by Rosie Peddle [email protected]
Rosie Peddle from the Mediterranean Garden Society – Algarve recently conducted an interview with Susan and Harry Wouters about their Algarve garden. No lawn in sight!
We love rocks, pebbles, boulders and gravel
1 – Did you ever contemplate installing a lawn ?
No, but we did need to find an alternative for the bare patch of ground in front of the house. The first solution was a large mass planting of osteospermum.
This looked wonderful in spring for three or four years before growing very untidy and becoming full of weeds. So we pulled it up and went for a more ordered, architectural design featuring yellow pebbles and strategically planted, drought-tolerant trees and shrubs.
2 – What were your reasons for not having one ?
Grass requires too much water, it is expensive to plant, it has its fair share of pests and diseases, and it requires a lot more maintenance than one thinks!
Also, it doesn’t look very interesting and doesn’t fit into the Mediterranean landscape. In fact, sometime after we moved here, we attended a lecture on lawns which was meant to persuade the listeners to order one immediately. For us, all the apparent pluses just reinforced our decision NOT to have a lawn!
Instead, we looked to what we had available in great quantity, the stones and rocks of the barrocal. For example, around the pool area we made a rock garden which we planted with drought-tolerant prostrate junipers, Chamaerops native dwarf palms and Beaucarnia, the pony tail palm.
Now, you cannot see the rock garden but all around the pool it is green and the whole area requires no work at all except occasional trimming and sweeping.
3 – What is your basic intention for the garden ?
To have space around the house that is easy to maintain, easy on water and easy on the eye.
4 – Do you want low maintenance/drought resistant planting?
Absolutely! We have made mistakes and been tempted to try more exotic shrubs and trees, but most have not survived and have not been replaced, like with like.
Many of the imports from Australia and S. Africa, for example, are drought tolerant but need good drainage and a completely different soil type.
We have not made any changes to our soil or brought in different soil. Instead, we have tried to ensure that the planting hole is an adequate size with some added sand or gravel, compost and manure.
5 – What are your future plans for the garden?
We’re happy with the ‘landscaped’ sections as they are, and plan to maintain them. They require only the minimum of maintenance and just enough summer water to keep them going. In the adjoining areas of garden which are basically the original fields, we mow the spring weeds/flowers down once a year, when they are over and encourage the native bushes to spread.
We are still in the process of bringing in seeds and seedlings of the shrubs growing wild in the deserted fields around us, and look forward to seeing these areas of the garden develop into beautiful natural plantings.
6 – Was it easy to find good plants for your garden here on the Algarve ?
Initially, no. When we started gardening here in about 1990, this was a holiday house that we visited once a year in summer. We had difficulty finding garden centres and of them all, only two labelled their plants. Also, of course, the summer is not the best time to plant so all stocks were low or in poor shape.
Our bible at the time was Hugo Latymer’s The Mediterranean Gardener and it was very difficult to marry his excellent suggestions (which we had spent the intervening months in the Far East choosing) with what was available in the centres. Besides which, without labels we had little idea what we were looking for anyway!
Susan and Harry Wouters 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