Gardening in Portugal – What is a garden FOR?



The Irrigated Garden Bed

In  the early days, when I first started to make this garden, I went to a very interesting talk by Marilyn Medina Ribeiro of Waterwise Gardens at a Mediterranean Garden Society. meeting. It was inspiring for me, a beginner gardener to the Algarve, but I sat up at one of the questions raised, which  was, “What is a garden?”

I’ve found that question quite thought-provoking over the last few years as I’ve been working on mine. Nowadays though, I’m  increasingly asking myself the question: “What is a garden FOR? ” as it gets closer and closer  to something which could be called a garden.

Creating a garden is as personal as painting a picture, writing a novel or composing a piece of music. Each plant, although it has its own will and needs, is placed in position with care and consideration; it’s  tended to maturity, worried over, fed and watered. The garden as a whole, develops almost like a painting or a jigsaw.  Some people paint by numbers almost, planning in advance, others, like me, are more chaotic. Whichever way you do it, bits gets filled in or rearranged, fussed with, put in and taken out, like a patchwork quilt.  I can often be found sitting on an old hand-made Portuguese chair I rescued from the dump, chin in hand, contemplating how something is growing and whether  it can carry on where it is or needs to be moved.


The dry garden bed- clary sage and nepeta

So what is my garden for and why  do I work at it each day? What’s the point?

The garden certainly takes up most of my thinking and emotional energy; a lot of my retirement time is spent researching things I’d like to know; questions it raises; techniques I might try. Am I creating it for me to sit in, a refreshing drink and novel in hand, doing nothing except admire my handiwork? When I finish it, will I want to start another one? What is it teaching me about life, the universe and the price of eggs?

People like to show off their gardens, I’ve noticed. I do it through this blog, on Facebook groups and sometimes in person. But why do we do that? Perhaps we do it to get some kind of accolade for our gardening prowess.  Or maybe just for the sheer pleasure of appreciating a plant with other gardeners, getting inspiration and perhaps swap a cutting here and there. Certainly, my gardening friends have always been very inspiring and from a broad spectrum of life. It was one of the things I loved most about  my London allotment, sharing a thermos with a friend on a cold evening after a hard day’s work and watching the crows settling for the night, discussing the plans for beetroot or rhubarb, celebrating small successes.  I love to see how others have put their gardens together and hear their thoughts and dreams about them. However, now the time is coming when I’m getting close to having something to show other people in my garden, I feel strangely shy about it, for it’s something I have struggled with and laboured over for almost five years and I feel almost reluctant to expose it, as though it was a secret gate to my inner self. Or perhaps I’m over thinking it….


The garden below, my sitting spot on the left in front of the shed

One of the things this garden has done is showered me with gifts. Perhaps that’s what it’s for.  The gift of motivation in my retirement is one thing it’s  given me.  Every morning, I wake up feeling I have something to do, something healthy, meaningful and creative. I wander off down the garden and it gives me tranquillity, right there in the butterflies on the Clary sage, the blackbird singing so very sweetly it hurts and the east wind from Spain  in the olive trees. As if that isn’t enough it surprises me with a courgette which grew  in the night, a newly laid egg where I didn’t expect one or an amazing flower on a succulent, I’d never seen before. Of course, life isn’t perfect, so it occasionally gives me problems, like “How are you going to stop the chickens eating the tomatoes? “ or “Why has the lime tree stopped growing when it was perfectly healthy?”  I am endlessly on my toes.


Courgette grown in my raised bed/compost heap

I must say, I enjoy sitting in the garden, just staring. I probably spend at least an hour a day doing that in between tasks. Which is better than using a meditation app, I suppose. And because the garden is on a very steep hill and I must walk up and down it at least twenty times a day, I don’t need to go to the gym.  The garden also has built in aromatherapy with all the lavender and thyme – using the hose is a spa in itself and smelling the earth after rain, honestly, you might have well have died and gone to heaven! There are other surprising smells like this plant, Cassia didymobotrya, which amazingly actually smells of hot, buttered popcorn!


Cassia didymobotrya

If I asked Señor Faztudo  “What is the garden for?” I imagine he might say “To keep me endlessly building things for you in the garage” It is true, he’s kept busy too, as I beg him  for a chicken coop, or a garden shed or a greenhouse for my birthday (Often getting it in time for Christmas, although my birthday is in the summer, but I’m always grateful)  Something has to keep you busy in retirement and as I watch him banging and sawing in the workshop he has created for himself, I see he is happy, in his own way.  I am reminded of the folk song “Wild Mountain Thyme”

“I will build my love a bower
By yon clear and crystal fountain
And on it I will pile
All the flowers of the mountain”

I have yet to ask him for the bower, or the crystal fountain but I have it in mind. You are never too old to be built a bower by the one you hold dearest.


10 thoughts on “Gardening in Portugal – What is a garden FOR?

  1. What a great post. A few years ago I went to a talk by Rory Stuart called: ‘What are gardens for?’ I bought his book too because he brought up all these questions we ask ourselves. When I am involved with unpleasant tasks weeding and tackling overgrown areas I often wonder why I do it. Basically I think it’s because we can’t not. And what a refuge the garden is when life gets difficult.
    Now I’m off to ask my beloved for a bower and a crystal fountain.


  2. Thank you for sharing such inspirational thoughts on gardening. I enjoy reading your blogs.
    We shall move to the Algarve this summer and we have a plot of land in Carvoeiro.
    Which is why I signed up for your blog; to help a novice like myself learn more about dry gardening.
    Best wishes


  3. You have a way of expressing those recognizable feelings into words! Thank you for another fun to read blog! Judging from the pictures you have done a ‘hell’ of a job. It looks absolutely fabulous!


  4. Just come back from Ronda and area, first chance to deal with emails. What a delightful post this is of yours. I can almost be in your garden, hearing the birds, smelling the herbs. Sitting and staring is a favourite occupation, just being in the moment. And if that isn’t valuable, I don’t know what is.
    Here’s a lovely quote from my blog (which is almost defunct) “Gardening is like medicine, without needing a prescription and with no dosage limit”. Viva los jardineros xxxx


  5. Thankyou Chloris. I so agree with you when you say because we can’t not. I’m not a writer, although I enjoy it, because I can live without writing. But I can’t live without gardening. I have to grow things, I have to potter, so I guess it’s part of my life blood really. And indeed it is a wonderful refuge, and gardening has helped heal me
    from many griefs! Love to you.


  6. Hi hristine and thanks for your lovely comments. How lovely to be moving here and Carvoeiro is a beautiful part of the Algarve. I sometimes wish I could move here all over again, I love it so much! I was a novice to dry9ish) gardening 5 years’s been a great adventure. Warm regards x


  7. Thanks Marina…you’re very kind. I really enjoy sharing this garden diary and people commenting and reading it encourages me to keep it up. See what you think of my awful pictures this last post! Lovexxx


  8. For a minute, I thought you meant the Welsh Rhonda LadyLuz! A place I miss sometimes, but the Spanish Ronda is amazing too. I often think of you sitting and staring further down the coast from me and all the wonderful gardeners beavering away in their gardens everywhere. Viva las Jardineiros indeed.


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