A Windy Garden

WORDS Tamsin Varley

Sue Frew is one of the original members of Clube Dos Bons Jardins and is an enthusiastic gardener with a real eye for design. She moved into her current house sixteen years ago and created the garden from scratch. 

Sue showed me a photo album, a fantastic record of how the garden has developed over the years. I was surprised to see what she started off with as it now looks so mature. Originally, they bought a ruin surrounded mainly by meadows with one carob tree and a few pomegranate bushes. The front of the garden faces south-east and the back is a sloping north-west facing garden, overlooking Silves.

They developed the garden in stages as it was basically just Sue and her gardener who did all the hard work (apart from some difficult landscaping). One of the first tasks was to build a retaining wall along the back of the house to create a level area. This is now a small lawn with steps down to the main garden. 

The driveway was created next and she has developed a lovely succulent garden under the shade of yellow oleander (Thevetia peruviana)trees within the turning circle for the drive. As the property is on top of a hill, it is very windy up there, so they planted a windbreak around the back of the property using tea tree shrubs (Melaleuca). Walkways were then created around the garden with large flower beds between them. The idea here was to break the garden into manageable chunks to break up the workload. There are quite a few medium-sized trees in the garden that Sue planted. They offer much-needed shade from the strong Algarve sun. They include a Jacaranda, a Melia and a contorted willow, all of which were seedlings or cuttings from friends within the garden club. A hammock under the Melia (cloudberry) tree looks like a very tempting spot to hang out.

A natural-shaped swimming pool with greeny-yellow tiles which make it look more pond-like can be spotted lower down the garden from the house. There is a large rockery below it, and it is surrounded by large-leaved plants, such as the Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia), cycads, palms and New Zealand flax (Phormium). This creates a lush, jungle vibe. To the left of the lawn under the shade of the contorted willow is a water feature that looks like a natural well. It is planted with ferns to cement the illusion. There is a rickety bench here so you can have a well-earned rest in the shade. This is one of Sue’s favourite areas, along with her flower bed containing Echinaceas, lilies and Alstroemerias.

The garden is watered from a borehole just three times a week for about half an hour at a time. The soil in the garden was originally the hard red clay so typical of the Barrocal, but now it looks rich and brown. I asked her how she achieved this almost miraculous transformation. She told me that her secret ingredient is adding copious amounts of well-rotted horse manure. I can testify that it works as I have sourced horse manure from Sue and even after just a few years, the soil in my vegetable patch has improved dramatically.

Tamsin Varley is a member of Clube Dos Bons Jardins; a small, friendly multi-national garden club that meets at different locations around the Algarve on the 2nd Tuesday every month (except over the summer) with an optional lunch afterwards.



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