Developing a great Spanish Garden

By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe practical holistic gardeners authors and broadcasters living in Spain for twenty five years.


With a little effort, creativity and perseverance great gardens can be created in Spain that maximise the advantages of a Mediterranean climate. Gardens that are enjoyable to walk around, work in , take siestas, eat out in on most days of the year and at the same time provide most of the years supply of edible flowers, fruit, herbs and vegetables – and if you wish to be even more self sufficient in hard times eggs and meat as well.

In this article we provide a basic framework for a garden that matches an outdoor life style in a garden developed as the main room of the house for most months of the year.

What comprises an effective Spanish garden?

The ingredients of an effective garden in Spain can be summarised as follows.

  • Matches and enables an outdoor lifestyle for most of the year by, amongst other things, providing for summer shade and sheltered winter sun. Only with these can a Spanish garden become the most used room of the house.
  • An attractive and interesting network of terraces and paths. Terraces of different sizes for different activities such as cooking and entertaining, secluded siestas, sunning after a dip in the pool or a quiet winters read. Pathways that lead one from one attractive part of the garden to another opening up both internal and external vistas en route. Curving rather than straight paths and the use of a variety of surfaces can add to the magic of a new garden even before the first plants are planted and comfortable garden furniture is placed strategically.
  • A number of interesting and contrasting mini gardens, patios or corners. The pool area treated as one of several mini gardens rather than the only feature of the garden.
  • A variety of colour schemes in different parts of the garden using plantings with the many hues and textures of green foliage as well as the subtle or blazing colours of the flowers. Our book ‘Your Garden in Spain – Planning planting and maintenance’ includes an important chapter in this respect – chapter 2 ‘Painting with plants?
  • With the generally benign climate an amazing range of flowering plants, fruit and vegetables can be grown provided the soil is first improved. But do be creative in how you group the flowering plants and integrate the growing of fruit and vegetables.
  • The use of plants with interesting architectural shapes. Carefully sited groups of palm trees, cordylines, cacti and aloes, or green or purple leaved aeoniums can be as effective as a bank of flowering shrubs.
  • Perfume throughout the year as one passes through the entrance gate and around the garden. Favourites include jasmines, roses, honeysuckles, galan de noche, san diego, frangipani, mock orange, citrus trees, freesias, lilies, passion flowers, sweet peas, geraniums, and naturally culinary and medicinal herbs.
  • The growing of a variety of herbs for use in cooking as well as for their natural aromatherapeutic and medicinal effects. Herbs can be grouped in a herb garden or on a rockery or spread around the garden in mixed beds.
  • The traditional restful and at times inspiring sound of dripping water from a fountain, the running water of a waterfall into or between ponds or a creative mini water feature. Solar pumps allow features to be located anywhere in the garden without expensive wiring systems.
  • The tasteful selection and placement of ornaments and groups of pots. Some of the later left empty and others planted up. Looking at the statues and ornaments stocked by many garden centres along the costas there are a wide range of tastes! Inland stockists are often more conservative and traditional as their main clients are Spanish.
  • The construction or availability of cooking facilities that might range from a barbecue or paella dish and gas ring to a traditional brick oven , the use of tagines or a Spanish style outside kitchen.
  • The growing of even just a few seasonal vegetables that can be harvested and eaten fresh especially when grown ecologically/organically to avoid surface or absorbed chemical sprays.
  • Attraction of an interesting range of beneficial wildlife ranging from geckoes on the walls at night that catch flying insects to lizards on rocks and frogs and dragon flies around a the pond.

Naturally you won’t achieve such a garden within a year unless very small but do have a clear vision of what you are aiming for before you start.

There are books to help you

Your garden is yours. Whether you develop it alone or with the help of a gardener recognise that there are a hundred and one possibilities for any site. But before you put pencil to paper or dig the first planting hole read chapter 2.1 ‘Design the garden to match your life style’ and chapter 2.2 ‘Possible types/styles of gardens’ in ‘Your Garden in Spain’.

Click ‘Our Books’ for descriptions of this and the other books in the series ‘Growing Healthy Fruit in Spain’ and ‘Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spain’.other books with convenient links to the publishers online bookshop.

© Clodagh and Dick Handscombe