Tag Archive | mediterranean

Gardening in Portugal- my gardening history

My garden, on arrival

My Algarve garden, not long after we moved in

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

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


My South London garden

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

Allotment garden

Allotment garden

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

My friend's algarve garden

My friend’s Algarve garden

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


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

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

Gardening in Portugal-Spring Update


Spring pots planted up

It’s Spring and I’ve  been feeling a bit desperate. Spring should be the time when everything is busting out all over, but unfortunately there isn’t a great deal of planting to bust out in my garden yet. We have done a lot of work, enough to make us ache all over. I have an additional blog to support new arrivals to The Algarve here which explains what we’ve been up to, making a gravel bed.


So, it was some pleasure that I stumbled upon a wonderful blog, part of which I reblogged in two earlier  posts, describing the process of creating a garden in Lazio, Italy. The writer is a very experienced gardener and designer and gives me inspiration and strength to believe in the  possibilities, even though sometimes it feels very difficult to garden on this windswept hillside with little water. Onwards and Upwards!


So come with me on a little walk around the garden, what there is of it. There HAS been progress, of course there has. It was a building site under two years ago, I remind myself frequently. Here is what it looked like then.

Before there was a Garden

I have tried to see the garden in sections. It’s the only way I can stop myself feeling engulfed. This is not a huge garden, but for us, who have been used to a backyard terraced garden in South london, cheek by jowl with others, it is daunting enough! And I am in my third and final age, so five years is a long time for me. But I can’t go faster than the plants grow.  I have to take a step at a time.

Small triumphs are that we have nearly completed the gravel terraced area on top of the bank, mentioned above.  It has been really hard labour, hauling gravel up the hill. I haven’t been able to plant the whole area because of shortage of funds, but have several grasses, pennisetums and iris sibirica which I am growing from seed and hope to plant in the Autumn, along with lavender cuttings. This side of the terrace  was planted last Autumn. The lavender hedge was grown from cuttings, so I am hopeful that I can replicate it fairly cheaply in other areas of the garden. The clay soil here is good for striking cuttings, if you get it at the right time when it is wet and warm enough, but it can be a bit hit and miss, so I have also done some in pots.


The gravelled area and lavender hedge, grown from cuttings



The side of the gravelled area that was planted a year ago

There is at least bit of Spring going on here. I have planted grasses at the top of the bank, which I have cut back, so it’s somehwat bare. I also buried  some dutch irises I bought at the MGS fair in between other plants . I haven’t a clue what they are all called, either common names or Latin ones, but I must sort this out. I am always muddling up plant labels and forgetting what I’ve planted where.  There are so many different irises, bearded iris, dutch irises, flags etc. I sometimes wonder where they are all growing together, if one sees itself as more superior to the other. I imagine the bearded irises (I think they are Iris germanicus) mocking the slightly more gentile dutch variety.  (Reading this back, I think I have spent too long on my own with the plants!)

In the vegetable garden, my sister sent me some Jerusalem Artichokes from her garden in Wales  (or Fartichokes, as she calls them) I think they should do very well here and indeed they are popping up their little shoots already, bless them. I had them on my allotment in Dulwich and enjoyed growing them and eating them. I even had them in a tiny back garden in Crystal palace, where they were a talking point for the neighbours.


Jerusalem Artichokes

Señor  Faztudo has made me a glory hole. We have created a fenced off and gravelled area below the shed where I can potter and plant to my heart’s content. We are very different, in that he is obsessively tidy and  I am pathologically messy. We usually work it out somehow!


The Glory Hole

I have planted a Lidl’s rose of unnamed variety to grow up the fence, which is supposed to climb and cover everything with pink roses, along with some ivy. It was  one euro 49 cents in a sale.(I can’t afford David Austin at the moment!)  In the meantime, I have some horrible green screening to hide the mess and I have planted some succulents in old cat food tins and hung them from the fence. It’s a kind of temporary joke and a nod to my hippy days and I like it.


Cat food tins recycled as planters for succulents

The camellia below is very pretty, but really a gardening mistake. I wanted something to plant in the flower trough near the front door, but then realised it was full of alkaline soil.  It likes acid soil. So I have put  it into a pot and I water it every day with coffee grinds which are a little acid. It seems happy. It looks good against the pigmented plaster, I think.


In the vegetable garden, we are cropping peas, mangetout and lettuce and Portugese kale. I have planted some courgette seeds in my newly created lasagna bed, but the blackbirds have dug them all up looking for worms, so I will have to plant them again. Some of my small tomato plants have been eaten by cutworms, but I have more plants  to replace them.


Pea plants in my garden

I haven’t got much room for potatoes, so I have planted some in a sack, as an experiment. Watch this space. Once they sprout you just put more soil in and they are supposed to keep putting tubers out.


Potatoes planted in a sack

I have developed a love affair with succulents and cacti  and have been  potting them up in the Glory Hole. I found out recently from a fellow Algarve gardener  they are better grown on in light shade, so I’ll  be moving them to a shadier place when it gets hotter. The scallop shells, which are plentiful on the beach here, make a good shade protector and look pretty, I  think.


A good use of scallop shells

The succulent gravel garden is doing well. This was grown in the place where the builder’s mixed all the concrete to build the house and was really the only choice for a garden here. It’s difficult because the area by the wall is in deep shade, but I am pleased with its progress, albeit slow. I have put the pots as an edging, with a dogs skull I found on a walk. Poor dog. He had healed injuries on his skull which suggested a hard life. I wanted him to rest in peace, as a thing of beauty.


The succulents garden

Other jobs we have completed is to feed all the fruit trees with lovely sheep manure. Unfortunately the sheep manure came with rather a large number of ticks which we have been removing from the cats and even ourselves this week. Ah, the trials of gardening! But I’m sure it will be worth it when we bite into those succulent oranges…in about three or four years time! So that’s the update. Now let’s sit under the olive and have some tea. How is your garden getting on?


Gwynnie dreaming