Spanish gardens under threat

By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe practical gardeners, authors and broadcasters gardening in Spain for 25 years.

Ten Threats to Your Spanish Garden

  • As we sit writing this article we look out on snow covered palm trees and indeed a totally white landscape for the third time this winter and there have been three below zero nights that have seriously burned many succulents around the garden. Some will recover or be replaced by seeds dropped last autumn but the winter display of the initially mild winters is lost. But this is part of the natural weather cycle of the Mediterranean climate – hot summers and cold winters – which affects the northern Mediterranean coast from Gibraltar to Greece and beyond into Turkey. We live only ten kilometres from the sea as the eagle flies just beyond the first line of mountain peaks. When walking them earlier this morning in the beginnings of a blizzard the beaches were becoming white. Something that happens every ten years or so for a couple of hours.
  • Phoenix palms with stand snow but they are increasingly under attack by the long nosed red palm weevil Rhynochoporus ferrugineas inadvertently imported to Spain in diseased trees a few years ago and spreading rapidly in spite of attempts to local and fell and burn affected trees. Best thing is to plant smaller varieties unaffected to date or be patient and grow from seed – ours is now some four metres after twenty years or plant cordylines instead for a tropical effect!
  • Banks of geraniums and long lasting window boxes of geraniums used to be a staple joy of Spanish gardens but the African geranium moth that arrived and spread through Spain in the Mid 1990’s has meant that in many areas where there are many gardens unsprayed for months between holiday visits the best thing is to treat geraniums as annuals as the plants are inexpensive. Luckily the scented geraniums are unaffected and if planted among the affected varieties do act as a deterrent to the moths.
  • With many people deciding to return to the UK leaving houses for sale due to a shortage of work and the weak pound gardens are being untended giving eventual buyers a recovery job when knowing nothing about Spanish gardening. Luckily the is a chapter in our book ‘Your garden in Spain – From planning to planting and maintenance’ titled ‘Recovering and improving an existing garden.
  • Traditional Spanish gardens have large native trees or imported flowering trees for shade and if they are pines they are kept and the lay out and planting of the garden adapted to take advantage of the valuable semi and dappled shade available for part or all of the day to protect plants and people from the hottest summer suns. Unfortunately many 21 st century builders and gardeners cut them down.
  • Twenty five years ago most plants in garden centres were propagated in Spain and were the plants that had been used to stock gardens for a century or even two millennium. Today many are imported from foreign hothouses and jungle conditions that struggle to survive except in the most sheltered gardens. ‘Your garden in Spain’ describes some 400 popular plants most likely to survive in your Spanish/Mediterranean garden and our new book being published next month ‘Mediterranean Apartment Gardening’ does like wise with some 125 sensible plants for sunny semi shaded and shaded conditions.
  • With the increasing population of Spain and the abandonment of many of the vegetable and fruit growing areas surrounding villages and towns more and more fruit and vegetables are being imported and unfortunately new pests that attack Spanish crops are imported within the imported crops in spite of port and airport controls. In the last couple of years it has been pests that attack tomatoes and citrus trees. To date we have found that the eco controls we use and described in our books ‘Growing Healthy Fruit in Spain’ and ‘ Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spain’ have worked well enough for us.
  • Heavy rains in recent years have shown that the location of new urbanisations have not always taken into account where historic flash floods ran when there was exceptional rainfall so newly built walls have failed and newly planted gardens washed away. It happened a few years ago before our eyes just across the road. Indeed a dry river bed now lies buried under several gardens.
  • In the late 1980’s and early nineties Spain came out of several years of long droughts and one could expect a summer storm every four to six weeks which topped up the water table in gardens and there was little need for watering. In the following decade the extensive building along the coast and the end of the coastal belt of ancient natural greenery changed the climate. In recent years there have very few or no summer storms but more autumn rains.
  • Extremely heavy rains can result in gardens being designed to retain previously scarce valuable rainfall becoming flooded and saturated for weeks with the result that drought loving plants have rotted. It has become doubly important to prepare soils appropriate to the type of plants you intend to plant before doing so. Free draining raised beds and rockeries are becoming even more important for drought resistant plants.

But in spite of the above Spain and other Mediterranean climate areas are the most delightful and rewarding places to live not only for the colour and perfumes of seasonal plants and trees but also for being able to be very self sufficient from the garden – see the article ‘ Living very well from your garden ‘ in the October 2009 archives on this site.

© Clodagh and Dick Handscombe February 2010.