Sometimes I struggle to find an interesting topic that hasn’t been covered before. Keen gardeners no doubt know much more than I do about gardening, knowing what to plant, when to plant, when to prune, when to dead-head – in fact that reminds me of my first introduction to gardening.

We had an enormous garden, in a much cooler clime than here, mostly lawn, and the husband-at-the-time thought what a grand idea it would be to fence off a large rectangle for a fruit garden, and fence over a roof so the birds couldn’t pinch all the fruits of his labours so to speak. I watched this being erected; it was very high, it was very big. It had a door. And it had trenches dug in readiness for planting.

The husband-at-the-time took himself off to the gardening centre and came back with a truck-load of fruit bushes - redcurrants, blackcurrants, whitecurrants, gooseberries, raspberries, even (somewhat hopefully) asparagus. Apparently, homegrown asparagus is in a league of its own when it comes to fresh, crisp, delicious flavour, they say. Asparagus is one vegetable that no matter how fresh it might look in the supermarket, it can’t ever compare to the incredible taste of just picked spears from the garden. Well, I will take their word for it on that one, because ours definitely hadn’t got the memo.

Basking in the glory

Anyway, back to the fruit trees. They grew and they fruited, and I somehow got myself recruited as Under-Gardener, spending hours on my hands and knees, weeding between the beds, dead-heading, watering and fruit picking. The amount of fruit produced was enough to start a jam factory, and I dutifully picked it all, washed it, froze some, gave some away, made jam and pies, (summer pudding was a favourite I remember) and guests would wax lyrical over the taste of homegrown garden produce, and the husband-at-the-time basked in the glowing praise for the fresh fruit puddings, raspberry yoghurt parfaits, or whatever I had concocted, to use up the fruit. I used to seethe silently because it was my hard work in the garden and my wizardry in the kitchen that had brought about this gastronomic delight. But I kept quiet and dutifully handed out seconds when asked.

Dead-heading became another of my gardening chores, and I wouldn’t go out in the garden without the secateurs in case I missed something. You wait for ages for a plant to bloom, nurture it, talk to it, protect it from creepie crawlies, watch the bud expectantly, and it finally turns its face to the sun and blooms – then promptly dies off, and if you don’t deadhead it, it might sulk and not produce a single flower next year.

Mowing grass – what a pointless chore that is. You weed your lawn, feed it, some roll it, and then cut it down to an almost flat surface - in stripes, if you feel like impressing the neighbours. And some say to do the job properly you should collect all the trimmings so they don’t lay in clumps, others say if it isn’t really overgrown in the first place just leave the grass where it falls, leaving me in a sweat of indecision.

Now living in Portugal, I have a wonderful garden. It’s mostly brickwork pavia and beds and shrubs, and my worst chore seems to be having to sweep leaves up and prune back oleanders once a year. And the lantana. Oh, and pick up the carobs. And the olives. And sweep the blossom from the bougainvilleas. And give snails flying lessons. And of course, still weeding.

Well nobody said gardening would be easy, did they. Gratifying and rewarding when you get it right maybe, but not easy. My husband-at-the-time would be proud of me.


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan