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“Your mind is a garden, your thoughts are the seeds”

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Tomatoes from my garden

I was reading a blog the other day where someone described 10 thoughts he’d had about life in general, and I thought I’d pinch the idea. Thanks HungryDai An Englishman’s life in Lisbon

I often walk about the garden thinking things…then the thoughts drift away on the wind, maybe to be forgotten, perhaps to be remembered and acted upon.

 

So here are 10 thoughts I can remember from the past week

  1. I thought today how green the garden is, considering the drought situation we are finding ourselves in. The fires further North in  Portugal have been horrendous this year and there’s a drought in the Alentejo and parts of the Algarve, so I’m being very careful with water, since I fear water saving measures may be on the way and I don’t want my plants to develop a dependency.  I wondered why it’s still so green and then realised it’s really because now, in its fourth year, everything has got its roots down. Most of the garden is also mulched too which has helped hugely.

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    Multi-headed sunflowers…why do they do that?

  2. I wondered a few days ago, where I would want my ashes strewn, in the event I died whilst we still lived here (cheerful thought I know!)  At the top of the garden under a seat facing the view? In the compost heap? Under a rose? To act as fertiliser for a sunflower? As a dust bath for the chickens? The latter me laugh, when I thought of my ashes being strewn in glorious abandon whilst the chickens deliriously ridded themslves of lice!

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    The greenhouse in development

  3. Wondering how to arrange the interior of the greenhouse Señor Faztudo is just completing for me. I’ve never had a greenhouse before. I’m sure I need a potting bench and I’m thinking about how it should be designed. Lots of searching for ideas on Pinterest. I’m also pondering on what I will actually grow in the greenhouse if anything. It’s really there to bring on seedlings and create new plants, but maybe I’ll grow cucumbers and lettuces in the winter in it too.
  4. Will the beautiful eagle we’ve seen soaring across  the valley recently come for my chickens? Where would they hide if it did?

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    Just the ticket for soup-except the plums!

  5. I thought this morning how pleasing it was to bring two fat beef tomatoes, a yellow and green courgette and a butternut squash up from the garden to make soup, along with garlic and onion harvested earlier and a pinch of home grown flat leaved parsley to go in at the end. I’ve always loved growing  my own food, it’s one of life’s greatest pleasures for me.
  6. Which grape varieties are best for raisins? Do they grow here? How do you prepare the ground for grapes? Can I grow them organically or will they be overcome by mildew and diseases? I want to plant a row of grapevines behind the house on a flat terrace, not least  because they will provide a green wall in the summer and look great in the Autumn as they turn yellow and orange.

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    Helichysum Italicum in my gardn

  7. I’m  perplexed as to how  prune stuff in very hot conditions. It looks to me like some of the shrubs, the salvias and cistus are crying out to be pruned. But do you wait until the Autumn? Not sure what to do.
  8. The neighbours are beavering away creating a huge concrete area to store their carobs. It’s clear I’ll need some kind of screening, much as I enjoy the comings and goings of their market gardening activities. What can I grow that’s fast, is in keeping with a Mediterranean garden, and doesn’t need too much water? Pondering…all ideas gratefully received. The bed I need to plant it in is on a slope between two apricot trees. It needs not to lose its leaves in the winter and provide screening to quite a height. Please don’t suggest Leylandi, its one of the few plants I hate.
  9. What is growing now back in the UK? Are the courgettes only just beginning  and are there any blackberries yet…we don’t get them much here as it’s too dry. Are the wild flowers going over in my sister-in-law’s meadow in the Welsh hills? What are my old allotment friends up to in London? I’m thinking they will be getting ready for the annual allotment barbecue, with a camp fire and songs and lots of good things to eat, grown cooked and shared. I miss that community of fellow gardeners sometimes and think of them with wistful fondness.

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    Gunsite Allotment scarecrows, South London

  10. My garden is all “No Dig” one way or another. I’ve never really thought about that until now, although its not no-dig  in the Charles Dowding way, as I can’t produce compost in large quantities as there is little water and biomass and the chickens run free over half of it. Digging never occurs to me for one minute nowadays. I haven’t even got a spade or fork, only an “enchada” the Portuguese hacking implement, which is a bit like something the English would call a mattock and I use that less and less, only to remove unwanted plants or weeds.

And a last thought snuck in, as it always does. What plants would I like next?  Something a gardener always thinks about really, we are all greedy for plants!

Writing  this, I’ve realised  realise that my garden is the place where I do most of my thinking, and not just about the garden. As Alice Sebold said:

“I like my garden –it’s a place where I find myself, when I need to lose myself.”

Sicilia, you’re breaking my heart!

I have fallen in love with a fiery creature of incredible power and beauty. A huge hulk of gigantic proportions, belching steam and sulphur. In short, I lost my heart to Mount Etna.

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But not only Etna;  to the beauty of the towns and villages, the people, the awe inspiring sense of history and above all, the colours, sights and smells that Sicily regaled us with.

We went to Sicily for Señor Faztudo’s 60th birthday, (he seems to have a penchant for visiting mountains on his important birthdays, I’m not quite sure why) We visited some wonderful towns and villages and each one of them was awash with plants and flowers, tumbling from everywhere and bursting with colour.

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The ceramics, balconies and colours of the plants were very inspiring and leave me  wondering why the Algarveans don’t so more to fill their streets with colour?  They have the ceramics, they have the plants, but they don’t do it. Why? I think the answer lies in the fact that culturally, plants  for decoration are seen as a waste of water and time (at least that’s how it seems to me in Southern Portugal , please correct me if I’m wrong) Food plants good; decorative plants a bit naughty. Growing flowery plants seem  to be seen as the slightly shameful indulgences of women. Women crave them and try to grow tropical Datura, Bougainvillea and other very pretty plants, but it is somewhat to the approbation of their husbands and only the leftover washing up water can be used to water them. Neither must they take up important ground where food can be grown. I suppose it’s understandable. Very hard times, including starvation, are within the living memories of the oldest in our village, some of whom had to eat grass to survive and walk a hundred kilometres or more in their bare feet to work in the fields of the Alentejo under Salazar’s regime.

However, the people of Sicily have also had very hard times and they have no such inhibitions where flowers are concerned. I’ll let the pictures help me do the talking.
First of all the ceramics are so unusual and beautiful. Look at this little orange tree growing out of the head of one of the kings in Toarmina. The choice or an orange tree fits perfectly and looks like part of his jewelled crown.

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Then there is beautiful symmetry of these three succulents, like Japanese pagodas, going into flower on a balcony, so casually elegant. Is everyone an artist in Sicily?

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And look at these prickly pear cacti in their pots, how did they grow so perfectly alike? Or were they pruned like that?

The poetry of prickly pears

And the balconies! This one is in Taormina. Well, if you’ve ever seen any more beautiful in the world, I’d like to know where.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEverything growing in Sicily just looks right, casually arranged, not a dead flower head, not a withered plant. Just look at these petunias tumbling out of white wicker baskets in Ortigia; you really have to be able to imagine the outcome before you plant, like an artist. In truth, the Sicilians paint with their plants.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHowever easy they make it look there is obviously great artistry in their planting and a great deal of love. I was taken by the current date in a small park in Caltagirone and struck by the fact that the number would have to be lovingly rearranged very single day. And look how the ivy is trained to make windows out of the railings!

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I began to realise that the casual artistry is all carefully planned. These flower pots  were arranged all the way up the steps to the church at Caltagirone  to make the shape of a larger flower. How amazing is that?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere’s a close up, further up the steps. Not a dead head in sight!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEven the bicycles are beautifully adorned, really it’s like a film set everywhere.So beautiful!

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So what have I learnt from my visit to Sicily to bring to my own garden here? I learnt that you really can paint with flowers, but to keep your painting looking beautiful you have to tend it every day and you need a special canvas and frame,  the simplest plant can look amazing in the right container.

I left a piece of my heart in Sicily. I am sure that happens to everyone. I hope one day to return, but in the meantime I am already planning some beautiful container plantings for next year.

Letter from the Algharb desert…

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Hello from the Algharb Desert. Today it rained. Unusual here in June. The thirsty plants put their little faces upwards and drank it in with a sigh of relief. It’s been months without rain and the garden is a dust bowl. But a good heavy shower has fallen and I won’t have to water the garden today, something which has been a nightly chore for a good while, despite all our water saving measures, as we still have the pots, vegetables and trees to water.The heavy rain has only penetrated a couple of centimetres of soil, but the smell in the garden of the wet on the dusty soil is heavenly and I am relieved. I have tied up my camel for the moment and the canteens are replenished. We live to fight another day!

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More seriously, the garden is coming along a little every day. Using the grey water and plenteous sheep manure in the nascent orchard  is having some effect and the fruit trees have survived a cold winter and a drought and seem to be getting their roots down now, and although small are looking quite green and healthy. A quick spray of neem oil in nine parts milk seems be keeping the bugs down and I am experimenting with not putting the little organza bags on the peaches this year, to see if the chickens have done their job gobbling up any newly hatched fruit flies.

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Our hard labour lifting and positioning flat stones in the hot sun all day to make the paths around the garden is complete and the hippy shed is in pieces in the garage waiting to be built by Senor Faztudo. I may get it before I’m 60! I have been thinking hard about how to keep it warm in the winter and the very important question of the interior design. Caribbean or Moroccan retreat? Zen or Heath Robinson? I can’t quite make up my mind. But that’s half the fun. I think the Shed of the Year competition should extend to the Algarve.

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My little garden successes are some very pretty double aquilegia this year, which I grew from seed. I never thought they would grow here, but I chose a shady spot for them and they did very well. I have left all the seed pods to dry  on the plant so I can distribute them around the garden. I have also managed to produce some euphorbia rigida seedlings and some euphorbia cypressa. My success is a bit like the parable “and some fell on stony ground etc” as out of a whole portion of perennial seeds, I often end up with between 2 and 10 plants after I have neglected to water them, left them in a a place that is too cold or too hot or let the cats knock them off the wall. But even if I get one plant I consider that to be a success as I can generate cuttings after that. I have managed to keep one lavender Hidcote blue alive that I grew from seed and also produced enough Tansy plants to put around the citrus trees in an endeavor to deter the fruit fly since apparently they don’t like the smell. (Nor do I much!)

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Our globe artichokes, grown from seed. have been fantastic and we ate as many as we could be bothered to prepare, leaving the rest to produce their stunning seed heads. It’s so decadent to make a salad completely of artichoke hearts and I love doing it. There isn’t much in the vegetable garden at the moment, but I have managed to grow a few tomatoes and squash plants as well as some courgettes in this year’s lasagna bed. I know the vegetable garden is a long term project as until I  can improve the soil, it isn’t going to be very productive. But we manage to have something most of the year, although it’s always far from being a glut. But then who needs a glut really? A glut just sits there looking at you mournfully waiting to be dealt with,  making you feel guilty. And then when you tun it into jam or chutney it makes you fat!

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I have a fine new cockerel. I was waiting for one to come to me and he came through a delightful route, in the boot of a new gardening friend, who had also bought me a stirrup hoe from France after mine broke from overuse. It was my favourite gardening tool, but I’ve never seen one like it here, so I was overjoyed to get a new one. And a fine rooster he is too, proudly upright and very quickly taking possession of his hens. I’ve called him Phoenix. Long may he rule the roost!

Gardening in Portugal – If you had three wishes!

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The other day as I was snoozing under the carob tree, the Carob fairy, who lives in one of the boles of the old tree and has done for many years, flew down and whispered in my ear. “As you have worked so hard over the past year, I will grant you three wishes for your garden. What will they be?”

I was ecstatic. Three wishes? What  could I ask for? I had so many!

My first wish would be that my hippy shed, which I have been dreaming of for the last thirty years, but never had the room for, will appear at the wave of her magic carob pod. This one below is not the one, but a fisherman’s shed I spotted on Faro beach.

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“But what kind of hippy shed do you want, really? ” said the fairy. I didn’t like her tone much. A bit up herself I thought.

I pondered. My hippy shed will be a place where I can relive my 60’s youth. In my mind, it will have mirrored Indian cushions, Moroccan lanterns and a comfortable chair for me to sit and read. It will smell wonderful and I will entertain my nieces and nephews and if I’m lucky, my grandchildren in it, and they will indulge me as I get old and listen to my silly stories.  It will be an anachronism and rather twee, but I don’t care. The trouble is though, I’m not really a hippy anymore. And the house and garden aren’t particularly hippyish, if you see what I mean. So the question is a difficult one as I want my glamorous  retreat to fit in with the rest of the garden. So I suppose I want a reasonably smart shed on the outside, which is a hippy haven on the inside.

I looked through the sheds on this wonderful site, which actually has a competition for The Shed of The Year. http://www.readersheds.co.uk/share.cfm Browsing through the hundreds of sheds, I found The One.
It’s a Caribbean  Moroccan retreat, built from a budget shed and transformed. The very jobbie! I hope it wins the competition.
http://www.readersheds.co.uk/share.cfm?SHARESHED=4789

The Carob Fairy humphed and said I might have to wait a bit longer as she had to order the shell from the DIY store and search Ebay for bits and bobs and she couldn’t get that exact colour paint right now,  but hopefully I will wake up one morning and there it will be.

So that was the first wish taken care of. The second wish was easy. I want the hard landscaping finished please. I am fed up with not having the bones of the garden completed yet. I can’t push a wheelbarrow all the way around the garden and I keep getting rye grass stuck in my sandalled feet. I also want some more gravelled areas as doing the last bit nearly killed us both.  So I asked the Carob fairy if she could just move a ton or so of rocks from the fields around, the more attractive ones if possible, and arrange them as a terraced rockery on the bank, bung in a few more calcada paths and sort out some terracing in my vegetable garden and just finish off the gravelling in the corner please.   She gave me a very hard look. “The  landscaping fairy has hurt her back at the moment,” she said “You will have to wait a little longer, I’m afraid!” .

“Fine fairy she is!” I thought!  “You’d think she could have at least made one of my wishes come true instantaneously”.

So we came to my last wish. I didn’t want to waste it.

I took a deep breath. I want more water please. “What?  she said, “More water than you had this winter? Surely not! You’d need an ark!”.
“No”, I said “I want more water right now, when I need it. And I dont want to have to use electricity to pump it anywhere”

“Oh, I see, you want a reservoir on the hill behind the house”, she said ” I think your neighbours would have something to say about that. Other than that I’d have to put solar panels all over your garden with huge batteries in the garage to pump the water up from a borehole and I don’t think you’d like that either. I know how fussy you are about the way things look . Anyway, this is supposed to be a waterwise garden. What do you need more water for?”

I sighed. “I suppose you’re right” I said, “Could I just have a few extra water butts then, up there by the vegetable garden?”

So she waved her carob wand and they appeared in a puff of smoke and fairy dust. Two enormous green butts. I was  rather taken aback.  So I went off to water the tomatoes. And that is the end of the story. Except, I want to know your story. What would your three wishes be for your garden right now?

 

 

 

 

I like the way you grow it!

I came across this on YouTube today and couldn’t resist posting it here to share with you. I am now dancing round the garden in my rubber slippers and a floppy hat singing “I like the way you grow it” and invite you all to do the same!

Gardening in Portugal- my gardening history

My garden, on arrival

My Algarve garden, not long after we moved in

Making a new garden is an adventure, there’s  no doubt about that. Moving from one country to another and trying to create a garden is an even bigger adventure. It’s like learning another language.

My gardening and cultural background is firmly Welsh and English, although I have a smattering of Jamaican influence.  My adult life has mostly been spent in London, but I was always a country girl at heart and much of this has been reflected in my thinking about gardens. But I only ever had a tiny patch. The photo below shows the first garden of the house we had in Camberwell. We lived in the house for 26 years and raised our children there. The garden evolved. It adapted to children and their roller skates, summer barbecues with friends, even a wake for my father-in-law was held in it. The shed you see was recycled from the old shed we found when we arrived, the path was made from London brick that we recycled from a wall that fell down; the garden was warmed by the large factory wall behind it; a peach tree, planted from a pip from a peach bought in Sainsburys was planted;roses came and went;a bay tree grew out of a chimney pot I put around it when it was young. The garden was tidy or less tidy according to how busy our  life was. We never really finished it.

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My South London garden

We thanked this much loved house when it was time to leave it and moved to a small  house further out in the London suburbs. We knew we would only be living there for five years, so I decided to see if I could create a beautiful garden, which was nearly all edible, as an experiment. This was alongside an allotment which I had close by. Image The experiment worked quite well and by the time I left, we were really eating our garden and it looked quite pretty. It was rather bleak in the winter though. Image The allotment we used to work was instrumental in my understanding of gardening, as I learned much from other gardeners. I haven’t read much about this being a benefit of community gardening, but it is invaluable. When we left England to come to the Algarve, apart from my children obviously, it was the allotment community which I missed the most. I learned such a great deal from fellow  plot holders, many who came from all parts of the world and all of whom had something new to teach me. A Jamaican allotment neighbour taught me how to improve the soil and that you could do it by adding stuff in layers, even without composting it; a Turkish neighbour taught me about grapes; my  immediate neighbours made a beautiful bower and sitting area under the apple trees, where we often shared a cup of tea.  The allotment committee meetings were a rich place for gardening discussions and somewhere to air differences of opinions on gardening ethics.

Allotment garden

Allotment garden

My first introduction to Algarve gardening came from a dear friend. She had lived in several houses in the Algarve and was a great plantswoman, always greedy for different varieties of plant, with a range forms and shapes and always stretching the limits. In her hands, canna lilies would be set riotously against a wall of azure blue, roses would climb into pomegranate trees and violets would bloom among agapanthus leaves. She was a plant magician and sadly she died before I could get her advice on this garden. But she is with me in spirit every day as I walk about, whispering to me about what to plant, telling me the names of things and pointing me in the right direction for advice.

My friend's algarve garden

My friend’s Algarve garden

I have several friends here in the Algarve, who kindly bring me cuttings from their gardens. Some have been passed on to them by my friend, who is no longer alive. It’s like a piece of her returned. It makes me wonder whether plant cuttings could be everlasting and how far some of them have travelled around the world or how many are the clones of plants have been handed down through the generations from far off climes.  I recently sent some succulent cuttings back with a friend to England, where she will put them in a pot in her South London garden.  I used to have a fern I took  from my grandmother’s garden on the day she died. Each plant has a story. So then a garden becomes full of memories and history.

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A Scilla Peruviana, given to me as a bulb, given to me The Excellent Builder.

Although I miss my allotment community, I am finding new gardening friends here. Someone who reads my blog who lives nearby, but whom I haven’t met yet; a garden designer in Italy, who has created a magic garden, poets and priests who garden. I am learning the Portugese names for things from my neighbours and they are very helpful with their advice and encouragement, giving me fava bean seeds and coentro (coriander) seeds they have saved. 11042010278 So I am an evolving gardener, trying to apply  the little I know to this huge and sometimes inhospitable space. Every morning I wake up excited and even though there is nothing  to get really excited about yet, it is all here, in my head and heart. We  just need the strength to make it happen. It’s part of my evolving garden history.

Gardening in Portugal – Secrets and Lies

Echium Candicans "Pride of Madeira"

Echium Candicans “Pride of Madeira”

I hereby make my confessions. Are you ready to hear them?   Everything in the garden is not always rosy, and it’s time I fessed up.  I have made many gardening faux pas since being here, some more costly than others. I’m going to share a few with you on the grounds that you won’t make the same mistakes.  Also, I  hope you will share yours with me, so I don’t keep making a fool of myself!

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Ants carrying off booty

The first embarrassing confession has to do with ants. I have a little patch of my garden, where I fancied creating a colourful array of wild flowers.  There are whole areas not intentionally devoted to wildflowers, (Señor Faztudo refers to them as weeds, much to my chagrin) but this patch was rather bare and ready for a sprinkle of  seeds. I envisaged a sea of pinks and purples come the Spring, visited by colourful butterflies, as pictured on the exciting seed packet.  My neighbour Donna Maravilhoso looked on with some bemusement as I tilled and watered the ground and sprinkled the “weed seeds” where she thought the favas (broad beans)  should go, but tactfully, she didn’t say much. The next morning, I came out just as she crossed the road to give me some cabbages for my sopa. She looked over the fence and shook her head dolefully. To my amazement a long line of huge ants were carrying all my seeds off into their nest! For the next few hours, the long march continued.The robber ants methodically making off with each seed.  I considered pouring boiling water down their nest, egged on by my neighbour, but couldn’t bring myself to do it. I reasoned there would only be another colony somewhere else and besides, I love the ants. The next day all the seed had gone. My second confession, Oh Best Beloveds, is that I didn’t know that there was such a thing as frost in the Algarve. It was a great surprise to me to wake up early one morning and find that Jack had been in the night.  There are microclimates throughout the hills where we live, 5 degrees of frost on the valley near the river bottom, but none on the hills. It often rains up here, when there isn’t a drop on the coast.: windy up here, but none down there and so on. So I have lost succulents and tender plants to frost. I spent nearly 80 euros on bougainvillea and the like and lost the lot in my first winter. And when they died, I dug them up and threw them away without waiting to see if they would come back to life. Once established, they often do come back to life if they are cut back, so I’ve heard. In fact, I have witneesed this with a neighbour’s Brugmansis, which rose again like the Phoenix.

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A robin, perched on a Rosemary branch

My third secret failure is that I didn’t know plants go to sleep in July and August and there is very little in flower then. You can’t water them awake. I found this out the hard way and  wasted a lot of water learning that. (Forgive me, Water Goddesses, for I have sinned) I also spent quite a bit buying overwatered, overblown, petunias and trying to plant them in rock hard clay soil.  They turned up their petals and croaked, very quickly. Some of my vegetables went to sleep when the weather got hot, especially the brussel sprouts  and I dug them up thinking they were dead, when they could have revived and carried on growing in the garden. Other failures have been trying to grow runner beans (they grew beautifully, had lovely flowers but never set seed) nurturing a pot of grass which I thought were Spring onions and thinking you could mix vegetable gardens with free range hens. I also planted my tomatoes in the hottest part of the garden as I would in England and they shrivelled up as soon as it got really hot!

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My hens scavenging in my parched  garden

I brought all my garden tools from England thinking they would be useful. It makes me blush to think of it now. Have you ever tried forking cement?  The tines buckled and the spade handles snapped off. I have now got a good selection of mattocks and hackers, not to mention a pickaxe and a mallet.  The only tool  I bought that has been very useful is a sort of scraping sharp hoe that scrapes the weeds off the top of the soil.(  I have just made the mistake of googling “hoes” to try and find out its name. The search wasn’t very helpful; try it on images and you’ll see what I mean. A search for “Garden Hoes” works much better). The name of the hoes I was looking for is a “Scuffle Hoe” This is a useful article about hoes here and you can see the scuffle hoes: http://gardening.about.com/od/toolschool/tp/Garden_Hoes.htm I also bought a dainty little electric strimmer from England that I used to use to strim the edges my London  allotment. Algarve weeds weeds need a real strimmer. Unfortunately, I cannot manage it, so Señor Faztudo has to wield it. He looks like Mad Max as he wildly beheads the wild spinach and long grasses. My final confession is about guano.  I buy this in big bags from the agricultural store. I believe it is an organic fertiliser made from bat or bird droppings. As I think I’ve said in an earlier post, it  smells indescribably bad. Rather  like a dead fox wafting on the wind on a country walk, times ten. But I didn’t know this when I spread it all over the garden on the day we decided to have a Spring barbecue for our guests who had just arrived from England! I thought the smell would dissipate quickly. Even the smell of delicious barbecued meat could not disguise the pong. I won’t be doing that again!

Stinky but Good Guano

Stinky but Good Guano

My final secret is that I only have three things in flower in the garden, some Strelitzia, an Echium Candicans and a Plum tree. But the poppies, wild mallow, milk thistles, ragwort and chrysanthemum coronium are all about to burst out in all their glory. I hope to improve on the cultivated plantings next year. I have had to focus on the structure and food plants for the moment. And I have much to learn about what to plant and how to make it look good.

Strelizia Reginae

Strelizia Reginae

So, if you want absolution for your sins, tell Donna FauxPas and I will give you a penance-three hours on your knees weeding! I’m off to do mine now.