G is for Gertrude and Gardening

There comes a day towards the end of March when there is little wind…..
The sun has gained much power so that it is pleasant to sit out in the garden or better still in some sunny nook…….” Gertrude Jekyll

Gertrude Jekyll’s appreciation of colour within her flowering schemes is renowned. She knew what to do and when to do it. Further south from her England, there is what could be termed an expat gardener’s lament. It goes something like this; “I know what to do in England, (Holland, Germany, fill in the country), but here it is so different. When do I plant? When should I sow? How often should I water? What is this called?”

We have been gardening on a hill near Tavira for about seven years, so we have racked up a fair few mistakes and some successes. For a couple of years, we had help from some creative and willing workaways. This year we are employing a Portuguese gardener, one afternoon a week. Our understanding of the land has increased because of his expertise and the opportunities we have taken.

We are in a group called The Algarve Gardener. Tacked onto presentations by horticulturalists are visits to well-presented gardens. In March, we visited a Dutch flower grower and came away with a variety of bulbs. The bulbs will sit in the fridge till early autumn and then will be planted out. They need a long cold gestation period and they do not get that in an Algarve summer.

As well as groups of keen gardners, there is the Mediterranean Gardening Association. They  organise an annual conference and host a couple of garden fairs across the Algarve, usually one in Estoi and the other out west. This year the conference is 22-25 April. The title is:
Dry Gardens in the Mediterranean – ‘an  undiscovered  diversity.’
Keynote Speakers –  Olivier Filippi & Dr Ken Thompson

Another source of inspiration is the magazine Mediterranean Gardening and Outdoor Living edited by Karen and Justin Wride. It explores a myriad of different plants and their problems together with horticultural advice for both novice and experienced gardeners. When I was in the UK last year, I wrote an article about the Gardener’s World Show for this magazine. You can download the spread here. Everyone loves a Garden Show (PDF).

Added to events and talks, what nourishes me, is a host of gardening books. Perhaps the most useful book for understanding the region is the Sunset Western Garden Book. Once you work out the comparative Climate Zone, (I think we are in zone 19), then a whole world of growing possibilities open up.

Less helpful, but in my collection is a book called Garden Ornament. It is full of black and white photos of concrete statues and water fountains to be found in English country gardens. It is not so enchanting as Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden. The author of both books is Gertrude Jekyll.Monserrate

Which reminds me, my yearning to see something resembling a Jekyll flowering scheme was somewhat sated when we recently visited the Palace of Monserrate, near Sintra. It’s a park dating back to the late eighteenth century where colourful and exotic flower borders, shady waterfalls, and large stone garden ornaments sit comfortably together.

Gertrude would be happy!


Monserrate water


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  1. What is the climate like where you are? What garden item do you miss the most from the English climate? I grew up in a warm climate but have lived in colder ones. I had it in my mind that not much would grow in such a short season, but I was wrong. Two examples come to mind. Black-eyed Susans grow amazingly well in Minnesota. They grow well here, also, but I was surprised at how vigorous they were there. And pansies can be perennials there under the right conditions. Here, they are annuals and barely make it past April.

  2. This brings back memories! I discovered Gertrude Jekyll by stumbling on a small beautiful garden/museum on a street corner in London when I was there visiting my aunt for a few days. (I grew up in US. Hadn’t heard of her myself before then, but my mom was quite thrilled when she found out I had seen one of her gardens!) I am trying out a garden myself this year, but just veggies. Will see how it goes.

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