by Dick Handscombe practical holistic gardener and author living in Spain for 25 years.

How does your garden stack up?
Apart from the swimming pool terrace, how much use did you make of your garden last year?

Does you take maximum advantage of the Mediterranean climate we experience?
Is it a garden in which it is enjoyable to walk around, work in, take siestas, eat out in on most days of the year and at the same time provide some of the family’s fruit and vegetables and perhaps even eggs?
Is it a garden that does not need to be watered every day?

If not, we provide a basic framework for a garden that matches an outdoor life style with the garden developed as the main room of the house for most months of the year without constant watering.

A Framework For A Great Garden – matches and enables an outdoor lifestyle for most of the year by, amongst other things, providing for summer shade and sheltered winter sun. Only with these can a Spanish garden become the most used room of the house.

An Attractive and Interesting Network of Terraces and Paths – terraces of different sizes for different activities such as cooking and entertaining, secluded siestas, sunning after a dip in the pool or a quiet winter’s read. Pathways that lead one from one attractive part of the garden to another, opening up both internal and external vistas en-route. Curving rather than straight paths and the use of a variety of surfaces can add to the magic of a new garden even before the first plants are planted.

A Number of Interesting and Contrasting Mini Gardens, Patios or Corners – the pool area treated as one of several mini-gardens rather than the only feature of the garden. If you only use it for five or six months a year, why stare at it day in day out throughout the year? Make each side of the house a unique mini-garden for maximum interest.

A Variety of Colour Schemes in Different Parts of the Garden – using plantings with the many hues and textures of green foliage as well as the subtle or blazing colours of the flowers. Our book ‘Your Garden In Spain – Planning Planting And Maintenance’ includes an important chapter in this respect – chapter 2 ‘Painting With Plants’ plus descriptions of some 400 useful plants. Sufficient for you to chose from whether on the coast or inland. With the generally benign climate, an amazing range of flowering plants, fruit and vegetables can be grown, provided the soil is first improved. Do be creative in how you group the flowering plants and integrate the growing of fruit and vegetables in cottage style or separate areas.

The Use of Plants With Interesting Architectural Shapes – carefully sited groups of palm trees, cordylines, cacti and aloes, or green or purple leaved aeoniums can be as effective as a bank of flowering shrubs. Most plants chosen for their drought-resistant properties, once established have deep roots. A good selection of such plants is provided in the appendices of the book ‘How To Use Less Water From Your Garden’. This is easily available from The Book Depository or Amazon Books.

Perfume Throughout The Year – starting as one passes through the entrance gate and continuing around the garden. Favourites include jasmines, roses, honeysuckles, galan de noche, san diego, frangipani, mock orange, citrus trees, freesias, lilies, passion flowers, sweet peas, geraniums and naturally culinary and medicinal herbs.

The Growing of a Variety of Herbs – for use in cooking as well as for their natural aromatherapeutic and medicinal effects. Herbs can be grouped in a herb garden or on a rockery, or spread around the garden in mixed beds.

The Traditional Spanish Sound of Dripping Water From a Fountain – the running water of a waterfall into or between ponds or a creative mini water feature. Solar pumps allow features to be located safely anywhere in the garden without expensive wiring systems.

The Tasteful Selection and Placement of Ornaments and Groups of Pots – some of the latter left empty and others planted up.

The Growing of Even Just a Few Seasonal Vegetables – that can be harvested and eaten fresh especially if grown ecologically. ‘Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spain’ describes what can be grown season by season. Autumn, the ‘Second Spring of Spain’, is a good time to start growing vegetables as you can sow or plant many vegetables for harvesting during the Autumn, at Christmas, during the Winter and in early Spring.

Attraction of an Interesting Range of Beneficial Wildlife – ranging from geckoes on the walls at night that catch flying insects to lizards on rocks and frogs and dragonflies around the pond. Thick hedges will not only give privacy, but nesting sites for birds. Butterflies are unfortunately less numerous in some areas than twenty years ago due to urbanisations and the use of agricultural and garden chemicals, so do go ecological. ‘Neem’, our favourite insecticide, is now easier to find as ‘Flower’ have added two ‘Neem’ products to their range.

No we have not mentioned a lawn. For us it is not an essential ingredient of a great garden or that natural in Spain. We would rather spend the time and water required to maintain a worthwhile lawn on flowering plants and trees and eating well from the garden.

Naturally you won’t achieve such a garden within a year unless very small, but do have a clear vision of what you are aiming for before you start.

© Dick Handscombe
Facebook page ‘Gardening in Spain’