Once again, we can celebrate the start of the new gardening year. Much has changed, but our love of plants and gardens has been enormously sustaining through past months of confinement and uncertainty.
There are huge sweeping changes currently happening for home gardeners – are you taking a barefoot walk on the wild side, enjoying your weeds, welcoming wildflowers and wild creatures into your garden? Perhaps you are a lover of the formal, craving straight edges, tidiness, and neatness? Or are you, like most of us, falling somewhere in-between?
Whatever your preferred shade of green, gardeners tend to like the outdoor life in general. Garden design and land management is turning away from formal gardens with unsustainable huge lawns to the ground-breaking designs of ecology-minded people like Beth Chatto and Dan Pearson. We’re seeing a return to a more natural style, rewilding our gardens and doing without complicated irrigation systems, without chemicals, and welcoming nature into our lives.
Fortunately, many plant nurseries are changing their range to reflect demands for more native and climate-compatible plant choices. We are lucky that here in the Algarve there are many small, family-run nurseries which propagate their own range of plants.
The Mediterranean Garden Fairs have been giving the nurseries and gardeners an opportunity to come together and see the plants on offer on one site – approximately 20 plant nurseries in one place at autumn and spring garden fairs.
This month is the start of the gardening year in Mediterranean climate zones, so from now on conditions are ideal. The soil is still warm, so plants settle in quickly, dewy mornings mean less irrigation and root systems have a chance to establish well before the heat of next summer.
It’s important to plant now any bulk plantings, hedges, deciduous trees and shrubs, climbers, perennials and groundcover – in fact, everything benefits from an early autumn planting, and you’ll notice it by their ability to cope with the heat of next summer. Mix in your own compost to encourage root growth.
Berries: plants that produce fruit and berries are a great way to encourage wildlife into the garden. Some shrubs to try – Pistacia lentiscus, Rhamnus alaternus, pyracantha, duranta, cotoneaster, viburnum and the rugosa roses with their big fat hips. Berrying trees – melia, Schinus molle and prunus avium or wild cherry.
Rewilding: the movement to ‘greener’ gardens is definitely growing with a move away from formality and perfection to a more relaxed style of gardening creating wildlife havens. As leaves begin to fall, leave them on garden beds to rot down. Rake them off paths and add them to your compost heap or store them in sacks.
Moisten the contents now and again and the leaves will slowly breakdown forming leaf mould, a super-rich feed for your plants. And clean leaves off tiny succulents and away from plants like phormiums where their dampness could rot the plants. One last leaf no-no; do not compost or store leaves that are infected in any way. Things like mildew, black spot, rust can all be spread in this way. Pine needles and conifer trimmings should be stored separately. They take much longer to rot down and can be used as a direct mulch around acid-loving plants.
Finally, if you are scratching your head over a problem in the garden or cannot identify a special plant – come along to the garden fair and take advantage of our Plant Clinic crewed by MGAP members. If we do not know the answer, we can at least offer a sympathetic response!
By Rosie Peddle
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