Rosie Peddle interviews holiday home owners Chris and Clive Dagnall near São Brás about their garden and living without a lawn.
Did you ever contemplate having a lawn?
To be honest, yes we did. However, that was very early on and in the days when we really didn’t understand the first thing about gardening in a mediterranean climate. Our reasons for wanting one were twofold:
We had 1.5 acres of land which, with the exception of a couple of small beds around the house, hadn’t been touched for 50 years.
The land had been ‘cleared’ to minimise the risk of fire and consequently resembled a lunar landscape. The quick and ‘easy’ fix of a large lawn appeared attractive.
In addition, as the temperatures soared, we thought “a lush lawn is always cooling to look at!”
Why didn’t you have one?
Several reasons. Firstly, we did our research and found out how much it would cost us in water to irrigate a large lawn. In addition, neighbours scared us with tales of irrigation systems going wrong and as we are not permanent residents, the prospect of returning to a lawn which had been watered 24 hours a day was frightening.
We had also joined the Mediterranean Garden Society and started reading their monthly journal. Lawns never even got a mention! We also invested heavily in appropriate gardening books and started to appreciate what could be achieved without having to buy a mower.
Was it easy to find good plants in the Algarve?
Not really. Indeed, the plants on offer at most of the garden centres in our local area were the same as the ones we have in Wiltshire. Attractive certainly, but not very mediterranean, and most need daily attention during the summer – something that we would not be able to offer.
Our introduction to nurseries and garden centres offering robust and varied plants was through local MGS contacts and the list of exhibitors at the annual Mediterranean Garden Fair.
Another problem we experience is the lack of ‘real gardens’ to visit …and copy from! Our gardening books are excellent but can’t possibly give us the full picture. Most of us are gardening voyeurs…there is nothing to beat wandering around someone else’s garden, admiring innovative design, imaginative planting and getting lots of new ideas.
What is your basic intention for the garden, and does it involve low maintenance/drought resistant planting?
Low maintenance and drought resistant planting will be key to the future development of the garden, not merely because it makes sense for us, but also because we believe it is the right thing to do in terms of conservation of resources and, very importantly, because we have seen what can be achieved using this form of planting.
What are your future plans for your garden?
We know that the development of our garden is a very long term project but it is one we are looking forward to with enthusiasm.
Over the coming year we hope to complete the area immediately around the house, hardscaping as well as landscaping – building raised beds and adding gravel paths and stone steps.
We came to realise very quickly that shade is crucial in the Algarve and so, as we have no covered terraces, a second pergola planted with scented climbers is on the list.
There is one area of the garden we will leave more or less as it is – possibly with the addition of ‘wild meadow plants’ but only those native to the Algarve.
We also hope to hardscape a further area of the garden, to the south of the house, with retaining walls and wide meandering paths although it will be another couple of years before it is planted.
However, planning is fun!
Chris and Clive Dagnall are members 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