Spring Garden Fair 2015.JPG

The eternal conundrum … where can we get good plants?

For me, the best time of year here in the Algarve includes the cooler months – starting with our second spring following the autumn rainfall. This is still a sort of miracle of regeneration with the greening of the landscape taking place a few short days after the rain. It also signals the start of the planting season and the opportunity to start work in the garden on all the plans we made sitting in the shade, reading gardening books and looking through seed catalogues.

This can throw up a whole raft of other problems. It is no good being seduced by gorgeous photos of other people’s gardens and carefully noting recommended plants if they are not being made available by the plant nurseries for us to buy.

Many keen, and even desperate, folk propagate their own plants, from cuttings or seed. This is one way to increase stock of the plants that are successful for you in your own garden. There are also some good well-established nurseries providing excellent stock of fruit trees, local varieties of vegetables and a small selection of bulbs.

The big monthly markets can be a good source of plants which do well here, but the range can be limited if you want drought-resistant plants for an ornamental garden. Our local Cooperativa Agrícola sells a small selection of fruit trees and ornamental plants at very low prices and they have seed for sale.

One of the aims of the Mediterranean Gardening Association here in Portugal over the past few years has been to encourage, if not actively pester, local plant nurseries to widen their range of plants. The smaller family-run nurseries which propagate their own stock can be responsive to our demands and, we hope, have benefited from the increasing demand for water-wise and robust plants. Plants which are native to Portugal but also the wide range from other
Mediterranean climate zones provide rich pickings.

An annual autumn garden fair has been well supported and encouraged a trial for a spring event in 2015. This was a great success and the plant nurseries gave it a universal “thumbs up” for the response to the plants on offer and the venue. Our marvellous volunteers have allowed us to plan for another spring garden fair in 2016, at the Quinta da Figueirinha near Silves.

This will be held on Saturday, March 5 and will open to the public at 11am through to 4pm – entry charge is €2 and parking is free. Our Mediterranean Garden Association is very proud to include professional gardeners in our membership and there will be professional gardening advice available at the plant clinic at the garden fair.

New features for this year include a free water salinity test, so bring a clean sample of your garden irrigation water for testing. There will also be a demonstration of cooking and fruit-drying using solar power and guided tours through the mature subtropical orchard and fruit garden.

As well as the usual plant clinic run by experienced Algarve gardeners, there will be a good selection of plants on offer including succulents, robust Mediterranean perennials, trees and shrubs and container plants for summer colour. A full selection of natural history books on the Algarve as well as the newly-published Olivier Filippi book on Planting Design for Dry Gardens (see Rosie’s review on this page). The Quinta is well signposted with the blue and white “agroturismo” signs and directions can be found at www.qdf.pt

Best of all, perhaps, is the chance to see selected specialist nurseries coming together in one place to show the best of their plants for sale. At the same time, you will have the opportunity to talk to them about those plants and how to get the best performance from them. Spring is a great time of year to see plants looking their best and ready to go into the ground before the summer heat. Go along on March 5 and you will find plenty of choice for your garden.

By Rosie Peddle
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Mediterranean Gardening Association – Portugal