REPORTs on Past Events

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

     cape2 Gecko visit image11




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



Thank you to everyone who came along to support our sixth Mediterranean Garden Fair. What an amazing day we had on Saturday, but, thank goodness we had sunshine – many of those attending remembered the deluges of 2012 at the same venue so it was a great bonus to have good weather this year. This was our first major event under the banner of our newly registered Portuguese association. The new group has fiscal and legal status and removes the concern of being challenged about our activities.


Stalls view 2014

A new layout for the plant nurseries put everyone all together which made for a spectacular show of good quality plants. We distributed a lot of free garden advice leaflets and a lot of free garden advice too ! The talks were popular, and the propagation workshop was quite a challenge to do in two languages but fortunately our visual aids (secateurs and soggy compost) worked just fine ! The parking arrangements seemed to work well for the visitors, the shuttle bus was popular and did a good job in ferrying those who wanted  lifts to and  from the car park. The Plant Creche was a new feature and allowed everyone to collect plants with their cars from one point  at the end of their visit. These new arrangements were a huge experiment, and it became obvious that there is work to do on refining the arrangements for parking for our own volunteers and that for stall holders. Our less mobile visitors welcomed the provision of disabled parking on the site and this must be part of plans for the future. Thank you to anyone affected for your understanding on the day.

The MGA plant stall had a fantastic response. We had bulbs for sale as well as second hand books, and the new Algarve Wild Flowers book on the MGA Info table inside the building. Not all proceeds are profit as we have had to pay for the books and some bought in specially commissioned plants, and the cleaning of the car park, but we hope for a significant sum after that has been taken into account.  Our Treasurer, Richard, has been working hard on the accounting system that we must have for our new association so it is important to have our records accurate for the AGM coming up in 2015. There were also considerable set up costs this year for the new association so it was doubly important to make the event a success.


The real headline is the record breaking number of paying visitors to the event this year, a whopping 921 people !! Taken together with all the volunteers and the stall holders and helpers we had about 1,000 people on site during the day. Lots of smiling faces, lots of bags full of plants and best of all, fabulous weather for our annual bash.

Car full

The strong interest in Mediterranean gardening and the need for good quality information, and appropriate plants, has been proved –  and now we have had the best start possible for our gardening year. I  am sure everyone will be keen to get planting their new purchases, it was a very beautiful day and I hope you all had a lot of fun. As always, please do let me know your thoughts, comments and suggestions as well as any interesting comments from our visitors.


Thank you again to everyone for helping us achieve this amazing result – well done ! Can you come back next year ??

BTN took place over the weekend of 26-28 September. The new Mediterranean Gardening Association (MGA) had a stand and display garden to promote our new group and also the Garden Fair for 2014. The display garden was designed by Marilyn Medina Ribeiro of Waterwise Gardens and contained native plants, a small herb garden and garden varieties recommended for Mediterranean climates. We distributed information on sustainable gardening, and garden visiting. There were many organisations represented including activities such as bird watching, walks and guided visits to the Ria Formosa, surfing, cycling routes and tours as well as the main tourist authority for the Algarve.

There was a good response from visitors and many new contacts were made for our events. This was a national initiative supported by EU funds to promote regional development and tourism diversification, the Minister for Regional Development, Miguel Poiares Maduro, opened the event and visited our stand. We hope that the success of this event will mean that it is repeated in the Algarve in future years.

Saturday 5th April 2014 and hosted at Quinta da Figueirinha near Silves

There was an excellent turnout with approx. 70 people attending for the launch of the long-awaited Field Guide to the Wildflowers of the Algarve.  Organised by the Algarve Branch of the newly-formed Mediterranean Gardening Association for Portugal, the launch was attended by both authors, Simon Hiscock and Chris Thorogood. They are here with a study group of students from Bristol University to have their annual field botany trip to the west coast of Portugal. These annual study trips and the students involved have contributed over the past 15 years to the enormous amount of work and research required to produce this invaluable resource dedicated to the wildflowers of this region.


This is the first comprehensive identification guide to the rich Mediterranean flora of the Algarve region of southern Portugal, including the Cape St. Vincent Peninsula National Park, an area of immense botanical importance with numerous endemic and rare species. The Algarve is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Europe (it receives more than 7 million tourists per annum), and this guide is the essential companion for wildlife tourists, and the first comprehensive easy-to-use identification guide to its wild flowers.

Information is provided on where and when to see plants with information on their habitat and vegetation types. In addition rare and unusual plants of the region are highlighted, including orchids and parasitic plants. With over 1,000 species descriptions, the book is abundantly illustrated throughout with over 650 stunning colour photographs, 780 line drawings and distribution maps.


Simon and Chris acknowledged their gratitude to the inspiring work of the late Peter Placito in introducing them to the flora and natural history of the Algarve when students at Oxford.


The book launch was followed by guided walks around the Quinta with many wildflowers and ancient trees to see as well as a botanical collection of fruit trees suitable for Algarve gardens.

The event resulted in a complete sell out of all the books available, but a new batch has been ordered and we have copies for sale, and to order, at a special discounted price of 36 euros.    Books can be obtained through the new Mediterranean Gardening Association by contacting the secretary Rosie Peddle at:


Field Guide to the Wildflowers of the Algarve, by Chris Thorogood and Simon Hiscock (Kew Publishing 2014) ISBN 978 1 84246 497 7



Five in a Row, and not out !

This year we held our fifth garden fair on Saturday October 26th to take advantage of the extra hour of sunshine but, we had a particular challenge, to hold our event and to comply with the recent changes in local councils, and national legislation.  Everyone involved in the organising is very grateful for the help we received from the newly united Estoi and Conceição Junta and the Horse Association of Estoi. We hope to work with them again in the future. It was very disappointing that we could not return to the Palace Hotel in Estoi but the historic gardens there were so unsafe for public access that it was beyond our resources to prepare them.

The Mediterranean Garden Fair has become a firm favourite with keen gardeners, here on the Algarve and further afield. This is not surprising when you consider that one of the main building blocks of our gardens are the plants we use to provide beauty, colour and seasonal interest. Without the small, and usually family-run, plant nurseries we would have a much reduced choice. One of our aims has always been to support this kind of nursery and put them in touch with  gardeners seeking a wider range of plants. The fair is also our annual fund raising event to support the programme for the year and our own members plants for sale is a very popular stall. We are very grateful to everyone who brought along plants for us to sell on the day.

This type of event is very common in the UK, France, Belgium and Germany and the model is well known in those countries. Here in Portugal there was no precedent for an event which combines small nurseries with a wide range of plants, larger specialist sellers and the opportunity to talk to and learn from fellow gardeners.

This is an element we have always tried hard to incorporate and willing volunteers have offered their time and expertise freely to share with visitors. This can be passing on basic but practical propagating techniques, looking at one plant family, gardening with native plants or even solar cooking – and eating !

This year, again, we had the challenge of the weather to deal with. It was a very wet week leading up to the day itself and the volunteers involved in the set-up day on Friday were, once again, soaked !  Fortunately the following day was bright, clear and sunny and the plants all looked wonderful after their dose of rain water. It was indeed a beautiful day to celebrate the start of the gardening year.

We had some new small nurseries, one specialising in succulents and another with unusual plants grown from seed. The fair ground looked very inviting and the layout allowed everyone plenty of room to show off their plants and trees. We are always very keen indeed to hear about small nurseries with good plants to offer, please let us know of your own recommendations so that we can send invitations in good time. It takes a lot of hard work to prepare plants for this special day. I noticed that there was a larger range of lavenders available including the excellent Lavandula dentata  candicans in good numbers and even the spectacular semi-tropical African Tulip Tree, Spathodea campanulata for those who like a challenge.

We also had good presentations on Propagating from John Vellam, Low Maintenance Mediterranean Gardening from Marilyn Medina Ribeiro and another on The Nasty Stuff, Pests etc. as well as our usual Plant Clinic for questions and identification. This year we had bulbs for sale that are suitable for mediterranean gardens and these flew out on the day, obviously something we may have to include again.

As we were not charging an entry fee then it was difficult to estimate numbers but despite the change of venue and the last minute arrangements to comply with the rules, we were very pleased indeed with the response. So, a big ´thank you to everyone who came along to support this event, we will look forward to seeing you again next year and enjoy the wonderful gardening season ahead.

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