by Clive Goodacre [email protected]
Clive Goodacre has over 30 years practical gardening experience in the UK and Portugal including running a garden centre, landscaping, and contributing monthly features on gardening matters to the Algarve Goodlife magazine.
Outdoor living is one of the main features of Algarve living and therefore your patio and garden areas need careful consideration with regard to use of resources – particularly water.
We can help by planting trees and shrubs that reduce CO2 and create microclimates that protect our homes from wind and sun.
Even cloaking a cisterna in climbers stops extremes of hot and cold water while preventing algae build up through excessive temperatures.
Irrigation and hand watering are essential for most gardens here unless you don’t have pots and only use plants suited to a wild Mediterranean landscape. But gardens need to be tuned to realistic watering levels, not the other way round.
How to save costs
If you are planning a new garden then balance landscaping and planting against how it will perform, how much it will consume and how much it will cost to maintain.
Plants grow rapidly here – a 1.5m high palm tree such as Washingtonia can easily double its size in under five years. Climbers like Podranea ricasoliana can grow 10m in three years and cloak an entire wall.
Large plants supplied in pots do not grow as quickly as smaller fresher plants put straight in the ground. Mature palms and trees in large containers do not have the spread and vigour of those allowed to adapt and grow from young specimens.
Many plants quickly multiply – succulents like Aloe aborescens for example – so don’t buy plants to fill an area from day one.
Ensure plants do not have access to drains, foundations and swimming pool components. This does not mean your patio has to be a minimalist desert, however.
Incorporate hardscaped planters within new garden schemes. Provide areas for large pots to stand without getting in the way.
Build irrigation pipes and drainage into new patios and hardscaping so containers can be added as required rather than creating no-go zones for plants or areas that become badly stained.
The most expensive item to maintain in your new or existing garden is a lawn which needs manpower, fertilisers and water. So forget the long sweeping lawns found in Northern Europe.
If you want lawns then design them so they are concentrated and surrounded by contrasting material like gravel or groundcover to give maximum impact.
A small circle of well kept lawn framed by a border of succulents or bedding plants has far more impact than a rough area of struggling grass meandering round the garden.
Choose grass suited to our climate even if it does not give you a bowling green effect – practicality and water consumption come first.
Reduce costs and maintenance by keeping areas of larger gardens natural. Don’t landscape every inch if you can help it.
Create a layered garden leading away from the house to wild areas that can be bare in summer and filled with wild flowers in spring. If you are lucky enough to have existing trees like carob, olive, mastic and even areas of maquis then try and incorporate it in new schemes as it will need little or no maintenance.
Mulch is, of course, another important cost and resource-saver in our climate and there are many options. Pebbles and britta (crushed limestone) laid over a water permeable membrane are a good choice for contrasting areas while tree bark and shredded garden waste conserve moisture while blending in better with borders.
Raked bare earth under waterwise trees and shrubs gives a natural look and allows underplanting to spread.
Existing gardens can be made more ecologically sound and often improved by taking a few simple measures: Use established trees as shade areas for storing potted plants that have flowered or are ‘resting’; make sure every plant in a regular water zone is earning its keep – be ruthless; cut back irrigation times on mature garden areas; swap sprays for dribblers that deliver water directly to each plant; split irrigation zones where watering has been ‘averaged’ for groupings of plants with different water needs; and cut back hard established oleander, myoporum, melaleuca and other hedging to revitalise them and provide new vistas from time to time..
We cannot control the larger ecological picture, but we can control the area around our homes which collectively can play its part in the overall scheme of things.
In the same way that many animal species only survive in zoos, then so do many plants only exist in cultivation. Gardens are the ‘lungs’ for many cities and conurbations as well as refuges for wildlife.
In the Algarve, we have a wealth of wild flowers that are very sensitive to herbicides and excessive watering. We have to stop ‘weed killing’ everything that does not fit in with our view of manicured gardening and avoid drenching every plant as though it were growing in a London suburban garden. It’s that simple!