Gardening in the Algarve

By Marilyn Ribeiro

Dear readers, welcome to the new regular gardening column. You can expect plant-related facts, anecdotes, history, news and curiosities. The focus will be firmly on Mediterranean-climate species and how they can be employed in our gardens, but there may be occasional deviations – the world of plants is vast, and I have not found a corner of it I did not like.

I want to start, however, by making a clear statement of intent. The challenges of gardening in our punishing climate are great – hot, dry and windy for much of the year; unpredictable doses of torrential rain in winter. Thus we often turn to “life support” to sustain our plants: thousands of cubic metres of water per year; chemicals for everything from pest-killing to fertilising.

However, quite apart from the expense, the damage to dwindling water supplies is considerable, while chemical treatments can leave gardens sterile and have serious effects on the natural landscape that surrounds us. I believe we have an opportunity, even a responsibility, to reduce the cost – to our purses and to the environment.

If you have read any of the recent articles in the Algarve Resident showcasing gardens where lawns have been reduced or eliminated, you will know that there are numerous alternatives – whether your desire is to add visual interest, encourage wildlife, improve a children’s play area, or simply to reduce your water bill. So why don’t we see them more often?

The range of garden-worthy Mediterranean plants is huge, but many of them die if they are irrigated in the summer. Naturally, these species lose favour with landscapers who work with permanent irrigation. Those of us lucky enough to find a true Mediterranean plant may have it die almost instantly and assume they are not suited to our conditions. However, it is more likely we have “killed them with kindness”: too much water, feeding, or other mollycoddling.

Naturally enough, when error seems to be the usual result of our trials, we stick to what we know – water, fertiliser, a “safe” range of plants – but there are a few guidelines that will help you create a more dynamic, sustainable, money- and labour-saving garden.

For our forthcoming how-to section with common-sense tips, I invite all of you to send me your particular garden issues and I will do my best to find straightforward solutions.

From California to Australia; from aspirational to inspirational; from tips for growing herbs on a balcony to where to source trees for the driveway to a millionaire mansion – I sincerely hope you enjoy the journey.

Jobs for July

The summer seems to have finally taken centre stage, after teasing us from the wings for the last many weeks. Keep an eye on potted plants; they may be drying up faster than you think. On the other hand, do check that drainage holes are not blocked; standing water around roots will often kill quicker than drought. Weeds are appearing but hoeing them off in the morning allows the midday sun to quickly dry them out. Conversely, choose a cool, cloudy day to trim hedges. New growth is slowing now in evergreens such as Viburnum tinus and a trim at this time of year will keep the hedge looking smart through the summer. Roses and other repeat-flowering shrubs, such as marguerites, can be deadheaded to encourage more blooms – at times, this seems like a constant task, but it is one I find therapeutic rather than boring.

|| Plant of the Week

Thymbra capitata – Wild thyme/Tomilho-bravo

|| Guess what this is

We will accept just the genus for this one but we would like Latin, please! Correct answers will be put in a draw to win a free garden consultation and plant suggestion list.

[email protected]

|| [email protected]

Marilyn Medina Ribeiro has degrees in Graphic Design and Landscape Management and has worked in nurseries, parks and private gardens. In 2008, she moved to the Algarve, managing hotel gardens and later founding her own company to promote sustainable land management.

[email protected]