Jan and Nigel Chapman were interviewed by Rosie Peddle
from the Mediterranean Garden Society – Algarve
Did you ever want a lawn in your garden?
No. We started our garden in the spring of 2004 after the build of our house was completed. The existing trees in the land around our house were very important to us and continue to contribute in a very strong way to the garden. We live in the barrocal in the eastern Algarve and have carob, olive and almond trees; we never considered having a lawn.
What were your reasons for not having one?
The climate, the need to water any lawn area copiously, and then mow it.
What are your basic intentions for the garden?
To create a garden that looks natural and blends with the surrounding landscape. Overall, the garden is wildlife friendly, we use no pesticides and selectively weed-kill only on drives and pathway areas. We aim to encourage all wildlife, including insects, birds and the native wild flowers. Fertilising is done with horse and sheep manure, either used dry or as a liquid feed. I use neem oil for pest control.
We have made extensive use of gravel, sometimes with a weed suppressant textile. The gravel associates particularly well with the bedrock and the rocks left over from our building project – great material for giving impact in the garden.
Do you want low maintenance/drought resistant planting?
Yes, most definitely. We have tried mainly to use plants that will survive with the minimum of watering. We use grey water where possible, for instance, washing up water goes on the garden and the washing machine connects to a hose which also goes to the garden. When plants are established we reduce or remove the irrigation.
Maintenance includes removing dead and dry plant material, and pruning native plants to shape near paths and in the more formal areas of the garden, near the house for example. Early Christmas presents for ourselves were a chain saw and a pick axe!
What are your future plans for the garden?
To continue to develop drought resistant plantings and maintain what we have. We will continue to make extensive use of ornamental grasses as they work very well in the context of the wider landscape around us.
We remove or cut down on irrigation when and where possible. We also “shred and spread” – shredded prunings being used as a mulch to keep burning down to an absolute minimum. Mulching also preserves moisture in the soil. We compost all soft material and use it as a soil improver and for pots and containers.
Was it easy to find good plants for your garden here in the Algarve?
Yes. Approximately half of all our plants have been propagated by us from cuttings and seeds. Other plants have been increased by splitting each year and replanting. For example, the iris used throughout the garden have all come from an original clump found near our local bins! We aim to increase our stock of the plants that work in this soil and climate, replicating successful plants.
Our neighbour has a small plant nursery which grows tough plants at a good price. Through the garden clubs, we have found many more on the monthly plant sales tables. The MGS Garden Fair in November is an excellent source of a wide range of plants suitable for the Algarve.
It was a great pleasure to find that our garden won the Eco Garden of the Year award in the competition run by local garden clubs. This was awarded for the most environmentally and wildlife friendly garden. We now have different areas linked by meandering paths, with elements of surprise and a sense of fun. The garden is a constant source of interest for us both, an opportunity for artistic expression and enjoyment – we are never bored!
Jan and Nigel Chapman are friends of the Mediterranean Garden Society – Algarve. For more information about the Society, please call 289 791 869 or email [email protected] Also visit www.gardeninginportugal.com.