Spanish Gardens From Scratch

Many recent purchasers of properties in Spain will be about to spend their first summer there and start to think how to turn the daunting builders yard into a ‘Garden of Eden’ with or without the help of a gardener. We therefore share our views of what constitutes a good Spanish garden based on our combined 40 years of coping with the Spanish climate, soils and plants. An approach that goes much deeper than merely constructing a pool, laying down a large terrace and paths and making some impulse buys of colourful plants.

Typical Features of a Good Spanish Garden

  1. It is designed to match and enable an outdoor lifestyle for most of the year by, amongst other things, providing for summer shade and sheltered winter sun. A garden lifestyle questionnaire is included as section 2.1 in our latest book ‘Your garden in Spain – From planning to planting and masintenance‘, ISBN 978-84-89954-670.
  2. Has 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 enticing internal and external vistas en route. Paths that curve rather than run straight and the use of a variety of surfaces can add magic to 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. This can be done even on a 400 metre plot.
  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.
  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 section 2.6 of our latest book ‘Your garden in Spain – From planning to planting and maintenance’. This is published by Santana Books. See ‘Our books‘ for a full description and buying link.
  6. 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.
  7. 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 mini water feature.
  8. The tasteful selection and placement of ornaments and groups of pots. Some of the latter left empty and others planted up.
  9. 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.
  10. The construction or purchase of a range of cooking facilities. Typically these include a barbecue, a paella dish and gas ring, and 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 a rockery or spread around the garden in mixed beds.
  12. The growing of even just a few seasonal vegetables and fruits that can be harvested and eaten fresh, especially when grown ecologically/organically to avoid the possibility of surface or absorbed chemical residues from synthetic insecticide sprays.
  13. Last 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 (covered terrace) as an extension of the garden into the house rather than visa versa and supplement with plant covered gazebos and pergolas, large umbrellas and the now popular Coolashades imported from Australia.

Lastly whether you plan to develop your garden alone or with the help of a gardener recognise that there are a hundred and one ways of attaining the above and that with a little thought all can be achieved in a garden that has low maintenance and acceptable watering requirements. But do enjoy this summer. Wear a wide brimmed straw hat while dreaming about tomorrows garden and planning what will be started in the autumn when the temperatures drop, autumn rains fall and it is possible to work the soil without a hernia.