by Dick Handscombe, author and gardener living in Spain for 25 years.
Typical Problem Gardens
Unfortunately many families purchasing properties in Spain do one of three things, each not very appropriate for an enjoyable relaxed outdoor life in Spain – which is the main reason given by people for coming to Spain.
- Develop a replica of an urban English garden characterised by a central lawn, straight paths and edges to flower beds and a drive/car standing area. The overall design driven by wanting to look out on an attractive urban landscape from panoramic windows on dull and rainy days, or escaping inside from the evening midges rather than on designing a garden to live in.
- Develop a pool resort which is a replica of the hotel gardens that they used to stay in for a week or two a year, characterised by the most visible part of the garden taken up by the largest pool and surrounding terrace possible with shade provided by large umbrellas and generally no trees except for one or two in the boundary hedge to hide the house next door.
- Many find that’s great for a couple of short holidays in the sun each year, but it can become a monotonous never-changing view from windows, sheltered covered terraces and from under the umbrellas. Of course even in Spain the pool will probably be only used from May to October unless it’s heated and covered with a three metre high sliding cover. Then one has a view of a large greenhouse 365 days a year!
- Attempt to develop a tropical garden like the ones they saw in Asia characterised by dramatic jungle-type gardens of tropical flowering and fruiting bushes, trees, climbing plants and orchids. This is possible in situations very sheltered from the scorching hot summer winds from Africa and the cold northerly winds from the north and which have a reliable water supply throughout the year. Unfortunately such gardens can lose many plants if winter frosts occur in your location.
More Useable Lifestyle Gardens
A better alternative is to develop a garden that becomes the main room of the house for most months of the year; a garden designed for living in rather than only looking at; a garden that tempts one to wander through it, to sit in the shade of mature trees in the summer and relax and eat out in sheltered sunny nooks during the cooler winter months and with the views and night time perfumes that prompts one to eat out in it on most nights of the year. Such a garden is likely to be driven by your vision of an open air lifestyle; a vision based on a detailed analysis of what your dream life in Spain will be and the ways in which your garden design needs to make that dream come true. The alternative is to install and use daily air-conditioning and central heating and again live indoors looking out on an inappropriately hostile garden!
A satisfying garden is likely to be characterised by a balance of shady and sunny spots, mature trees within the garden as well as integral with the boundary hedge, internal as well as boundary windbreaks. The pool may be incorporated into one of a number of smaller connected gardens; attractive internal vistas as one wanders through the garden as well as the preservation of the best distant vistas beyond the boundary walls or hedge. Plants are appropriate to your summer and winter microclimates, with space for some seasonal organically grown fruit and vegetables – it doesn’t require much space to be able to make daily harvests 365 days a year – and perhaps a corner run for one or two hens.
The above concept can be developed in very small gardens as well as in a larger space. We only have a 800 square metre garden around the house, but our integrated holistic approach to its development enabled us to soon acclimatise to the Spanish climate in a natural way.
Our book ‘Your Garden In Spain’ includes a simple lifestyle questionnaire as the first step in designing or re-designing a Spanish garden. The rest of the book and the two sister books ‘Growing Healthy Fruit In Spain’ and ‘Growing Healthy Vegetables In Spain – From Sprouting Seeds To Watermelons’ are designed to take the headaches out of the design, construction, planting and seasonal maintenance of your garden. Over the past 25 years we have learned much the hard way – there is no need for you to make the same mistakes. Happy lifestyle gardening!
For convenience the books mentioned and ‘Living Well From Our Garden – Mediterranean Style’ can all be obtained via Amazon Books and would all make good Christmas presents.