October 2009

How are you doing at the moment ?? My plants all have a furry coat – and it is not pleasant !  If you squish these furry bits, they are red in the middle and very sticky.  I think it is a result of the very dry air and recent hot conditions. Perhaps now we have some rain it will help the plants to recover. Some people recommend using ethyl alcohol and a cotton bud on precious potted plants but this is a bit difficult on the full size specimens in the ground.  You can pick them off by hand or try using a high pressure hose but in the end, it is up to you – there are chemical controls as well.

Cochineal is the original source of the red food colouring and is farmed on Lanzarote in the Canary Isles using plantations of Opuntia maxima.

Do you have any favourite ways of dealing with this pesky problem ?  Please share your experinces and let us know there is hope.

Cochineal insect infestation

Cochineal insect infestation

Burford shares his wisdom

Burford shares his wisdom

There was much useful information in the talk by Burford and also much was contributed by the audience during the discussion following the talk so here is a rather fuller than normal report.

Fortunately it was a cooler morning than of late for our event at the home and garden of Burford Hurry. Thirty keen gardeners assembled to see this unique Algarve garden and hear advice on ‘Starting from Scratch’.

There was time to tour the garden and to see the flowering caper plants, Zephryanthis bulbs in full flower, and the wonderful collection of succulents in pots on the different terraced levels of this streamside garden. Some lucky people even went home laden with cuttings !

Below is a report of Burford’s useful guidance on the tricky subject of gardening in the Algarve. Also included are some details of the discussion which followed the talk and recommended contacts for plants and bulbs.

“No one really starts from scratch because there should be some trees and shrubs on any piece of land which you are looking to make into a garden. Any mature tree and shrub cover is the treasure around which you can start your planning. Look carefully at what existing tree cover you have, look at  the neighbouring areas. What trees are there which you might wish to use in planning your garden views ?

Many elements make up a garden, but it is best to start with the basics, and the most basic of all is the soil. Check for  the main characteristics,  clay, chalk, sand or schist. It is acknowledged that there are about 200 different kinds of soil on the Algarve, from the very acidic volcanic soils in the west to the chalky Barrocal clay in the east.

Drainage will become a major factor during the wet months of the year. Check for water run off, soil erosion and potential soggy points which will rot most mediterranean plants. Consider mound planting or the addition of grit or gravel in any potential wet ground.

So you have your vision of what you have in the garden and what you would like it to look like ? Now is the time to think about long term issues. Irrigation systems and access for maintenance to the house, drainage systems, pathways etc. Also think about future points needing electricity, any garden and path lighting, fountains etc.

Now it is time to think about planting. Finally getting the chance to fill spaces created around and between existing trees, pathways and view points.  Try not to be tempted by the many exotics available, go for the more appropriate and less water hungry plants which will sit well in the landscape. By all means have some exotics and choose from the many plants around the world which will grow on the Algarve but, do not let these dominate your plantings and keep them close to the house. If you must have a lawn, keep it small and it will be easier to look after.

Consider the many lawn substitute plants now available from the specialist dry garden nurseries such as Olivier Filippi in Franc http://www.jardin-sec.com/ He recommends a mix of small low growing plants which can be walked on and which will contribute throughout the year – each type of plant taking centre stage as their flowering season comes and goes. For example, Phylla nodiflora and Achillea millefolium. He has recently published and English edition of the ‘Dry Gardening Handbook’  a complete guide to having a garden with no irrigation. Remember too that bulbs are a classic mediterranean plant,  look out for what grows locally. Paperwhite narcissus and Sternbergia lutea in the Barrocal, Pancratium maritimum on sandy soils. A recommended specialist in bulbs for the Mediterranean is Lauw de Jagar of Bulb’Argence http://www.bulbargence.com

Timing for planting can be critical and the recommended main planting season is the start of the mediterranean gardening year in November. As soon as the first serious rains of the winter have soaked the ground, that is the ideal time to plant. This gives a good chance for acclimatisation and good root development before the next dry summer months come along. Make large holes, 75 x 75 x 75 cm and put in good compost, super phosphate fertilisers and consider placing a tube or cut water bottles into the hole leading directly to the roots. Filling these with a hose pipe or watering can will get the water straight down and not leave it to evaporate on the surface.

Burford's terraced garden

Burford's terraced garden

Long term maintenance including  feeding and mulching will help establish plants and encourage good growth.  Use manures and gravel or organic mulches to improve soil conditions. Chicken, sheep and cow manure are all good sources of food for the plants.  Sheep manures are available from some garden stores and Cooperativas Agricolas.  Organic controls for plant pests and diseases are available from Mat Diver in Conceicao de Faro, just off the N2 between Faro and Sao Bras. They stock the German Koeppert products and also neem oil for use as an organic insecticide – mix this with a little drop of washing up liquid before spraying to help it adhere to the foliage.

If steep slopes or banks are bare and eroding then consider using vetiver grass for stabilising the ground in a non-invasive hedge which follows the contours of the slope. For more information see www.vetiver.org

Pruning is important for the long term health of many local trees such as carobs, olives and pomegranates. Take out dead or dry branches and suckers forming at the base of such trees. Do not let carobs develop very long overhanging branches as these will split at the main trunk and damage the tree. Keep branches shorter for young healthy growth. Tip prune soft stems on shrubs and fruit trees to keep the shape you want and take out crowded central stems to let in light and air.”

Homeward bound - with cuttings !

Homeward bound - with cuttings !

When we buy plants from nurseries we do not always check what is inside the pot as much as we check what is looking at us from outside the pot.  I have had some very funny looks in garden centres as I do try and knock   plants out of their pots before I buy them. If I suspect that they have been sitting around in a pot for far too long it is well worth doing.  Those plants that do not easily slip out of their pot, those plants you have to tug out of their postion in the rows, those that have a slightly starved look – do not take pity on them, check them !  You could end up with this sort of root ball when you get  the thing home and try to plant it.

Lavender potboundThis used to be a lavender…… have you had any similar experiences ??