Knowing that we will be moving to Spain in just a few months’ time, helps us realise how beautiful springtime can be in the UK. We have had some lovely (and unusually sunny!) bank holidays lately, and walking around our garden and our neighbourhood, it is simply stunning. We will miss the greenery, and the spring flowers – and even the rain – when we live in Spain. It is interesting that when you are leaving somewhere, you suddenly see the beauty and great qualities that perhaps you hadn’t noticed so much before. And so it is for Hilary and I – full of excitement about our year in Spain ahead, but tinged with some sadness about what we are leaving behind.
But Spain is very beautiful too, though in a very different way. More rugged, more mountainous, and bigger skies and sunsets than I have ever seen before. And the climate is so different too. Unlike on the coast, the in-land summers are fiercely hot and the winters much colder. That doesn’t mean to say that you can’t have Christmas dinner in the garden (which our estate agent told us was possible when we bought our house 4 years ago), but there can be frost during winter nights and during the day it sometimes doesn’t get beyond 6 degrees. So these extremes of temperature, coupled with a lack of water, is a real challenge for those who like gardening.
Gardening in Spain
It has been hard to create a garden around Casa Campestre, in soil that is made of claggy clay, riddled with stones, and as dry as a bone most of the time. And we are seeing real signs of climate change, with torrential rainstorms that wash away plants, trees, and even rocks. And that type of heavy rain simply washes away and doesn’t seep into the soil – what we need in Spain is that steady drizzle that we sometimes get in the UK.
Now I’m not much of a gardener, it is my husband Hilary who tirelessly plants, waters, feeds, weeds and protects our garden against rabbits, which has proved to be an almost full-time occupation. Last year was immensely dry, and so there was nothing left for the poor rabbits to eat, apart from all those succulent green shoots that Hilary had planted in our garden. What happened was simple: planted one day, eaten the next. They also managed to chew through our dripping irrigation system that we had carefully positioned around the garden. So it was clear that we needed rabbit protection – fast! We tried chicken wire, but – obviously – rabbits can dig underneath. Our latest invention is to surround all our new plants with giant plastic water bottles, and this seems to work, though our garden is increasingly looking like a moon landscape, rather than the lush Mediterranean garden we had envisaged.
UK plants to Spain
Trying to introduce English plants to Spanish gardens is a challenge too. You need really special varieties of cacti and succulents that can withstand temperature extremes. However, there is no harm in trying, though with varying degrees of success. Last time we drove to Spain, we carried 153 plants in our car (not a big car!). Thankfully enough space for my toothbrush and a few t-shirts. The cyclamen, vincas, hellebore, irises, cotinus, buddleia and red hot poker have done famously, while the alchemilla mollis, aquilegia and some ferns, really didn’t do so well. We will keep trying – maybe hostas, peonies, anenome japonica and montbretia might work ….
The next gardening project has been to grow oleanders from seed taken from our beautiful Spanish oleander bushes. We took the seeds back to the UK, and – unusually – they all sprouted. And – unusually – they are all surviving. And so when we are driving to Spain in September, we might be carrying 250 oleander plants, and hope that our Andalucian neighbours will want some of them! Not sure if we will manage to squeeze in any other luggage into the car.
As you can imagine, the allocation of boot space for plants is the source of many good-natured – and sometimes not so good-natured – discussions in our house, as the moving date comes ever nearer … I will post a photograph of the car when we leave the UK, which will show the final plant vs non-plant allocation, let’s hope it’s a fair balance!