This year the Mediterranean Gardening Association in Portugal (MGAP) took the first positive steps towards establishing a botanic garden in the Algarve. The site of approximately 1,000sqm on the gentle slope of a stony hill outside Silves, overlooking soft valleys and distant hills, seemed perfect.
Although the area had been used agriculturally for the growing of carobs and almonds and possibly other crops, that was generations ago and the site had long since reverted to the local Barrocal vegetation. As part of the established organic farm of Quinta da Figueirinha, our site is already on protected land with well-documented soil and weather data.
After careful thought and planning, a start was made in January to mark the layout of the Botanic Garden and in March the paths were laid with the assistance of MGAP members and friends. Additional plants were bought, positioned and planted just before our Spring Fair in early March and we had a very welcome shower of rain to settle them in. Planting will augment the existing vegetation by using only the native plants of this special area of the Algarve.
The garden then was ready to receive its first visitors and Rosie Peddle and Teresa Chuva were on hand to give the visitors a guided tour.
There was a good number of wild flowers on show including some orchids in flower such as Orchis italica, Ophrys speculum and O. lutea, and we were very pleasantly gratified to see how this short visit to the garden seemed to inspire the visitors and how enthusiastically they viewed the site.
Our next visitors were Clara and Olivier Filippi, who were very supportive. They explored the garden with equal enthusiasm and offered us some valuable advice on how to proceed.
We will be happy to accept any visitors to the garden by prior arrangement, so please contact us via the website below to see the garden and catch up with the latest news on the project.
Sunday, May 21, however, was the ‘official’ launch of the Botanic Garden, timed to celebrate World Biodiversity Day. The event was an unqualified success and we were helped by Mother Nature who provided a cool grey day and glorious extensive pink carpets of Centaurium erythraea punctuated by the brilliant spring green effervescences of Cachrys sicula and Prangos trifida with the bright yellow of Helichrysum stoechas.
The whole effect was quite magical as some of the Prangos were yellowing or turning a soft bronze colour. This set against the different greens and greys of the olives and carobs, and the browns of the rocks combined to present the Botanic Garden at its lyrical best.
Before the tour of the garden, we were given an excellent talk in Portuguese with English text slides by Manuela David, who is director of the Herbarium at the University of the Algarve in Faro. She explained why our flora was so unique and why it needed to be valued and cared for. We were also shown some examples of the specimens of Barrocal flora kept in the Herbarium. Manuela was accompanied by Coronel Rosa Pinto and Dr Ricardo Canas, both authorities on local flora and, with Rosie leading the group, they contributed to making the tour more informative and interesting for our members and invited guests.
There was also a short presentation, made by Rosie Peddle on behalf of MGAP, on the development of the Botanic Garden and our approach to the project. The 40 or so visitors seemed to enjoy the visit and, judging by the number of questions asked and answered, found the experience really stimulating.
During the tour of the garden, Manuela and Ricardo found a rare white representative of the Scabious family and, after heated discussion, it was identified as Lomelosia simplex ssp dentate and a specimen was taken as our first contribution from the garden to the Herbarium.
At the end of the morning, we were able to present our Spring Fair competition prize winners with their awards. First prize of a weekend at the Quinta went to Tim Coombs. We were delighted that brothers Matthew and Ryan Patstone also successfully completed the quiz and Christine Shinn and Alison McGarvey were our second equal winners.
An excellent lunch was provided by the Quinta da Figueirinha. Celestino Ruivo provided dishes cooked by solar ovens and MGAP members brought homecooking which was served to a large group on the shady terrace of the main house. A very pleasant social occasion which reaffirmed MGAP’s role as a contributor to the total immersion Mediterranean gardening experience.
By Burford Hurry
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Burford Hurry has been gardening in the Algarve for 23 years and comes from an African background where heat, drought and cold are not uncommon factors in gardening. He is a member of the Mediterranean Garden Society.