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Gardens for wildlife

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There are more than 1,000 new gardens created every year in the Algarve. Each one represents an opportunity to support the local environment but, regrettably, not everyone takes that long-term view.

Some want a status symbol, or a recreation of the garden they have seen somewhere on holiday. A garden is more than just something to look pretty and be tended on a regular basis; it is home for one range of wildlife and a feeding ground for even more.

Insects and small animals need certain plants to live on. Migrating birds need particular plants and flowers. When we pull them up, thinking they are just weeds and not worth anything, we are destroying part of the ecological chain that keeps these creatures alive.

There are similar effects from the use of chemical fertilisers and insecticides and, unfortunately, many of us forget, or do not make the effort, to use the many excellent biological and natural alternatives that are available. There is also poor use of exotic plants and not enough understanding about those that suit the local environment.

Plants that make the difference

In your Algarve garden, of the 6,000 endemic species of Mediterranean plants, of which 3,000 are rare, you should be able to find all of the native plants listed here. These plants, and the huge choice of other indigenous plants, ensure that we provide the right ingredients to attract as much Algarve wildlife into our gardens as possible; the sight and sound of which is an immense pleasure.

At the same time, planting these species will conserve our precious water supply and aid the fertilisation of our gardens:

Pistacia lentiscus (Aroeira, Lentiso) Mastic tree, Lentisc – An evergreen growing to 4m in thickets which can be formed into neat balls or left wild. Yellow and reddish flowers with red fruit ripening to black.

Retama shaerocarpa (Piorno-amarelo) Genista – Deciduous, branchy shrub no more than 2m high, yellow flowers most of the year and fruits of globous pods.

Myrtus communis (Murta) Mytrle – Evergreen, branchy shrub up to 5m high growing in shady places. Aromatic, small white flowers, fruits are dark blue berries.

Lavendula luisieri (Rozeira) Iberian short-stalked Lavender – Aromatic evergreen growing upto 60cm high with purplish petals in dense spikes. Likes rocks and dry places.

Cistus ladanifer (Esteva) Gum cistus – All of the Cistaceae family is good for wildlife, this variety is evergreen growing to 2m with big white flowers. The Purple cistus, with bright flowers and thick green foliage, is smaller growing to 60cm and loves rocky gardens.

Atriplex halimus (Salgadeira) Atriplex – 2m high evergreen with an unusual ‘wirey’ growth with flowers from June to December. A plant that loves salt and that survives well without water.

Tamarix Africana Poiret (Tamargueira) African Tamarisk – A deciduous shrub growing to 3m high, long and fine leaves with ‘fluffy’ pinkish white flowers. Salt resistant.

Nerium Oleander (Loendro) Oleander – An evergreen shrub rising to 4 or 5 m high with an array of long thin leaves (toxic), dark green and light green beneath with big, rosy or white flowers, and follicle fruit.

Your local nursery will probably sell packs of mixed seeds of grass and wild flowers (indigenous plants that some call ‘weeds’), with which you can experiment in a small area of your garden. These plants will provide colour and interest all year round as well as a home for many animals. They will use less water and will be better adapted to the climate. Leave the area to grow wild and see the difference it can make!