By STUART MERELIE
I THINK I received one of the best gardening tips last week. Shall I share it with you? “The best way to garden in the Algarve is to put on a wide brimmed straw hat and some old clothes. With a hoe in one hand, a cold drink in the other tell someone else where to dig.”
Sorry, but that is my celebration of the end of nine weeks of hot, hot weather. A quick rain storm in the middle of September, followed by four days of not-too-hot, not-too-cold weather, and now it is that puzzling time of year, when you end up sitting on someone’s terrace mid-evening, in shorts, freezing.
The prolonged period of high temperatures has delayed the release of flowers on my mature Chorisia speciosa, the Floss silk tree and centre piece of the QM Crazy Golf Course. Virtually all plants have a time clock. When the temperature and amount of light is to their timing, flowering occurs. Soil quality and watering only affect the quality of the flowering period.
One of the most interesting fruit trees at this time of late summer/early autumn is Diospyros kaki, or Persimmon. As well as being full of large sweet tomato like fruit, the leaves have turned a bright red and have started to drop, leaving this almost absurd bare tree full of bent branches and fruit.
Ants do tend to have a love affair with the fruit, so pick early and ripen off in a safe spot.
The tree itself will grow up to five or six metres in height, but I find a hard prune every year or second year, removing a metre or so off the ends of the branches, keeps it tighter and more capable of carrying the heavy fruit.
Anther little gem of a tree is the Erythrina crita galli, Cockspur Coral Tree. It is native of South America and often seen as a street tree along the southern costas east of Malaga, in Spain.
It grows to three or four metres tall and the trunk and branches have thick thorns. It produces masses of terminal racemes, 30 to 45cm long, of brilliant scarlet flowers, each flower 4cm long. They appear in flushes throughout late spring and early summer giving a dazzling effect.
During the winter, the stems will die back, almost worryingly, and up to a third of the tree may be lost. Once the new growth has started in spring, these dead branches should be cut away.
Fagus sylvatica, the European Beech, is an interesting addition to an Algarve garden. Although strictly deciduous, the brown leaves generally stay put through winter. I am not advocating that you try and replicate England with a brown hedge, but rather use it as a single specimen as a wow factor in the back of your arboretum. The wood from commercially grown Beech in Europe is used for parquet flooring and furniture. During the Second World War, the Germans tried to use Beech leaves as a substitute for tobacco, and a mixture was served to the army, but (surprisingly) proved a failure.
Another tree to feature in the Second World War was the Ginkgo biloba, the Maidenhair tree. On August 6, 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima by the Americans. The plants and trees in the area around the epicentre were examined in September 1945.
The Ginkgo that was situated near a temple, around 1.1km away from the blast centre, appeared to bud after the blast, without any major deformations. The temple itself was destroyed. While rebuilding the temple, the planners considered transplanting or cutting down the Ginkgo. In 1994, it was decided to leave the tree and build the temple around it, protecting the Ginkgo. Engraved on the tree is “No more Hiroshima”.
The Maidenhair tree is the only living representative left of the family of Ginkgoaceae, and fossils of its leaves go back over 270 million years.
The tree is widely known for its medicinal properties, and is widely used in California on motorways to absorb pollution. While it is an interesting tree, its flowers are insignificant and growth is slow. Pay a lot of attention to training and staking the tree to avoid wind damage or bowing over.
A must have for your garden is the gracious Gleditzia triacanthos, the Honey locust tree. Our version at QM is a variety called “sunburst” that starts out in spring with dark green leaves that slowly change to a clear yellow by autumn. It normally has a short trunk with an open spreading crown – one of the few trees ideal for a lawn. A word of warning though, its seeds are like bullets, mind the mower!
It is important to use different plants and trees like these in your garden. Your ideas, inspirations and lifestyle should dictate how your garden looks and feels.
In a recent survey by New Eden magazine, it discovered that one in four women preferred gardening to sex. Gentlemen beware of this growing, or should I say renewed interest, in gardening! Life, as they say, is not all a bed of roses though and, like romance, you should take time to familiarise yourself with the new sport of gardening before you take the plunge. Mind you don’t throw your back out.
All trees mentioned in this article are available at 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, exit 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. Sunday is available for clubs, teams and groups to use by appointment. Telephone 289 999 613. Schools welcome. Guided tours available.