Starting to Garden in Spain

By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe, Authors of five popular Spanish gardening books

Welcome to Spain!

Congratulations on purchasing a property in Spain with a garden or more probably these days a patch of Spanish soil waiting to become a garden. In this article we highlight some of the most important first things to be done with an entirely new garden.

Evaluate the quality of your soil.

Most plants grow best in a fairly rich well draining soil and not in the unimproved heavy red clay soils full of rocks, very sandy soils full of stones or solid rock with little top soil on which many new homes are being built.

Clay and sandy soils will need to be improved by adding copious amounts of composts and well rotted manures. Luckily in some provinces there are now Eco-parks that compost municipal and contract gardeners waste with sea weed cleared from beaches and sell the finished compost at low prices.

Only improve soils where you need to.

Improving poor soils is a time consuming, back breaking and expensive task if you don’t have a source of inexpensive compost nearby. So only improve soils where you will be planting things whether individual trees, shrub beds or a vegetable plot. If you have inherited very shallow soil over bedrock it is wise to plant everything in raised beds or large containers.

Reduce the risk profile of the garden site.

Improving your soil will certainly help plants to grow but there are other important things to do.

Firstly although most days in Spain are pleasantly warm and sunny we do get days or weeks of cold or scorching winds not liked by many plants. So start out by planting hedging shrubs and trees or building walls to be clad in climbing plants as wind breaks.

Secondly only plant low risk plants appropriate to your local climate until you have established a sheltered microclimate in the garden. Then you can plant the more vulnerable subtropical and tropical plants in the warmest and most sheltered corners.

Our book Your Garden in Spain – From planning to planting and maintenance includes descriptions and photographs of some 400 of the most suitable plants for Spanish gardens. Most importantly the drought and frost resistances are indicated based on the hottest and coldest weather we have experienced during our twenty years of gardening in Spain. Our well planted garden has survived temperatures from a scorching 47 degrees centigrade down to a minus 15 wind factor night. It has also survived up to five months of drought with minimal watering and three weeks of continuous rain. Naturally we have lost a few plants along the way.

Thirdly recognise that locally grown naturalised plants and trees are often easier to establish than plants imported from the greenhouses of northern Europe or the tropics.

Grow fruit and vegetables from day one.

Spain is a wonderful country in which to grow fruit and vegetables. So plant a few fruit trees and bushes and start a vegetable plot as early as possible. Your garden may take years to complete – especially if you are not planning to live in Spain all the year round – so ensure that you have healthy organically grown home produce to eat while you are progressing the rest of the garden. As explained in our books Growing Healthy Fruit in Spain and Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spain much can be grown in just one or two square metres. One thing you will be surprised by when you first arrive in Spain is that in many areas it is difficult to buy organic vegetables as most are exported to the UK and other northern European countries.

Recognise that water is a valuable resource.

The urbanisation of the coastal areas of Spain is putting unprecedented pressure on water supplies. As a result summer water restrictions and increased prices are becoming the norm in many areas.

We therefore recommend that you plant up the less thirsty plants listed in our book. Naturally all new plants will need watering until they are established but they will put down the important deep tap roots quicker if you water deep once or twice a week rather than shallowly twice a day.

Use ergonomic tools.

You will soon find that Spanish a collection of short and long handled mattocks are less muscle straining than a full sized fork or spade and hand trowels and forks in Spanish soils.

Don’t work in the midday sun!

Straw hats an siestas are essential to happy and healthy gardening in Spain.

We hope that the above thought help you make a productive start with the development of an enviable garden of Eden in Spain.