February 2010

Yesterday I was able to visit the local Algarve Regional Agricultural Department near Faro and they have some interesting plantings. Looking very good at the moment are the aloes in the succulent garden.  This garden is on well drained sandy soil so the recent heavy rains have not caused the problems we are experiencing in other parts of the Algarve with soil erosion, flooding and rotting.

Aloes are one of the most distinctive African plant families – 446 species in all  and,  surprisingly, are one of the Asphodelaceae.  They occur in (but are not confined to) many of the worlds most arid regions but are especially associated with South Africa and the Arabian peninsula. Some aloes have been used for medicinal purposes, Aloe vera being the most well known, but there are also recorded uses as purgatives, shampoos, cosmetics etc. There are 200 active ingredients including essential amino-acids and 12 vitamins.

They are excellent garden plants being long lived, drought tolerant once established, and winter flowering in a range of reds, yellows and orange colours. Flower spikes vary from short and wide to thin elegant spikes. A little known member of the Aloe family is the Baobab tree, Adansonia digitata.  A book I have found useful is by Gideon F Smith and Braam van Wyk  ‘Aloes in South Africa‘  Published 2008 ISBN 978-1-77007-462-0

Plant Sale – our first Mediterranean Plant Sale took place on November 7th 2009 at Quinta  Fonte do Bispo  and  we had a wonderful response. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who volunteered to help or who supported us on the day.  The staff at the Quinta responded magnificently to the crowd of visitors.  The talks on ‘Grasses’ and on the ‘Soils and Fertilisers for the Algarve’ were very well attended and provoked good discussions afterwards. The first talk was on the subject of ‘Starting from Scratch’ and was given by experienced Algarve gardener, Burford Hurry. He held a roomful of people enraptured with his practical advice on how to tackle your first Algarve garden.

It was obvious that those attending were keen to learn more about gardening here and that short talks should be included in any future event. We believe that about 500 attended but it was difficult to tell as we were all kept very busy !  We are particularly grateful for the support from the nurseries who came along to sell plants and who were so generous with their advice and time for visitors on the day. Other exhibitors included an expert on Chillies, a Lavender expert from the UK, a bookstall and Almargem. I am particularly grateful to the kind folk who contributed their cleaned plant pots for recycling – very handy for mad keen propagators ! It was also good to have MGS members from all over Portugal attending, a group from the Beira led by Marion ter Horst were welcome and members from the Lisbon area also went home with a car full of plants.

Our own plant stall was very well supported and thanks are due to the hard working volunteers who gave up so much time to make this a great success. Thanks are also due for the many wonderful contributions of plants for sale, there are plans for a bigger and better stall next time so keep propagating – see the event planned for April 29th !

A ‘survivors lunch’ was held for helpers and it was agreed that we should aim to hold this event again this year – so keep the first week in November free ! We raised approximately €600 after expenses and this will be used to support talks and events on Mediterranean Gardening in the Algarve in the coming months.

Having visitors is a good thing – for a gardener.  Instead of staying at home and looking at your own garden it means you can go out and look at other peoples gardens.  The weather has been very wet here so the plants and trees are looking shiny and clean and the landscape is a lovely green colour.  This is a good time to go out and look at the almond blossom and enjoy the damp smelly earth. With a friend from Catalonia, I visited Monchique and the western Algarve this week and found some lovely things in the garden, and some good cake !

Cotoneaster lacteus

Iris in the rain

Brian & apple streudel

Oranges and Lemons

When I think of the colour orange, I think happy. I can’t really explain why. I know the Hindus think of  it as a happy colour – orange silks and a gold thread for weddings and saris. But what would be the connection for me here? Perhaps nothing more than in the Algarve, orange also goes with our old roof tiles, our tumbling gray stone walls and our burnt-brown soil and scenery.  The colour, lemon, I like for another reason. I associate it with fragrance and eating. But I will come back to the latter in a while…

The Algarve in winter can be a rather sombre place. If we are lucky, of course, with rain there are the oxalis. They provide spring-green and chrome yellow sheets of colour under the trees and in the meadows and then there are the almond trees’ above them pink and white confetti drifts of blossom in the countryside. But it is the orchards of oranges that provide the brightest, the most cheerful parade of colour. The bright fruit of the trees is shown off to perfection against their dark green handsome foliage.  They march together in the orchards in perfect unison – neat and tidy and joyful. And driving through these same orchards in winter and spring one is almost drowned by the perfume. It’s my contention that the same orange trees should also march into our gardens and throwing rank and order to one side be used not only for their fruit but also for their ornamental value. Why citrus trees? I like their foliage and flowers as much as their fruit – all these qualities serve as a focal point, or to fill a space or to provide backdrops for other plants. The perfume of their blossoms is another bonus.

I have two small orange trees in my garden. One forms the focus of my viewing garden and the other is part of a herbaceous bed. The one that serves as a focus is neat and round and has fruit most of the year – orange baubles that catch your eye as soon as you come into the garden. The other is a navel and although it does have fruit and blossom tends to be rather retiring but it does provide a foil for the lavender, silver senecio and the miniature white agapanthus that grow in front of it.  I also have three lemons, all different varieties. One was grown from a pip and fruits magnificently, the second I bought at the market in Loule, and the third, a thin skinned variety with an exotic flavour, is one I got from a nurseryman who has a nursery in Elvas.  I love their perfume and foliage and use most of their fruit. This is because I seldom use vinegar in my salads and cooking – just lemon juice. I find lemon juice is not quite so breath-taking as vinegar.

And as for colours of pure clear orange and lemon who could beat tubs of glorious cliveas which flower in February and March. I have three tubs under my olive and carob trees. They enjoy the shade of the trees and flower profusely every year and every year are quite sensational. I have three unnamed varieties – two orange and one lemon. I really do enjoy them.  And then last year serendipity struck. A friend gave me some bulbs of Homeria which I planted in a long narrow box and placed on a ledge just behind the cliveas.  Homeria have long thin strap-like leaves and I really didn’t know what to expect. It was a real delight to find that they produced quite tall stems of simple flowers in the exact shade of orange and lemon that were in the cliveas and they flowered at exactly the same time too. So the colours orange and yellow could be seen in the cliveas, the Homerias and orange in the orange tree in my viewing garden, brightening up any February .

And thinking orange I think I should remind ourselves of another plant that I think deserves a special mention – the Strelitzia regina and juncea – both varieties have a lovely orange colour, striking foliage and flower in winter and spring and, as long as they have sufficient water, seem to thrive in the Algarve

But to get back to my starting point, a plea to see more oranges and lemons in our gardens as well as our orchards – in fact to start another orange revolution.                                            Burford Hurry