How relaxing is your garden?

By Marilyn Medina Ribeiro

If you saw the column at the beginning of August, starting a mini-series about how to keep cool in the garden, you may recall that one of the key elements invoked, along with shade and water, was ‘repose’. This is somewhat abstract and all-encompassing, but it is perhaps the fundamental point in creating a space in which you can sit down, relax, and forget the outside world.

The key is to ensure the work: rest balance. How much time do you spend mowing the lawn, watering, weeding, pruning, hedge cutting, deadheading? Do these tasks give you pleasure? If you don’t get around to it, do you feel guilty? Personally, I enjoy all of these activities, but this is conditioned by the amount of time spent doing them. The last thing you want is to sit down in your garden at the end of the afternoon only to be confronted with a to-do list as long as your arm, or to be too exhausted from having completed said list to enjoy the pause.

You may feel you can only achieve the look and the feel you desire through constant fussing, but usually the opposite is true. If you choose the right plant for the right place, it will fare much better with minimal intervention, whether we are talking about watering, pruning or fertilizing. And don’t forget, happy plants are much more resistant to pests and diseases.

Look carefully at the factors acting on your garden – soil type, sun, shade, wind or warmth – and lose a little time researching plants that will sit well there. Be brave and choose species that will thrive without water in the summer – they are so much more in harmony with our climate. Plant at correct density and allow shrubs to develop a “skirt” around the base, rather than constantly cleaning out lower growth, or use groundcover plants to cover the soil, both of which prevent germination and spread of weeds. Use hard landscaping – paths, terraces, patios and mulch – to create a cool root zone and minimize watering and weeding.

Like this, you will soon find you have a garden that almost takes care of itself. You can tinker if you feel so inclined, but isn’t it nice to know you can spend the rest of the time enjoying the view?

Jobs for September

With temperatures and crowds finally starting to subside, we start to come back to life, as do our plants. Dewfall at night is enough to spur new growth, tiny green points showing at branch tips. The sea squill, Drimia maritima, sends up skyrockets of white star flowers, announcing the beginning of the autumn flowering bulbs. We are entering the second spring, and now is a great time to firm up plans for the coming season. Start looking around in nurseries and, for more specialized items, put mail orders together for delivery and planting in October. Olivier Filippi ( produces hundreds of dry garden-appropriate species and has an excellent mail order service. Chiltern Seeds ( is among my favourites for seed, with a huge selection of everything from familiar herbs, fruit and veg to exotic, sweet-perfumed trees. Their motto, “grow something new from seed”, never fails to tempt me. Now is also a good time to prune back flowered-out shrubs such as lavender, santolina and thyme; this will maintain bushes compact and strong. However, if you want to trim your rosemaries, do it quick – they will be bursting into new growth and flower very soon.

|| Plant of the Week

Capparis spinosa – caper bush

The caper bush is a familiar sight elsewhere in the Mediterranean basin, perhaps at its most spectacular when tumbling down old Roman walls. It is an attractive plant overall, with robust green penny-sized leaves, but the flowers are truly breathtaking –flamboyant purple stamens against fresh white petals. The flower bud is harvested to make capers, but for those (like me) who feel it is a crying shame to deprive oneself of the flowers, it is possible to pickle both leaves and seed pods, both of which provide something of the unique peppery taste.

What’s looking good right now

Helichrysum stoechas – curry plant

Though included recently as a summer star plant, I felt it was worth reiterating the value of this subject after seeing swathes of them on Tavira Island. The flowers are long finished, but the golden seedheads have a beauty all their own and look spectacular against a backdrop of stone pines, silver foliage and grasses. Spicily scented, they are extremely robust, as the situation in the photo – pure sand – shows.

|| Guess what this is

Name the plant shown in this picture and your details will go into the draw to win a garden consultation and plant suggestion list!


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.