|Mediterranean Garden Society|
The Portugal Branch of the MGS
Thank you to everyone who came along to support our sixth Mediterranean Garden Fair on 1st November. What an amazing day we had on Saturday, but, thank goodness, we had sunshine – many of those attending remembered the deluges of 2012 at the same venue, so it was a great bonus to have good weather this year. This was our first major event under the banner of our newly registered Portuguese association. The new group has complete fiscal and legal status in Portugal and removes the previous concerns of being challenged about our activities.
A new layout for the plant nurseries put everyone together, which made for a spectacular show of good-quality plants. Highlights included good specimens of Yucca rostrata, the rarely offered Dracaena cinnabari, and specialist native plant nursery SIGMETUM with seeds of Portuguese native plants offered for sale for the first time at our event. There was a very good selection of succulents on offer, and in all 18 plant nurseries attended. We distributed many free MGS garden-advice leaflets and a lot of free garden advice too. The talks were popular, and the propagation workshop was quite a challenge to do in two languages, but fortunately our visual aids (secateurs and soggy compost) worked just fine. There was a special talk on hoyas from Alan Butler of Brookside Nurseries, now based in Spain. The other talks were on ‘Top Ten herbs for the Algarve’ by medical herbalist Daisy Mae, and Fernanda Botelho gave us all encouragement to eat our flowers with her talk on edible flowers and culinary herbs. The parking arrangements seemed to work well for the visitors; another first for this year was the shuttle bus. It was very popular and did a good job in ferrying those who wanted lifts to and from the car park. The Plant Crèche was a new feature and allowed everyone to collect plants with their cars from one point at the end of their visit. These new arrangements were a huge experiment, and it became obvious that there is work to do on refining the arrangements for parking for our own volunteers and for stallholders. Our less mobile visitors welcomed the provision of disabled parking on the site and this must be part of plans for the future. Thank you to anyone affected for your understanding on the day.
The MGA plant stall took a fantastic 800 euros, and a big attraction this year was a stunning selection of salvias including S. discolor, S. involucrata, S. coerulea (syn. S. guaranitica) and the lovely little S. x jamensis. We had Amaryllis belladonna and Scilla peruviana bulbs for sale as well as second-hand books, and the new Algarve wild flowers book on the MGA Info table inside the building. Not all proceeds are profit as we have had to pay for the books and some bought-in specially commissioned plants, and for the cleaning of the car park, but we hope for a significant sum after all that has been taken into account. Our Treasurer, Richard, has been working hard on the accounting system that we must have for our new association, so it is important to have our records accurate for the AGM coming up in 2015. There were also considerable set-up costs this year for the new association, so it was doubly important to make the event a success.
The real headline is the number of paying visitors to the event this year, a whopping 921 people. Taken together with all the volunteers and the stallholders and helpers, we had about 1,000 people on site during the day. Lots of smiling faces, lots of bags full of plants and best of all, fabulous weather for our annual bash.
The strong and growing interest in Mediterranean gardening and the need for good quality information and appropriate plants has been proved – and now we have had the best possible start for our gardening year. Everyone will be keen to get planting the new purchases, it was a very beautiful day and we all had a lot of fun. As always, please do let me know your thoughts, comments and suggestions if you were present on the day.
This year’s spring gathering took place once again at the Pine Cliffs hotel near Albufeira on the Algarve, following a very successful event held there in 2013. Our focus this year was very much on the succulents of the plant kingdom and the organising group had come up with some very knowledgeable speakers to take us on a global tour with suggestions for our mediterranean gardens along the way.
The weekend started with timely wild flower walks and garden visits on Friday and Monday, neatly sandwiching the more intense programme of talks on Saturday and Sunday. Sue Parker and Pat O’Reilly took a group along the Algibre River on Friday morning, and Marilyn Medina Ribeiro followed this up with a guided walk at Fonte De Benemola on Monday, just missing the worst of the heavy downpours of the day. Both walks were described by one participant as an ‘orchidfest’, and there was some competition to see who had spotted the most species during the visit.
A special treat on Friday afternoon was the inauguration of the Botanic Tour of the Hotel Gardens to celebrate the new self-guided tour and brochure: a first for a hotel and resort on the Algarve. This was well attended by conference participants and a good introduction to the huge range of plants from many parts of the world that grow here on the Algarve. If you would like to make the garden tour, just ask at the hotel reception at Pine Cliffs.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the kind garden owners who opened their own private
Our specialist speakers took us on tours of Central America, South Africa and the Siskiyou mountains of the western United States. All had excellent suggestions for plants and trees that should perform well for us in mediterranean climates. Derek Tribble took us to South Africa and showed us Aloe brevifolia and Aloe plicatilis among many other interesting plants from this botanically rich area. Paul Spracklin shared the photos of his many visits to Mexico hunting out rare Agave species in their native habitat, including Agave potatorum and Agave titanota.
Our keynote speaker on Saturday morning was Roy Lancaster. He shared with us his visit to the spectacular Siskiyou mountains; his visit was guided by the well-known nurseryman Sean Hogan, and Roy recommended his book to us for hints on arid zone gardening. The magnificent specimens of pines and drought-resistant shrubs included Pinus lambertiana, Arbutus menziesii and Frangula californica (syn. Rhamnus californica).
Marilyn Medina Ribeiro covered how to make gardens in the varied range of soil types of the Algarve, and Gerald Luckhurst told us the fascinating story of the restoration of the historic Mexico garden at Monserrate Palace in Sintra near Lisbon.
This was also an opportunity for getting to know other gardeners, and the talking went on throughout the weekend, friendships were formed, gardens visited, the diversity of plants well demonstrated – all in all a great way to spend a weekend!
This year we held our fifth garden fair on Saturday October 26th to take advantage of the extra hour of sunshine but we had a particular challenge, namely to hold our event and to comply with the recent changes in local councils and national legislation. Everyone involved in the organising is very grateful for the help we received from the newly united Estoi and Conceição Junta and the Horse Association of Estoi. We hope to work with them again in the future. It was very disappointing that we could not return to the Palace Hotel in Estoi, but the historic gardens there were so unsafe for public access that it was beyond our resources to prepare them.
The Mediterranean Garden Fair has become a firm favourite with keen gardeners here on the Algarve and further afield. This is not surprising when you consider that one of the main building blocks of our gardens is the plants we use to provide beauty, colour and seasonal interest. Without the small and usually family-run plant nurseries, we would have a much reduced choice. One of our aims has always been to support this kind of nursery and put them in touch with gardeners seeking a wider range of plants. The fair is also our annual fund-raising event to support the programme for the year and our own members’ plants for sale is a very popular stall. We are very grateful to everyone who brought along plants for us to sell on the day.
This type of event is very common in the UK, France, Belgium and Germany, and the model is well known in those countries. Here in Portugal there was no precedent for an event which combines small nurseries with a wide range of plants, larger specialist sellers and the opportunity to talk to and learn from fellow gardeners.
This is an element we have always tried hard to incorporate, and willing volunteers have offered their time and willingness to share their expertise freely with visitors. This might involve passing on basic but practical propagating techniques, looking at one plant family, advice on gardening with native plants or even solar cooking - and eating!
This year again we had the challenge of the weather to deal with. It was a very wet week leading up to the day itself and the volunteers involved in the set-up day on Friday were, once again, soaked! Fortunately, the following day was bright, clear and sunny and the plants all looked wonderful after their dose of rainwater. It was indeed a beautiful day to celebrate the start of the gardening year.
We had some new small nurseries, one specialising in succulents and another with unusual plants grown from seed. The fairground looked very inviting and the layout allowed everyone plenty of room to show off their plants and trees. We are always very keen indeed to hear about small nurseries with good plants to offer; please let us know of your own recommendations so that we can send invitations in good time. It takes a lot of hard work to prepare plants for this special day. I noticed that there was a larger range of lavenders available, including the excellent Lavandula dentata var. candicans in good numbers. Also caper plants, the spectacular semi-tropical African tulip tree, Spathodea campanulata and, from South Africa, the lovely fynbos tree Cussonia paniculata for those who like a challenge.
We also had good presentations on propagating from John Vellam, on low-maintenance Mediterranean gardening from Marilyn Medina Ribeiro, and another on ‘The Nasty Stuff, Pests etc.’
As we were not charging an entry fee, it was difficult to estimate numbers, but despite the change of venue and the last-minute arrangements to comply with the rules, we were very pleased indeed with the response. So, a big ‘thank you’ to everyone who came along to support this event, we shall look forward to seeing you again next year and enjoy the wonderful gardening season ahead. If you would like to be put on our email distribution list for news of events, then please send your email address to email@example.com and you can look us up at gardeninginportugal.com.
Text by Rosie Peddle
A couple of days before this year’s Garden Fair, we were consulting the weather forecast with increasing regularity, but our hopes for a small window of dry weather were not to be fulfilled.
We were, however, very lucky indeed that the weather did not break in the days before the garden fair. The big clean-up needed in the gardens was accomplished in dry conditions. When a small group of us visited the gardens for the first time before the fair, it was heartbreaking to see the utter neglect and lack of maintenance. The desperate need to clean the large car park all around the building, and to make the avenues fit for public access, was a daunting prospect. We could only make the call for helpers and speak to some professionals for the specialist work required. The response was immediate and unhesitating and we had our heroic work crew. It was very rewarding to see the obvious affection and respect that many have for this special site.
We are very grateful to the management of the Pousada de Palácio de Estoi for generously giving unlimited access to these historic gardens. They have gained a car park and we pressed on with plans for our annual fund-raising bash.
As the day itself approached, garden brollies, gazebos and any kind of shelter were investigated, patched up and set up around the site ‘just in case’. We had cancellations, and last minute changes had to be made, but despite the sudden and sharp showers of rain predicted, most of those who had promised their participation did come along. Volunteers, nurseries and exhibitors all made huge efforts and deserve our very grateful thanks for all their hard work.
Our car parking and entrance volunteers in particular had to take whatever the weather threw at them, and came up smiling. It was so rewarding to see the cars arrive with everyone well prepared, brollies and wellies at the ready. As one volunteer so accurately expressed it: ‘You all succeeded in getting most of the Algarve and Alentejo gardeners - and perhaps those from even further afield - to come to the fair despite the weather. They were all there - even the ones who usually look like models - under raincoats and umbrellas and hoods, hair-on-end, no make-up, but all determined to buy plants and to be there.’ Amazingly, we had 475 visitors on the day.
A highlight for many was the discovery of nurseries new to this event, from as far afield as Lagos and Tavira. The chosen theme for this year seemed to be extremely popular, despite the wet day, and the talks and displays on succulents were very popular. We had a magnificent display of 50 different aloes, and a specialist collector brought along crates of his own plants to share with visitors. Nurseries had picked up the theme and brought wonderful plants for sale. On the members’ tables there were delights such as Sansevieria cylindrica, Plumeria rubra (frangipani), fifteen different species and varieties of ornamental grasses and five different kniphofias. The axe-swinging lecturer demonstrating propagation by division was theatre at its best. Did anyone get a photo?
This year we have used funds to pay for some professional help, alongside the wonderful volunteers who completed the extensive work required to get the site ready for our event. We certainly plan on holding other events at Estoi, but, hopefully, in better weather. We also plan to help a young professional horticulturist coming to the Algarve to gain experience of mediterranean gardening, and we have funded the production of Mediterranean Garden Society gardening advice leaflets (now available in three languages), as well as supporting our events throughout the year, for example, the Spring Conference in March 2013 with Roy Lancaster and Jim Gardiner as speakers. This will be held 1st to 3rd March and it will look at the global contribution of plants from the mediterranean climate zones of the world, including crop plants, garden cultivars and, of course, drought-tolerant planting.
We have also been able to take the plunge into using the internet to share with everyone the impressive lecture Ecology of the Mediterranean by Dr Oliver Rackham at this year’s Spring Conference. This is now available to all on the web here.
You can also follow news of events here and on our new public access Facebook page Mediterranean Gardeners – Portugal. Isn't technology marvellous ….
We heard the story of how it was made – including amazing photos of manoeuvring ancient olive trees around inside a fully functioning tourist resort, in a large and muddy JCB. It was a fascinating insight into the enormous amount of work done to clear out the old plantings, including invasive lantanas and acacias, and to prepare for the new garden. The presentation gave everyone the chance to learn about the plants used in the garden and the philosophy behind the radical changes that have taken place. For a public resort in a tourist town, this is a revolutionary idea, which turns the idea of hotel landscaping on its head. The clearance of lawn and the removal of irrigation has encouraged latent native plants to return, the various species of ground orchids being a very welcome and spectacular example. The dramatic drop in water and maintenance costs has also proved popular with the resort owners.
Our guided tour with Marilyn on Saturday morning gave everyone the chance to see the Algarvean garden for themselves and the opportunity to ask questions. The establishment and ongoing maintenance of this garden is the subject of an article written and illustrated by Marilyn in the April issue of TMG (no. 68). Those staying at the resort had the joy of close contact with this garden for the whole weekend.
The garden walk was followed on Saturday morning by Lavenders of the Iberian Peninsula, an illustrated talk by Joan Head, former National Collection Holder for Lavandulaspecies. Joan, and her husband Michael have visited Portugal and Spain to study lavenders as well as using them in their own garden. Joan’s talk was an updated and comprehensive presentation with many lovely photos taken during their travels ‘lavender hunting’. The Kew monograph on Lavenders published in 2004 is highly recommended by Joan. She showed pictures of plants growing in the wild and in gardens as well as giving an insight into commercial cultivation. This was an inspiring and informative presentation. I think there were many in the audience who were surprised by the number of species and varieties of lavenders growing in this part of Europe.
Following lunch, there was a guided walk through the Hapimag cliff-top southern coastal habitat. Our guides were Udo Schwarzer, a biologist, and Claudia Schwarzer, a landscape architect and specialist on native plant gardens and designer of the Hapimag Algarve garden. They have a wealth of knowledge of Algarve natural history, and they are great supporters of MGS locally. The choice of the Hapimag resort as a base for our first conference was made partly because of the protected nature site which it occupies. The walk along the cliff-top, and through the special relict carob trees and their associated plants was an object lesson in taking time to observe and learn from natural plant communities.
On Saturday afternoon there was a well-supported MGS plant sales table; plants such as Lavandula dentata var. candicans, Ballota pseudodictamnus and Bletilla striata had been propagated by members and they were eagerly carried off to their new gardens. In the spacious reception area of the resort we also had a display and sales of old maps and prints of Portugal, books on the orchids, fungi and flora of the Algarve, and the usual information table with all the MGS leaflets. These had been specially printed for the conference weekend in German, English and Portuguese and were a very popular ‘freebie’. Each delegate at the conference received a folder with information on local nurseries and garden centres, recommended walks and bird watching locally. For some this was their first visit to the Algarve. This afternoon break in the formal programme was another opportunity to talk and chat about our own gardening experiences.
Filipe Soares of Sigmetum gave us a presentation in English; he had to apologise that he had been unable to bring any plants from this new specialist native plant nursery. This nursery is an initiative of some recently graduated students of the Escola Superior de Agronomia and it is based in the botanic gardens of Ajuda in Lisbon. Filipe confessed that he had never done a presentation in English before, and he was very grateful for the patience of the audience in allowing him the opportunity to talk to us. There must have been someone listening, because there were many requests to organise a trip to visit the nursery following his talk.
After dinner that evening we had the great treat of a presentation of gardens worldwide with a distinctive Mediterranean character. Maria Sansoni is the MGS Branch Head for Germany, Austria & Switzerland and she has a nursery for mediterranean plants near Munich in Germany. In 2010 she was awarded the Hans-Bickel Prize for horticulture. It was a great pleasure to welcome Maria to the Algarve. Her talk showed us that mediterranean gardening is a real global phenomenon and we all found something to spark new ideas for our own gardens. Maria was particularly enthusiastic about the gardens of California and Australia.
On Sunday morning we assembled bright and early for Professor Oliver Rackham´s scholarly and fascinating talk on ’The Making of European Mediterranean Landscapes’. He is a Life Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and he has studied and published extensively on the ecology of the Mediterranean and in particular of the island of Crete. He is co-author of The Nature of Mediterranean Europe, an ecological history. His excellent presentation showed his long experience of lecturing to students with slides from many parts of Europe taken during his extensive investigation of Mediterranean habitats. He used many examples from Crete where he has been involved in gaining protection for some threatened areas of the island. This talk was well supported and appreciated by an audience keen to hear about the historical influences, both natural and man-made, which have shaped the ancient Mediterranean world through to modern times. This talk was filmed and recorded, and we hope to make it available via the internet and to have a transcription prepared in Portuguese.
Following another superb meal in the Hapimag restaurant, we took to the buses for a garden visit to Villa Norvasund, near Ferragudo, the creation of MGS members, Jon and Torunn Lange Gjedebo. They have built their home in a spectacular coastal location and made a formal garden using classic Mediterranean plants surrounding the house. Torunn was very pleased that her lovingly propagated echiums were performing at their best, and the dark blue spires showed up really well against the evergreen shrubs used in the garden. The garden melts into the surrounding landscape using the natural areas as a beautiful setting for the house and garden. The lavenders, genistas, cistuses and loniceras in the untouched landscape were a lovely backdrop for our walk out to the cliff top and a spectacular view of the sea.
On Sunday evening there were farewell drinks in the bar and a buffet dinner in the Vista Mar Restaurant, Hapimag. This was another opportunity for swapping tall tales about our own garden experiences. After dinner we encouraged everyone to complete the dreaded feedback forms by holding an informal draw. These will be extremely useful in future planning for another year.
Overall about 60 people attended during the weekend, some resident and some day delegates. The excellent accommodation and superb restaurant at Hapimag gave us a splendid venue which was universally praised by all present. We had MGS members from the Costa Blanca in Spain, from the UK and from Germany. It was a great pleasure to welcome Heather Martin and Maria Sansoni. Various nationalities were represented, including Dutch, German, Finnish and, of course, Portuguese. It was much appreciated by local members that others had taken the trouble to travel long distances for their first experience of Portugal. We look forward to seeing them again and we extend a warm welcome to anyone interested in experiencing the wonderful flora and gardens of the Algarve.
5 November 2011
This was our third year of organising a Garden Fair on the Algarve, and we were all a bit nervous that we might have become slightly boring by constantly encouraging folk to get rid of their lawns, plant drought-tolerant gardens and use native plants. Our wonderful volunteers rallied round once again and the nurseries were keen to take part – how could we say no!
The response was just fabulous, and we would like to take this chance to thank everyone who came and supported us on the day. We were incredibly lucky with the weather as the day dawned bright and clear after days with heavy rain and high winds, and this in the week when even the airport roof had blown off.
Our big annual fund raiser on Saturday 5th November turned out to be a truly amazing day, we had over 500 people through the gate. The car parking was really busy at times, but we got there in the end, everyone was very patient while the various areas were opened up. Our own Mediterranean Garden Society plant sales area was very well supplied with plants from our own gardens, the volunteers who were running this busy stand did a fantastic job and our funds have had a marvellous boost for the year ahead. The lavenders propagated by members earlier in the year proved a popular choice. These had grown away well and disappeared into bags very quickly.
The selected small plant nurseries all had terrific sales. I know that they had worked hard on selecting their plants and making sure they were in tip-top condition. The rain had finally arrived to make this a perfect time to get plants into the ground. I spent all day looking after the talks and demonstrations - it seems we are finally getting our message across. It is possible to have a lovely garden that does not require constant irrigation and does not contain lawns or palm trees!
For me the star of the show was the fantastic display of over 20 different species of Cistus (rock roses) and wild hybrids of these. These were among the many drought-tolerant plants from a nursery in Holland owned by MGS members, Jan and Anny Bos. They have a holiday home on the west coast near Odemira and they have used their experience of gardening on the Algarve to make a careful selection of their most successful Algarve plants. These plants were propagated and brought down to the fair on Saturday. There are some wonderful Cistus hybrids which cover themselves in flowers in spring. The parents of these hybrids are native plants of many Mediterranean areas, including the Algarve. I have never seen such a wonderful selection of plants offered for sale here before.
In addition to the nurseries and their displays of plants for sale, we ran a programme of talks and demonstrations. These covered natural swimming ponds, biodynamic cultivation, and gardening with native plants. The demonstrations concentrated on propagating techniques so that we can all make more of the plants that do best for us in our own gardens. Topics covered included seed collection and sowing, as well as basic grafting techniques. The workshop on cuttings overran madly, but everyone enjoyed seeing MGS member John Vellam talk us through using secateurs the right way round (we did not know there was a wrong way). He also took the opportunity to insult the compost I had provided for him to use, which caused some amusement. Everyone went home with a bag full of plant material to make their own cuttings at home. We hope to see some photos next year of the successful progeny.
Many people were kind enough to say that they thought the venue near Faro was a lovely setting for our garden fair. The large marquee had a mixture of exhibits, from cakes, jams, herbs and spices to a mosaic demonstration and a book stall. It was an amazing day, and the happy faces and arms filled with bags of plants were a joyful sight: maybe we will do it all again next year – when we have recovered.
The day was divided into an illustrated talk in the morning and a study/practical session in the afternoon. The talk began with an impressive worldwide journey showing the wide distribution of euphorbias and their varied original habitats - from the tree euphorbias of Africa to the rare herbaceous Euphorbia glauca from New Zealand. Examples of tree, shrub, succulent and herbaceous forms were all included. We then moved on to cultivation and pruning with examples of euphorbias in many colours and for every season of the year. The talk concluded with some stunning shots of plant associations and views of Don’s own collection and garden in the UK. The afternoon study session gave everyone the opportunity to study euphorbia flower heads and their unique structure which helps with identification, gathering and growing from seed as well as general propagation. Don brought seed from his own collection, slide lists, and work and information sheets for distribution. Everyone had work to do and the sorting of samples of mixed seed varieties was a very useful task for all. He also came with some copies of his new book on Euphorbia which were quickly sold out on the day. There were also some plants for sale. No one went home empty-handed and my E. myrsinites seeds have germinated already.
Seed List from the Euphorbia Study Day
E. characias ‘Humpty Dumpty’
E. characias ‘Lambrook Yellow’
E. characias ‘Thelma’s Giant’
E. x pasteurii
E. polychroma ‘Senior’
Don’s Top Ten Drought-Resistant Euphorbias for the Mediterranean Climate
Claudia Schwarzer is an experienced and knowledgeable landscape architect. She showed her deep love for, and appreciation of, the native plants of the Algarve in her talk. Bringing such plants into our gardens brings them closer to us so that we can appreciate their beauty and see them outshine the more demanding garden plants usually offered.
Claudia had good advice to offer about planting seasons, techniques for success when planting, and details of how to plant. It all starts with the choice of appropriate plants: look for small top growth with good root systems and preferably for plants grown in pots with long straight sides to promote those all-important roots.
She encouraged us to try our hand at propagating our own native plants from seed and small wild-collected seedlings from around our own gardens. Observation is very important, look at what works in your area and choose your plants from those genera - such as cistus, phlomis, lavender and the evergreen shrubs and trees. Observing the distribution of plants in nature gives the design for integrating home-grown or nursery plants into our gardens in a natural ‘star’-shaped layout which replicates the way plants grow from seed in the wild.
Irrigation methods were discussed and Claudia recommended making a bowl (watering basin) around the plant which can be flooded with water during the first summer following autumn planting. This gives an opportunity to provide deep watering to encourage roots that can sustain a plant through the months without rain. Watering should be copious, but at intervals of about two to three weeks during the first summer only. A planting hole should be at least double the size of the pot in both width and depth. Using organic or inorganic mulches reduces evaporation and improves soil conditions around the plant. Shredded garden material or gravel preserves thin topsoils. She encouraged those who want to get rid of their lawns to diversify the plants and choose low-growing thymes, origanums and other aromatic herbs mixed with small bulbs to replace the thirsty grass.
Claudia used illustrations from the newly created Algarve Mediterranean Garden at the Hapimag Resort Albufeira throughout her presentation and we were able to have a guided tour of this garden following her talk. Claudia is well known to MGS members and friends as an experienced and knowledgeable professional landscape architect with a passion for waterwise gardens with appropriate planting. You can see more information and examples of her work here.
In the afternoon session we had a practical workshop with Marilyn Kahan, Gardens Manager at the resort, which included hands-on seed sowing and propagation from cuttings with emphasis on native plants. Some seeds of native plants were also distributed to those attending.
Our first Mediterranean Plant Sale took place on 7 November 2009 and we had a wonderful response. The talks on 'Grasses' by Janet Symons and on the 'Soils and Fertilisers for the Algarve' by Jens Piscator were very well attended and provoked good discussions afterwards. The first talk was on the subject of 'Starting from Scratch' and was given by experienced Algarve gardener Burford Hurry. He held a roomful of people enraptured with his practical advice on how to tackle your first Algarve garden. It was obvious that those attending were keen to learn more about gardening here and that short talks should be included in any future event. We believe that about 500 people attended but it was difficult to tell as we were all kept so very busy. We are particularly grateful for the support from the nurseries who came along to sell plants and who were so generous with their advice and time for visitors on the day. Other exhibitors included an expert on chillies, a lavender expert from the UK, a bookstall and Algarve environmental organisation, Almargem. I am particularly grateful to the kind folk who contributed their cleaned plant pots for recycling – very handy for madly keen propagators. It was also good to have MGS members from other areas in Portugal attending - a group from the Beira led by Marion ter Horst also had a stall and were a welcome addition to the attractions on the day. Members from the Lisbon area also went home with a car full of plants.
Some photos are available at gardeninginportugal.com
Quinta da Bacalhoa is one of the finest early Renaissance buildings in Portugal and is home to some of the earliest azulejos in the country. It was built in an Italianate style in the early part of the 16th century. The L-shaped building encloses two sides of an intricate parterre garden with a simple fountain at its centre. A raised walkway from one corner of the parterre links the house to the Caso do Tanque – three pavilions linked by tiled loggias – fronted by a water tank.
In the closing years of the 19th century, Luigi Manini, who was a famous theatrical set designer, was commissioned to rebuild the palace of Regaleira on the outskirts of Sintra and to remodel the existing garden. The garden sprawls up the steep hillside and winding paths link the extravagant follies, staircases, neo-manueline gateways, fountains, pools and cascades. Manini planted an enormous variety of trees and shrubs from all over the world to create stunning combinations of rock, water and greenery. The highlight of the garden though is the circular well some thirty metres deep. The entrance is a "secret" stone door that swings open on to a dark, grotto-like interior. A spiral staircase leads down the well to its base and a series of granite tunnels that were blasted out of the hillside to link it to the outside world.
Monserrate epitomises an estate that has endured cycles of huge investment, interest and enthusiasm with long periods of sad decline, decay and indifference. The start of the glory days began in 1790 when Gérard de Visme signed a nine-year lease on Monserrate. The lease obliged him to restore the orchards, to repair existing structures and to build a new house, which was the first gothic revival building in Portugal. Ill health, however, forced de Visme to retire to the UK in 1795 and the lease was taken over by William Beckford, whose enduring legacy is the cascade that flows down a boulder-strewn ravine to the shady valley below. However, Beckford tired of Portugal and by 1809 he had left Montserrate, which was left to crumble for almost 50 years. The estate was bought in 1856 by Sir Francis Cook, who spent a small fortune restoring and replanting the gardens and renovating the house. Cook was a plant collector and the woods and parks became the setting for a vast collection of trees and shrubs from all around the world. The house and gardens thrived under the Cook family stewardship, but by 1929 the estate was put up for sale. However, it wasn't sold until 1947 when a speculator bought it and stripped the assets before selling the house to the Portuguese state in 1949. It has remained empty since, and the garden which was maintained by 72 full-time gardeners under Sir Herbert Cook struggles for survival.
Francoise Baudry’s garden is an outstanding plantsman's paradise of 5 acres that is set on a sheltered hillside just outside of Sintra. The stage is set with magnificent mature trees that provide plenty of shade near the house with clever informal planting that leads the eye ever onwards, beckoning the viewer to explore what’s beyond. Retaining walls create large terraces on the slopes which are linked by cleverly hidden stairs or sloping paths amongst the shrubbery. Near the house, the planting is lush and exuberant – an interesting mix of plants from Australia and New Zealand with palms, birches and plane trees – but as you move away from the house the planting becomes more restrained and natural. Winding verdant lawns near the house refresh the eye, and the numerous seating opportunities cleverly placed around the garden mean that the casual explorer has plenty of opportunity to rest and take in the views or just enjoy the ambience.
The Ajuda Botanic Gardens (the first botanic gardens in Portugal) were created between 1765 and 1769 and were close to the royal palace in use at the time. Initially these gardens were created to educate the young princes but they were also used as a place of relaxation for the royal family too. At the gardens' peak in the early 18th century more than 5000 species were on display. However, by the 19th century, the collection had dwindled to just 1200 species. In 1918, the gardens were handed over to the Agronomy Institute of Lisbon Technical University and restored to the way they were in 1869. From the entrance, a balustrade affords a view over the lower terrace which has four kilometres of box hedging arranged in two formal square parterres separated by an impressive fountain decorated with serpents and other aquatic forms. Following the raised walkway to the right of the lower terrace is a collection of plants laid out formally in eight regional sections according to their geographical origin, interspersed with big trees, some of which are now over 300 years old.
The Jardim-Museu Agricola Tropical was created at the beginning of the 20th century as a tropical science research unit, and is home to a plant collection from former Portuguese colonies including many mature palm trees. A subset of the garden is an Eastern Garden entered via two Chinese gates that symbolised Macau, built for the World Expo in 1940.
Palácio Fronteira was built in the late 17th century and both the house and gardens are inspired by Italy. It is home to one of Portugal’s most important collection of 17th century azulejos and was the earliest garden to have azulejos specifically designed for it. Blue and white tiles dominate the raised terrace that links the palace to the chapel which has a façade comprised of mosaics made from pebbles, coloured glass and broken shards of china. From the chapel, a steep covered staircase leads down to the Garden of Venus – a shade garden dominated by an ancient monkey puzzle tree and large magnolias. The Great Garden occupies the enclosed area to the east of the palace aand was designed to be seen from a first floor loggia, which has long since been enclosed. From there, you can view a huge parterre of box arranged around a central fountain. Behind the parterre is the King’s Tank – a large oblong pool surrounded by an elegant balustrade and backed by a retaining wall entirely covered in blue and white azulejos. Staircases at each end of the pool lead up through square pavilions to an upper terrace called the Gallery of the Kings. Busts of Portugal’s kings are arranged on apses lined with azulejos made in blue and white or an iridescent bronze lustre.
Hugo O’Neil’s garden is a 16th century private garden that has been in the same family for 400 years. From a terrace at the back of the house, a box parterre can be viewed in the terrace below. To the right of parterre is a high retaining wall with plantings of chestnut and plane trees in front of it which cast shade over a section of the parterre. A staircase leads from the back of the house down to the parterre. From the far end of the parterre the ground slopes away, revealing a modern tennis court and swimming pool behind a high hedge. A rough road leads down the side of the tennis court to a dilapidated pool complete with a statue that resembles a leprechaun. On the other side of the road, there is a mosaic wall complete with wall fountain which hides a well and wheel that would have been powered by a donkey in days gone by to bring water to the fountain. EU funding has been applied for in order to restore the gardens to their former glory, but comes with a price – access for the general public, parking and a visitor centre.
Text and photos by Tamsin Varley
There was a formal branch of the MGS in Portugal between 2004 and 2014. During that time many events were held for MGS members and for the public. The now well-established Mediterranean Garden Fairs are held twice a year and attracted 1200 visitors to the 2016 Autumn event. In 2014 the decision was made to create an independent association which could provide security to the volunteers organising events and give assurances to our local project-partner organisations in Portugal. This was in response to the high level of public interest in Mediterranean gardening and the need for our organisation to conform to local financial, insurance and banking laws.
Who are we?
What do we do?
"To promote mediterranean plants and gardens, through education, culture, conservation and recognition of their community, environmental and economic importance in our everyday lives."