One of the most difficult things for gardeners to get used to when moving to southern Portugal from colder countries is knowing what to plant, and when. Like most things in life there is no golden rule. The start of winter rains in Portugal is not easily predicted, so neither is our planting schedule.
Sometimes summer seems to start with long hot days in March, other years it can still be wet and chilly in May. The really important signal for work to start in earnest in the garden is when the first significant rain finally arrives after the long summer drought. This can be in September, or October or even, most frustrating of all, in November – this is the true start of the gardening year in the Mediterranean.
Good advice is to keep an eye on what your Portuguese neighbours might be doing in their own fields, gardens and vegetable plots. When they start preparing seed beds or planting fruit trees that is definitely your signal to get planting.
Another good way is to see when the first rains are followed by the refreshing green sprouting weeds and wildflowers – if those seeds are sprouting, it must be good growing conditions. Accepted wisdom throughout the Mediterranean is that planting before Christmas has the best chance of success. The soils are still warm and stand a good chance of being wet as well. Winter rains will help to establish plants in their new homes and give them the best start to life in the garden.
This explains the timing for the Algarve’s only specialist Mediterranean Garden Fair, which this year is at the Museu do Traje in São Brás de Alportel on Saturday, October 29 opening to the public from 11am to 4pm.
The venue is a new one to the organisers, Mediterranean Gardening in Portugal, but the leafy and spacious courtyard to the rear of the museum building is well known as a wonderful venue for many events.
It is ideal for visitors to browse in comfort, buy plants and shrubs, and take advantage of the specialist practical talks, which also are free and will be in English and Portuguese. There will be a plant crèche to leave your purchases for collection in your car later.
The real attraction will be the small specialist plant nurseries attending with a great selection of succulents, cacti and ornamental plants. There will be garden trees and shrubs, fruit trees and native plant seeds for sale. Nursery owners look forward to sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm for these very special plants adapted for Algarve gardens.
The talks this year will cover herbs for culinary, medicinal and aromatic use in our gardens with Fernanda Botelho and Daisy Mae. Landscape architect Gonçalo Duarte Gomes will be speaking on the very relevant issue of sustainability in gardens in the Algarve. There will be time to ask questions and a full schedule is available on the MGAP website below. There will also be specialist Mediterranean gardening books and a good range of books on the wildflowers and orchids of the Algarve.
The traditional day for planting broad beans (favas) in the Algarve is November 1, and this marks the start of the gardening year. Come along to the Mediterranean Garden Fair and take part in our celebration of the new growing season with other keen gardeners and support your local small specialist nurseries.
Contacts for further information:
Facebook: Mediterranean Gardeners – Portugal
Amigos do Museu website: www.amigos-museu-sbras.pt
By Rosie Peddle
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Mediterranean Gardening Association – Portugal