Category Archives: The garden

When I grow up…



…I want to be just like this:

We’ve just planted our second bougainvillea after mkI met with a chilly end this winter. As usual we didn’t have a frost, but the nights were cold enough for a tender young bougainvillea naively planted on a warm November’s day, to meet its end. So, the bougainvillea is dead, long live the bougainvillea! MkII has tougher looking leaves and should be big and strong enough to cope with next winter. Oh of course, 28ºC a week ago does not mean winter is over. Just after planting mkII, we had a biting cold snap which meant I had to wrap the little fella in a hessian sack for warmth. We had hail and cold winds blowing off the icy mountains. Friends not more than 3/4 hour sensible drive from here had snow. I hear stories of less than 1/2 an hour for that drive, but I don’t want to challenge it for fear of being an entry in the next edition of the Darwin Awards! The second photo is of a magnificent specimen down the road from us.

Of course you want me to tell you the origin of the name bougainvillea. No it isn’t Bogan (for the Aussies reading), “an uncouth or unsophisticated person regarded as being of low social status”. The name comes from a French explorer, Louis Antoine de Bougainville who lead the first French circumnavigation of this little planet covered in water that we call Earth.

Our garden is suddenly looking as we always wanted it to look, and then some. Well, in certain spots because other areas we haven’t attempted to tackle yet. Or if we’ve made an attempt, we got bored and moved on to something more interesting. One day I’ll finish varnishing the porch timbers. It was built two years ago.


Mint tea with dog pee


Don’t fancy it? Neither do we, so the decision was taken to build a raised herb garden. Design criteria: a) garden level must be above cocked-leg pee height of a medium-sized boy dog called Gill aka Ginger Pud; b) well that was it.

This plan has been kicking around for some time. We had always intended to build it at some convenient point after completing the dog kennel, it’s just that the convenient point seemed to be more than a year later. We could have simply put the herbs outside the DMZ (Dog Mess Zone), but we wanted the herbs near the back door in the hope the strong aromas would discourage flies loitering with intent under the porch and also the closer to the back door, the more convenient.


Not quite The Great Wall(s) of China, but took roughly the same time to build.


Finally! Job done, wall walled and plants planted. All the little triangle stones I had disregarded previously turned out to be a nice little 11th hour decision to cap the wall. All except for the 4 horizontal-ish small to medium sized bottom perches. Perfect for sipping a beer in the evening with the pleasant waft of herbs.



Mint tea anyone?



A reciprocal roofed pergola


We contemplated making a rectangle pergola to shade the outdoor table, but then thought, no let’s make a multi-sided structure with complicated angles with a roof that seems to defy gravity and surely won’t stay up unless you believe in angles. So the simple rectangle became a hexagon with a reciprocal roof consisting of 12 beams and 12 separate triangular hessian sails anchored with eyelets and shackles.

A reciprocal roof is a self supporting spiral of overlapping beams. Although the roof has screws to hold the beams in place, they are not required to hold it up. It seems impossible and a builder who my father mentioned this design to said, “it is impossible and will need a big steel ring at the top to stop it from falling down”. The design requires you to trust that gravity will hold it together, but the requirement to understand how it works is optional.

Prototype by the old man (who clearly doesn’t get out much), this proved the design worked. This matchstick version was made in Australia under the supervision of Meg the Labrador. Meg didn’t want the design to fall into enemy hands so promptly destroyed all evidence.


A river runs through it. Rain and hail stopped play on day one.


Many hands. As well as the old man over on holiday, assistance and drive from friends Lied and Jo. Supervisor, assistant to the supervisor and team liaison officer provided by three dogs. Yes, we also thought it was a bit management heavy. A test run on the ground.


All the latest safety equipment being utilized. Vertical “Charlie post” in place which holds the first beam, then each following beam stacks on top of the previous. String binds each post just to stop them from rolling.


Nudging the last post over the first, then preparing for the moment of truth. Knocking the charlie post out and letting gravity do it’s job. An experience of “mild peril” as all the beams sink slightly, roll a bit and put some of the binding under great strain. After mild peril receded to “oh who cares now”, we realized gravity had done its job and all the beams actually locked to form a reassuringly taut structure.



Time to cut the cord. One beam looked like it had rolled slightly too far so a further adjustment was made by “gently tapping with a hammer”, but only once all the other beams were screwed down.


After our magnificent construction crew moved on, Sarah unleashed the sewing machine to create the sails. Because this type of structure is slightly random (well ours is), each triangle is unique. This added to the difficulty level. We knew there would be gaps between each sail which we thought would be great for air flow, but after rain then baking sun, the hessian stretched in one direction and shrunk in another. Oh joy. So depending on the angle of the sun and where you’re sitting, you can still be branded by a scorching laser beam of sun. Not impossible to fix with some trial and error modifications, but overall we are extremely pleased. Rather than panic, we will use it and over time make any adjustments needed.

The shadow cast by the sails is reminiscent of a traditional Portuguese wind mill, which of course was our intention all along! Here she is finished.




The spring before spring



Often referred to as autumn. The fire is lit at night and the mornings are cool, but by 11 the doors are open and it’s lunch outside. Bees are buzzing, the heady aroma of orange blossom wafts through the door, the flies are annoying (still) and there are fresh green leaves on every plant. Seems odd at this time of year, but not altogether unusual for a climate that is bone dry and bread-bakingly hot over summer followed by an extremely wet and mild winter and early spring.

Split pea soup with (non-fishy) Worcester sauce and garlic bread oozing with olive oil and enough garlic to ward-off an entire flock of vampires!


A few more shrubs planted now the ground doesn’t need a jack-hammer. Hefty stakes for vampires and to discourage doggy bed making in the garden bed. Lúcia lima (lemon verbena), just behind the little table, makes a very refreshing infusion. It has a “thick” oily lemon flavour which works well on its own or sometimes I throw in some ginger and maybe a bit of tea. If you’re feeling north African, add mint and green tea. One day I’ll try making baklava filled with some of our walnuts. For me, the ultimate over the top sweet thing. I presume this type of dessert isn’t found in Portugal, firstly because the Iberian peninsular Moors from current day Morocco were pre-Ottoman expansion across north Africa, so didn’t bring baklava with them; secondly the Portuguese are hard-wired to refuse eating anything sweet unless it has 35 eggs per slice.


Today is cold enough to be a fire-in-the-day day! We shall call this winter.



Nature has a laugh


All that preparation and daily love and attention for our vegetables has not produced a plant anything like this one. A butternut squash that seems to be on a mission to dominate the “flower garden” we planted near the house. We did not plant this beast and have no idea how it came to be!

We can’t really complain can we? It has flowers and will provide food. Problem is it’s inside Dog Zone, so if the fruit survive being used as a mock opponent by Juta, which I saw her doing this morning, ducking and diving like a boxer and they don’t taste like Gil’s urine we’ll be very happy.