English Country Dustbowl

As I may have mentioned before: it’s hot, but let that not hinder the Mad Dog and Englishman mentality and stop us from gardening. Nothing much is growing as I imagine all of the poor plants are gagging for breath and water in a climate which provides little of either. The sweat that literally drips from the end of our noses is probably the most nutrition they’ve had for weeks.

Our garden, you may recall, was a pile of rocks and earth with a few neglected but flourishing fruit trees and flowery bushes dotted about. It looked something like this when we arrived in March after a typically soggy Portuguese winter:


As the weather improved, the rain stopped and the strimmer did it’s stuff, slowly the garden has taken some kind of shape.

Then, the inevitable happenned in an environment as dry in the summer as this – it turned into a brown dustbowl. Most of the gardens that are owned by immigrants (that’s expats to you) are beautifully tended with large cacti with heavily mulched (bark) or bare ground in between. They are a battle with nature won by the obliteration of all natural growth. The only lawn is made of astroturf or quenched by more water than our borehole could pump. The local Portuguese garden is a more simple affair, sometimes with vegetable beds, mostly just with a few chairs in amongst the scrub. When telling our Portuguese teacher that we have been garden she said (we have a new teacher after sacking the old one for being impatient with Keith’s difficulty in speaking any language at all, including English), that ‘You English love gardening’. So, it seems we are known for it and one does hate not to live up to expectations.

The garden was upsetting me. it was big, bare and overwhelming. I’d started to outline some beds but the rest was just an unfathomable stretch of dirt. I know nothing about gardening, but I do know about order. And order was what it needed for me to be able to look at it with a sense of calm rather than a jittery feeling. So, after spending many days shifting rocks in order to create structure into our own patch and therefore be able to tackle each smaller section individually, I realised that we have turned our dusty patch into an English country garden with winding paths and strictly defined areas. Just need a gnome or two and a rosebush and the transformation will be complete – if you can see past the complete lack of greenery and Sweet Williams. I was a bit put out by this initially as I would prefer not to colonise our tiny corner of Europe with British values, but actually, sod it, this is what my eye requires and I now look out on it with peace and joy rather than stress and anxiety. It’s not much to look at I am aware, but what I see when I look out there is ‘hope’ and promise. I have plans, dreams and a vision within those neatly defined borders.

You may also recall that I had started mulching some beds for growing next year. In our 36+ degree gardening frenzy we also finished those which are now awaiting a layer of compost from our bin and a layer of manure from the stables down the road. They will get these in the autumn ready for a good soaking over the winter. This method is called Lasagna Gardening and basically means that we are creating new sub-soil rather than having to did into the rocks that dominate the ground below.

As a small experiment, I planted a load of seeds just to see if we could get anything to grow – its too late in the year to expect much to happen. So far, so good. We have a few courgettes and squashes and a row of sweetcorn on which the grasshopper in the top image has taken almost invisible residence – his camouflage only dashed by the bloody huge holes he has left in the leaves.

This gives me hope that we can get growing next year. The lack of frost here means that planting can begin in January or February. The pumpkin and sweetcorn crops in neighbouring fields are already harvested now in mid August so we could eating our own this time next year. Exciting.

For now, our landscaping work is done and we will just sit and wait to see if a courgette turns up before the winter comes, whilst resisting the temptation to erect a flag in the midst of our barren, but neat, wilderness to declare it under strict English control, just in case some far more relaxed, Portuguese grasshopper had some funny ideas about whose territory this is.

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