Varying Climates in Spain

By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe

Ensure you look for the differences

One of the things to take into account when purchasing a property in Spain and then planning and planting out a garden is the tremendous variations in climate that can occur within very short distances as well as between regions and the coastal strip, inland mountains and the central plains.

For instance we live 400 metres up on a south-facing slope of a 850 metre high mountain in a relatively narrow three kilometre long narrow valley twelve kilometres from the sea. Last winter we had no frost but gardens on the north-facing slope had many weeks of frost. We are never in the clouds but if it rains the next street 80 metres higher on the mountain disappears from view.

Our highest temperature in August was 37.5 degrees centigrade but three day’s latter we had cold gusting winds of 15 degrees for two hours and two kilometres away at the other end of the valley there were tennis ball sized hail stones that wiped out many allotments of tomatoes, squashes etc.

The next village ten kilometres away had no hail and temperatures of over 40 degrees at times this summer. The nearest town in that direction – just an additional 15 kilometres reached 50 degrees centigrade a few summers ago. Recognise that the hottest summer temperatures are higher inland than on the coast and vice versa in the winter.

For five years before 2004 we had mild winters and then there were exceptional two day spells of frosts. In 2005 the air temperatures were down below minus ten and our garden was blackened. It has taken until this year for some plants in the garden to recover – many of the subtropical plants having been killed. That frost – the worst for 25 to 50 years depending on ones situation – affected gardens from southern Andalusia to the Pyrenees. The info on the relative frost resistances of some 400 plants in our book Your Garden in Spain – From planning toplanting and maintenance are based on those times.

Last Saturday the 7 th September the weather was sunny all day at home. Dick went on a gardeners outing a hundred kilometres inland and 2000 metres up and experienced freezing winds and a little snow! Naturally the plant populations at that height had adapted them selves to such climatic conditions as well as shallow rocky soil. There were no houses at that height but villages started at about 1500 metres.

Rain is another big variable we have had five months of drought in some years but on one occasion 67 centimetres in a day. 24 of those in an hour!

Re winds find out where your prevailing winds will come from especially the cold winter gales and scorching winds from the Sahara in the summer.

Take the weather into account

So make your key decisions on this readily available information by asking around. You won’t find the extremes mentioned in most tourist or real estate brochures.

  • Chose a site that has the weather you are looking for. Windy ridges may have good views in fine weather but you may have no view at times.
  • Chose plants that match the expected microclimate of your garden when a bare site and when you have established sheltering high hedges and trees.
  • If you have a limited budget for plants play safe. If you have more money available and courage then try establishing subtropical plants which will survive in frost free places and for a few years in potentially frosty situations if a series of winters are mild.

There are still some exceptionally inexpensive houses on sale in Spain but often they are in areas that can have temperatures of minus twenty or more every few years and regular snow. They are not the sort of places that most expatriates consider. Especially if they are gardeners!

Your Garden in Spain includes not only details of some 400 of the most popular and easiest plants to establish but also recommendations for various types of situation.

Click on Our Books on Spanish Gardening for more information and a link to our publishers on line shop if you are not near a bookshop.

© Clodagh and Dick Handscombe September 2008