Algarve  Mediterranean  Flora

Friday/Saturday/Sunday March 23/24/25, 2012

Hapimag Resort, Albufeira, Algarve

Picasa photo gallery – click on photo below

Spring Conference at Hapimag, March 2012

The weekend started on Friday evening with an informal welcome, in the bar of course, where we met Herr Iwan Schneider, Resort Manager. Iwan was a welcoming host and provided a great deal of help and support for our first Spring Conference. Our first  event was a  talk  on The Algarvean Garden at Hapimag by Marilyn Kahan, Gardens Manager at the Hapimag Albufeira resort with responsibility for the garden team and the maintenance and upkeep of the 11 hectare site. Marilyn has managed the Algarvean native plant garden at the resort since its creation.

We heard the story of how it was made – including amazing photos of manoeuvring ancient olive trees inside a fully functioning tourist resort, in a large and muddy JCB. It was a fascinating insight into the enormous amount of work done to clear out the old plantings, including invasive lantanas and acacias, and prepare for the new garden. The presentation gave everyone the chance to learn about the plants used in the garden and the philosophy behind the radical changes that have taken place. For a public resort in a tourist town, this is a revolutionary idea, which  turns the idea of hotel landscaping on its head.  The clearance of lawn and removal of irrigation has encouraged latent native plants to return, the various species of ground orchids being a very welcome and spectacular example.

Saturday was very busy and many joined us just for the day, this had been planned so that those living locally could take part in the conference.

Our  guided tour with Marilyn earlyon Saturday morning gave everyone the chance to see the Algarvean garden for themselves and the opportunity to ask questions. The establishment and ongoing maintenance of this garden is the subject of an article written and illustrated by Marilyn which will be in the April edition of the Mediterranean Garden Society Journal. Those staying at the resort had the joy of close contact with this garden for the whole weekend.

The garden walk was followed on Saturday morning by Lavenders of the Iberian Peninsula,  an illustrated talk by Joan Head, former National Collection Holder for Lavandula species.   Joan, and her husband Michael, have visited Portugal and Spain to study lavenders as well as using them in their own garden. Joan’s talk was an updated and comprehensive presentation with many lovely photos taken during their travels ‘lavender hunting’. The Kew monograph on Lavenders published in 2004 is highly recommended by Joan. There were pictures of plants growing in the wild and in gardens as well as an insight into commercial cultivation. This was an inspiring and informative presentation. I think there were many in the audience who were surprised by the number and variety of species lavenders growing in this part of Europe, and, of course, many lavenders have been used in the Hapimag garden !

Following lunch, there was a Guided walk through the adjacent cliff top southern coastal habitat. Our guides were Udo Schwarzer, a Biologist, and Claudia Schwarzer,a Landscape Architect and specialist in native plant gardens & designer of the Hapimag Algarve garden. They have a wealth of knowledge of Algarve natural history, and are great supporters of MGS locally.   The choice of the Hapimag resort as a base for our first conference was made partly because of this protected nature site.  The walk along the cliff top, and through the special relict carob trees and their associated plants, was an object lesson in taking time to observe and learn from natural plant communities.

On Saturday afternoon there was a well supported MGS plant sales table, plants such as Lavandula dentata candicans and Ballota pseudodictamnus had been propagated by members and were eagerly carried off to their new gardens. In the spacious reception area of the resort we also had a display and sales of old maps and prints of Portugal, books on the orchids, fungi and flora of the Algarve and the information table with all the MGS leaflets. These had been specially printed for the conference weekend in German, English and Portuguese and were a very popular ‘freebie’. Each delegate at the conference received a folder with information on local nurseries and garden centres, recommended walks and bird watching locally. For some this was their first visit to the Algarve. This afternoon break in the formal programme was another opportunity to talk and chat about our own gardening experiences.

Filipe Soares of Sigmetum gave us a presentation in English and had to apologise that he had been unable to bring any plants from this new specialist native plant nursery.  They have been extremely busy with two new large projects, proving the interest in using native plants. This nursery is an initiative of some recently graduated students of the Escola Superior de Agronomia and is based in the botanic gardens of Ajuda in Lisbon. Filipe had to confess that he had never done a presentation in English and he was very grateful for the patience of the audience in allowing him the opportunity to talk to us. There must have been someone listening because there were many requests to organise a trip to visit the nursery following his talk !

After dinner that evening we had the great treat of a presentation on gardens worldwide with a distinctive Mediterranean character.   Maria Sansoni  is the MGS Branch Head for Germany, Austria & Switzerland. She has  a nursery for mediterranean plants near Munich in Germany. In 2010 she was awarded the Hans-Bickel Prize for horticulture.  It was a great pleasure to welcome Maria to the Algarve. Her talk showed us that Mediterranean gardening is a real global phenomenon and we all found something to spark new ideas for our own gardens. Maria was particularly enthusiastic about the gardens of California and Australia and believes that their designers are leading the way in their use of dry garden planting.

Prof. Oliver Rackham gave us a scholarly and fascinating talk on ´The Making of European Mediterranean Landscapes’  He is a Life Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and has studied and published extensively on the ecology of the Mediterranean and also the island of Crete. He is co-author of The Nature of Mediterranean Europe, an Ecological History.  His excellent presentation showed his long experience of lecturing to students with slides from many parts of Europe taken during his extensive investigation of mediterranean habitats. He used many examples from Crete where he has been involved in gaining protection for some threatened areas of the island.  This talk was well supported and appreciated by an audience keen to hear about the historical influences, both natural and man made, which have shaped the ancient mediterranean world through to modern times. This talk was filmed and recorded and we hope to make it available via the internet and have a transcription prepared in Portuguese.

Following the conference, Prof. Rackham was shown some rare rhododendron colonies – the most southerly examples in Europe for these plants. He also enjoyed a day trip through the savannah of the Alentejo and saw many examples of  oak trees, both live and dead ! The trip ended at the magnificent specimen of Quercus rotundifolia,   a protected and historic tree in Sao Bras de Alportel.

Following another superb meal in the Hapimag restaurant for Sunday lunch, we took to the buses for a garden visit to Villa Norvasund, near Ferragudo on the cliff top.   The creation of MGS members, Jon & Torunn Lange Gjedebo. They have built their home in a spectacular coastal setting and made a formal garden using classic Mediterranean plants surrounding the house. Torunn was very pleased that her lovingly propagated echiums were performing really well and the dark blue spires showed up  beautifully against the evergreen shrubs used in the garden. The garden melts into the surrounding landscape using the natural areas as a beautiful setting for the house and garden.  The lavenders, genista, cistus and lonicera in the untouched landscape were a lovely backdrop for our walk out to the cliff top and spectacular views of the sea.

On Sunday evening there were farewell drinks in the bar and and dinner in the Vista Mar Restaurant, Hapimag. This was another opportunity for swapping tall tales about our own garden experiences.  After dinner we “encouraged” everyone to complete the dreaded feedback forms by holding an informal draw. These will be extremely useful in future planning for another year.

Overall about 60 people attended during the weekend, some resident and some day delegates. The excellent accommodation and superb restaurant at Hapimag gave us a splendid venue which was universally praised by all present. We had MGS members from the Costa Blanca in Spain, from the UK and from Germany. It was a great pleasure to welcome Heather Martin and Maria Sansoni. Various nationalities were represented, including Dutch, German, Finnish and, of course, Portuguese !  It was much appreciated by local members that others had taken the trouble to travel long distances for their first experience of Portugal. We look forward to seeing them again and extend a warm welcome to anyone interested in experiencing the wonderful flora and gardens of the Algarve.