watered them when they were dormant.
So onwards and upwards! Christmas is coming and I’ll be off to find some mastic branches, olive and arbutus berries to deck the halls with….Oh and perhaps a bit of ivy, since it does grow here! Happy Christmas Everyone, Feliz Natal!