Make Your Spanish Garden Pay for Itself

By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe – Practical gardeners, authors and broadcasters living in Spain for over twenty years.

The Changing Situation in Spain

When we first came to Spain four things struck us as gardeners.

Firstly plants were considerably less expensive than in the UK, but in general no more and plugs/mini plants are not widely available as in the UK except for vegetables in some areas.

Secondly our valley was totally self sufficient in meat, cheese , wine, olive oil, fruit and vegetables so local produce was inexpensive from the local shops or barrows that came round the houses particularly in the summer when holiday makers were in residence. Now there is nothing of this the land having been abandoned or built on!

Thirdly water was much less expensive but now it is going up fast with the construction of desalinisation plants along the coast..

Fourthly the general cost of living was very much less than in the UK, but no longer unless one grows ones own fruit and vegetables etc..

How things have changed and in recent years the euro exchange rate and impact of increased oil prices have not helped.

But luckily we can all save some money by making better use of our gardens and one of the reasons for writing our gardening books was to help you do just that. We pick out a few possibilities below.

Grow Your Own Plants

Many plants can be easily raised from cuttings and others from seed. There are long chapters in Your Garden In Spain – From planning to planting and maintenance to help you do so. Cuttings can be taken from your own garden swapped with neighbours or buy a plant that you like and immediately split it into four to ten cuttings depending on the plant.

Now is a good time to obtain the seed catalogues – or look at their websites- of reliable seed merchants such as Sutton Seeds, Thompson and Morgans, Chiltern Seeds or Plant world. Unfortunately there are few such catalogues in Spain but one useful one is Semillas Silvestres based in Cordoba which offers seeds for Spain’s naturalised herbs, flowering plants and trees. Those readers who already have our vegetable book will find these and many other web addresses on page 129.

Grow Your Own Vegetables

As we explain in our book you only need the space of an A4 sheet of paper top grow kilos of sprouting seeds, wild mushrooms and four small pots of herbs. Moving up to one square metre we show three containers in which fifteen vegetables were growing at the time. We have been amazed how many older people have started such small scale growing of daily fresh ecological vegetables on apartment terraces or near the kitchen door since the book was published. And as mentioned last week it’s a great way of encouraging children to have a go.

Moving up in scale a two metre raised bed can be soon knocked up by a handy man to produce even more. Growing vegetables in these ways takes very little time.

Naturally if you develop a traditional vegetable plot of 50, 100 0r 200 hundred square metres the work will go up but you will be able to grow more varieties and quantities and save even more money.

Herb Infusions

Infusions of mint, lemon verbena and rosemary are among the many that can be made from the leaves of garden plants. They are free and refreshing alternatives to tea and coffee.

Edible Flowers

If you sow nasturtiums even now you will soon have tasty leaves, flowers and seed pods to eat in salads. Hibiscus and viola flowers are also edible and many more. We wrote an article some months back listing a whole host.

Dry Excess Crops of Fruit and Vegetables

Our low wattage fan assisted tray dryer is used several nights a week throughout the year to dry gluts of fruits and vegetables ranging from sliced mandarins, sliced apples, strawberries and raspberries, tomatoes and wild mushrooms, grapes and peanuts. Next years mince meat, Christmas cake and puddings can be made mainly from your own garden produce if you persuade someone to buy a dryer as a Christmas present. We looked at a number of dryer designs before we purchased ours and can strongly recommend the Dorrex dryer available from Conasi by mail order. An English language information leaflet can be obtained by emailing Pashya on order@conasi.biz.

Non Thirsty Plants

Before buying any more plants go through the descriptions and photographs of the 400 popular and practical in Your Garden in Spain and realise how many are drought resistant. Buy these and you can save considerable amounts of water. If you only planted drought resistant plants, improved the soil before you planted them and incorporated a little TerraCottem in the planting holes you could save over eighty percent of the water normally required in the garden.

Recognise that native Mediterranean plants have adapted over thousands of years to having no rain fall when the sun is hottest but that most imported tropical plants have relied on having heavy rains during the hottest months.

Winter Cutback

When you start your winter cutback next month shred as much of the prunings and weeds as possible and put them on the compost heap to save having to buy bags of compost for improving the soil or preparing seed and cutting composts. Like wise keep thick herb cuttings for starting the wood burning stove and cut up branches for logs.

Christmas Stocking Fillers

Space has run out but you will find many other money saving ideas in our books Your Garden in Spain, Growing Healthy Fruit in Spain and Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spain. There is still time to obtain them as Christmas Stocking fillers from your local book shop or for convenience – if there is no nearby bookshop – by mail order from the publishers on www.santanabooks.com or 952-48-58-38. The latter number operates from 10.00 to 14.00 Monday to Friday. Within the UK the Royal Horticultural Society Bookshop provides a speedy mail order service on freephone 0845-260 – 4505.

© Clodagh and Dick Handscombe November 2008.