by Dick Handscombe
Many expat gardeners in Spain have gardens in exposed positions and have to cope with regular or occasional strong gusty winds that dry out the open garden soil and flower pots, roll pots over and cause damage to plants, even uprooting or snapping them off.
Such situations include mountain tops and exposed ridges, narrow valleys, the top of coastal cliff faces and penthouse terraces. The gardening problems associated with such sites were listed as equal fourth together with the need for gardening with less water when we did a readership survey some years ago.
21 Practical Ideas
- Preserve any windswept trees that have survived years of storms as appropriate features of you future garden. Just cut off any unsightly and misshapen branches, but think before you cut out dead branches. It may be them that adds shape and atmosphere to the tree.
- If a small copse of pine or holm oak or pine trees has survived, keep them as a valuable windbreak. If you decide to fell some of the trees around the outside to create space, or in the centre to create a woodland glade, recognise that you might be changing the aerofoil characteristics of the copse or even creating a chimney effect in the centre. If one or other occurs, the total copse might be felled in the next gale force winds, especially if the soil is soft after heavy rains. The shape and degree of leaning of natural trees in the area will give you an idea of the severity of past gales.
- If you have no natural windbreak consider planting a double row of one metre high lawsonia, juniper, taxus or evergreen oak trees. Ensure that they are well staked and guyed from day one. If in a very exposed position re-guy as they grow.
- An alternative to a screen of trees is to construct a wall two or three metres high, but ensure that the foundations are strong and wider than the wall so that the wall has a broad base (e.g. of a metre) and a narrower top (e.g. 40cms). Basic urbanisation walls can be blown over in strong winds.
- Plant only deep-rooted specimen trees and ensure that they are strongly guyed on four sides. Avoid acacias and eucalyptus trees. Occasionally one sees amazingly tall deciduous trees on penthouse terraces. You will find that their roots have been trained to cover much of the terrace and are guyed with thick wire ropes.
- Purchase heavy grade earthenware, ceramic or concrete based pots and containers. Lighter ones can overturn, break and damage treasured plants especially if allowed to dry out. A combination of strong winds and blazing sun can easily dry out even big pots in a day unless precautions are taken.
- Seal pots with waterproof paint or varnish and add planting gel to the potting compost to reduce the natural evaporation of water.
- Construct your main sitting-out terrace on the downwind side of the house and a secondary terrace on the windy side for use on calm days, especially if that is where you have the best vistas.
- Construct Dutch style reinforced glass windbreaks at strategic points in the garden that you can sit behind and still enjoy the best garden views. Plant some aromatic and colourful plants downwind of the screen.
- Similarly, glaze in nayas or covered terraces on the windy sides of the house so that you can sit in the sun and enjoy views on the windiest of days.
- Plant plants that grow naturally as a tight bush or an open tree to minimise wind damage. Try the following plants for instance:
- Consider planting more succulents; cacti, agaves and aloes that have strong natural structures. Look around to see what survives in other gardens in your area and on local mountainsides or cliffs.
- Mulch as much as possible, as bare earth soon dries out in windy situations and hoed or raked areas can be eroded by the wind creating a parched hard packed and cracked surface.
- Install an economic drip irrigation system to each plant and water at night.
- Add features to the garden that will withstand strong winds if correctly constructed e.g. rock grottoes, rocky outcrops, rockeries, terraces with a stone sundial or bird bath. If you construct a pond, do so in a sheltered part of the garden as strong winds can whip off water physically and by evaporation.
- If you have a pool or Jacuzzi, invest in a strongly constructed cover to enable them to be used without a wetsuit or windproof clothing. If you can afford an all- weather swimming cover you can also try to grow some semi-tropical plants inside.
- Plant internal hedges as internal windbreaks and plant them downwind.
- Low growing plants can be protected by a semicircle of rocks. One sees ancient vineyards and melons protected in this way around the Mediterranean Costas and Islands.
- Protect young plants with cloches – 7 litre water bottles with the bottom cut out and held down by canes in the middle and around the outside are an inexpensive solution.
- Develop a Japanese-style garden using raked areas of gravel, chippings or sand with artistically placed rocks as the main features of the garden rather than plants.
- If totally demoralised, move to a more sheltered situation!
Gardening should be a joy as well as a challenge. Some challenges can eat up retirement years rather than enhance them!
I hope these ideas help you to develop easily maintained and interesting gardens in potentially hostile situations. Naturally, what is possible will also be effected by the depth of soil you have. If shallow, deepen and enrich where you wish to plant up.
© Dick Handscombe