Living Very Well From Our Spanish garden

By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe

Practical holistic gardeners and authors living in Spain for over twenty five years referred to in several publications as the ‘Good Life Couple’.

Our Early Experiences of Self Sufficiency

When Dick was young his parents and grandparents kept poultry and rabbits for food and with the composted manures grew a wide variety of vegetables and fruit that keep three generations of the family well fed in west London and Hertfordshire during the war years. Likewise Clodagh’s family in Ireland had a riding school so there was always plenty of manure to grow good vegetables. And we both took part in school gardening experiences. These experiences resulted in us always growing our own fruit and vegetables but it was not until we met up in Spain twelve years ago that we aimed at being as self sufficient as possible and developed the holistic garden and allotment that we now have in Spain. Of course our Mediterranean climate makes this easier to achieve than in more colder northern climes.

Spanish Experiences of Self Sufficiency

When we first came to Spain most Spanish families in our area still grew vegetables and fruit and many kept poultry and rabbits for family use and for sale in local shops or from vans travelling from house to house – and most were still grown ecologically. Ten years later the local supplies were dwindling and much that was grown was by then grown with inorganic manufactured chemical fertilizers, insecticides and fungicides. The decline in the availability of local produce has continued to this day as most of the younger inheriting generation has not been interested in the low profitability of growing for sale, or the time required to be self sufficient or the heath benefits of eating daily fresh foods and so much of the most fertile lands have been built on. However some of the recently unemployed are starting to grow their own but not for sale.

When we had first arrived in Spain we had just grown a few varieties of vegetables that were not well known in Spain and a few oranges, lemons, peaches and pears although there was a growing collection of medicinal/culinary herbs developing in the flower garden.

But ten years latter the major decline in local allotments and smallholdings was being felt and at the end of a fifty day walk across the Pyrenees separating Spain and France – 950 kilometres and up and down 32,000 metres – seeing and eating from traditional organic gardens and allotments when staying in villages to clean up after a few nights of camping we set out to become as self sufficient as possible and widen our understanding of what was possible to grow and eat in Spain season by season in order to follow a balanced healthy traditional gastronomic Mediterranean type diet.

Our Situation Today

We have become remarkably self sufficient which is timely as a strong euro continues to reduce the value of our Stirling pension.

Edible flowers – Many flowers are useful as infusions, in salads, for making chocolates, and for flavouring dishes and drinks. Start with nasturtiums, hibiscus, roses, jasmine and rosemary.

Vegetables – We grow a wide variety of vegetables for daily harvesting 365/6 days a year. We aim for a healthy diversity. Some years we have grown over fifty types and a hundred varieties. Most are from heritage and heirloom varieties. This year we grew twenty five varieties of tasty old varieties of tomatoes.

Fruit – Some forty varieties of fruit trees grow in the cottage style natural garden, around the allotment and in a container collection to demonstrate what can be done in small patio gardens and on apartment terraces. Unfortunately not all fruit successfully every year due to spring storms damaging blossom.

Herbs – We now have many varieties of herbs purchased or grown from seeds. Our selection criteria are is it useful in the kitchen or medicinally, is it hardy, does it soon establish sizeable clumps, does it have colourful flowers and interesting perfumes and can it be fed to poultry and animals.

Plants for possible health emergencies – Many plants in our garden have health benefits but recently planted plants especially so. We have now added Stevia the natural sweetener of benefit to diabetic suffers, Kalanchoes from Africa and South America useful in combating cancer, Perilla from the far east with useful anti- inflammatory and anti allergic properties and Lepidium that the Spanish call ‘rompe piedra’ – breaking kidney stones.

These we obtained by a donation to