Your guide to growing the perfect garden under the Mediterranean sunshine
Anyone can create the perfect garden on the Costa Blanca, the trick is patience and a little tender loving care. Each month we will give you some tips to help you on your way.
This month we'll look at the most basic ingredient in planning the perfect garden - the soil.
Before you decide on what plants and flowers you would like in your garden, you need to find out the nature of the soil they will grow in. The are a number of test that you can do yourself.
1. Test for texture
For roots of plants to penetrate easily you need soil that is light and crumbly. This type of soil also allows air to enter the earth to sustain the micro-organisms which make up healthy soil. If your soil is more clay like - hard when dry and sticky when wet, you will need to treat the soil before you plant anything in order to get a more healthy texture. Work in generous quantities of organic materials such as compost, ground bark, well-rotted manure, coconut fibre or peat. Fortunately, all these materials can be found in the many good garden centres along the coast. For those of you non-spanish speakers, here's a list of usful words when you go shopping.
Manure - Estiércol
Fertilizer - Abono
Peat - Turba
Compound Fertilizer - Abono Compuesto
Compund Liquid Fertilizer - Fertilizante Concentrado Liquido
2. Test for drainage
Many villas in Spain are built on hillsides to take avantage of the stunning views. Obviously, this poses problems in that too much drainage cause the soil to loose its nutrients. On the other hand, water logged soil will do you no favours either. A simple test is to dig a hole and fill it with water. If the hole is still holding water after an hour, you have badly deficient drainiage. Again, dig in as much organic material as you can in order to get the all important light and crumbly texture. If your plot of land in on a hillside, follow the example of the spanish farmers and build in terracing to make flat areas. Dry stone walling is a art form in this part of the world, and you should easily be able to find someone who can create some beautiful terracing effects in your garden. If that is not an option for you, consider using planters instead where you have more control over the quality of the soil.
3. Test for acidity and chemicals
A pH of about 6.5 is the ideal balance for good plant growth. You can buy an inexpensive meter from most garden centres which test not only the acidity but also the presence of other chemicals such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Organic fertilizers alter the nutrients, and unlike chemical fertilizers, also effect the texture. so are obviously the best choice.
Remember, your garden needs to be fed regularly if you want to get the best out of it. So test your soil every six months and treat it accordingly.
Make your own organic compost by following these easy instructions.
To make a good compost two essential, although often forgotten ingredients, are air and water. So start out buy investing in a good container with air inlets in the sides. Dig a shallow hole in the ground to the size of your compost bin and set you bin inside it. This will help ensure that your compost is kept damp - a sure way to produce good humus. The type of materials to put in it are fallen leaves, lawn cuttings (except for the first cutting after an application of weed killer) and all soft garden refuse. This will enrich the land that grew them. Never put thick woody stems or virulent weeds in the compost as this will just give you problems with weeds later on. A good, rich treacly brown mulch should be seen within about 6-8 months, excellent for helping plants and suppressing weeds in herbacious borders, and within 12 months you should have a rich compost.