Tag Archive | gardening

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

    sunflowers-1003141_960_720.jpg

    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!

    greenhouse

    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?

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    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.

    helischrun

    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.

    IMG_0583

    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.”

Advertisements

Growing things to eat in a waterwise way

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The first of the plums from my garden

It’s the start of harvest time in the garden, difficult to appreciate when you are used to August, September and October being harvest time in more northern climes. Plums coming out of our ears!

We have just been through a very hot dry June, with the devastating fires that claimed the lives and livings of many in Central Portugal. So very sad and I feel such sorrow the people affected. My fervent hope is that Mother Nature will do her work quickly and start to put up green shoots to soothe the hearts of those who have lost so much.

In times of drought and hot temperatures, water use is a serious issue. I am learning all the time about gardening with less water, including food growing. Water is a limited resource here and not to think about its use is actually socially unacceptable. If you wonder about why ornamental flower gardening isn’t prevalent in the Algarve, it is really because in a country where starvation is still in living memory, to use water on flowers, in some people’s minds, is almost tantamount to a crime. The local farmers’ wives are almost clandestine in their efforts to grow flowers (and flower gardening, for some reason is seen as an exclusively female thing, although that is changing)  Ornamental plants are seen as a real luxury, grown along walls only with the use of washing up or slops water.

However, there are some trees with very beautiful flowers that also produce food. I managed to produced a Feijoa Sellowiana or Pineapple Guava from seed and it’s a beautiful tree, with lovely flowers, as well as fruits. Pomegranates are also stunning in all seasons, with red flowers, lovely young red leaves in the Spring, very attractive fruits and yellowing leaves in the winter. Why not grow a beautiful tree for food and use your water and space wisely?

For us, with our UK pensions and not on subsistence farming money, life is a little less complicated, but we are still using a common and scarcece resource. And in the same way I don’t put on the outside lights we have at night except on a special occasions, I want to use water wisely as an act of respect for those around me, because it’s a limited, scarce resource and also because it’s very expensive. Water is metered here and it depends what camara (council) you live in, how much it is per unit. It isn’t the same countrywide. The cost of it also goes up the more you use.

So, back to the harvest and eating from the garden, what can you grow and how do you maximise on water?

The most obvious thing, considering we have a thick clay soil which retains water well, is to grow trees. In times gone by, when wheat harvests failed , the Portuguese lived off bread made from figs and fed it to their pigs. The almonds grown here, whilst not the perfect shape like the Californian almonds, taste better than any in the world. The olive oil produced was used by the Romans in their lamps, although nowadays it’s much too precious for that. Trees, once established, put down very deep roots and can last until the next seasonal rainfall, as long as you choose those well adapted to this climate.

 

olive

An old olive tree for eating olives in my garden

I am fortunate to have some venerable trees which were already in our garden when we arrived, a mature and ancient olive which gives me enough eating olives for a whole year, some almonds, and a few carobs. I don’t need more, as I wouldn’t  have time to harvest the fruits and process them and I’ve resolved to eat everything in my garden, if I can and not waste anything. I only have about 1,600 square metres of garden, but within that I realised the other day, I have over fifty trees and 19 different types of edible fruit or nut, some producing, some too young to prouce yet. Many of those are very drought resistant once established, peach, certain varieties of plum, almond, apricots,pomegranate, olive, carob. The rain, when it falls is very heavy indeed and the clay soil retains the water well and nourishes them.  I also have some citrus trees, but aside from the lemon, I am rather wishing I didn’t plant them. They are very difficult I find, hard to get established, prone to disease and pest and they need lots of water. They are at the bottom of my steeply sloped garden and receive all the grey water from the house through a great filtering system, but without this, I don’t think I’d bother with them. The idea of turning shower water into oranges quite pleases me though, so I persevere!

After three years of making mistakes and probably paying huge amounts for each cabbage I’ve produced, I am getting the measure of how to grow vegetables in my garden. The trick is to use the winter period and natural rainfall  wisely. By planting seedlings in the shade in August and getting them ready for the first rains in the Autumn, or buying plug plants in the market, you can have cabbages, kale and spinach in the Autumn. Potatoes can also be planted in the Autumn, for a cheeky Christmas crop, but you do run the danger of frosts cutting them down in the January to March months, even in the Algarve.

P7240412.JPG

Last year’s cherry tomatoes-they are more disease resistant then the beef variety

For broad beans, or favas, as they are known here, I always watch my neighbours andput them in when they plant.  They always plant them after first rains and then they mature by the Spring before the blackfly begin. I also almost always leave some pods to dry on the plants  and drop to the ground, because the best beans in my garden are always those that self seed, since they know exactly the optimum time of year to germinate by themselves. Peas need to be put in during  the very early Spring, as it is all over once the temperatures get too hot and mange-tout work really well here I find. I have yet to find the secret to growing any kind of green beans, they often come to flower and then it gets too hot for them to produce , or the bean rots in the ground before it’s had a chance to germinate. I  don’t  think I’ve hit on the right variety of bean for the Algarve yet, or developed a good understanding of their needs. I tried English runner beans and they flowered, but never produced beans.  All suggestions gratefully received.

Garlic and onions are easy enough if you get them in at the right time. I put mine in very late this year, so they are small, but they are very unproblematic. I buy them as small plants in the market as they are very cheap and the right sort of onion to do well here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Peppers in my garden grow best in large buckets or pots. They need early sun and then when it gets too hot, you can move them into the shade, as the afternoon sun in the summer is too hot for them. Planting them in pots means less watering too and you can feed them more effectively. I have also given up trying to grow strawberries in the ground and grow them in deep pots too, the kind you buy trees in, with piles of well-rotted manure at their roots when first planted.

I have been very successful with Globe artichokes, which I love, although dis-infesting them of earwigs is an issue. They also have very deep roots and use natural rainfall well. I now eat them really young at the beginning of the season before I get fed up with them and then leave the flowers to mature as they are so beautiful.

P5101066.JPG

But the jewel in the crown  this year has been the courgettes and squashes, which I’ve never had success with so far and also beef tomatoes, which I haven’t grown before.The thing is, not to grow too much of anything. You can’t even give them away as everyone has them at the same time as you, so another water saving tip, is to think about how many you need or to grow something different from your neighbour, so you can swap.  Three beef tomato plants is plenty for two people, three courgette plants has given us three of four a day for the past month and I have pickled a lot of them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I have written before about my lasagna beds and making soil. My clay soil is full of big and small rocks and any attempt at growing squashes or courgettes in the gorund  has meant buckets of water and a complete stop in production if you don’t plant them before it gets really hot. After that, you could water them all summer and it would make no difference at all. And I did. So I ended  up wasting water and eating nothing. A complete folly and rather shameful. So I invented “The patent  Stork’s Nest Water Retaining Squash and Melon Compost bed” or SNWRSMC (!) for short, a 4 in 1 technique which helps you get rid of all your garden rubbish, grow fantastic food, use less water and make great compost”

But more of that in the next blog post. I’m sure you can’t wait!

Do the Pokey Pokey….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After the Deluge

It’s time to do the Pokey Pokey. Not the Hokey Cokey, although on a beautiful day like this, I’m in, out, in, out and shaking it all about. No, the Pokey Pokey is what I do at this time of year, after the rain has fallen in glorious tumults. For the last two weeks, the clouds have rolled in from Africa, bringing with them lightning, thunder and lashings of rain in Biblical proportions. And now we are renewed and I can take up my poker and plant!

I have said before, I am a lazy gardener. I can’t be doing with too much fussing and pruning and preening. Because of various of life’s twists and turns, not least the exchange rate as a result of the  Brexit effect and a series of domestic breakages, I am also an impecunious gardener. I can’t afford to purchase  trays of sumptuous plants (which is just as well, because I probably would have killed most of them) so I have to propagate. Now I know the Pokey Pokey propagation technique sounds a bit rude, but I can assure you there is no sex involved. I just take an iron rod as long as a walking stick,  the sort that reinforces concrete, and walk around the garden cutting bits off one plant, poking a hole and popping the bit in, quite deep. Then I whisper a few magic words (“Hokus, Pokus, please don’t Croakus!” ) and hope for the best. About half of the time it works, chickens and cats, drought and tumult permitting. Obviously it works better with some things than others ; great for lavenders, roses, and succulents; not so great for more tender things. For these I use the “Jitterbug” technique. A garden designer in the Algarve, Marilyn Medina Ribeiro, taught me to  let the leaves of whatever plant fall down and create a little skirt around the plant, even though it’s planted in a gravel mulch (never be too tidy in a garden, it doesn’t pay off)  Also, I don’t cut off any bottom branches until the Spring. Then after the rain, I wait a little while and look under the “skirt” (Why is gardening so rude?)  Usually I find a lot of rooted branches in the leaf mulch, which I gleefully separate from the Mother plant and settle somewhere else in the garden, although it’s a rather dangerous technique as invariably I encounter a creepy crawlie that seriously gives me the jitters!   Although, it’s a slightly dangerous technique from the point of view of unexpected surprise, from one plant, comes forth many and it’s worth the danger! Very satisfying.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A “Gives me the Jitters Bug”

Early in the morning, after I’ve fed the chickens,  I can be seen in  parts of the garden where the chickens don’t go (they gobble up any seeds dropped) doing the Hippy Hippy Shake. This is the propagation technique which involves me cutting off all the brown heads of plants, like the lovely Clary Sage I bought in Lidls  few years ago,  and bringing them back to life by seed propagation. It’s like sprinkling fairy dust as you go round the garden shaking out the seeds. The chickens look on longingly through the bars of the fence. Poppies also enjoy a good shake out, as do Nigella (not Lawson you understand!)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I do try to grow from seed, but it’s so hit and miss.  I plant them and watch anxiously for ages and nothing happens, then invariably I forget what I’ve planted and plant something else of top of it. By the time it puts it little head up, I have no idea what it is. As far as organisation, labelling etc, there’s no hope for me,  I’m 60 now and it isn’t going to happen. It’s still worth trying though, because even getting one plant to maturity creates propagation possibilities. I have one Hidcote blue lavender out of a batch of seedlings, most of which fell by the wayside and now I’m taking cuttings from it. I have seeds from a smashing red and orange Gaillardia and some gorgeous  aquilegia.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Señor Faztudo is in the garage banging away as I write  (what IS the matter with me today?) building me a greenhouse for Christmas. I rather suspect his motivation is his growing collection of small trees  from avocado, mango and various other pips which he plants at random into my flowerpots and expects me to look after. In vain, I tell him I don’t know where we’re going to out any more trees, but he’s somewhat obsessed. In the past we’ve had experience of getting fruit trees to maturity and then having to leave them to someone else as we move house or give up an allotment plot. I think he is determined  to get something to eat before we peg it.

So, if you’re thinking of propagation and you feel a bit unsure, remember if I can do it, you cancan too!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lavender hedge created with the Pokey Pokey propagation technique.

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

They call me Daisy…..that’s not my name!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“A Rose by any other name would smell as sweet”…the problem is I don’t know any of the names of the roses in my garden. I bought most of them from a famous German supermarket in the sale for Eur 1.49 and I’ve thrown away the labels. I will be forgiven for this, I’m sure, they’re  not old roses or special roses after all. But I have a far worse problem, in that I’ve planted quite a lot of different plants, both bought, borrowed and occasionally even stolen, (albeit it only little pieces) and I don’t know the names of most of them. This is starting to cause me problems, as friends ask me the names of plants they particularly like and I haven’t a clue! Actually, that’s not strictly true. I know an Aloe from an Agave, or a Salvia from a Penstemon, I just don’t know what comes after that. It’s a shame really, as according to my mother, one of my first words was Aquilegia. Being a rather precocious two year old I corrected a visitor, who called the plant a Columbine. It’s all been downhill since unfortunately.

IMG_0581

When I was a teacher, I once had a class with four Jason’s. I could never remember their surnames, so I invented them. One was called Jason The Red (he had ginger hair) Another, Jason Basin (pudding bowl haircut) Jason Mouse (he squeaked a lot) and last, but not least Jason Fireraiser (He once set fire to the class notice board) Now I am doing this with my plants, in the absence of my ability to identify them correctly. I walk round the garden checking on their progress, I note Agave Biggus Spikus is getting bigger every day, whilst Agave Variegata Pipsqueaka is not really doing much. Penstemon Freebius Seedpacketia is bursting into flower, whilst Aloe Aloe Aloe Whatasallthisthenus, (which is what I imagined I might hear any minute as I was furtively half inching the cutting this plant grew from) has put up several baby plants.

Harebells from Canada

To complicate matters further, I am learning the names for plants in Portuguese as well. I can never remember the English for Coriander nowadays, because I am too busy thinking of it as Coentro. A lot of wild flowers are called Boa Noite, according to neighbours, which means Good Night and I am still thinking of some flowers by the nicknames we had for them in Wales, Snapdragons for Antirinhiums, Roarydumdums for rhododendrons and Wet-the-bed for dandelions. No wonder I get confused! Then, instead of fields of purple clover, there are fields of something which has similar leaves called Bermudan Buttercup, or whatever its proper name is, and Giant Hogweed is replaced by Alexanders, or Black  Lovage. Then there are the orchids, The Naked Man orchid (don’t ask!) the Mirror orchid, the Bee orchid and a myriad others.

11042010278

And I guess all this confusion is why I need to learn the proper names for things, although how I’ll remember them, I don’t know! I realise I have never really thought about how plants are classified, so after a bit of a Google session I discovered this:http://theseedsite.co.uk/class.html
Whoever thought it was so complicated? Plants have families, subfamilies and tribes!
And thirteen-barrelled names! And I have to remember to spell the name of the Genus with a capital letter! Gordonus Bennetius!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut for the sake of trying to at least sound like a real gardener, I am going to make a serious effort get to grips with calling things by their proper names, although it’s difficult identifying the plants I already have. I have found this tool from the RHS website https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/search-form ,which is quite useful and I’ve resolved to try to learn the proper names for one of the plants in my garden every day. I’ve posted some photos of plants I can’t identify throughout this post. If you know the proper names of any of them, it would be great of you could let me know. I’d love to be able to sail around the garden, with a glass of something cool in hand, reeling off the names of the plants we walk past, and although I don’t think I’ll ever manage it, I’m sure it will keep my ageing brain cells active for many years to come. To get us off to a good startI will tell you I bought a lovely Ballota pseudodictamnus at the Mediterranean Garden Fair this year. If only I could remember which of the twenty plants or so I bought was called that!

Gardening in Portugal – If you had three wishes!

Image

 

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.

Image

“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?