For many people, the idea of owning a garden on the Mediterranean is a dream – wonderful scents and plants that can be enjoyed at any time of day and night! However, gardening in Spain can be very different to tending to the lawns of the Home Counties.
Many Spanish villas are perched on hillsides, meaning gardens will not usually be flat. One of the best ways to create a garden is to use terracing. Usually many interestingly shaped rocks can be found, and you can use these to make your terraces with steps linking them. This, in fact, is how the Moors used to make gardens in hilly or mountainous areas.
Of course your garden will have to contend with the climate; whilst this does vary depending on whereabouts you are located, as a general rule, frost is rare near the coast although winter temperatures can fall to zero degrees. Autumn and spring bring heavy rains and in the summer it can become extremely hot, around 30 degrees on northern coasts and up to or even over 40 degrees in Sevilla in the south. If you live near the mountains, you are also likely have high winds to contend with.
The first thing to do is to visit your local garden centre. These are not dissimilar to the ones in the UK, but will usually be smaller. Take a look around and see what they are selling, and this should give you an idea of what you will be able to plant. You will probably find a large number of drought resistant species! You can always add pretty annuals under trees or in shaded pots, but for the main garden, plants that need little water are best.
Where there is a large expat community, you may be able to find gardening groups to join who will give you some useful tips and ideas. There is also the Mediterranean Garden Society, whose very knowledgeable members may be willing to advise you.
Water is becoming expensive in Spain, as it is a finite resource and so shouldn't be used carelessly. In many areas, hosepipes are banned during the summer and there is an extra water charge if you own a pool. Keep water usage to a minimum and plant young plants in the spring - they will need water to establish themselves and the springtime rain will help this. If spring is dry, then this is the time to use your hose. In the summer, pots will need water every day and if possible use a watering can; if you use the hose, don't keep it running too long. Always water at night when it is cooler.
Many people who move to Spain will be looking for their own pool. Lovely though they are, a pool requires maintenance, and this inevitably involves some cost. You will need to keep it clear of leaves and insects every day. Spain is a very dry country, so there is dust in the air and this falls into pools. A machine can now do cleaning automatically, and this will crawl around the base and walls of the pool. You will also need to kill bacteria, and the usual method is to add chlorine and also a chemical to kill algae.
There are various methods of pool heating including solar, electric and air. The latter is probably the most cost effective. You will also be able to buy covers in all shapes and sizes, which can be useful to keep heat in and dust, leaves and insects out.
Where there are pools, there are pool maintenance companies. Ask around locally and get two or three quotes for fully maintaining your pool. This is particularly useful if you will not be at the house permanently. It is very expensive and time consuming to clean up a pool that has been left untreated or uncleaned for any length of time. Besides, you want to get straight into the pool when you arrive, not spend hours cleaning it!