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

Last night I watched a video of the first five years of my Spanish garden whilst sitting in an almost two hundred year old rocking chair in front of a warm log burning stove; just as my grandmother would have done, but in rural Hertfordshire.

It is difficult to remember at times, when wandering around the now tree and plant-filled garden with gazeboes, greenhouse, garden shed, chicken house, aviary, ponds and fountains, vegetable raised beds and fruit trees etc, just how bare the original walled piece of terraced hillside was and how rural were the surrounding woods and abandoned orchards and vineyards, which are now almost totally built on.

Reflecting back, many of the projects were implemented in March as the days lengthened, temperatures warmed up and Spring was in the air and a couple of changes will be progressed likewise this year.

So, what will it be for you this year? Will you progress solo, or with the help of a spouse or local handyman/gardener? Improvement projects can be improvements to what exists, changes to things you no longer find pleasing or require too much maintenance, or something entirely new.

gardening book coverThe evolution of my garden over twenty eight years is described in the opening chapter of the booklet ‘Living well from our garden – Mediterranean style’. From day one, the garden was seen as a lifetime project that combined useful physical and mental exercise and ended up, phase by phase, with a garden that satisfied spiritual, mental and physical fitness, and gastronomic needs in an economic manner.

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Half way along the way I drew up the chart that follows, which will be found in some of our books. Use it now to reflect on your current and possible future objectives for your own garden however small or large, and whether new or established. Firstly, review your past and current life style in Spain and how it might change over the coming years. Using the framework of the chart, review your objectives for the garden in terms of how it has and could help enable your chosen future lifestyle. Start by considering the central chart further by asking and answering the following questions to determine what style of garden will be most satisfying to you:

  • A natural semi-wild garden or a very formal garden?
  • A garden with a restricted number of plants or an amateur botanic garden with as many plant varieties as possible?
  • A garden that can be laid out completely within a year or two with outside help, or a long-term, perhaps life-time project, which will give a beneficial challenge and creative and physical exercise and pleasure for many years?
  • A flower garden or a productive garden with eco foods to eat, even if only herbs and salad leaves?

gardning news Holistic GardeningBefore continuing I will briefly describe the objective and main feature of the five distinct phases of our garden.

First 6 years
During these early years we only visited the property for holidays and therefore we did not try to be too ambitious. We did manage to increase the originally planned 8 weeks a year to 18 by taking reports and books to work on the evenings having progressed the garden during the days and driving down for three months during the summer and commuting back to the UK for alternate fortnights to work. The focus during these years was to transform the four abandoned agricultural terraces into a manageable state and establish the framework for four unique mini-gardens each with their own mission, style and plantings. Much time was spent carting rocks from the terraces of adjacent fields where roads were planned within a few years. Three metre squared raised beds were set up to grow the things we could not find locally such as fine leafed parsley, mini carrots and Brussels sprouts for Christmas.

Next 3 years
I moved alone to Spain after two cancer operations. The emphasis of gardening was then to recuperate spiritually, mentally and physically by completing the heaviest works and starting to develop pleasing features.

Next 12 years
Completed the layout of the garden and expanded the range of plants beyond our original objective of only having drought-resistant and frost-resistant plants in order to write from experience in our articles and books. We also took on additional land to expand ecological vegetable and fruit growing for ourselves, friends and a Michelin starred restaurant. Clodagh had moved in by now, so there were two pairs of hands and backs to progress in the garden.

Next 9 years
The heavy frosts of March 2004 and 2005 killed off sub-tropical fruit trees and many subtropical perennials, so reverted to our original objectives of having mainly frost-resistant plants.

The future
Now living alone and becoming 78 this month, the emphasis is now on simplifying the maintenance of the most labour-intensive corners of the garden to enable me to live and enjoy it for the rest of my life, rather than downsizing to a smaller property.The allotment land has been handed back, but a wide selection of vegetables, especially for all year round eco salads, are, and will be, grown in three raised beds and a growing number of builder’s buckets. Unfortunately, after ten years, the experimental growing table recently collapsed when one side split away from the base. It has been replaced with a large deep plastic tray used to demonstrate what a children’s mini vegetable garden could start like.

The big question is – when is a garden complete? If you have green fingers, an enquiring mind and a creative spirit the answer is never. If you walk round your garden regularly and view it from different angles when working, resting and eating in the open air, you will inevitably see things that could be tweaked each year and indeed each season.

Best of luck with your own endeavours.
© Dick Handscombe