Diversity DiscoveredThe International  Spring  Conference  2016, Dry Gardens In The Mediterranean  

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The Mediterranean Gardening Association in Portugal held the 5th Spring Conference in 2016 in Lagos over the long holiday weekend 22 to 25 April.  The aim was  to reveal the practical and aesthetic benefits of making beautiful and sustainable gardens with plants of the Mediterranean and dry zone flora worldwide.


The weekend was also well supported by members of other Mediterranean garden groups from France and the UK from MGi  (Mediterranean Gardening International) – an international group of societies for people with an interest in Mediterranean plants and gardens. For many   it was their first visit to Portugal  and a chance to see the spring wildflower displays at their best.  A short pre tour visit to Sintra and Lisbon was organised for those interested in extending their visit to a very full seven days.


This Conference  looked at modern trends towards use of native plants from Mediterranean zones  for sustainable mediterranean gardens and how to unlock their huge future potential.  We were delighted to hear directly from Olivier Filippi on creating dry gardens in the Mediterranean and from Dr Ken Thompson on the tricky subject of Soils – The Final Frontier. The theme was illustrated by visits to contemporary gardens in the Algarve and appreciation of examples throughout Portugal from our panel of speakers.  Marilyn Medina Ribeiro opened the event with a look at various garden styles and illustrated these with projects completed on the Algarve for both small urban plots and larger countryside gardens. We were delighted to welcome Miguel Coelho de Sousa from Lisbon showing examples of current use for native and climate compatible plantings in larger landscape projects but he ended by showing lovely photos of his own private garden where he has put his ideas into action. We were brought up to date on the  ongoing project for use of Mediterranean plants in green roof construction by Teresa Paço of Lisbon University. The detailed research and data collection for the project will be invaluable in evaluating plants best suited to these  difficult conditions.


The Spring Conference included opportunities to see wonderful wild flowers and some notable local private gardens.  Private garden visits were offered as an optional extension to the Conference weekend and we were very grateful to the private garden owners who opened their homes and gardens to the visitors. Gardens visited ranged from small villa gardens where lawns had been swapped for borders filled with texture and colour to larger areas filled with spontaneous native  plants managed for diversity and year round interest.


We were also delighted to have three young professionals join us as sponsored attendees for the conference weekend. Becky Cross from the UK is a Professional Gardeners Guild trainee who visited the Algarve last year. Ana Luisa Oliveira has just been accepted onto a Diploma course at Kew Gardens with leave of absence from her work at the Serralves Foundation in Porto and Ana Luisa Gonzalez has just completed a massive research project on the old rose nurseries and rose varieties of Portugal in connection with the restoration of the Rose Garden at the Serralves.


Guided Wildflower walks visited  two distinct areas at the peak time for viewing plants, the biodiversity hotspots of Amoreira beach and the stunning location of Cape St Vincent on the Sagres peninsula.


 Amoreira beach was designated a Biodiveristy hotspot (Estação Bio-Diversidade) by the University of Lisbon and the Council of Aljezur  only in March 2016. The first site is a shale hill with many unusual species, leading into salt marshes. The trail followed an already marked footpath across the dunes  and was following in the famous footsteps of botanical author Oleg Polunin who wrote field guides to many Mediterranean regions. In addition to the unusually beautiful landscape, visitors were also able to learn about the main species the saw along the way. Our guide was Udo Schwarzer and he organised everyone into small groups for an informal species count exercise so that everyone could observe first  hand the diversity contained within a relatively small area.

Cape St Vincent  pensinsula was classified as a biogenetic reserve in 1988 owing to the high concentration of endemic  plants.  Both sites are in the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina, the finest preserved stretch of European coastline, covering over 100 km, from Porto Covo in the Alentejo, to Burgau in the Algarve. The Park includes various habitats and unique species of animal and plant life, and is visited by many zoologists and botanists from all parts of the world. Plant life includes  unique indigenous species such as Biscutella vicentina, Cistus palhinae and Plantago algarbiensis.  The group was led by Sue Parker, Pat O´Reilly and also had the wonderful opportunity to meet a specialist guide for Cape St Vincent, Ana Carla Cabrita.


Included as part of the weekend activities was the opportunity to meet the authors and buy copies of some of the most exciting new books in 2016. These included the newly published English edition by Olivier Filippi of Planting Design for Dry Gardens – Beautiful, resilient groundcovers for terraces, paved areas, gravel and other alternatives to the lawn.   Olivier was kept busy signing copies of the book and we sold out over the weekend !  The book launch and presentation by the authors for the updated and extended second edition of Algarve Wildlife – the natural year was also well attended. This is one of the most successful books about the Algarve and the new edition was available for the first time at this event.  There was also the range of native plant seed for sale from the Sementes de Portugal   native plant seed supplier and João Gomes was with us at  the conference to talk about this initiative.   A specialist plant nursery, Caminhos Sombreadas of Lagoa,  brought lovely plants for the meeting room display and for sale, and we were delighted to have Botanical Artist Suzie Puttick with us selling cards and prints of her beautiful paintings.


It was an extremely busy seven days but there were plenty of opportunities to meet old friends, catch up on gardening news from other groups and be inspired by the fantastic speakers.  There were relaxing evening dinners and much talk over the coffee cups, we learnt from each other and from our generous and inspiring speakers.  A great way to spend a springtime weekend on the Algarve.


Rosie Peddle