Making the most of new small mountainside Spanish gardens

By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe active gardeners and authors living in Spain for twenty years.

Over the past two decades much of the inexpensive and easily developed land on the Spanish Costas has been built on so developers are moving a few kilometres inland carving new estates into steep mountainsides. Due to the increased infrastructure and foundation costs smaller houses with smaller gardens are becoming the norm in the new mountainside honeycomb urbanisations. And the small gardens often start with poor shallow soil and no retained trees or mountainside herbs. So what can be done to establish a delightful garden for holiday visits, lettings or permanent residence.

  • Use illusions to make the garden look bigger. For instance slope the top of fences from the house to boundary, have narrow narrowing paths and place large ceramic pots near the house and smaller ones against the back wall.
  • Maximise the percentage of space reserved for sunbathing, siestas , hobbies and wining and dining au fresco.
  • Plant the tidier slower growing types of climbers to cover walls and fences and overhead beams.
  • Plant plants in narrow beds or raised beds (Use if you have very little soil) or narrow trough type containers.
  • 5.Avoid untidy, straggly or fast growing plants which will soon overtake a small space.

For instance plant;

  1. succulents such as aeoniums rather than spreading tall growing cacti like agaves
  2. the slow low growing lantanas rather than the large growing pinks and oranges
  3. summer oriental lilies rather than spring flag irises and summer cannas.
  4. small clumping society garlic rather than large clump forming agapanthus,
  5. camellias rather than acacias
  6. a Jupiter rather than Judas tree
  7. evergreen sages rather than lavenders

Part Four of Your Garden in Spain the book includes tables describing some 400 plants including an indication of which are small and which would be too large. Be creative. Plan and plant them an integrated colourful and perfumed outdoor living space – with summer shade and winter sun- to fully enjoy your time in Spain.

As explained in our Part Two of our book Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spainfifteen vegetables can be grown in an area of only one square metre! Likewise as explained in the sister book Growing Healthy Fruit in Spain dwarf fruit trees can be grown in square containers in corners.

  • .If an absentee or minimalist gardener plant drought resistant succulents rather than spiky cacti.
  • Use interesting pots to add colour and interest.
  • Plant narrow growing non spiky cordylines instead of wider and spiky palms. They can give a similar sub tropical effect without monopolising the limited space.
  • Install a self contained mini water feature rather than a pond.
  • Install an inconspicuous small bore watering system with a timer.
  • Install low level subtle lighting to light up the climbing plants.
  • Install a suitable sized jacuzzi rather than a small swimming pool. Not only will it be less expensive but it is more likely to be used all the year round.

As explained in section 5.1 of our book Your Garden in Spain – From planning to planting and maintenance use the small front garden, side passage ways, back patios balconies and roof terraces to the full. It’s amazing how much can be achieved in small spaces and how much they can be enjoyed with the almost continuous Spanish sun.

© Clodagh and Dick Handscombe September 2007.