Great Spanish Gardens are not difficult to achieve

By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe,  Active gardeners and authors living in Spain for 25 years

The basic needs

With creativity and perseverance great gardens can be created in Spain. Gardens that are not only colourful and perfumed but , most importantly, allow a generally outdoor lifestyle and are productive as well. Let’s look in more detail at what that entails.

The essential ingredients

The ingredients of an effective garden in Spain can be summarised as follows.


  • 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 garden become the most used room of the house.
Before considering possible designs for new gardens or changes to an exiting garden analyse and agree the type of lifestyle you want  in the short and longer term and the roll the garden will play on a seasonal basis.  The audit questionnaire outlined in Section 2.1 of  our book Your Garden in Spain will be found to be a practical starting point

  • 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 and  comfortable garden furniture is placed strategically.
  • 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.

  • 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. 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.


Section 2.6 of Your Garden in Spain  – Painting with plants -explores various ways of grouping plants for maximum effect.
  • The use of plants with interesting architectural shapes. Carefully sited groups of cordylines, cacti and aloes, or green or purple leaved aeoniums can be as effective as a bank of flowering shrubs. We leave out palms due to problem of ensuring that they are and will stay healthy .
  • 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 their natural aromatherapeutic  effects. Herbs can be grouped in a herb garden or on a rockery or spread around the garden in mixed beds.
  • 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 creative mini water feature made easy these days with solar pumps.
  • The tasteful selection and placement of ornaments and groups of pots. Some of the later left empty and others planted up. Looking at the statues and ornaments stocked by many garden centres along the costas there are a wide range of tastes! Inland stockists are often more conservative and traditional as their main clients are Spanish.

  • The availability of cooking facilities that might range from a barbecue or paella dish and gas ring to a traditional brick oven , Spanish style outside kitchen or our favourite a solar cooker. Easy  to construct kits are available from
  • The growing of even just a few seasonal vegetables and fruit that can be harvested and eaten fresh especially when grown ecologically/organically to avoid surface or absorbed chemical sprays. Our books ‘Growing Healthy Fruit in Spain’ and ‘Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spain’ explain in detail what can be grown each season and how.

Your garden is yours.

Whether you develop your garden  alone or with the help of a gardener recognise that there are a hundred and one possibilities for any site.  Our books can help you arrive at a sensible garden for your plot whether large or new and whether partially laid out or still a bare patch of earth and builders rubble.

Mediterranean Gardens elsewhere

Although we have discussed Spanish gardens the same concepts and ideas apply equally to gardens in other Mediterranean situations worldwide as evidenced by the wide spread of purchases of our books and responses to our talks and correspondence outside Spain where we have gardened for 25 years. These have been the most productive of Dick’s seventy years of gardening and writing since having a first personal garden patch at the age of five.



© Clodagh and Dick Handscombe June 2012.