PGG Study Tour of the Algarve – Rosie’s Garden

This is another post about the time I spent in Portugal earlier this year. To read the first post in this series please click here.

As well as taking us to visit stunning gardens in the Algarve Rosie also showed us her own 4 acre garden, Quinta das Sesmarias. She told us all about the history of the garden over lunch, it was a fascinating story. Rosie and her husband, Rob, arrived in the Algarve in 2004. The land they purchased was abandoned agricultural, the original house had been there since 1991 and left derelict for 5 years.

Rosie’s Garden

View of Rosie's garden

The natural swimming pool

The natural swimming poolThe whole place was overgrown and completely weed ridden. The citrus area was changed the most, they planted species which survived naturally. The soil was very poor, the soil level was changed at the back of the house to create what is now the terrace. The leftover soil was used elsewhere in the garden and was aerated to improve the structure. Pine needles are used as a mulch in other areas of the garden.

Pathways were made as the garden was cleared, the mature trees (carob, almonds and oaks) were the main attraction. Existing shrubs were cut back to create better access throughout the garden, the Pistacia in particular – they can sprout from nothing. Wild olives which have seeded themselves are Olea europaea var. sylvestris, Olea europaea has been cultivated.

More views of the garden

Another view of the garden

Route through the gardenOver time orchids have naturalised in the whole garden, 7 to 8 species now grow here – the same applies for the lavenders. Lots of Cistus seedlings were moved and re-planted in the early days, they appear in the wet season (autumn). The garden was watered for the first few summers after being planted, now not at all.

Lots of native bulbs were also planted, such as:

  • Sternbergia lutea
  • Scilla peruviana
  • Narcissus papyraceus
  • Muscari sp.
  • Narcissus gaditanus

Annual tree surveys are carried out for the standard DDDX (dead, damaged, diseased and crossing wood) in January. Rosie and Rob have one full time person employed to maintain the garden whose main skill is arboriculture.

Selfie in a carob tree!

Me in a carob tree, photo by Jo Huckvale

View from the carob

View of the garden from the top of a carob tree!The carobs (Ceratonia siliqua) are kept under close scrutiny in particular, they are known as “widow makers”. They can be hollow inside yet still produce lots of foliage and fruit and collapse with no warning! The borehole was already in the garden when Rosie and Rob arrived, it is 90 metres deep. Water divining was carried out to discover where the water streams cross to determine where to bore for the holes.

Rosie let us go round the garden by ourselves for the morning, doing a plant identification test as we wandered. She had given us a list of key plants which we had already come across earlier in the week so it was a good test of our memories to see how many we could recognise and which names we could remember.

Wisteria sinensis ‘Rosea’

Wisteria sinensis 'Rosea’


Close-up of Wisteria sinensis 'Rosea’We collected specimens of various trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses and climbers, ticking them off the list as we found them. I found it fun working through the list and seeing which plants we came across easily and which ones we had to really search for. We had time for a quick dip in the wonderful natural swimming pool before lunch, it was heaven to bathe in the refreshingly cool water on such a baking hot day.

After lunch we went through all of the plants we had found, then Rosie took us round the garden to point out ones we hadn’t seen. She also showed us other plants which weren’t on the list but which were still interesting species. Serapias lingua, the tongue orchid, was eye-catching, definitely the most attractive-looking species of the genus by far. There were lots of small colonies across the whole garden, it was pretty difficult not to step on them!

Serapias lingua

Serapias lingua Crop

Serapias lingua againTwo salvias caught my eye, Salvia africana-lutea had rust-coloured, hooded flowers. They were strangely beautiful, especially with the sun shining on them. Salvia discolor had an unusual colour combination, indigo-blue flowers with contrasting white-downy calyces. I couldn’t decide which one was my favourite!

I’d heard of Bauhinia blakeana, the orchid tree, before coming to Portugal. Rosie had a great specimen in her garden, it was just a shame it wasn’t flowering! I’ve seen photos of the large purplish-red orchid like flowers, hopefully one day I’ll see them for real.

Salvia africana-lutea

Salvia africana-lutea

Aristolochia baetica

Aristolochia baeticaDicliptera suberecta is a very drought tolerant plant – Rosie is a fan of it in her garden. It has velvety-soft leaves with bright orange tubular shaped flowers, another vivid flowering plant.

Eriocephalus africanus is a shrub with fine grey aromatic foliage which smells like Vicks when crushed! It has snow-white flowers followed by fluffy cotton wool seeds, providing interest for pretty much every season. Another plant perfect for a waterwise garden.

Cistus ladanifer

Cistus ladanifer Crop

Cistus salvifolius with Cistus albidus

Cistus salvifolius with Cistus albidusI didn’t realise Melaleuca alternifolia is the main source of the commercially produced tea tree essential oil. Sarcopoterium spinosum was an interesting evergreen shrub, it had dark green feathery leaves and created a dense mass of impenetrable thorns. A very effective anti-personnel plant!

Vetiver zizanioides is a grass with very perfumed roots, used in aromatherapy. Polygala myrtifolia was a cute shrub, with pea-like whitey-purple flowers which close at night time. Haemanthus coccineus is now my new favourite bulb, also know as the blood flower. It has striking red flowers which look like shaving brushes, very cool.

Euphorbia milii

Euphorbia milii

Cercis siliquastrum

Cercis siliquastrumA euphorbia I hadn’t seen before was Euphorbia milii. It has thorny succulent branches with evergreen leathery leaves. The tiny clusters of small yellow flowers are surrounded by bright red bracts. A feast for the eyes!

I loved the use of Buxus sempervirens fruticosa, also known as dwarf box hedging, to create a low border along the pathway in the citrus area. I never thought I’d see box thriving in Portugal.

Citrus area

Citrus area

Rows of Buxus sempervirens fruticosa

Rows of Buxus sempervirens fruticosaI enjoyed the time we spent in Rosie’s garden immensely, it was one of my favourite days in the Algarve by far. I loved hearing the history behind the garden and learning about all the varied and unusual plants in the garden too. It is a wonderful example of letting nature lead the way by simply enhancing the natural beauty which was there to begin with instead of changing it completely. Some might say it’s a wilderness but I call it paradise.

Strelitzia reginae

Strelitzia reginae

Polygala myrtifolia

Polygala myrtifolia

Plants identified:

  • Trees
  • Ceratonia siliqua
  • Cupressus sempervirens
  • Laurus nobilis
  • Olea europaea
  • Olea europaea var. sylvestris
  • Pinus pinea
  • Prunus dulcis
  • Quercus canariensis
  • Quercus ilex rotundifolia
  • Quercus suber
  • Shrubs
  • Arbutus unedo
  • Atriplex halimus
  • Bupleurum fruticosum
  • Chamaerops humilis
  • Cistus albidus
  • Cistus crispus
  • Cistus ladanifer
  • Cistus monspeliensis
  • Cistus salvifolius
  • Coronilla valentina
  • Genista hirsuta
  • Lavandula stoechas luisieri
  • Lavandula dentata candicans
  • Medicago arborea
  • Myrtus communis
  • Phillyrea angustifolia
  • Phlomis purpurea
  • Pistacia lentiscus
  • Quercus coccifera
  • Rhamnus alaternus
  • Rosmarinus officinalis
  • Spartium junceum
  • Thymbra capitata
  • Viburnum tinus
  • Ornamental grasses
  • Hyparrhenia hirta
  • Pennisetum setaceum
  • Stipa tenacissima
  • Climbers
  • Aristolochia baetica
  • Clematis cirrhosa
  • Clematis flammula
  • Lonicera periclymenum
  • Smilax aspera

Scilla peruviana

Scilla peruviana

Locust shells near the natural swimming pool

Locust shells near the swimming pool Crop

Plants noted:

  • Aloe ferox
  • Aloe striata
  • Asparagus acutifolius
  • Bauhinia blakeana
  • Brachychiton populneus
  • Buxus sempervirens fruticosa
  • Cassia artemisioides
  • Celtis australis
  • Cercis siliquastrum
  • Cistus hybridus
  • Cistus populifolius
  • Cussonia spicata
  • Daphne gnidium
  • Dicliptera suberecta
  • Elaeagnus x ebbingei
  • Eriocephalus africanus
  • Escallonia rubra var. macrantha
  • Euphorbia milii
  • Euphorbia rigida
  • Gladiolus illyricus
  • Haemanthus coccineus
  • Jasminum polyanthum
  • Lithodora fruticosa
  • Lupinus angustifolius
  • Lupinus micranthus
  • Melaleuca alternifolia
  • Morus alba
  • Myrtus communis subsp. tarentina
  • Nepeta tuberosa
  • Nerium oleander
  • Pistacia terebinthus
  • Polygala myrtifolia
  • Salvia africana-lutea
  • Salvia discolor
  • Sarcopoterium spinosum
  • Serapias lingua
  • Strelitzia reginae
  • Tulipa clusiana
  • Vetiver zizanioides
  • Wisteria sinensis ‘Rosea’




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