By Dick Handscombe

gardening DSCF2731For most of us living and gardening in Spain, last summer was hot and dry and most gardens did not see rain for many months. Oh for the monthly thunderstorm that one could often rely on in the early 90’s! They used to be the salvation for many absentee gardeners. How did your garden survive? Were you able to enjoy it to the full? What changes might you consider during the next six months to improve next summer’s garden?


  1. Did you have colour throughout the summer? If not consider planting more lantanas, begonias, bougainvilleas, solanum, agapanthus, oleanders, hibiscus, oriental lilies and perhaps a lagerstroemia (Jupiter tree).
  2. Did you have to spend much time with a hose watering the garden? If so, extend the irrigation system to more plants by next year. To ensure that there is sufficient pressure of water for all the drip feeds construct the system in sections with a separate timer on each section.
  3. Did the ground dry out daily to a dust bowl? Work in as much organic matter as you can into the soil during the autumn and winter. If you are laying out a new garden or a new bed in an existing garden, aim to achieve 25% of organic matter in the top 20 to30 centimetres of the soil.
  4. Is the surface of the soil best described as concrete? Enrich the soil as ‘3’ above and mulch with stone chippings, almond shells, compost or wood chippings laid over woven plastic sheeting etc.. Some 35 ways of mulching are described in section 4.7 of my book ‘How To Use Less Water In Your Garden – A Practical Guide To Waterless Gardening’. Like all my books this is available from internet book shops such as Amazon Books and The Book Depository.

gardening bookConsider developing a pond or a series of ponds and fountains as a water garden. Plants such as water hyacinths and water lilies soon cover much of the surface of ponds with interesting greenery and then have exotic flowers. Also fish and frogs in ponds add interesting wildlife diversions at a time when many gardens receive less and less visits from butterflies and birds each year as a result of nearby new developments. The sound of water from the fountains also creates a cooling effect. The area will need little summer care except for an occasional topping up with water.

  1. Did you get too many fallen leaves and flowers around the pool? If so, consider redesigning that part of the garden with a plant-free inner area around the pool, surrounded by a low drop area, two or more metres deep.
  2. Restrict plantings in this area to clean plants such as succulents, cacti and pelargoniums.
  3. Were you able to siesta in the deep shade of one or more trees? We know that most of us come to Spain for the sun, but for several months of the year there are times of the day when one is best out of the full sun. A couple of fast growing trees and a good broom to sweep up fallen leaves and flowers is less expensive and more healthy for most than an afternoon of air conditioning. One of the problems of air conditioning is that the temperature difference between the inside temperature and the outside is greater than that of the shade of a tree and in the full sun, so one can be tempted to live an indoor rather than outdoor summer. Consider planting more trees this autumn away from the pool, or/and construct a pergola with climbers planted alongside to cover it next summer.
  4. How did the lawn fare? Would it make sense to change some of the area to a stone chipping terrace with a mature tree in the centre, or leave the lawn longer during the summer months?
  5. Did you manage to keep your annuals flowering throughout the summer without them burning back? If not, consider switching over to pots of succulents. There are many interesting varieties and many flower during the summer.
  6. Was there plenty of perfume in the garden? If not, plant another jasmine, some evening flowering San Diego from seed, lemon verbena and herbs such as rosemary, sage, thyme and lavender.
  7. Were July and August too hot for the best of crops in your vegetable garden? Don’t give up vegetable growing as you were not the only one to suffer. If you only have a small vegetable garden, consider changing over to a number of raised beds during the autumn. If filled with a 30% compost/manure to soil mix they will retain water better and not become as consolidated. If you plant in blocks instead of rows it is possible to raise an amazing amount of vegetables in a small space. Also consider a block or row of black builder’s buckets for growing vegetables through the summer and indeed all the year round as illustrated in the photo. It is best to site them in an area that only has sun for half the day and preferably in the morning.

Hopefully such changes to your garden and gardening practices can help you enjoy future hot summers better.

© Dick Handscombe