Tag Archive | dry gardening

Gardening in Portugal- It’s raining Clay Pots!

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Cântaros

It’s raining buckets, or as the Portuguese say Portuguese “It’s raining clay pots” “Chove a cântaros”  If you had just moved to Portugal, you might wonder why you came, since the view out of my window this morning, is distinctly Welsh, not Algarvean at all. It’s hard not to wish it would stop, when your wheelbarrow has become a wildlife pond, your no dig bed a marshy haven for slugs and your cistern overflow pipe a waterspout, the water overflowing in a fecklessly wasteful fashion away down the hill.

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My garden lush with the rain

However, I am trying hard not to regret my rain dancing, which I did perpetually throughout the dry Winter and early Spring months, when it was so warm and dry you wondered whether it would ever rain again. For one thing is certain, it won’t rain from early June until October, unless we have a real freak of nature, and it will be hot, sometimes up to the 40 degrees C, and we will have to hide from the punishing sun by 11am. So how can I regret the sweet, persistent rain that has been falling since that wonderful moment on February 23rd when the heavens first opened to break the long drought.  Really it’s been raining ever since with the odd day of respite, as the Depressions from the Atlantic, pushed  by a cold weather pattern in the North, sweep in one after the other.

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A Camellia enjoying the rain

I have become slightly weather obsessed, I freely confess.  I have discovered an app called “Storm” which has weather maps all in pretty colours which show you the approaching Depressions. I watch them swirling about somewhere near the coast of Philadelphia , a huge battle going on between the warm winds pushing up from Africa (little orange arrows)  and the cold winds coming down from the North (little blue and green arrows) and then the tail of rain (green and yellow blobs) sweeping our way across Portugal, bringing the rain we so badly need and the less welcome waves to bash our shores, destroying the beach cafes and sweeping the beaches into disarray. Gazing into my IPAD screen at the weather patterns, I feel a bit like Zeus, gazing down on the Earth from lofty Mount Olympus. I just haven’t got the power he had to poke up a tempest here or an earthquake there, luckily!

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The rain on our plain from “Storm” weather app

Along with watching the weather on apps,whilst I am stuck indoors unable to garden,  I have also discovered that our neighbors have a personal weather station which records every five minutes and posts the results on the Internet, with the ability to look up historic weather information in detail. I always enjoy playing with databases, and messing about with it has made me realise that although it has rained and rained, because the Autumn rains failed last year we are still short of the normal rainfall for the season by 100mm. I share the website here in case you want to explore it for your own area, https://www.wunderground.com/wunderstation Just type your area into the “Search Locations” box. And click on “History” for historical data. Some of  dams in the Alentejo, at the time of writing are still only at 59% of capacity and here in the Western Algarve 69%. More rain will not go amiss, no matter how much we are looking forward to the sun shining again, so we can get out in our gardens once more.Here is the link for the dam capacity in case you’re interested.

http://snirh.apambiente.pt/index.php?idMain=1&idItem=1.3

This year though, I do have my new greenhouse to potter around in even when it’s raining or windy and this has made a difference to my attitude to the rain Señor Faztudo made it as a lean-to  against the hippy shed so it’s quite sheltered, especially from the north side and it’s rather nice to hear it drumming on the roof and dribbling into a makeshift water butt, which we have rigged up inside the greenhouse so I don’t have to go outside in bad weather to get water.

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The greenhouse/potting shed

I also have the hippy shed next door, where I have installed a camping stove so I can sit there with a cup of tea and even cheer up the shivering chickens now and again with a blast of loud  music from my hippy shed sound system, aka my digital  radio, as they try find shelter under the chicken shed as this weird wet stuff they don’t have to contend with the rest of their year falls unremittingly.

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The hippy shed…a hark back to my young years

The drought this year has concentrated everyone’s minds on preserving the water when it does rain. People who garden in a dry climate think not only about what they plant, but also about storage for the months when it definitely won’t rain. The torrent of  water is running off the roof right now reminds us of how much we craved it when we didn’t have any. We have a large cisterna collecting rainwater from our roof and also all the rainwater that is running down the drive is directed by the paths down into the orchard for the trees.

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The cisterna and terrace overflow

Having a garden on a hill is a good thing when it rains heavily as you can collect water on terraces at each level, but on the whole, the garden remains well drained. Friends into permaculture techniques dig “swales”, ditches filled with spongy materials  to capture water and then plant on “berms” higher banks alongside them so the plants continue to access the stored water in the drier months. I haven’t really got the room to do that, but the bottom of the garden is certainly flooded with water and as its level much of it remains for the tree roots to access.  I am also experimenting with the idea that Vetiver grass, with its very deep roots may bring water to the surface to make it available for plants as I  have noticed my globe artichokes do better where they are planted next to Vetiver, so I am going to plant some closer to my trees.

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Salvia in full flower in my garden

The most exciting thing will be when the rain stops and the sun shines and the fields around here becomes the eighth wonder of the world as they burst forth with wild flowers in all their glory. I’m poised with my camera, I can’t wait. Watch this space for a wild flower display to beat all wild flower displays! As soon as these clay pots stop pouring water.

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Food for thought in the garden- Gardening in Portugal

 

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A beautiful cabbage with a wild geranium peeping through

I have often written before about the idea of having an edible garden and eating or drinking it as much as possible. In such a dry climate, such as we have in the Algarve, this becomes ever more important, since water here is metered and quite expensive. We don’t have a personal bore hole and although we have a large cisterna to catch the rainwater from the roof,  we are in a state of severe drought, and with a rainfall  level of a mere 450 mm during the whole of last year, it’s vital that we make every drop count.

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Potatoes, Nasturtiums to eat in salad, chickweed for the hens, nettles for soup, a leek.

After five years of working on the garden with food production in mind , albeit it pretty food production,  we are  starting to see results. This year, to my delight, we harvested 11 avocados from the Hass avocado tree that we nurtured for three years and I reached up in wonder at the end of the summer and picked one walnut which had been hiding amongst the green leaves. That walnut could not have been more precious , as it’s the promise of many more to come. We’ve been busy finishing off  jams and chutneys produced from last year’s fruit crop in expectation of the next. Even with our young trees, I managed to make loquat, plum and apricot jams and very tasty they were  too. The citrus trees have been the most problematic to get started, but we had a small but satisfyingly juicy crop of lemons this year and even a handful of limes. We have also harvested  a small sackful of almonds, before we trimmed back the trees. Luckily the almonds were already young trees on the land when we first got the house.  The tree work  we did has given us the first tonne of wood to burn next Autumn, once it is properly seasoned and dried out, and kindling aplenty.

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Physalis or Cape Gooseberry

As well as all the Mediterranean standard trees, I have more unusual fruit in mind too. Physalis, or Cape Gooseberries are dotted about here and there,  which are surprisingly easy to grow, although they do need steady water in the summer, so I’ve planted them under a tree  so they share the water. I also have a Dragon Fruit cactus and an Opuntia, or as they are known here a “Figo de India “and hope one day to eat the fruits, which although seedy, I find delicious. When I went to Mexico once, we ate the pads, although I am going to have to find out how to remove the spines without doing myself a damage.

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Moaning Millicent, the bantam, peeping through the lemon flowers

On reflection, I think I have planted too many citrus trees and should have planted more figs or apricots, which need far less water. I think the idea of citrus is so attractive to us people arriving from Northern climes and the trees are so cheap in the markets that we get a bit over excited. They take a great deal of water to get established a lot of cosseting, especially in the heavy clay soil of the Barrocal. They also get sunburned trunks and suffer from deficiencies. They are a vexatious tree, but I will keep trying with them, having put so much water, blood, sweat and tears into their care over the past three years.

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Some nearly organic eggs

The chickens are still giving us lovely eggs every day. I am pondering over their feed though as although I thought I could get buy on feeding them scraps and letting them free range, this isn’t enough. I need to feed them some grains. However, the corn here is all genetically modified and liberally sprayed with glysophate and none of the feed is organic, so I am trying to find an organic source of grain at a reasonable price, which is proving difficult. I am not comfortable about eating the eggs every day if they aren’t organic,  since this is a main food source for us, so I need to find a solution.

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Favas or Broad Beans in flower.

In the vegetable garden, I’m harvesting lettuce, cabbage and broccoli and beetroot all grown from plug plants, bought in the market in October. I also have some potatoes which were left in the ground from last year and reproduced themselves. I am also experimenting with some beautiful kale in five different varieties I grew from seed ordered from the UK. Some have purple or red leaves and I think they will look beautiful in May, before my winter vegetable garden is put to rest for the summer.  Everything is growing well, but quite slowly right now as it’s cold at nights and the days are short. I have flat leaved parsley in pots, plenty of delicious thyme, bay leaves, and the tops of onions left behind from  last year as seasoning and even the odd chilli pepper which I’m overwintering in my new greenhouse. I didn’t realise pepper plants can last a few years here, like perennials.

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Cucumber seedlings

The favas, which again self seeded from last year are flowering already and I am hoping there are enough insects about for them to set seed and if they do the wild west winds that tend to rattle around us in March don’t blow off all the burgeoning seed pods. I am growing summer savoury, which when eaten in conjunction with favas are meant to stop you farting. We will see!
I have brined the olives I picked from my biggest tree last October and they are curing nicely, we are eating the green ones already and the black ones are going all wrinkly in their bed of salt as they should. Once they are finished, the skins can be quite hard, so I often spend a morning peeling them and de-pipping them before turning them into a tapenade.  Oh the joys of retirement, to spend a whole morning taking olives apart! We didn’t pick enough to make oil this year, but it is something I’d like to do in the future, as we certainly have enough trees to give us at least 10-15 litres, especially if we grafted some our wild olives and made all our trees productive.

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Salvia Officianalis and Rosmarinus officinalis

The wonderful aromatic shrubs in the garden also have a range of uses and I am learning them. Rosemary and Sage for cooking, verbena and mint for teas, myrtle and fennel to flavour vodkas and lavender to flavour olive oil to make a dressing for tomatoes. Even the weeds  can be eaten. I have used nettle tops for soup, as my grandmother used to do and the stalks of Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) in salads, although they are very scented and Señor Faztudo  says its like eating after shave. Nasturtiums also grow well here and I dot them amongst the vegetables and put the leaves in salads, even eating the seeds like capers as they produce a plentiful amount, although they need to be planted on north facing banks as they can’t take temperatures above 30 degrees and shrivel and die off quite quickly in July.

This year I am attempting to grow a patch of chick peas for the first time. The peas need to be planted quite deep after rain and then once up, don’t need further watering. Even if I get a kilo from my little patch, this will give me some hummus, which we both love.

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Various Kales grown from seed

My new greenhouse has been a great pleasure (more of that in a future post) and I have far too many tomato, squash and courgette and pepper plants, waiting for the warmer weather. I also have outside cucumbers, which for some reason, I have never grown very successfully, but I have prepared a special place for them this year, so let’s see.

Reading this, it sounds like I have an enormous vegetable garden or something. I really don’t. I grow my vegetables potager stylie, some time ago realising that they can be just as beautiful as any annual flower garden. Sometimes everything looks so pretty I can hardly bring myself to eat it, but I am getting better at planting things throughout the season to take the place of the things we eat.

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The vegetable garden…spot the cat’s head!

So, eat your garden folks! And eat it quickly before something else does. As I speak, the rain is falling steadily outside after months and months of blue skies and no rain and if I listen carefully I’m sure I  can hear the sound of the little snails chomping their way through my greens. I don’t blame them, but it can’t be allowed as I need the crop. A good way to deal with problem that might be to eat them back! Now there’s a thought..

Hot damn in Portugal!

 

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The summer has arrived with a vengeance and I am thinking about how both I and my developing  garden deals with the  heat. At the moment, the sun, which was my friend only a few weeks ago, ripening my courgettes and bringing on my beans, is now my enemy. I try to defeat him by getting up before him, watering the plants at dawn, but by 9 o clock it’s almost 30 degrees and he is shimmering relentlessly as he rises in the sky. The courgettes stop flowering, leaves wilting by 10 o clock, any ground not mulched cracks and breaks, the water trickling off, useless. It’s war!

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Gaillardia, grown from seed

 

However, it’s no use taking on Ra as the enemy, because I will lose. Really at this time of year you have to admit defeat, pull up the drawbridge and go inside in the shade , stop planting and go into survival mode. Your best defences should have already been put in place and if not, it’s too late. So how are mine bearing up?

Well, poco poco I’d say.

My first defence has been to set large areas of the garden over to drought resistant planting. If you have eyes to see, there are plants all around us in the mata (wild bush areas) growing wild without any water at all and they don’t die. They return in the Autumn and Spring with the rains, bursting with scent and colour. Lavenders and cistus, rosemaries and fennel, thyme and nepeta, arbutus and Pistacia Lenticus bushes, (mastic tree) even roses only need a little water. And I have also grown irises and grasses over a mid terraced area which look beautiful waving in the wind, even when dry.

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Rose mulched with gravel

These areas, once established need not be watered at all. Admittedly during the heat of the summer, they certainly don’t look their best. But I quite like the dried seed pods and so do the chickens and a little trim and tidy up and they don’t look too bad.

One of my main discoveries is the importance of mulch. I’m a great fan of the Graden Professors’ Blog on Facebook. It is a group set up by scientists at Washington State University to discuss empirically and peer reviewed gardening science and all the research says mulch WORKS. And indeed it does!  Wood Chip Mulch pdf Linda Chalker Scott says you need to use wood chips and I have found a source of something that approximates it in wood bark.  It’s not easy to find appropriate mulch in the Algarve , where even straw is scarce and we have few leafy trees,  and the fire risk also has to be considered, but the addition of the mulch I have managed to find under the  citrus trees, shrubs and perennials has made a huge difference to their capacity to survive and thrive the sun’s searing rays.  I am also able to use less water and growth has been much better on all the areas I have mulched. The chickens scrabble around in it too, which helps improve the soil below and their droppings help with the nitrogen content, which can be depleted in the breaking down process.

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Bark mulch on an area of the garden

I do water the establishing plants, one area of the garden with more tend, non native  perennials, and the vegetables  and have been very glad of the large cisterna or rainwater tank  which collects the winter rainfall we get from the roof.  It’s huge and contains a two month water supply for the garden. Our soil in the Barrocal is on the alkaline side and the slight acidity of the rainwater is good for the plants. We save money on the water bill, which can be huge in the summer as water is metered in Portugal, but we have an electric pump to get it out of the cistern and we are trying to weigh up the costs. I haven’t really got any kind of organised irrigation in place yet and water by hand. This is helpful as I assess the needs of each area and plant and water accordingly, but it’s very time consuming and take an hour and a half to water the whole garden!

One of the surprises to me has been that succulents do better in  the shade once it gets above 30 degrees centigrade. I move them in their pots to the shady side of the house and water and feed them and they put in a huge growth spurt. Those succulents in the ground and  are in the sun, shrink and go to sleep and I don’t water them too much as waterlogged roots when they are in this mode is the kiss of death. I didn’t know any of this when I arrived and lost a lot of succulents by watering them when they were in sleep mode.

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Mulched courgette

I actually get quite angry with high summer and am struggling with myself.  The garden which flowered beautifully in late Spring and now, just like Winter in the UK, everything goes to sleep and looks dried up and dead. I have tried to be grateful for the mini Spring that comes with the first rains in Autumn as a compensation, but I still feel robbed. I sometimes think of the cricket lawns and green woods of the UK and feel a pang of jealousy. Gardeners want it all.

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A long view of the lower garden area

The chickens suffer in the heat of the day. Their feathery coats are a burden to them and they pant to keep cool, taking themselves off to the tall grasses to hide and complaining to themselves as they brave out the time until the evening when they can come out to forage for the dried seeds and unfortunate ants in the garden. Occasionally they come across a locust and an excited chase ensues over its crunchy carcass. Usually Mrs Chicken wins as she is boss, but her progeny sometimes manage to steal a wing or leg. The cats sleep all day stretched out on the cool tiles in a shady spot and I seek solace on the sofa, under the air conditioning unit with a gardening book. I shouldn’t moan. The early mornings bring the most beautiful of dawns, the night skies are breathtaking. Really, it’s just another day in hot paradise.

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.

The Kitschen Garden Shed (all puns intended)

The Garden Shed

The Garden Shed

It was my birthday recently. Señor Faztudo gave me the best present ever and I want to share it with you. For a long time I have imagined a particular place in the garden where one day I would have my  hippy shed. I know I have written about it before and pondered how one day I would sit with a niece or two, a gardening friend or even one of the cats and gaze out on my developing garden as it grows, with nothing better to do than dream and muse. Well that day has nearly come and although it isn’t finished yet, the shed was up in time for its inauguration around midsummer’s day. People came for its grand opening, people who have become very precious and all of whom have eased our transition into this new country, one way and another (in fact several people came whom I didn’t know at all and that was a delight in itself) I burnt joss sticks with one lovely neighbor, bedecked the doorway with rasta ribbons donated by another and settled into the wonderful lime green planter chairs which appeared in the shed, complete with up-cycled denim cushions and an artificial lawn. We even had an official opening ceremony with a friend who helped us lay the foundations and build the beautiful stone paths.

My lime green planter chairs, upcycled denim cushions and foam flowers

My lime green planter chairs, upcycled denim cushions and foam flowers

I called it the “Hippy shed” initially because I had thought I would bedeck it with Moroccan accoutrements which are quite easy to get here, since we are only a short hop across the water from Tangier. In my youth, which occurred sometime between the mid- sixties and the mid- seventies, I suppose I thought of myself as some sort of flower child and I wanted to return there, and revisit the times by using luxurious wall hangings, camel gourds and the like. But, the birthday presents I have been given have changed my mind somewhat. It can still be a hippy shed, but I am changing my mind about the decor.
Occasionally I watch UK television on the internet, especially on hot afternoons where temperatures have been in the 30s and sitting under the air conditioner is the only sensible thing to do. So I have wiled away a few hours watching the most eccentric and uniquely British “Shed of the Year” competition. I was gobsmacked by the ingenuity and sheer whackiness of the entrants and the wonderful inventive and quirky garden edifices entered for the competition. One crazy guy had made some garden decking with a shed on top into a boat and sailed happily down the river in his garden shed! Another built the most exquisite Chinese tea pagoda in a garden in Sussex or somewhere, complete with a little bridge over a koi carp pond. So it set me thinking about what my entry would be and what kind of shed could you have which was different from all the wonderful sheds entered for the competition.

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The nascent kitschen shed

I’ve decided what I’m going to do. I am going to create The Garden Shed. In fact it might even be called the The Kitschen Garden Shed, because inside my shed will be…A Garden!

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Pottery chicken, soon to lay Onyx and Amethyst eggs

Now I have the germ of an idea, my imagination is running riot. Water, as you know is a big problem in the Algarve. So most of the garden in my shed will be artificial. I am also going to make it the kind of garden that future grandchildren will be enchanted by. Garden gnomes will abound. Fairies will peep out of bunches or psychedelic flowers, artificial banana trees will harbour toy parrots, larger than life metal ants will crawl up the wall, rubber pythons will wind themselves around the chair legs, clockwork frogs will say” Ribbet Ribbet”, pottery chickens will lay real marble eggs, plastic fish will sing. In short, it will be totally over the top. Anything goes.
Artificial flowers seems to have changed since the sixties when they were all hard plastic. A gardening friend, who is a wonderful gardener and totally dedicated to the plants and flowers she nurtures in her garden was absolutely horrified when she realised that some palms which she was admiring in our garden centre were artificial. That’s how good some of the artificial plants are nowadays. They jump up and dupe you. Horrifying to a real gardener!
The first decorating decision I have is what colour to paint the internal walls. I am considering a cerise pink or a dayglo blue. Perhaps a sort of “Teletubbies” or” In the Night Garden”effect might create the right ambiance. I already have the artificial grass to put down, the lime green chairs and the pottery chicken, so I’m off to a good start.
In the name of garden decency and respect to Señor Faztudo, who doesn’t really go for anything hippy, except me, we’ll keep the outside a conservative grey and maroon to match the house and fit in with the rest of the garden. He sits by patiently however, with that amused smile of his, as I begin making flowers out of recycled bottles and the tissue paper some of my birthday presents came wrapped in and planning where I can get some artificial trees, although a Face Book garden friend suggested a real Monstera might work. Maybe some large real green plants would do well and get less dusty than artificial ones. I can also use it to dry flowers, such as the lavender I have grown in the garden.

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Lavender drying

The wonderful thing about The Garden Shed, is that it has made the bottom part of the garden begin to feel like a garden, rather than a field. The paths we’ve made with blood, sweat and tears converge on it and bring the garden into focus, drawing the eye and giving it a “lived in” feel.
Despite being eager to get going on the decor, I am sure the insides will evolve and grow quietly and unfold perfectly, as any ordinary garden does. Like anything in life, it all starts with an intention, the rest just slowly and wonderfully takes care of itself. May all our intentions be fun, my  gardening friends. Peace and Love Dudes,  Far out!

Peace and Love

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!

We’re on the right path!

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The almond blossom is out!

It’s been a little while since I’ve written my garden “diary,” I blame the fact that it hasn’t rained. If it would only rain, I could stop working in the garden and catch up writing about it, but then I thought “What if it never rains?” If it never rains, obviously I won’t have anything to write about anyway, because the garden will dry up forever. What an awful thought!  Actually, the lack of rain is becoming a preoccupation, as we are watering the winter vegetables already. We’re not just watering them against drought though, but also against frost! Irrigation makes both the vegetables and the ground around warmer and  many local  busy  are irrigating their potato crops. It seems a very funny thing to do and in the UK, I’m sure you wouldn’t think of it.

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Seedlings and Cuttings

For the first time ever, we have had frost on our hill. I have  seen it in the valley below, withering the leaves on the fig trees overnight on colder winter nights. But this year we have had some very cold weather and it’s crept upwards towards us.  I fear for my avocado trees. I have covered the bougainvillea, which are still young and vulnerable. Watching the Portuguese news tonight, there’s snow on the hills of Madeira and it’s been so cold here, I could imagine we might even get a dusting! The chickens go into their coop early and cuddle up tightly together;  the four new young ones aka “The Vandals” are accepted onto the top shelf for their warmth. They have begun to lay in the past week, beautiful little pullets eggs. I feel proud of having raised them from week old chicks to maturity and have granted myself a ” Chicken Keeper Girl Guide’s Badge”

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A new naked neck chicken aka “The vandal”

Sadly, we had to cull one. Poor Yoko lived up to her name and kept laying shell-less eggs. I should have called her Shelly! In the end she succumbed to an infection and we had to do the kindest thing. I won’t go into detail, but we have found a very efficient way of killing a chicken. I thanked her for her life and the good eggs she had managed to lay intact  and with a sorry heart,we did the deed. To my horror, once beheaded, she blinked at me one last time. I shed a few tears I can tell you!

Nobody I’ve spoken to around here likes killing their chickens, but it’s part of being a chicken keeper. There’s a sort of gallows humour about it. The Portuguese, when they see my magnificient cockerel Nando, joke that he would be very good “com batatas” or “with potatoes” but a lot of the joshing is due to the uncomfortable position you  yourself inwhen you care for your animals,  knowing eventually you will eat them. I feel I owe it to my chickens to kill them myself, as efficiently and compassionately as I can. I haven’t eaten a chicken yet, as both chickens we’ve culled have been ill. But we do intend to try and breed a flock both for meat, as well as eggs, so it’s something we need to come to terms with.

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The path, built from scrumped rocks.

Anyway, on a more cheerful note, for the past weeks, with the help of a younger, stronger companion, we have been building paths. We have built them with flat rocks and calςada stones. The area we live in has millions of rocks, however, all the rocks in our garden have been used to build the walls surrounding the house and so we need to import some. So we’ve been “scrumping” rocks, scouring the hillsides in my little van for rocks the right shape and flatness. You’d think this an easy task, but it isn’t really. Every rock belongs to someone and there is a strict code about taking anything in a country where there are no fences or laws against trespass. It is a very strong unwritten law that you don’t take what isn’t yours. Not even an orange. People will give you buckets full,but you don’t take without asking. So we have been plundering laybys where people have dumped stones they don’t want or finding them on the side of agricultural roads where nobody minds. Or at least, we hope they don’t. I still feel very guilty loading them into the back of the van…like a naughty child scrumping apples. I envision ended up in court accused of the grand felony of rock stealing.

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Heavy rocks, all lifted by hand!

The other thing about the rocks is they’re  terribly heavy. As we heave them into the boot, I know that what we are doing now, in our 60th year, we won’t be able to do for much longer. The sooner we get this heavy bit of the garden finished, the sooner I can just enjoy tiddling about. The paths look beautiful and I’m delighted with them. They aren’t even finished yet and I am already hopping up and down them with delight, because they are making the garden look more like a garden. Their boundaries create sections which seem more manageable.

It seems amazing to me that we have been in Portugal for two years now. We have finally completely settled in and I have even found a great part time job I can do from home, so I can spend a bit more money on the garden. My hippy shed has a base, but is waiting for funds, so I am saving my pocket money for the wood to build it. And there’s pots to buy and plants to dream about. And beaches like this one below, empty of tourists, to visit at the weeknds. How lucky am I?

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