Mediterranean gardeners throng to São Brás for garden fair

The Mediterranean Garden Fair held in São Brás de Alportel on Saturday, October 28 was the most successful yet and attracted 1,800 visitors, a record-breaking attendance for the event in its eighth year. This is a wonderful response and we would like to thank everyone who supported our exhibitors and speakers.

The weather was perfect, and the excellent help given by São Brás Câmara, the Bombeiros and the Amigos do Museu all combined to make the day run smoothly. The organisers work with a wonderful group of volunteers who make the event very special by giving their time on the day to help visitors.

When the gates opened to the public at 11am, the plant nurseries and other activities were all in place for the rush of enthusiastic gardeners.

In no time at all, there was a satisfied buzz of voices as visitors began looking at the rich range of plants from 15 nurseries and plant growers. The enthusiasm of the buying public was in evidence as the plant crèche began to fill up and rapidly overflow. Then, with their first purchases safely stored away, visitors were able to relax, have some refreshment, chat to fellow gardeners and return to the business of buying even more plants.

The MGAP information desk was kept busy selling books on a range of topics from wild orchids to lawn-free gardens. It was with some satisfaction that the first book in Portuguese on the wild orchids of the Algarve, sponsored by MGAP, was available literally hot off the press. This will shortly be followed by a Portuguese book on the wildflowers of the Algarve.

The free, informative talks on gardening topics, given in English and Portuguese, were well attended and ran over time as interested and enthusiastic gardeners plied the speakers with innumerable questions. The nature printing workshops were well attended as prospective artists rolled up their sleeves and set to work. Refreshments were provided by a wide range of catering stalls who supplied food, from curries to quiches at prices to suit all pockets.

This annual event is widely advertised as being focused on sustainable gardening, with plant nurseries encouraged to propagate and bring for sale robust, drought-tolerant and climate-appropriate plants.

The continuing growth in visitor numbers demonstrates an increasing interest in a new approach to making gardens. But what is driving this interest in drought-tolerant gardens which need little or no irrigation?

We need only look at the recent statistics for the summer of 2017 to understand why so many are looking for good quality, independent advice on making and maintaining beautiful sustainable gardens. The weather authority for Portugal, IPMA, has confirmed that 2017 was the sixth hottest and third driest summer since 2000.

There is official confirmation that more than 80% of the country is in either severe or extreme drought. Reservoir levels are at an all-time low, thousands of tons of dead fish are being extracted for fish meal and farmers in the Alentejo (one of the poorest regions of Portugal) are facing the loss of irrigation water and lack of water for their animals.

Water cannot be owned by any one person, it is an essential and limited resource which supports all life on the planet. In the Algarve, water comes to us via reservoirs, boreholes and wells. Despite all the serious problems with the distribution network, and the management of the infrastructure which delivers water, it is essential that everyone looks at their own consumption of water.

Worldwide, gardeners are often singled out for wasting water on lawns and borders. In the Algarve, this can be painfully obvious in the summer months with the bright green ‘English-style’ lawn showing that the owners have not yet embraced true Mediterranean gardening. There are many examples of beautiful gardens which use no irrigation – and they are not full of spiky cacti!

The Algarve has a Mediterranean climate – long, hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. 2017 has seen higher temperatures over a longer period during the summer months. Drying winds add to the evaporation of humidity from the soil. Winter rains usually begin in late September or early October, but this year have been late and little. Showers can continue into March and April, but six months with no rain at all is becoming normal.

Drought has always been considered as a limitation for gardens. We feel instinctively that water brings luxuriance and variety, and that dryness restricts our gardening possibilities. Yet, exactly the opposite is true. Rather than drought, it is often the misguided use of irrigation that limits the range of plants in mediterranean gardens. Our climate offers extraordinary gardening possibilities and offers the opportunity to make very beautiful sustainable gardens.

By Burford Hurry | Rosie Peddle