Developing a great Spanish Garden

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

The key questions

How does your garden stack up? Apart from the swimming pool terrace how much use of the garden have you made this summer? Does the garden take maximum advantage of the Mediterranean climate we experience? Is it a garden in which it is enjoyable to walk around, work in, take siestas, eat out in on most days of the year and at the same time provide some of the family’s fruit and vegetables and perhaps even eggs?

If not we provide  a basic framework for a garden that matches an outdoor life style with the garden developed as the main room of the house for most months of the year.

A basic framework

The following framework can be used as the basis for improving an existing garden or starting from scratch.

  • Matches and enables an outdoor lifestyle for most of the year by, amongst other things, providing for summer shade and sheltered winter sun. Only with these can a Spanish garden become the most used room of the house.
  • 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.
  • A number of interesting and contrasting mini gardens, patios or corners. The pool area treated as one of several mini gardens rather than the only feature of the garden. If you only use it for five or six months a year why stare at it day in day out throughout the year?
  • A variety of colour schemes in different parts of the garden using plantings  with the many hues and textures of green foliage as well as the subtle or blazing colours of the flowers. Our book ‘Your Garden in Spain – Planning planting and maintenance’ includes an important chapter in this respect – chapter 2 ‘Painting with plants?
  • With the generally benign climate an amazing range of flowering plants, fruit and vegetables can be grown provided the soil is first improved.  But do be creative in how you group the flowering plants and integrate the growing of fruit and vegetables.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The growing of a variety of herbs for use in cooking as well as for their natural aromatherapeutic and medicinal effects. Herbs can be grouped in a herb garden or on a rockery or spread around the garden in mixed beds.
  • The traditional Spanish sound of dripping water from a fountain, the running water of a waterfall into or between ponds or a creative mini water feature. Solar pumps allow features to be located anywhere in the garden without expensive wiring systems.
  • The tasteful selection and placement of ornaments and groups of pots. Some of the later left empty and others planted up.
  • The growing of even just a few seasonal vegetables that can be harvested and eaten fresh especially if grown ecologically.
  • Attraction of  an interesting range of beneficial wildlife ranging from geckoes on the walls at night that catch flying insects to lizards on rocks and frogs and dragon flies around a the pond.

The way ahead

Naturally you won’t achieve such a garden within a year unless very small but do have a clear vision of what you are aiming for before you start.

Send us a photo when you have finished! In the meantime our books will help you along.