The Artists’ Garden

Jan and Nigel Chapman, who have lived near Olhão for nearly twenty years, have created one of my favourite Algarve gardens. 

WORDS Tamsin Varley

The couple have cleverly worked with the natural flora and numerous rocks on their land to create a fabulous retreat. Near the house, the garden is more developed with hard landscaping incorporating a stunning swimming pool area with raised beds on the north side of the house and a beautifully relaxing eating area on the other side. 

As a lot of the two-acre plot was inaccessible, paths have been created through the natural flora further away from the house so it can be explored more easily. Home-made artwork, such as metal birds, mosaics, arches and bottle art is also interspersed throughout the garden to add a different dimension.

When Jan and Nigel acquired the property, it was just a ruin with some old carob, almond and olive trees that had been neglected for at least sixty years. They bought a pick-axe, wheelbarrow, and chainsaw, essential tools to restore some sort of order to the land. After that, their first priority was to create some height. Over the years they have planted more than one hundred trees. I love that all the cypresses are named after family and friends who wanted to buy them a plant for the garden. Other plants came from local nurseries, gardening friends and local bins, where most of their Yucca plants were acquired.

Their garden is constantly evolving; every time I visit, I can’t wait to see what changes they have made. For example, on a recent visit, a tired old Lantana hedge had been removed to reveal a surprisingly large area behind it, which is now a gravel garden planted with succulents. 

The garden flows so well that I assumed they must have had a long-term plan. However, it transpires that they are quite impulsive and come up with an idea and then “just get on with it.” Their ethos is to work with the natural landscape as much as possible and try and limit irrigation by using plants from the Mediterranean or succulents. They try and bring more than plants to the garden, and have created some distinct areas, incorporated whimsical ideas, and added some artwork for height and others to give movement or colour or simply to bring a smile to your face. They believe it’s fun to turn a corner and come across something unexpected. As they said, the garden is primarily for their enjoyment, but they get a lot of pleasure if visitors enjoy it too. They also encourage birds and insects into the garden and have numerous strategically placed bird baths.

The soil in their plot is extremely variable and ranges from sand to heavy clay. In some areas, it’s easy to dig holes, so planting with a generous load of compost gets plants off to a good start. In other very rocky areas, they work with the natural flora such as Pistachia lentiscus or Mastic bush which they either trim into bushes or encourage to grow into trees. As Nigel says, no water is needed – all you need is a hedge trimmer and some imagination. Mindful of water usage, they try to keep irrigation to a minimum and are developing more gravel areas with succulents to cope with drier, hotter summers.

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


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