by Dick Handscombe holistic gardener author and broadcaster.
Last month I concentrated on Camposol type and near coast gardens and this month, as promised to the members of the Darwinian Gardening Club, I am commenting on country gardens.
In general, deciding to buy and develop a country garden implies that you prefer a larger and more interesting plot, the chance to do up an old historic building or build something unique with surrounding views of the countryside and mountains; maybe peaceful, perhaps with the chance to be self-sufficient and the willingness further inland to put up with winter and early spring frosts. So with that introduction, let’s look at some of the issues involved.
Once out of the urbanisations, gardens are more exposed unless walled, which defeats one of the reasons for living in the wild, or thick boundary and internal hedges are planted to create less harsh microclimates. A greenhouse or small poly-tunnel will be useful for protecting plants in pots over the winter. We line a circular pagoda with plastic for this purpose.
‘Winter protection for tender plants in pots’
In country areas soils inherited will vary from very rich, because mules used to be tethered to the trees, to dead soil that has been denuded of nutrients by old fruit trees and vines without organic fertilizing. The depth of soil will also vary from a spade depth of rich top soil to just a couple of centimetres over bed rock. Unless you are very lucky, improve the soil before you plant anything, whether flowering plants, aromatic herbs, fruit trees or vegetables. If you have little depth of soil build raised beds from day one.
In developing your plant lists, do study the descriptions of some 350 garden plants and trees in our book ‘Your Garden in Spain’ and focus mainly on those that are both drought and frost resistant. Do make the best of the hardy aromatic herbs such as rosemary, lavender, sage and thyme. If you purchased a large plot of land with many olive, walnut or almond trees, do cut out a large glade in the centre for the house and main access, if not too late and develop a network of paths between the trees with occasional glades of garden.
With fruit trees, check on what fruit is, or was, grown commercially in the area. Recognise that citrus trees do not like being continuously exposed to strong winds and that attempts to grow subtropical fruits should only be attempted in the most sheltered of sunny south facing spots. Even with this information, we lost ours in the record-breaking frosts of March 2005. The year before that, we had some large juicy mangoes eaten directly from the tree – rather different from many seen in super markets which are hard and resist ripening. The book ‘Growing Healthy Fruit in Spain’ describes over seventy fruits that can be grown and most are suitable for country areas, except of course in the cold winter areas of inner Murcia which is ideal for growing good walnuts.
One of the joys of growing one’s own vegetables, whether grown in the ground, in raised beds, or in builder’s buckets, is that you know that they are fresh and free of residual chemicals when you eat them. ‘Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spain’ includes details of some 100 vegetables that we have raised in Spain. Our winter salads do not include tomatoes, but they do include a diverse mix of some forty leaves and edible flowers full of raw energy and natural vitamins minerals and fibres.
Being isolated, you will probably get fewer problems with small insects that can hop over the fences in an urbanisation comprising of just holiday makers, letting owners and abandoned gardens as well as enthusiastic residents. However, there is the chance that you will need to protect the garden from rabbits, wild boar and deer. If rabbits are thirsty or looking for some tasty moist fleshy plants to eat, they will try and get in unless you do something about it. By the way they even love young prickly pear cactus plants. The best way to keep out rabbits is with a chain-link fence which has the bottom 30 centimetres sunk into the ground, or a sunken two building block wall under the fencing which is the cemented into the top of the wall. Tall strong fences will also keep our deer and wild boar. The second best deterrent is a hunting type dog that has the run of the garden. The third is to plant in raised beds with fencing on top. There is an anti-rabbit product sold by Neudorff, but it would be expensive to protect a large area.
If you have developed a wild boar pond, fence off the rest of the garden. Netting bags of human hair from the hairdresser hung on posts near a vegetable plot or along the wires supporting vines and peed on once a month will make boars think that there are humans around and disappear!
Walking To Understand How Natural Plants Grow
Many inland gardeners also walk the local valleys and mountains, which we do. This gives one the chance to understand how native plants self-seed and flourish in some areas and not in others and the importance of natural shade and mulching. We learned a lot seeing many varied microclimates when doing a long trek from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean beaches. This walk is now written up as a book available from Amazon Books as a soft covered book and as a Kindle book under the title ‘Our 52 Day Retirement Walk Along the Spanish Pyrenees’. We are told that both active and armchair walkers are both enjoying the read.
‘The view beyond the oleander hedge which hides other houses.’
I hope these thoughts are of interest and reinforce some of the points raised in my talk. There are special chapters in the book ‘Your Garden in Spain’ focussed on gardens in different types of situations including in inland valleys, on mountainsides, on saline and barren soils and woodland sites.
© Dick Handscombe