Gardens in Monchique

I love visiting gardens up in the mountainous region of the Algarve, where the weather is cooler, the rainfall higher and the soil more acidic than the lower-lying areas to the south. One of the many challenges of living in Monchique is that the gardens tend to be on slopes, so most of them feature some form of terracing and lots of steps.

WORDS Tamsin Varley

The House of Five Terraces

The first garden I visited is the aptly named House of Five Terraces, which belongs to Diana and Bryan Wren (who have lived here for over 25 years). Fortunately for them, the hard landscaping was already in place when they moved in, so they had the fun of doing the planting. 

The first three terraces are mostly laid with mature shrubs such as Camellias, Hibiscus, Dombeya and Viburnums with a huge variety of unusual fruit trees and a greenhouse, propagating area and water collection containers on the lower two terraces. 

There is no irrigation system. Instead, there are standpipes around the garden, so it is watered manually by hand, at most once a week in the summer. To cut down on water usage, last year, they took up the lawn by the house and replaced it with a gravel garden planted with drought-tolerant plants.

A Hillside Garden

The second garden belongs to Wendy and Paul Beenham, who also have many terraces going down a steep hillside, most of which have been built by Paul. By the house, there are wide terraces giving Wendy space to grow her own vegetables, which she does very successfully. 

They have two magnificent mature wisterias which were in full bloom when I visited – one by the front of the house and the other growing over a pergola on the bottom terrace. The edges of the terraces are softened by creeping plants such as trailing pelargoniums, the coral plant (Russelia equisetiformis), purple Tradescantia and Sedum morganianum, (better known as the donkey’s tail plant). 

Again, they are on mains water, so watering is done manually using a hose to better control where and when this precious commodity is used.

The Firefly Garden

The final garden I visited was the exclusive Pirilampo guesthouse, owned by Benedita Cocheno and Marc du Roy. Pirilampo means firefly in English and refers to the twinkling evening lights of the coastal towns from Portimão to Sagres, which can be seen from their terraces. 

The property was built in 2016, and when it was complete, there was a dangerous two-metre drop from the terrace. They fixed that by bringing in lots of topsoil and employed a contractor to create the basic paths and terrace walls. The land was also smothered in huge brambles, several metres high and a lot of Acacia saplings. These were cleared, which led to the discovery of several small cork oak trees, some olives and four sweet chestnut trees. 

They planted the garden themselves, focussing on Mediterranean plants like rosemary, lavenders and gazanias as well as various succulents, including yuccas. Although their water comes from several sources, including a local spring, they are very aware of not wasting it. Their most recent garden, which is only three years old, is dedicated to only succulents and is a triumph. 

What I really love about Pirilampo are the many tempting seating areas, all carefully placed to give you shade and different perspectives of the garden.

Tamsin Varley is a member of Clube Dos Bons Jardins. A small, friendly multinational 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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