The climate of the Mediterranean coastal region of Spain is said to be among the best in the world for the health of people, plants, animals, and birds. It, therefore, makes sense to use one’s garden in Spain, however small or large, as productively as possible by growing:
Flowering plants and trees for their color, perfumes, varied shapes, and essential summer shade.
Herbs for cooking, healthy infusions as substitutes or tea and coffee, aromatherapy and natural remedies.
Vegetables for harvesting 365 days a year.
Fruit for the blossom and seasonal harvests. With the right choice it is very possible to harvest one or more varieties of fruit on every day of the year.
A few chickens and other poultry for a supply of fresh organic eggs and meat. Rabbits take up even less space.
As we have discovered it is amazing what can be achieved in relatively small gardens of a thousand square meters or less.. A fair degree of self-sufficiency does not require the 10,000 square meters of a large Finca or smallholding.
The skill is to be creative and integrate the five features listed above into a Holistic or total garden where the various activities integrated in an attractive interconnected and mutually supporting manner.
In practice putting it all together is somewhat like designing and doing a jigsaw in parallel. As the garden evolves the important thing is to always have in your mind a vision of the final holistic or total garden you are trying to achieve. A garden that enables an enjoyable, rich, healthy and fulfilling life in Spain.
Essentially a garden to live in and from not something to look out on through double glazed windows on a rainy day.
For us the main objectives were:
- To create a stimulating environment for an outdoor lifestyle in all seasons.
- To be able to cook and eat al fresco from day one.
- To soon achieve a secure and sheltered environment and microclimate for both ourselves and the plants we chose to plant.
- To pace the development of the garden so that we enjoyed stimulating and strengthening physical and mental exercise, rather than an ongoing stressful chore. .
- To achieve an end garden that was beautiful, stimulating, rewarding and productive with the minimum of ongoing effort and maintenance requirements.
- To retain and enhance natural features especially trees and bushes that could provide shelter and shade.
- To have a diversity of plants that were not only attractive but had culinary and health benefits.
- To fit in fruit, vegetables, and livestock in a natural unobtrusive manner.
- To attract and retain wildlife displaced by urbanization.
- In practice, however clear your initial concept is, detailed design changes will inevitably be made.
In our case, the vision of a mountainside garden that incorporated as many typical Spanish plants and features as could be fitted in was reasonably clear 20 years ago but its implementation had to be phased.
Firstly pre-retirement when the transformation had to be achieved as an absentee gardener. Early priorities were the establishment of a network of terraces and paths, and the planting of boundary hedges and trees to block out later houses when built while preserving the view up to the mountain pass that opens up the area we walk.
Secondly the first few years after full-time retirement to Spain which accelerated the laying out and completion of a garden to accommodate an integrated flower, herb and fruit garden with some space for vegetables. Naturally, we provided for summer shade and sheltered winter sun by making the best use of a mix of inherited and self-planted evergreen and deciduous trees.
Not having a large garden we decided against a swimming pool from day one to be able to grow fruit and vegetables. We are lucky to have wide sandy beaches and Olympic sized pools nearby for leisure and more energetic workouts.
Thirdly the expansion of the fruit and vegetable growing by taking on an allotment when most of the local growing ceased and fresh daily produce was no longer available from the village store.
Fourthly the incorporation of a livestock area when sources of the village raised rabbits and free-range chickens and fresh organic eggs also ceased. As a result, we now have a degree of self-sufficiency that we never dreamt of twenty years ago.
And most importantly the workload has been gradually reduced so that retirement can be fully enjoyed without being constrained by a garden requiring hours of daily attention.
However, one important busy area is originally dedicated to small raised beds for vegetables. It is now occupied by a composter bin, wormery, seed sowing/potting table and greenhouse.
The compost heap and wormery are in constant use of recycling green kitchen and garden waste to produce nutrient-rich composts and fertilizers. These plus poultry and rabbit manures ensure that we are self-sufficient when it comes to enriching the soil.
To ensure quality manures and good meat and eggs appropriate excess vegetable leaves and carrots are fed to our rabbits and poultry. Our unexpected tortoise rescued from a building site after being damaged by a bulldozer devoirs a spare tomato a day as well as lettuce leaves.
Among the vegetables, we grow a patch of alfalfa to dry as a rabbit food and eventually to rotovate into the soil as green manure.
So on balance we garden well and live and eat well from the naturally nurtured garden..
To help you implement the above ideas productively we have written a trilogy of books for Santana Books. The titles of the books are ‘Your Garden in Spain – From planning to planting and maintenance‘, ‘Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spain .from sprouting seeds to giant pumpkins‘ and ‘Growing Healthy Fruit in Spain‘