The Anatomy of a Spanish Garden

A New Opportunity in Spain

The Spanish climate and the planned open air low stress and healthy lifestyles of many who purchase properties in sunny Spain lend themselves to an holistic or total approach to garden design and development. An approach that goes much deeper than merely constructing a swimming pool, laying down a large terrace some convenient paths and going out and planting some pleasing plants for the colour of their flowers.

Clodagh Handscombe in her Spanish Garden

The Ingredients of Spanish Gardens of Eden

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

  1. Matches and enables an outdoor lifestyle for most of the year by , amongst other things, providing for summer shade and sheltered winter sun.
  2. 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.
  3. A number of interesting and contrasting mini gardens, patios or corners. The pool area treated as just one mini garden rather than the main but little used feature of the garden 365 days a year.
  4. Collections of plants appropriate to the emergent microclimate of the garden site. For many new gardens it will be wise to limit your choice of plants until fences, trees and hedges give protection from prevailing hot and cold winds and the hottest and coldest temperatures. Although hundreds of plants enjoy the average temperatures of Spain many do not like the extremes. In twenty years we have experienced minus five to plus forty seven degrees centigrade and last winter – the worst in many areas for fifty years – had a disastrous effect on many gardens. Many garden centres suffered as well as gardens and are still short of mature stocks of plants.
  5. A variety of colour schemes painted with the many hues and textures of green foliage as well as the subtle or blazing colours of the flowers. For instance ‘cold beds’ planted up with plants that have white and mauve flowers and blue grey foliages or ‘hot beds’ planted with plants that have masses of the most vivid of red, orange and yellow flowers. Many other possibilities for what we term ‘painting with plants’ are described in a chapter of our book ‘Your Garden in Spain – Practical ideas for gardens that suit your Spanish lifestyle’.
  6. Perfume throughout the year as one passes through the entrance gate and around the garden. Favourites include jasmines, roses, honey suckles, galan de noche, san diego, frangipani, mock orange, citrus trees, freesias, lilies, passion flowers, sweet peas, geraniums, and naturally culinary and medicinal herbs.
  7. The traditional restful and at times inspiring sound of dripping water from a fountain or the running water of a waterfall into or between ponds. These days a wide range of mini features enable the magic of water to be achieved on the naya (an arched covered terrace) or apartment terrace as well as within the garden.
  8. 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.
  9. The use of plants with interesting architectural shapes. Carefully sited groups of palm trees, codylines, cacti and aloes, or green or purple leaved aconitums can be as effective as a bank of flowering shrubs.
  10. The construction or availability of a range of cooking facilities that might range from a barbecue or paella dish and gas ring to a traditional brick oven or Spanish style outside kitchen.
  11. The growing of a variety of herbs for use in cooking as well as their natural aromatherapeutic effects. Herbs can be grouped in a herb garden or on as rockery or spread around the garden in mixed beds.
  12. 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. In a country that allows many gardeners to grow and harvest vegetables 365 days a year it’s unfortunate that many Spanish vegetables are grown under plastic and never receive the beneficial energy of the suns rays or a refreshing shower of rain.
  13. Lastly, but by no means least, shade is essential on sunny days. Where possible provide for this with trees or high hedges, make full use of the natural shadows around the house particularly on the north side, develop the shady naya as an extension of the garden into the house rather than wise versa. and supplement with plant covered gazebos and pergolas, and large umbrellas.

Your garden is yours. Whether you develop it alone or with help of a gardener there are a hundred and one possibilities for any site. But recognise that a successful garden will have the health benefits of not just fresh vegetables and fruit but all year round exercise, stimulating internal and external vistas, pleasant perfumes, the stimulus of ‘hot’ beds and the calming effects of ‘cool’ areas of the garden, plus restful summer shade and invigorating winter sun.

With a little thought all can be achieved in a garden with low maintenance and acceptable watering requirements.