I haven’t always been a gardener, and saying I am one now is a bit of an exaggeration to be honest. I have a garden, and I work at it – does that make me a gardener? I am no mine of information, no Charlie Dimmock at all, and I wouldn’t know where to start to create a garden from scratch.

But I am aware, like a lot of people, that some plants need full sun – indeed thrive on it, while others need shade or a damp corner somewhere, others need both. And you must decide if you want an ornamental garden or a veggie garden, though I know it’s possible to successfully have both.

In the heat of Portugal, I suppose tomatoes are a good starting point for your veggies, you can even save tomato seeds from the salad you had for lunch, dry them out, and plant them – an economic start! They need plenty of sun, but also plenty of water, and there’s some tricky stuff called pinching out, which involves taking off new shoots before they get too big, so the plant gives all its efforts to giving fruit rather than producing a lot of growth. Oh, and they need feeding - tomato feed – even the big supermarkets have it if they have a gardening section.

You can even grow tomatoes in a pot if you only have a small growing area - say a balcony or small patio. I grew them once, but had a resident toad who would take up his position on my seedling tomato overnight (I assume for the cool damp soil), and eventually it gave up squatting when the plant got a bit uncomfortable I suppose, and my tomatoes flourished.

So, what is good for a starter flower garden? Geraniums are good, they seem to flower all year round, and when the plant gets too woody, you can cut off some new growth and just plant it in another pot. There are plenty of different varieties to chose from, and they are pretty hard to kill.

Ornamental grasses are always nice, lovely fronds of different colours moving gently in the breeze, and don’t need much maintenance. The downside is the seeds also blow off in that breeze, and plant themselves wherever they land, so that’s something to be aware of.

Cacti are good too, after all they grow in the desert, so a bit of heat and lack of water should suit them down to the ground, so to speak.

Succulents are good too, they are the ones with thick fleshy leaves – they are slow growers usually, so sporadic attention won’t hurt them.

Some flower as well, I have a big round prickly one called echinopsis, which throws out fabulous pink flowers in the summer, and it’s a treat to see the bees disappearing inside them for the pollen.

But I have killed more plants than I have grown – I have had beautiful orchids in pots, the poor things have taken years to get flowers on them, but as soon as I take over they just give up for some reason, they must see me as the evil stepmother! Even keeping the label on plants that give advice on planting or watering don’t seem to help, I always seem to overdo the water and flood them, or forget they need more than a dribble once a month and they die on me.

But don’t take my word for anything – ask someone who really knows, someone connected to a garden centre is a good start who will happily guide you in the right direction. Or ask someone who already has an established garden, it is quite likely they have already made their mistakes and will pass on good advice!


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