Spanish Gardening New Year Thoughts

By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe
Practical holistic gardeners and authors living in Spain for 25 years.

Last January’s articles

Flicking back through last years archives we found that last January we had loaded up two articles entitled Your Garden might sell your Spanish home and Spanish Gardens – New Year Resolutions. Twelve months later the content of each are even more important than then so take time to open them up to reread or read for the first time if a new visitor to our site.

Allotments in Spain

Allotments let by allotment associations as in the UK have been largely unknown in Spain but year by year more are being made available by local councils and private landowners with unused abandoned land or gardens too large to be cared for. Recently we have had contact with or come across the following.

Council allotments – Javea and Denia in Alicante province and Villamartin in Cadiz Province.

Private initiatives – Specially laid out schemes Benidoleig, Denia and Rojales in Alicante province and Alhaurin el Grande and Estepona in Malaga Province.

Availability of unused parcels of agricultural land with owners willing to allow them to be used at a nominal rent to prevent them having to clean up the land each year to meet local bylaw requirements.

Was there frost damage?

In February 2005gardens in the expatriate homelands along the Spanish Mediterranean coastal plain and in inland valleys from the Pyrenees down to Gibraltar suffered from the worst frosts for 25 to 50 years depending on exact location and exposure to freezing northerly gales. We took the opportunity to travel down Spain to check out our data on the frost resistance of plants, shrubs and trees at various latitudes and heights before finalising the descriptions included in our book ‘Your Garden in Spain’.

Over the recent Christmas break we carried out similar observations within the Axarquia area of Andalusia referred to as the Costa Tropical while making a seven day trek from the coast up into the inland valleys and mountainsides polka dotted with white expatriate villas. The steep muddy slopes from the beach up to the first village Maro where sugar cane would have been originally grown were still warm enough to grow squashes outside and beans under plastic. Beyond the village was mountainside covered in natural herbage some jungle like by the river beds but the next days we walked through orchards of avocado and mango trees. Definitely no frosts here. Signs of frost first occurred over 550 metres in the gardens of villas on hillsides above villages and on mud tracks and roads above 600 metres. But still in the villages we were told no frost here.

What occurs of course is that overnight ground frost disappears as soon as the sun rises and before many leave there houses and air frosts caused by cold winds are rarely seen excerpt from the burning of tall plants, shrubs and trees. Even in the Axarquia winds of 16 kilometres an hour could create a leaf temperature of minus five when a thermometer reads plus 2.5 centigrade.

In villages at 500 metres the radiant heat from buildings protected the wonderful window box and container displays.

Plants found to be still flowering at Christmas

Wandering up into the Axarquia area of Andalucia over Christmas we found the following plants still in flower although above 550 metres some marked * had been caught by air or ground frost.

Gazanias, bougainvilleas*, white and yellow jasmines, pineapple and velvet*sages, various lavenders, late flowering bignonias*, euryops, heathers, rosemary, thyme, gorse, broom, hibiscus*, brazilian flame vine*, aloes, wonderful areas of wild blue Sisyrinchium irises above 600 metres and the first almond tree we had seen to date half in flower.

The winter cutback

As described in some detail in Chapter 6.9 in ‘Your Garden in Spain’ now is the time to do most of your annual major garden cutback and cleanup with exception of plants, shrubs and trees that have already been burnt by early frosts. Leave these until the chance of frosts are post.

Spreading palm deaths

During December we travelled a thousand kilometres by coach along the Mediterranean Coast and during our Christmas trek we walked some 150 kilometres from village to village where we lodged overnight. So we could assess the current spread of the palm weevil Rhynchophorus ferrugineus which has been killing large numbers of palm trees for the past decade.

The plague is certainly not under control and a mountain top hotel that we stayed at one night ,some six kilometres from the nearest village and several hundred metres above it and experiencing winter frosts, had lost an entire grove of a dozen very mature palms that we had admired seven years earlier. So if you do buy new palms ask for a health certificate and a two year replacement guarantee or play safe and plant tall varieties of cordylines as alternatives.

Happy gardening and the reading and use of our books during 2011 .

© Clodagh and Dick Handscombe January 2011.