Tag Archive | portugal

Gardening in Portugal- If you know its name it’s not a weed!


Patch or Alexanders, Self seeded Aconite (delphinium, very poisonous)  and Chamanthe

It’s raining again, oh Lord, it’s raining again! And you know what rain means? It means weeds!
But nowadays,  that don’t impress me much, because I know the name of most of them and as my gardening friend and Portuguese teacher often says, if you know the name of a plant, it isn’t a weed.

I’ve  had the joy and delight over the past few years of discovering that most of the weeds in the Algarve  are useful for something. Do you want to thicken cheese? Use the petals of a  cardoon, Cynara cardunculus, as a rennet substitute (although, what kind of domestic goddess makes cheese? Not me..well not yet anyway!)  Have you got a toothache? Chew on the leaves of the field marigolds, which are an anodyne.  And don’t bother buying fertiliser for your plants, just soak a few nettles , Urtica Dioica),  in water for a few weeks, water down the resulting liquid (holding your nose tightly as the pong is indescribable) and the job is done. Furthermore nettles are great in soup and if you’re feeling particularly strong, you can whip yourself with them to alleviate rheumatism!


Nettle, Urtica Doica

Of course some weeds can kill you, so you have to be super careful, as there  isn’t much room for mistakes. Take the Umbelliferae family for example. The plants are very similar in this family and  whilst the Alexanders or Smyrnium olusatrum, brought here by the Romans,  can be eaten in all  its parts,  Hemlock , Conium maculatum,  is in the same family and is deadly!  Of course, this may be useful if you want to do your husband in, but since Senor Faz-Tudo is my beloved,  indispensable companion and hasn’t finished the greenhouse yet, that’s not likely in my case!  Even the experts don’t always seem to know definitively. I bought a book on foraging in which it said you can eat the flowers and leaves of Aquilegia, and told everyone in a gardening FB group you could eat it, making a total fool of myself, because it’s actually from the ranunculus  family and dangerous to eat. I hope I wasn’t responsible for anyone’s death  (nervous laugh!)  So readers, this is a disclaimer. Please, check out any plant for yourselves before you eat them. This is a great place to do it: Plants for a Future What a labour of love that web site is!


Alexanders, Smyrnium Olusatrum

I have left some areas in my garden specifically for the weeds to grow, especially in the vegetable garden, where the chickens don’t venture, as they are so useful for so many things. (I actually left them in the chicken’s half of the garden  too but they ate them all, although I suppose we got them back in their eggs) Nettles are quite hard to find in the wild around my house, as they prefer nutritious ground with some shade, so they are particularly precious to me and I only ever pick half of them to use, so I can be sure they will continue to drop their seed and come back next year. The local women used to dry them for use as very nutritious fodder for chickens and other animals as they are full of iron and other vitamins and minerals.They can also be eaten in soup, and as soon as they are boiled they lose their sting.  I have lots of dandelions too and I feed them to the chickens and also, when the leaves are very young, add them to salads, in small amounts as they are very bitter.

The  garden is overrun with Borage plants, Borago officinalis, again something I encourage, as they are very good for attracting bees as pollinators for my beans and fruit trees. The flowers are very pretty and look great put into ice cubes in the fridge to jolly up your cocktails, and although the leaves are edible, they are very hairy, you’d be unlikely to eat them unless you’re a goat.

Although the tradition is dying out a little now, local women all have their recipes for “chas” or teas using local “weeds” Malva Silvestris , the common mallow or wild hollyhock is still used in tea to settle sore stomachs, or the leaves boiled and used for a poultice on festering wounds or cuts as it draws out the poison and soothes and heals. Wild thyme and rosemary are both anti-bacterial and can be uses as “pick me up teas” in the morning. The wild thyme here is amazing and I have collected the seeds of several types from the wild in the hope of encouraging  them to grow in my garden.


Malva  or Mallow


Interestingly, unlike in Greece, in my experience, Rosemary isn’t used much in the South of Portugal for cooking, with people preferring to uses salsa (parsley) or green coriander (coentro)

My friend is collecting  “dicas” or uses of common herbs, before the very considerable knowledge of the older countrywomen here is lost. It seems there are many beneficial plants, some of them indigenous to the Algarve and some imported from peoples coming into the Algarve, such as the Carthaginians, Romans or Moors  or brought back from the colonies of Portugal in Africa or South America  in more recent years.


Patch of Nettles and Chrysanthemum Coronium 

But before you go out with your poison sprays or hacker and commit carnage, at least try to identify your weed and see if you can use them for anything, using the “Plants for a Future” database. It seems crazy we spend so much on cosmetics, remedies and leaf teas when any of them are derived from things we call weeds in our gardens. It’s lovely to wander around the garden and see teapot potential and bath bombs where once you just saw plants which made you cross!

Do the Pokey Pokey….


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.


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!)


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.


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!


Lavender hedge created with the Pokey Pokey propagation technique.

Gardening in Portugal – Eat your garden!



My edible London garden

The idea of eating a whole garden tickles me. I once tried to grow a garden where everything in it was both edible and beautiful. It was in a tiny space back garden of a terraced house in Crystal Palace. See here. It flourished, more or less. We munched our way through it throughout the year and eventually ate the whole garden. It was quite hard work, though (making it, not eating it) After all most vegetables are annuals and need constant attention. It didn’t look great in Winter either, but that didn’t matter too much as out of the five winters we lived in the house, there was some considerable snowfall and it took on a special beauty of its own.



I have an area in this very different garden devoted to growing vegetables. It takes a great deal of water and Señor Faztudo reckons each cabbage costs us at least 10 euros. But I think if I am going to use water in any part of the garden , we might as well eat what it produces to cut the costs of a pleasurable and delightful hobby.

In earlier posts I showed how I was developing a lasagna bed on one of the terraces behind the house. In the first year I grew cabbages of all sorts reasonably successfully in the clay soil off this terrace, but this year I wanted to plant courgettes, tomatoes and salad vegetables in the space. I threw everything at the bed in the autumn, lots of horse manure and straw which a friend kindly donated, coffee grinds by the shopping trolley full, collected by my Portuguese teacher, along with the newspapers from a local cafe, all the cuttings from the 15 foot high weeds in the orchard to be and eggshells, tea bags and a load of old carob pods I found rotting from a large tree in the back lane. I also used the bedding from the chicken shed, wood shavings mixed in with chicken droppings. I wondered if it would all rot down, but the rain came down in bucketfuls night after night, sometimes for a week and the earthworms did the rest. It became a friable planting medium.


The lasagna bed with beans and Jerusalem artichokes


I dug it over a bit to include some of the clay underneath for better water holding capacity and planted some tomato seedlings, as well as some courgette and cucumber seeds directly into the soil. Last year I made the mistake if growing courgettes in pots and then planting them, but this checked their growth for too long and airy the time the courgettes flowered it was too hot. This year I am already harvesting courgettes.

I am finding it hard to get to grips with the seasons, which are very different to England. This is especially tricky with vegetables and I have found the book” Mediterranean Kitchen Garden-growing organic fruit and vegetables in a hot dry climate” by Mariano Bueno a great help. You can get it on Amazon.


This year’s courgette plants

So what have we eaten from my very new garden? Not much, I have to say, here is the list, don’t laugh!

Two large servings of fava beans
Two small servings of peas
Two globe artichokes (indescribably yummy!)
A large turnip (three more went woody)
A handful of green beans (most of the flowers dropped off)
Some lovely yellow podded mangetout from The Real Seed Company
Four skinny leeks (the rest look so beautiful going to seed I can hardly bear to eat them)
Seven deformed carrots grown in a pot
Several heads of garlic (there are more somewhere but I’ve lost them underground)
Lots of Portuguese cabbage and kale,shared with the chickens
Four eggs a day mostly, as long as we don’t have any serious hen incidents
Six courgettes
Alexander stalks (foraged from a “weed” growing wild in my garden)
Three little limes
Parsley, Sage Rosemary and Thyme, oh and Basil of course!

I was going to say a partridge in a pear tree, but it was actually a pigeon and the cat ate it.



Globe artichokes, planted from seed


Not a bad start, but this year I’m hoping for some tomatoes and peppers. They all grew very promisingly last year until it got too hot and they frizzled and fried.
I look at the hortas (vegetable gardens) hereabouts with envy. Whole fields of favas, enormous cabbages and lettuces the size of serving plates. Growing here is a serious business and much love and care goes into it. But farmers anywhere don’t always have the luxury of growing organically, If they did their livelihoods would be at stake and times here are very hard for people, believe me.
As I am only feeding the two of us, I have time to rub caterpillar eggs off plants, capture the locusts I encounter and spray my vegetable with milk against mildew. My learning is trial and error, mostly error at the moment, with the main stumbling block being temperature and rainfall, either too hot, too cold or too much rain or too little. If I was relying on this garden for food at the moment, we would definitely starve. So it’s lucky we aren’t.
My planting isn’t very organised. I don’t like rows. I know I should have the planting under better control for increased production but I can’t manage it. I was the naughty member of the allotment management committee, always pleading that my nettles were certainly edible and that dandelions were a great salad vegetable. I always used to think if you showed me someone’s vegetable plot, I could tell you a lot about the person. My personality is obviously fairly chaotic with hidden turnips!


Watercress growing in an old pan

I went with some friends recently to visit a small gardening enterprise run by an old Portuguese agriculturist, now in his 70’s. We met him coming up the road, peeling an orange from one of his trees as he walked. He told us sadly that his gardening days was coming to an end, both his age and European bureaucracy had meant it wasn’t viable any more. He took us to see the last of his trees, rows of beautifully kept olives, figs, pomegranates , amongst others, all grafted onto a strong rootstock by his own capable hands. They will be his legacy, living and producing fruit long after he goes to the great garden in the sky. He invited us to choose a tree and I chose a quince, or Marmelo. They are used here to make a special jam paste called Marmelada, which I have hitherto only eaten in posh restaurants with cheese. I wish I could have spoken better Portuguese to tap some of his wonderful knowledge. I have planted the quince in my orchard and named it after him, Señor M’s Marmeleiro, I am sure it will grow beautifully for many years to come, a tribute to him and the skills learnt in a lifetime gardening.


A quince tree

Along the valleys near here, huge areas are being cleared for orange groves, likewise the hillsides for carob plantations, the old ways are making way for the new ones. There are threats of golf courses on areas where almond trees have thrived since Roman times. Times must change and so will the farming practices.

The Algarve has  been cultivated for generations and all of its landscape has been affected by human intervention from time immemorial. And so it will continue. We can only hope the young ones have learnt from their grandparents and the rich knowledge and understanding of the trees and plants here, probably handed down from Roman times and the Moors won’t be lost forever.


Donna Galinha, or Mrs Chicken, who’s decided she’s better things to do than sit on eggs!

Oh-Oh, I’ve lost the plot!



Beautiful weeds


Help! My garden is out of control. In short, I have  lost the plot. About  six weeks ago it rained for a whole week nonstop. The weeds loved it. They looked very pretty dotted around the garden, in fact you can scarcely call them weeds, some of them, such as Chrysanthemum Coronium, Borage, Mallow or wild Delphinium, you would pay money for in a garden centre. Then we  had lots of lovely visitors for a few weeks, so we spent our days lazing around, commenting on how pretty the weeds were over a glass of Alentejo red. Then we went to Spain for a week, to admire Moorish gardens and exclaim at the Sierra Nevada. We came back to mayhem.

To some extent I like weeds, see my previous post here:


But the weeds are unruly and unfettered. The dandelions blow fairies all over my vegetable garden; the rye grass, so pretty in the evening sunlight, has no respect for the needs of the fruit trees growing amongst it and greedily robs them of water and nutrients; the thistles tower above my newly planted shrubs and to top it all, Senor Faztudo has hay fever of the worst kind. So he is sneezing and coughing and spluttering and I am wringing my hands and wailing as the roses disappear amongst the triffids.

At times like this it’s hard not to panic. It’s been bone dry for six weeks. The soil has turned to dust. My cabbages and kohl rabbi and broccoli have stopped growing  because it’s too hot. and Señor Faztudo is muttering about the cost of a turnip. He reckons they have cost us about five euros each in water. “Yes, but they’re organic”, I reason. He looks at me darkly.

I make a cup of tea, sit on my favourite piece of the wall and try to count my blessings. Which are many. For one, I have this beautiful garden and time to devote to it. Parts of it are looking good already after a year. Quite a few things are still alive and some are even thriving. The gravel mulch technique  works well, with little water.


The gravel mulch terrace

My herb garden is taking shape. We have eaten broad eans, peas, turnips and greens from the garden all Spring. And the chickens have laid an egg each every day. True,  the carrots were contorted into all kinds of twists and turns and for some strange reason and  beetroot, one of the easiest vegetables  in the world to grow, won’t form roots, but the Jerusalem artichokes my sister sent me from England are three feet high and the globe artichokes are doing well. We lost one of our mango trees and yet another Bougainvillea bit the dust, but we won’t let that get us down. Mostly.


Globe artichokes in Gravel mulch


Some days though, it’s hard in the garden. The sun beats down on your head and the dust gets up your nose. The ticks which inhabit the tall grass crawl up your trouser legs and your cherished seedlings, which you’ve nurtured through a long winter shrivel up. I am writing this blog in the hope that in years to come, I will be able to look back at the journey of making this garden and celebrate the the trials as well as the tribulations.

I have cheered myself up by visiting the local Chinese supermarket. They abound in the Algarve region and are similar to pound shops in the UK.  They have everything for sale and my intention was to buy some organza bags, the sort you put wedding favours in, to protect our fruit from mediterranean fruit fly.

Ceratitis capitata, the Mediterranean fruit fly, causes huge damage to a wide range of fruit crops. It is native to the Mediterranean area, but has spread to many parts of the world, including Australia and the Americas

Adult medflies lay their eggs under the skins of fruit and the eggs hatch within three days, the larvae developing inside the fruit. Last year, as soon as the peaches on our young trees became ripe, they were all ruined by the fruit fly. I am not prepared to use pesticides, so have bought the bags to tie around the fruit in the hope it will keep the fly out.

I must say that as I tied the pretty bags to the peach tree, I aroused considerable curiousity from passers by. Several of the Donnas walked back and forward a few times giving me sideways glances. I expect they think I am indulging in some sort of weird Welsh tree dressing custom, but the proof of the pudding will be in the perfect peaches. I have left a few unbagged as a control. It has recently come to light that bees are dying in the winter due to the use of pesticides, so I am hoping that by doing this and having such splendiforous weeds in my garden, Iam doing my bit for the bee populations in the area.


Fruit Fly protection

Around the garden, the area outside the front door is looking pretty, with some Malope “Trifida Vulcan” grown from Sarah Raven’s seeds given to me by a friend and many of the cuttings and succulents donated by a neighbour with a beautiful gardening have rooted. I hope I can nurture them through the fierce heat to come.


Maolpe “Trifida Vulcan”


I have very little shade in my garden yet and this is proving to be a problem for new plants. We have planted many young trees and shrubs and I can’t wait for them to grow to provide more shaded areas. It’s confusing to me to have to put succulents in the shade to help them grow faster in the hottest months, and certainly ivy leafed geraniums and true geraniums cant take full sun. and thrive. Someone described July and August as a fifth season, when everything goes to sleep and this notion has been helpful to me.

So, back to the grindstone. I think it was Rudyard Kipling who said “Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful!’ and sitting in the shade.” But Gwynnie doesn’t seem to know that.


Gwynnie the cat.

Gwynnie the cat.

Gardening in Portugal – Time to stand and stare



Gardening is a solitary business and on the whole, most of us gardeners like it that way. There is a solace in walking up and down, bending and stretching, stopping to listen to the birds, to admire the view or to gaze at an emerging plant. When I was young, for homework once, I had to learn this poem by W.H. Davies (I have left some verses out, for the sake of brevity)

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—

No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

It’s a trifle twee as poetry goes, but as I work on my garden tasks, I often remind myself of the lines, and take the time to stop and look around me. Mostly I am pleased with the way the garden is developing and feel happy and at peace with the surroundings. But some mornings, I stand and stare and feel desperate. Will we ever turn this side of the hill into a beautiful garden? Can it really be done? When I’m in this mood, I mooch around from one job to the next, never feeling I’ve achieved anything. In the end, I sit down, have a cup of tea and feel very discouraged. The problem for me is the fact that it is such early days. The fruit trees are tiny, the flowers aren’t flowering yet, not all the hard landscaping has been done, I can’t afford the things I need. In short, I have days where I find it hard to count my blessings.

However, recently help has been at hand. I have had a very encouraging weekend and feel renewed and refreshed. I have said before, I miss my gardening community from the allotment in South London. Chats over the fence about gardening have always sustained me and encouraged me. I started to write this blog as a way of recording the progress in the garden. I could have made it private, but then, reading about permaculture led me to one of its principles that I readily agree with. Share your garden. Share what you produce and share what you learn. It’s a simple idea and an easy way of doing something positive for the world. When I was young, I thought the way to make things better which were wrong had to be big things. Now I realise it is the little things around us that make a difference. I have found, to my amazement that there are hundreds if not thousands of gardeners out there on the internet, sharing their gardening experiences. And they are all prepared to chat to you over the virtual fence. How wonderful is that? Gardeners have begun supporting me by adding comments to my blog and I have been reading theirs and learning all sorts of new things.
In the real world (and I’m not saying the Internet isn’t real, just distinguishing between this and the other) we visited a book launch hosted by the Algarve branch of the Mediterranean Garden Society of a new Field guide to the Wild Flowers of the Algarve, published by Kew Gardens. The distinguished authors of the book spoke to us about their long research and how lucky we were to be living in an area which is very special for its floral diversity. Indeed, there are so many wild orchids yards from my front gate, you can’t avoid treading on them as you walk. There is a new association for the MGS in Portugal and they held their first AGM at the same time.


The book launch was held at Quinta de Figuerinha, near Silves, a guest house and ecology centre, nestled on the side of one of those magic hidden valleys you come upon, here in the countryside inland. Before the talk we wandered through the gardens, marvelling at the avocado trees in full fruit and a large Indian Neem tree, orchards of organic citrus and many other trees all of which weren’t there 25 years ago.


I doubt if I have twenty five years left to live, but it’s still inspiring to think that the trees that you are planting now, may be such a beautiful legacy for the next generation. I think this is why the farmers here on this hill and in the valley below treat their trees with such reverence. Many were planted by their fathers, grandfathers or even great great great grandfathers. They produce all their wealth in some cases and many an hour is spent under their branches picking carobs or knocking almonds or olives from them. There is an intimate relationship with every tree.


The next day, a new gardening friend and I swopped gardening visits for the first time. She has a large garden in a beautiful setting and has been working at it for a long time, albeit intermittently as time allowed her. Her artist’s eye had created a tapestry of different colours and shapes which blended beautifully into the vistas surrounding her house. Daisies threaded throughout prostate rosemaries, swan’s neck agaves beaming their antennae-like central spike up towards the sky. She gave me a young pomegranate tree. If we live long enough, I hope we will one day sit under its shade and my garden will look half as beautiful as hers. She said to me as we walked around her creation “What would I do if it was finished?” as though the thought frightened her. This gave me a new perspective. Of course, it’s the journey, not the destination that matters.

So, I return to the garden replenished and try to enjoy the journey, learn to love the weeds as my friend, attempt patience with the slow growth of plants and my losses and failures and believe that it all is moving on as it should. I have punctuated this blog with pictures of flowers taken in the surrounding area to remind me to stand and stare more often.


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