by Dick Handscombe

Dear Readers and all the Murcia gardeners that I have met at various talks, this will be last contribution to the fantastic Costa Cálida Chronicle magazine; for very good reasons.
‘Dick enjoying a retirement nature walk above his house’

gardening DSCF2513Nearing my 80th birthday and having written almost 2,000 gardening articles over 18 years for various publications in Spain and the UK, I have decided to stop writing for all publications as from the first week of September in order to give more time to other activities in my later active years and as the presentation of the website is getting a little outdated, this will close down as well. However, a search for Dick Handscombe on the internet will uncover an ‘Aladdin’s Cave’ of past writings.

I hope that the CCC articles, whether focussed on possible gardening design strategies, day to day maintenance, solving basic day-to-day problems, or what to do if a major crisis occurs were of help when you first started a garden here in Spain, or later as you gained experience, but still had things to learn about the challenges of gardening along the Costas and in inland valleys of Murcia. There are some great challenges but I sure that Murcia looks a better place from the air as a result of all your efforts.

gardening DSCF1697Unfortunately my four original books, written with Clodagh, are no longer generally available as our publisher and their main distributors closed down a few years ago as a result of the economic crisis and internet stores like Amazon Books and The Book Depository no longer always have residual new copies or second hand copies available. However copies of the newer booklet-like books published via the Amazon self-publishing subsidiary Create Space continue to be available from Amazon Books and a good number of other internet bookshops.

gardening DSCF2928‘Living Well From Our Garden Mediterranean Style’ will be of interest to anyone trying to improve their understanding of what can be grown and consumed from the garden that is beneficial for one’s holistic wellness. It includes a gastronomic self-audit to help you assess whether you remain a fast-food addict, or are well on the way to eating well.
‘How To Use Less Water In The Garden’ is a brain dumping book of all the things that I have used or seen on travels to reduce the water required to maintain an interesting garden. It starts by looking at the varying water-needs of thirty types of gardens and finishes with a plant list of some useful drought resistant plants.

The great thing about gardening as a hobby is that there is always something new to try out. One plant I should now add to the aforementioned plant list is the Siberian succulent Rhodiola Rosea which has helped Russian athletes gain Olympic gold medals legitimately and now helps me improve my retirement strength and stamina. Interestingly I purchased the seeds from the USA, but they arrived by post from China! Come the autumn I will try to germinate them and then grow on in the coolest spot in the garden.

On my 80th birthday I will have had a personal garden for 75 years. The first in 1942 was started on the pile of earth created when an unexploded bomb was dug out of our west London garden and today’s garden has corners and plants stimulated, not just from earlier gardens in England and Holland plus those seen in Spain, but also by world travels when working and on exotic walking holidays. Remember that great gardens don’t start in garden centres! They start with creative pre-planning and the consideration of a number of options that could enhance the challenging plot of land you decided to purchase.

Today Spanish garden temperatures reach 36ºC in the shade and nearly 50ºC in the full sun. The humidity is low – below 50º, but that could well change by this time tomorrow as some much-needed rain is forecast for early evening. If it comes it will feel as if I live in a tropical rain forest with its multi-layered collection of plants and growing conditions.

Since most expat gardens suffer from insufficient shade, it is worth thinking about the layers that can exist and the benefits with reference to the south facing part of my own garden.

gardening DSCF2910This southern half of the garden survives the without a watering system or excessive hosepipe watering due largely to the layering effect of the various layers of plants and years of natural mulching as happens in a tropical jungle. The high trees create a canopy-effect with shade to protect shorter planted and self-germinated trees and stimulate the self-germination of dwarf bird dropped trees and shrubs. As in Costa Rica jungle parks, birds roost and flowering climbers – begonias, cape honey suckle and bower vine brighten up the upper reaches and help hide the neighbouring house.
At lower height and a little in front are smaller shade trees that extend the hedge shade forward and in places densify the upper dappled shade. This helps build up a floor of rotting leaves to self-fertilise the soil; a natural mulch to retain moisture and prevent weeds from growing. These shorter trees include tila, ginkgo biloba, bay, bottle brush, justicia, Jupiter, judas and bird of paradise trees.
Then forward of the mini-forest, stretching to the house, are medium-height shrubs such as orange and lemon, a collection of sages, passion flowers growing through the old almond tree, hibiscus, buddleia, echiums, agapanthus and society garlics.

In the centre, a lavender bed surrounds the well head fountain and pond, the latter with a mass of summer flowering water lilies sheltering a shoal of fish, a family of frogs and toads regularly hatching, bright red damsel flies and silvery blue dragon flies. Shorty the lavender with be cut and distilled for oil. Unseen in the photograph is a 28 metre long rockery on the face and top of a centuries old monastery built dry stone terrace. This is largely planted with ground cover succulents and ground cover rosemary and sages through which rhizomes arise and flower in the spring from a shallow root layer dampened by spring showers.

Well my last gardening words are now recorded and about to be sent off to Patti who does a wonderful job in compiling each monthly edition of the Costa Cálida Chronicle and I can go out an hour before going for a mindfulness hour long stroll beyond the garden to see the sunset knowing that there are no more writing deadlines awaiting my return. A relaxing sundowner will be then enjoyed! Cheers to your ongoing gardening efforts, including Patti who has been working hard on a new garden during the past year.

© Dick Handscombe August 2016