By STUART MERELIE
OTHER THAN being stuck in the office writing this article on a bank holiday, I think I am one of the luckier people living in the Algarve because I am doing something that I love. Gardening adopted me, grabbed me by the collar and rubbed my nose in it. From the age of five, I used to help my father with his rock garden in Newcastle (in winter, in my shorts). I remember I used to get so numb, and I think those winter days knocked the loose change off my IQ.
Winter or summer, the tasks in gardens are always different. Whereas Titmarsh, Dimmock and crew have started calling your garden an extra room, I have always contemplated having to go back into the house as being claustrophobic and the end of playtime.
In my previous articles, I have always stressed the need to change the climate in your own garden, to modify paths and make areas more interesting and, yes, make the garden tell a story.
Trees are the integral part of this plan, the pillars in your new outside room, your roof giving shade and your ongoing vintage required to create an established garden. How many of you are pruning back the Lantanas or Oleanders so they look the same as last month or last year? Pruning in a garden should be considered either a luxury or a result of bad planting – limited pruning to keep small annuals and perennials in flower is accepted though.
It is this spontaneous seeding and adapting to unyielding ground that always brings a question or two in early spring. “What is that magnificent pink/purple flowering tree by the side of the road?”
Ah, well, that is one of the prettiest trees in the Algarve and growing prolifically on the road up to Monchique – Cercis siliquastrum. Cercis comes from the Greek word for tree, kerkis, and siliquastrum refer to pods or fruits that have partitions. A native of Europe, it will quickly grow up to around 10 metres tall. In France, the tree was known as the tree from Judaea, an area in the Middle East. One man, who I guess did not appreciate the tree’s magnificent qualities, was the late Judas Iscariot, who, it is believed, hung himself from one – hence its epithet “The Judas Tree”. It can be easily cultivated from collected seed or from root saplings.
There do seem to be a lot of readers who do not like pink flowers, which is very unfortunate if you come to QM in late summer. Chorisia speciosa, the Floss Silk Tree throws a vast area of shade at the start of the seventh hole on my crazy golf course and can grow up to 30 metres or more is height. Native to South America, its trunk is studded with thick spines and is green in youth, but turns grey with age. The blooms are like narrow petaled Hibiscus flowers. It gets badly damaged by frost, but returns quickly in spring. It does have a fairly large canopy, so lots of room is needed, and its leaves and flowers do seem to find themselves everywhere.
Well worth a visit in late September is the royal garden next to the cathedral in Seville, Spain, which boasts two of the tallest examples of the Floss Silk Tree – they have to be seen to be believed!
Less colourful trees that are worthy of a mention, include the Cinnamomum camphora, the Camphor Tree. Native to Japan, the true camphor is an impressive tree reaching up to 15 metres in height. However, it grows better as a multi stemmed thick shrub. If you crush the leaves and add water, it makes a very good medicinal substitute for Vicks.
Its glossy Ficus like leaves are evergreen and it will renew its leaves in spring. I like to plant it hard up against narrow paths and drives so it gets crushed or brushed against for its fabulous fragrance. Definitely a must have for any interesting garden.
Any visitor to Seville who sees the Chorisia speciosa, will also be aware of the tall Seville orange. While it is the poor relation to all well cultivated sweet citrus trees, Citrus aurantium is quite a stunner in gardens where you need height and elegance, and its extracts are widely used in aromatherapy to suppress appetite and aid weight loss. Well used in courtyards, they can be viewed at heights of five metres or so, appearing almost as soldiers guarding a pleasant seating area or walkway.
Cydonia oblonga, the fruiting Quince, with its pink spring flowers is another Algarvean blockbuster, and is often confused with the pinky purple flowers of the Judas Tree. Seen commonly along roadsides, this wild fruit tree is spectacular. Gnarled and twisted when out of flower in the winter, it throws a subtle canopy of dark green leaves.
In cultivation, quickly remove any low sucker branches, which drain the strength of the tree. The Quince also enjoys the odd frost, so it is a really good addition to the gardens of those readers who live in the odd frost pocket.
All trees mentioned in this article are available from QM Garden Centre and readers are invited to visit. It is located on the road in between Santa Bárbara de Nêxe and Estoi. For visitors further away, leave the Algarve motorway at Junction 14 (signposted São Brás/ Faro) and turn left immediately then; after 500m, left again. The 18-hole crazy golf course and 18-hole putting green are now both fully open, complementing the existing lawn bowling club and table tennis centre. A family ticket for the Crazy Golf is a very reasonable 10 euros and, for the hot weather, there are plenty of ice creams and soft drinks available. QM is open from 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday, and 10am to 6pm Saturday and Sunday. Telephone 289 999 613. Clubs, groups and schools welcome.