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Everything gardens


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Stuart Merelie, owner of QM Crazy Golf, Garden and Leisure Centre, shares his passion for correct and sustainable landscaping in the Algarve and is The Resident’s permanent garden and landscaping correspondent. This week is the fifth in a series of six entitled Stunning gardens without water.

WELL, IT seemed a long hot summer and I managed to escape with my two daughters to the sierras just west of Granada for a couple of weeks. Love or hate Spain, you can but admire the industry that is practised on what the rest of Europe would consider barren land.

Hills and valleys are full of olives, standing on slopes facing all points of the compass on hard stony white limestone ground. Barely a weed interrupted rippling vista of olives, which are broken occasionally by dirt tracks and the odd whitewashed finca (farmhouse). The local bar hummed with expatriates practising their poor Spanish and fluent drinking abilities in the heat of the midday sun.

Fine words come from poets and travel writers who penned A Year in Provence and Driving Over Lemons Et Al but not from me and I remember why I am here (not in Spain but in The Resident).

Is permaculture, the design for carbon neutral living, a design for a sustainable life? Well, I found the endless slopes of olives a little disappointing. Monoculture is defined on the internet encyclopaedia website, wikipedia.org, as the planting of the same crop over a wide area. As history tends to repeat itself, we could perhaps take heed from the problems caused with the failure of the potato crop in Ireland in 1845 and the widespread death of vines due to the Phylloxera virus in the late 19th Century.

Today, large lawns, concentrated production of animals and wheat fields often suffer from this single cultivar production method.

Two of the few hot weather gems are the Carissa macrocarpa, which grows without water by dirt tracks and the Capparis spinosa, which is a caper plant found growing out of south facing dry stone walls.

Modern selective weed killers, pesticides and fungicides can take care of a lot of these problems but please remember that these chemicals that cure all the monoculture problems also wipe out the natural nutrients that have for hundreds of years actually cured and enriched the land that these plants grow in, given us natural remedies, allowed us to breath fresh air and live hay fever free.

Lovely weeds

So where do we, in the Algarve, come into this equation? How can we make gardens that maintain their own ability to produce crops? The answer is to love weeds. Oh yes, a man of many years of many spray guns just said that. Weeds are among the most useful of plants. Not only are many of them edible, attractive in spring and useful to creatures other than humans, but they tend to be very rich in minerals. That is because their roots draw up nutrients from the soil, which are released to improve the topsoil as leaf fall.

I now pull up the larger weeds in my garden and either use them as green mulch around the trees immediately or snap them into my compost heap. Weeds also have another important use as dynamic accumulators. This is the name given to plants with a particular ability to enrich soil. To accumulate a particular mineral is characteristic of a plant which successfully lives on ground deficient in that nutrient. Many of the processes by which these minerals are stored take place in the living soil below ground.

The dew from the terrace at my farm creates a moist bed below the terrace. The weeds are removed and shredded for compost and the area will be planted with winter vegetables such as cabbage and beetroot.

To take full advantage of these rather large weeds growing in the most inconvenient of places, wait until they are dieing, remove to the compost bin and use the exact space where the weeds were to plant. Remember, everything we do alters nature, from walking through a forest and crushing a seed under your boot, to planting a tree, moving soil to build a house. It is all worthy of slow careful consideration.

Think carefully

One of the main principles of Bill Mollison, an Australian who introduced the world to his principles of permaculture in the late 1970s, is to make the least possible change to create the biggest positive effect. If everything we do is thought out carefully, studied over a good length of time, then we can get back a lot more than we put in. Planting a tree isn’t just to see it flower once a year – it can provide shade, provide a habitat for birds, who in turn fertilize the ground, provide shade for plants underneath, or ourselves on a hot day, a wind break, a firebreak, firewood, fencing poles, and more.

The yield is only limited by our own imagination. We really can’t continue to build towns and developments at lightening speed; we might end up like Spain with new towns bordered by a dusty desert landscape planted with olive trees and bisected with rubbish strewn motorways. This is certainly not landscaping as I know it.

Stuart is stepping down as managing director of QM Garden Centre at the end of the year to give him time to study for a diploma in Permaculture design. He is currently building a low impact farm and his ambition is to live “off the grid” being self sufficient in water, light and heating systems.

QM Garden Centre is located on the road in between Sta 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.(direction M.A.R.F. past this and continue straight on) The 18 hole crazy golf course and lawn bowling rink are open all year round. QM is open from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday and 10am to 3pm Saturday. Telephone 289 999 613. With 23 years experience in garden design and construction, Stuart is available for design, consultation and construction of all types of landscaping. For inquiries please contact Stuart on 917 814 261.