WORDS Tamsin Varley

Garden clubs such as Clube Dos Bons Jardins depend on their members to thrive and grow. They need a constant stream of new blood to keep them vibrant and interesting. Little did we know just how lucky we were when Maria and Richard Bennett, who modestly downplay their plant knowledge and talent for garden design, joined the club three years ago. 

They actively garden a sloping, south-facing area of about a quarter of a hectare. The land has very little topsoil and a lot of rocks. When they moved there about five years ago, the basic terracing and some pathways were already in place. They were very fortunate to have a number of mature carobs, almonds, olives, palms, oleanders and bottle brushes already well established.

Their vision was to create a low-maintenance garden, drastically reduce the irrigation, and add lots of different seating areas to really enjoy outdoor living (one of their drivers for moving to the Algarve). This has been achieved by soft landscaping much of the area with different textures, such as pebbles, gravel, mulched bark, pea shingle and artificial grass – all underlain with weed matting. 

To make access easier to the different levels, they built two new sets of garden steps, added new pathways and put calçada borders along all the walkways to sharpen the path edges. Height has been added by planting tall, thin cypress trees which also provide long shadows, giving the plants a brief respite from the strong summer sun. Due to the scarcity of topsoil, pots are key to the success of this garden and there are lots of them – all easily watered by strategically placed taps and hoses. To add colour, they have planted an abundance of flowering plants, including hibiscus, lantana, strelitzia, geraniums, gazania, osteospermums, firecracker grass, periwinkle, spring-flowering succulents and also some sub-tropical foliage plants such as bananas, which have even fruited.

Within this oasis, there are also themed areas: the fish pergola with its fishtailed succulent and metal sculpture, an English rose garden, a cactus and succulent bed and the secret garden with its romantic arched gazebo hidden by high hedges. The Moroccan entertainment area by the house offers enviable al-fresco dining and the spectacular double flight of steps from the main house terrace has a distinctly Italian vibe. I also love the selection of thoughtfully placed seating areas strategically placed throughout the garden so you can sit and drink in the vistas before you. 

The big question is – have they achieved what they set out to do? The answer is a resounding “yes”. They have managed to reduce irrigation from six hours every night to two and half hours a night just twice a week, which is to be applauded, especially now in times of drought. It is also low maintenance. A tree surgeon visits just once a year to prune the trees and palms. What is so amazing though is that apart from builders doing the hard landscaping, they have done all the other work themselves, which was a mammoth task. The enforced pandemic lockdown spurred them on to accelerate their garden project. Now they can really enjoy the result of their endeavours with friends and family.

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 of every month with an optional lunch afterwards.