Category Archives: Garden Stuff

Ongoing development of garden

Splendour, spikes surprises & sundance

Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.

Random, irrelevant quote from Aldous Huxley, who was possibly high at the time, due to LSD. Read on for evidence…

What a lovely surprise I got the other day. Well, two surprises actually. Firstly, while out doing some early morning perusing in the garden, I was delighted to discover that one of my Cactii. what I believe is a Echinopsis Spachianus (otherwise known as a Golden Torch Cactus), was in full flower and what a dramatic bloom it has!

Echinopsis Spachiana

Larger than my hand and sweetly scented like almonds it is simply magical. I had noticed chocolate coloured hairs forming, followed by an elongated furry, fluffy bud which swelled. This resembled some kind of freakish sci-fi fantasy. And now the short-lived flower has burst forth. This flower is magical in more than just appearance. While trying to ID it I found it contains mescaline, famous for natural psychoactive effects which Aldous Huxley described as ‘formless kaleidoscope-like distortions from light coming through the eyelids’.

But, before you consider trying to harness this LSD like power, you would have to negotiate through the treacherous, perfidious thorns. Definitely not for the faint hearted. Unless you are looking for an out of body experience, accompanied with pain!

The path to enlightenment, otherwise known as a Golden Torch Cactus

My second surprise was getting such an instant response from ‘Sundance’, despite him being buried in his computer. He promptly went out, took a look, gave a few “wows” and dashed back for his camera! Rarely have I been able to get such an instant response to anything that isn’t football related. Quite fortunate really, as this inflorescent only opens at night. and blooms for just a few hours. Here is the result…

Short lived splendour of Echinopsis Spachiana

algarve Succulent gardening

Her Outdoors is involved with three Algarve gardening groups, the aim of many of the groups is to share their interest, experience, expertise and knowledge. Normally this involves visits to each others gardens (followed by lunch!).

One of the groups she is involved with is a Succulent Appreciation Society. They decided to visit our garden and do something a little different. by developing an area into a succulent garden. The quandary for her Outdoors was deciding which area to develop. See what they achieved in a couple of hours!

From this…
To this in 2 hours!

Watch the video!

A 2 hour garden makeover

Greenhouse Construction

This is the result of a recent project – building a galvanised steel and polycarbonate sheet greenhouse. Originally intended for a xmas present for ‘Her Outdoors’ it took much longer to build than expected, mainly due to an injury sustained while playing walking football. Dangerous game!

Ask a question or leave a comment to let me know what you think of the greenhouse. Links to some of the materials bought from Leroy Merlin are provided below.


  • Hammer drill
  • Angle grinder
  • Metal hole punch
  • Riveter
  • Assorted hand tools
  • Driver


High Flying Views

We’ve had the pleasure of a visit from Glenn, son of Sundance for a few days, complete with his new DJI Mavic quadcopter. Good flying conditions in the UK are a rare occasion, particularly in the winter months, but here in Portugal we are much more fortunate.

The week provided some excellent opportunities; the Vilamoura Regatta and the Loule Carnaval the most notable. However, such public events are subject to restrictions on flying drones and indeed there are plans to bring in more regulations to control this emerging industry.

Drone Rules and restrictions in PORTUGAL

  • Flight above 120 meters height
  • Within controlled airspace
  • Night flight (Sunset +25min till Sunrise -25min)
  • Beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flight
  • Drone weight +25Kg
  • Over crowds (+12 persons).

No footage of the regatta or Carnival, but you can see some aerial footage of our garden…





Hot Composting

We’ve tried a number of times to make our own compost. Unfortunately the usual method of dumping all the garden waste, fruit and vegetable peelings into a pile and waiting is not very effective in the Portuguese climate. Even when Her Outdoors had me peeing on it every morning (urine as fertiliser!).

Her Outdoors therefore decided to do some research and discovered ‘hot composting’. Watch the video to see how we finally managed to produce high quality compost in 18 days.



I thought Her Outdoors would be happy to see one of her friends, or what I thought was one of her friends. Since we moved here to Portugal we haven’t seen many of them. We have so many places for them to stay now that I thought they’d both be happy. I was wrong. I was in trouble.

It came about as I was re-laying a path. The path runs from the side of the house, down past the pool, into the lower meadow.  When we have a downpour (Her Outdoors is praying for one at the moment) the water runs off the roof onto the hard landscaped area and onto the path. When I say downpour I mean POUR and DOWN. It flows at a rapid rate. It gushes. It overshoots. It washes things away, hence the need to re-lay the path.

So I was down at the bottom of the path, next to the meadow which is next to the road. I’d just lifted a flagstone when I spotted the ‘friend’. I was excited. The first such friend I’d seen in a long time. “Hello my little beauty” I said, “Her Outdoors will be so happy to see you”. With that I scooped the friend up and carried her, whooping with joy to regale Her Outdoors with her presence. That was me whooping with joy, not the friend. The friend was wriggling, but mute.

I reached Her Outdoors and presented her friend to her. She shrieked. Her Outdoors that is. The friend is mute, remember. “Take it away” she said, “I don’t want to see it!”

“Why not” I hesitatingly asked, still holding the friend that was wriggling uncomfortably by now. “I thought you’d be happy to have this visitor in your garden. Aren’t they good for the soil?”

“Worms are, but that’s a bloody snake!”


After some research…It turns out that we were both wrong, it was an Iberian worm lizard. Although I was partially right…

Iberian Worm Lizard photo by Jorozko

If you are an internet worm (as opposed to a bookworm) you can find out more on this interesting blog –

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From Cottage Garden to Algarve Adventure

After visiting the Algarve in 2013, Sundance and I loved it so much, that after extensive research, we decided to buy a holiday home. We now treat it more as our main home, spending more and more time here. If you have visited Portugal you may have noticed that ornamental gardening isn’t prevalent in the Algarve outside of the popular tourist spots. The reason is that in a country where starvation is still a living memory, to use water on flowers is almost tantamount to a crime. Any efforts to grow flowers are seen as a luxury and they are usually grown along walls with the use of washing up water or slops in an almost clandestine fashion.

Transformations – seasonal & manual!

June, July and August are very dry months especially in the Algarve, accompanied with the threat of devastating fires. In times of drought and hot temperatures, conserving water is a major consideration and therefore I’m learning all about gardening with less water.

With water conservation in mind, our lawn was dug up, irrigation removed and rocks taken from one area to be used in another. We inherited an ornamental garden with palm and cypress trees, cobbled courtyards and countless statues along with a sizable uncultivated area. Like many property owners it wasn’t all to our taste and a great deal (of some areas) was covered with invasive overgrowth. Our first jobs were to tackle the awful vine cover, along with a lot of overgrown weeds and prune the huge trees on our border. Pruning the trees was very rewarding, as it opened up the most wonderful views from the house, down through the hills to the sea, some 10km away (apologies to UK readers for the use of km – it’s a Euro thing!).

Taking a ’xeriscape’ approach (gardening without irrigation) took a bit more of a leap of faith. In September, on our return from our UK visit, many plants seemed withered and sad beyond hope, but with the first rains it was astonishing to see most revive quickly and an almost luminous green appear overnight. Those that didn’t survive, I rationalised, weren’t meant to be. Plants need the right setting to thrive and I decided sticking to mainly indigenous plants, which tend to be drought resistant, would be a sensible way to go. One day, hopefully, the end result will be something along the lines of a Mediterranean garden which keeps beauty and colour but with low maintenance and low water usage. The main characteristic of this style of garden is the focus on hardscaping: patios, courtyards, gazebos, paths and areas covered with stones.

Goodbye lawn, hello fire pit

This has largely been Sundance’s forte and he’s slaved away in many a midday sun to get raised beds built, fire-pit finished, petanque piste perfect, steps appearing here and there, meandering paths and terraces. Colourful stones, pebbles, rocks and trellis were used along with bits from a dilapidated cart and old knarled tree trunks.

There are many “pockets” of garden with dramatic differences. Some areas have such a thin coating of soil that we’ve been able to expose rock, whereas soils under trees tend to have rich, dark, crumbly soil. Other areas have the red clay soil that dries like a brick for half the year. We’ve tried to utilize these differences along with varied conditions of light and level. The softscape comes from the choice of plants, shrubs and trees. It was great to inherit some well-established trees: almond, carob, loquat and olive where no watering is needed and fruits abound in season. An added bonus is fabulous almond blossoms in January and our three pomegranate trees have been stunning throughout the year with red flowers, lovely young red leaves in spring followed by very attractive fruits and yellowing leaves in winter. We also have citrus trees, which have the most fabulous juicy fruit and the blossom scent is exquisite. These have needed more water and care, but we’ve been well rewarded. An interesting feature is that you can find blossom, tiny green fruit and mature oranges all on the same tree at the same time. As for lemons, there is a steady supply all year round and even surplus for the occasional visitor from our home village of Barton to smuggle back into the UK to pep up their G&T’s!


  • Oleanders – large, colourful, grow in poor soil.
  • Passion Flowers and heavily scented Jasmine can climb anything.
  • Local grasses are hardy, drought resistant and are stunning.
  • Huge variety of cacti, euphorbia and succulents which require no watering and blooms are dramatically colourful, if short lived.
  • Rosemary, lavender, thyme and artemis bushes, hibiscus and lantana flow effortlessly adding colour and scents.
  • Portuguese varieties of rose bushes need little water.
  • Bougainvillea come in many colours and are stunningly beautiful, but petals need sweeping just about every day of the year!
  • Herbs thrive too and there is nothing quite like picking fresh produce from the garden for your cooking.
  • Pots filled with evergreen plants or herbs – easy to water by hand – provide interest.
  • Have an anti-mosquito plant or two – lavender, lemon geranium near the outdoor dining area – keep pests at bay and also have heavenly scents.
  • Invasive plant species – usually non-indigenous, damaging and hard to get rid of!

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A Rock & A Hard Place

Until now I’ve associated succulent plants with the spindly, sad specimens my mother had on her window sill. They appeared lifeless lacking the excitment and colour of other plants. But when I inherited this garden in Portugal, I discovered, they didn’t need to be indoor plants with all the limitations of a British home; far from being boring, these plants are the ones that have captured my imagination most.

Rocky the Aeonium

An Aeonium growing out of a rock, enormous blue and varigated agaves that give drama to the rocky part of our garden that has less than 2 inches of soil, the subtle colours of echeverias which seem to show permanent flower rosettes until the flower starts to really flower with the prettiest of blooms. There is a wondrous variety of colour, texture, size and form. They can be spiky, fuzzy, often multi-coloured. They can be pudgy and round or leafy and delicate. They can be enormous and architectural and intimidating or tiny and intricate and itybity . They can be so cute or can be aggressive and poisonous and violent.

Start of tidying up Variegated Agaves bed

The last two summers in Portugal have been long and hot and we haven’t been here to water so most of the established garden has had to survive without water and on the whole it has especially, I note, the succulents. They look a bit sad when we arrive back from our summer holidays but after the first rains everything seems to revive miraculously.

Newly acquired succulents

The more succulents I meet the more I gawk in wonder. A word of caution though, don’t just plough into Agaves, Their sap is a nasty irritant. Just ask ‘Mr Sundance’. That was one rash move too many for him!