Tag Archive | drought resistant gardening

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!

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Come into the Garden, Moored!

We have had a busy period with lots of visitors and have had a few weeks of being tourists, both here on the Algarve and in Southern Spain, where we visited some  of the small white villages on the Costa de Sol, the Tabernas desert near Almeria and the Alhambra and Generalife Gardens in the Alhambra for some Moorish inspiration,

I took pictures along the way with an eye on inspiration for the garden, so here are a few thoughts.

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I saw this lovely combination of tables and chairs and flowerpots outside a restaurant in the village of Mijas. Everwhere in Mijas, the white walls were lined with blue flowerpots containing the same bright red geraniums. It made me think about what accent colours I might use in my own garden.

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I found this great swathe of bright colour a surprising choice outside the inner Palaces of the Alhambra, but cheerfully pleasing. I was wondering what other plants might have this range of colour, lilies, roses , geraniums perhaps? English gardens tend to be muted in colour, which I also find beautiful, but there is something very uplifting about these bright colours under a clear blue sky and the green of the box offsetting them.

 

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This beautiful dry garden was found on Barril beach, close to Fuseta on the Algarve. It has no water at all and the broken bones of a discarded fisherman’s boat reminds me how lovely flotsam and jetsam can look in the right setting. I suppose my equivalent would be a carob stump or a piece of volcanic rock.

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 A lesson in simplicity inside the Alhambra. Cool water, giant cypress trees forming natural pillars with their roots underplanted , long trails of ivy hanging down, the quiet benches. It reminds me to try and create a sense of peace and calm in my own garden where there are sitting spaces, even though I know I can never create anything as beautiful and stately as this.

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A perfect frame and a beautiful perspective in the Generalife. Are there ways of framing things in my garden?

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A dream for the future, outside the Alhambra palace. And an inspiration that such beauty can be made by human beings and nature together.

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Small beginnings outside my front door, with some pink ivy leaf geraniums against a camellia in a pot! Enough dreaming, time to pick up the hoe and tackle the mayhem caused by our absence!

 

 

Gardening in Portugal – Planning your Waterways

The sun has finally come out and the terrible East wind has stopped wuthering around the house. Spring “em cheio” is just around the corner. We are out, racing against time, to get jobs done before the soil sets like concrete and we can’t do anything, except sit and look at it all.

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                                            The sun has got his hat on!

It is always the case that you have to garden to the weather, but even more so here .It’s  critical to get seeds sown when the temperature is just right, to transplant seedlings whilst there is still moisture in the soil and above all, to realise that once it gets above 30 degrees, everything simply stops growing.

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                                                     Dry cracked clay soil

We are in a country where water is at a premium, so using it wisely is very important. Apart from not being great for the environment, water is expensive here. It is metered and once you use more than a certain amount, can be quite costly.

We live in the heart of rural Algarve. Many houses don’t have mains water, even now. People use deep bore holes which tap into underground water sources, or collect winter rainwater  into tanks or cisternas which they use sparingly in the long dry summer months. In our small village there is a deep well, which was probably used in Roman times. The water is sweet and can be drunk, but right next to it is a drinking fountain from the mains! The farmer opposite has found Roman pottery and coins in his fields and uses the water to grow enormous lettuces, probably much as the Romans did also.

Our house is newly built, but we asked for a cisterna to be added. It is really just a giant water butt, and collects rainwater from the roof in the winter, which I am hoping to use on my vegetables through the Spring and Summer. It is full to the brim, the only downside to its use being that my vegetable garden is at the back of the house and we have to use an electric pump to get the water up there from the cisterna. I suppose I should get some sort of bicycle contraption rigged to it, so I could get fitter and power it at the same time, although I need most of my energy at the moment to keep up with all the work in the garden.

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                                              The cisterna for our house

The lack of water dictates the gardening and agricultural practices hereabouts. You can grow crops which come to fruition without extra watering, but it’s a tricky business. Broad beans (favas) and peas (ervilhas) are sown in the Autumn at first rains, and even potatoes. The beans and peas are eaten both fresh and dried and form a staple crop during the year. However, it’s  often touch and go.  Sometimes the rains fail, sometimes fields are flooded by weeks of torrential rain, rotting the beans in the ground, sometimes the high winds destroy the peas just as they are ready to set seed. Which is perhaps why the Portugese  farmers love their trees  so much. The trees have roots extending deeply into the clay soil and can survive several years of drought.  Olives, almonds, cork, plums, peaches, apples, pears, pomegranates, nespera (loquat), apricot, walnut, even avocado and sometimes mangoes, all these produce fruit by the bucketload at different times during the year.

Preserving water means you need to think carefully about where and how you plant and indeed, what you plant.   I first got interested in Waterwise hardening after listening to a talk by Marilyn Medina Ribeiro, who runs this company in the Algarve. There lots of water wise tips on her website. http://www.waterwisegardens.com/about/what-is-waterwise. She points out that there are lots of plants, such as Salvia Candelabrum, that you could never grow if you watered them all the time and that to overwater will kill them as surely as weedkiller. I was aslo encouraged by reading the book, “The Dry Gardening Handbook: Plants and Practices for a Changing Climate” by Olivier Filippi. It gives you the tools to think about a new way of gardening  where you can have  lovely garden  without expensive automatic watering systems, with an understanding of how to garden in a dry climate, at the deepest level. There are lots of practical tips for a new gardener like me, but an established gardener coming new to a hot climate would learn much, I think. There is a very useful list of plants which will thrive, even in a long summer of high temperatures and drought. It’s a bit expensive, but well worth every penny in the dead plants you will have to bury if you don’t follow its practices!

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                    My “vegetable garden” at the end of the Summer

The lack of water has affected attitudes to gardening amongst the Portugese neighbours in my village, where with such scarce water and in times of hardship, such as the present crisis, food takes priority. Flowers seem to be seen as  the indulgence of the woman of the house often, and planted at the front, where the odd bucket of washing up water is thrown upon them. That isn’t to say they are not loved and cherished. Most of my neighbours try to outdo each other, with all kinds of exotic species that shouldn’t really be growing on the Algarve, the brighter and prettier the better. I bought some of these one Autumn in the market , spending quite a bit of money, and failed miserably at making them grow. The harsh wind and cold weather cut them down and they refused to wake up in the Spring.

The lavenders, cistus, salvias and rosemary are growing in abundance all over the serra, however, with nary a drop of water. These are my plants of choice now and I have dedicated a large area in my garden to them and also ornamental grasses, which I will write about in more detail in a future blog.

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                  A field of wild lavender in the valley below my house

Although we have little water or none in the summer, sometimes we have far too much. I have known in rain in stair rods for a month on end in the winter. That is almost a worse problem, as root rot is also the end of many plants.

So no pressure then!  So much to learn.  I hope I live long enough to learn how to work with this beautiful piece of the earth I have  custody of for a short time. Whatever I do though, I am hoping to do it with as little water as possible. Please give me any tips or ideas for saving water if you have them. I need to learn a lot, quickly!