There is now official confirmation that more than 90% of the country is in either severe or extreme drought. Reservoir levels are at an all-time low, 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 resource which supports all life. In the Algarve, water comes to us via the reservoirs, municipal authorities and 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.
As gardeners, we are often singled out for blame in wasting water on lawns and borders. In the Algarve, this can be painfully obvious in the summer months with the bright green ‘English-style’ lawns of owners who have not yet embraced true Mediterranean gardening.
There are many examples of beautiful gardens which use no irrigation – and they can be filled with native and climate-appropriate plants which need no irrigation, no chemicals, and are low maintenance.
The Algarve has a Mediterranean climate – long, hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. 2021 again saw high temperatures over a longer period during the summer months, drying winds adding to the evaporation of humidity from the soil.
Winter rains usually begin in late September or early October, but this year have been very late and very little. Showers can continue into March and April but six months with no rain at all is becoming normal.
The Mediterranean Gardening Association for Portugal was formed in 2014, largely because of the lack of good information about sustainable gardening. Sharing the knowledge and experiences of our members and contacts with anyone interested in gardening with the climate in mind is a primary objective.
The Mediterranean Garden Fairs organised by MGAP are now a firm fixture in the gardening calendar and take place in autumn and spring. Thankfully, we will hold our first Spring Garden Fair since 2019 on March 26 and 27 this year, and this will take place at the same open-air venue as the Autumn Fair in 2021 – next to the monthly market site in Estoi.
These events are 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 organisers work with a wonderful group of volunteers who make the event very special by giving their time on the day to help and offer advice to our visitors. New for this event will be information about a MGAP Open Gardens Scheme. You will have the opportunity to participate or to offer small group visits to your garden – another opportunity to learn by sharing.
The continuing growth in visitor numbers to the garden fairs 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 current severe drought situation to understand why so many are looking for good quality, independent advice on making and maintaining beautiful sustainable gardens.
We have a range of free leaflets with advice on waterwise gardening and the popular MGAP bookshop will also be there. The 20 plant nurseries will have a full range of plants on offer suitable for an Algarve garden.
Drought has always been considered as a limitation for gardens. We may 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 the opportunity to make very beautiful sustainable gardens.
By Rosie Peddle