PGG Study Tour of the Algarve – Cape St. Vincent

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.

A definite highlight of the study tour was exploring Cape St. Vincent. This was not part of the itinerary, our last day in the Algarve was free to do whatever we fancied before heading to the airport. We agreed as a group that it would be criminal to be in the Algarve without visiting one of its most famous areas with one of the richest floras in Europe. So we set off early and had most of the day to explore.

View of the cliffs

View of the surrounding cliffs

One of the beaches

A beach at Cape St. VincentThe dramatic, 100 metre high cliffs at Cape St. Vincent consist of hard dolomitic limestone very unlike the sandstone cliffs with which the Algarve region is generally associated. The numerous plants that live on the limestone cliffs have capitalised on the sand which, as a result of filling the cracks and fissures in the rock, maintains a higher level of moisture than would generally be found in this inhospitable and windswept environment.

Although the ocean that pounds the coast of Cape St. Vincent is the Atlantic, the warm wet winters and long hot and dry summers are far more reminiscent of the Mediterranean region. As a result the plants, birds and animals found are far more typical of the Mediterranean than they are of the northern European countries, the coasts of which are also dominated by the Atlantic ocean.

Colourful ground-covering plants

Colourful carpet of groundcover plants

Thymus camphoratus

Thymus camphoratusAs soon as we stepped out of the car I was in heaven. Plants were littered along the roadside right to the clifftops, we literally stumbled across Ophrys fusca which was growing on the verge!

The combination of whites, pinks, yellows and blues patterning the clifftops like a vivid carpet was a joy to behold. I noticed typical plants growing together like Matthiola sinuata with the purple pimpernel Anagallis monelli which is one of the most common and memorable plants of the Algarve and found almost anywhere close to the coast. One of the prettiest of the wildflowers was Iberis procumbens, which forms brilliant white pincushions.

Ophrys fusca

Ophrys fusca

Anagallis monelli

Anagallis monelliI couldn’t get over seeing snapdragons growing wild. The red Antirrhinum majus blooms were everywhere, any yellow ones are likely to be escapees from nearby gardens!

The Hottentot fig, Carpobrotus edulis, was out in full force, a highly invasive weed from South Africa which smothers and suffocates the native plants. It has very pretty flowers for such a thuggish plant!

Wild snapdragons, Antirrhinum majus

Antirrhinum majus en mass

Carpobrotus edulis

Carpobrotus edulisAstragalus tragacantha subsp. vincentina, a low-growing leguminous shrub and both the creamy-yellow and purple-flowering types of Honeywort, Cerinthe major, were also common.

Cistus palhinhae dominated the clifftops, a rare endemic to Cape St. Vincent. It closely resembles Cistus ladanifer which is found throughout the rest of the Algarve except that the flower petals of this species don’t have the maroon spots that occur on the petals of C. ladanifer.

Cistus palhinhae

Cistus palhinhae

The cliffs covered in cloud

Cloud along the cliffsI loved how there were no fences or barriers along the cliffs, just a sheer drop! I can see why it was known as ‘The End of the World’ in the Middle Ages. At one point the cloud rolled inland and we could barely see in front of us, it was a very eerie atmosphere. We retreated until the skies cleared again as we didn’t fancy losing our way in the fog!

Although I took plenty of photos I realised no camera would ever do it justice. The atmosphere was enchanting, like an energy was inviting me to stay. It was a privilege having time to sit down and take a moment to just absorb it all and be as one with the surroundings – it was hard to tear myself away.

Dipcadi serotinum

Dipcadi serotinum

Close-up of the ground-cover plants

Close-up of the groundcoverThe landscape combined with the flora made it the most beautiful, amazing place I’ve ever seen. We saw some spectacular sights throughout our week in the Algarve, Cape St. Vincent was a personal highlight for me. I hope to return again in the future. . .

Cliffs with the lighthouse in the background

Cliffs with the lighthouse in the background

Lotus creticus in focus with cliffs in the background

Lotus creticus in focus with cliffs in background

Plants noted:

  • Allium subvillosum
  • Ammophila arenaria
  • Anagallis monelli
  • Antirrhinum majus
  • Armeria pungens
  • Asteriscus maritimus
  • Astragalus tragacantha subsp. vincentina
  • Biscutella vicentina
  • Carpobrotus edulis
  • Cerinthe major
  • Cistus palhinhae
  • Corema alba
  • Crucianella maritima
  • Daucus halophilus
  • Dipcadi serotinum
  • Euphorbia paralias
  • Halimium calycinum
  • Halimium halimifolium
  • Iberis procumbens
  • Juniperus phoenicea
  • Lavandula stoechas
  • Lithodora diffusa
  • Lotus creticus
  • Matthiola sinuata
  • Narcissus bulbocodium
  • Ophrys fusca
  • Ophrys speculum
  • Paronychia argentea
  • Phagnalon rupestre
  • Polycarpon tetraphyllum
  • Rosmarinus officinalis
  • Sedum sediforme
  • Silene rothmaleri
  • Stauracanthus genistoides
  • Stipa gigantea
  • Thymus camphoratus



PGG Study Tour of the Algarve – Cork Oak

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.

Rosie took us on a magical mystery tour to visit some cork oak (Quercus suber) forests. We had the use of a car for the week to enable us to get around, I was driving that day and was finding it impossible not to get distracted by the gorgeous scenery and plants en route. We didn’t crash however, we all survived in one piece!

Hills of cork oak trees

Hills of cork oak trees


Me with one of the trees, photo by John GouldWe darted off the main road and followed a dirt track until we reached a copse of cork oak, which was recovering slowly from being burnt. Rosie told us some firemen in Portugal will actually start forest fires so they can earn extra money in the overtime they work, putting out the fires. The fires they start always get out of hand and burn up the surrounding vegetation as well as the trees, hence the cork oak and eucalyptus end up getting pretty much destroyed.

The cork oak is harvested in July/August, the cork is treated to remove fungus and graded before being used. The main trunk is stripped, which happens every 7 to 9 years. The year it was stripped is painted on the outside so any harvesters know when the cork was last taken.

Trees with harvesting numbers visible

Cork oak trees with harvesting numbers visible

A cork oak tree badly burnt

Cork oak tree badly burntThey are pruned to a goblet structure, which is the ideal shape to make removing the cork easier. In Portugal you need a licence to harvest the cork, only skilled people are allowed to do it who are employed by professional companies – it’s a big business.

It was weird seeing trees with their bark half stripped and numbers painted on them, it looked strangely artificial in the natural surroundings. The redder the bare trunk then the more recently it had been stripped, usually September/October time is best for seeing them harvested.

Close-up of the bark

Close up of a cork oak tree

Close-up of the barkOn the way back to Quinta da Figueirinha we passed a field of yellow lupins (Lupinus luteus) which was just stunning. They were gleaming golden in the sunlight, it was like seeing fields of buttercups back home in the UK – the perfect end to a perfect day.

Seeing tree after tree of cork oak was a real highlight of the Algarve trip for me. I remember seeing a cork oak tree for the first time in the Mediterranean Biome at the Eden Project three years ago. The structure and texture of it caught my imagination immediately and I vowed then to see them one day in their natural habitat. To have achieved one of my early dreams in horticulture was a special moment, one I will never forget.

Close-up of Lupinus luteus

Close up of lupins, Lupinus luteus

Me with the lupins

Me with the lupins, photo by Rosie Peddle


PGG Study Tour of the Algarve – Marilyn’s Alvor 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.

We visited several very different gardens during our time in the Algarve. Both Rosie and Marilyn wanted to show us the diversity in designing gardens for a Mediterranean climate, primarily with the waterwise garden theme in mind.

Perennial planting

Another view of the perennial planting

Close-up of an ornamental grass

Close-up of one of the grassesThe second garden we visited with Marilyn was in Alvor, Portimão. It was larger than the previous one and felt more cohesive as a whole to me. Marilyn explained that when the new owners of the property moved in they quickly realised that the 350 square metre lawn wasn’t making sense, financially or aesthetically. After researching Mediterranean garden styles, they opted for a naturalistic gravel garden, thickly planted with herbs, perennials and grasses.

I liked the symmetrical clumps of perennials with swathes of grasses weaving through. The mixture of different heights, colours and textures gave it a dynamic, but not overpowering, appearance. It was a clever way of manipulating the space, seemingly creating a cascading topography within a flat area.

Close-ups of the perennial planting

Clump of perennial planting

Echium candicans

Echium candicansOnce the grass was weed-killed and ploughed into the soil, a 5cm dressing of gravel was laid on top, leaving a blank canvas on which to lay out the plants. The plants were watered fortnightly through the first summer and now not at all.

It was a year since Marilyn had finished planting it, the rich loamy soil has supported extraordinary growth in the first year. The plants looked so well established it was like they had been there for years.

Lavandula stoechas

Lavandula stoechas

Another view of the garden

View of the gardenThe combination of Echium candicans with Euphorbia rigida and Salvia ‘Royal Bumble’ was striking, the red against the lime-greeney yellow was a winner. A Grevillea robusta was present, also known as the silky oak. It’s the largest species in the genus, it was a fantastic specimen in the garden.

A plant I hadn’t seen before which was used in the repeat planting was Ballota pseudodictamnus, in the Lamiaceae family. It had aromatic, white hairy leaves with small pink flowers in whorls toward the stem tips. The foliage worked well as a contrast amongst the rest of the colourful planting.

The garden again

Another view of the garden

Euphorbia myrsinites

Euphorbia myrsinitesI didn’t know the herb Sideritis cypria was used as tea in Greece, Marilyn said it has a strong citrus flavour. I was tempted to take some home and try it! An interesting climber was Stephanotis floribunda. It had white jasmine-like flowers and is common as a houseplant in the UK. Two species of honeysuckle were climbing alongside it (Lonicera japonica and L. implexa), the fragrance was overwhelming.

Stones and pebbles were used to cover the ground near the lower growing plants such as Euphorbia myrsinites as a nod to a little rockery.

Ground-cover planting

Groundcover planting

Ornamental grasses

GrassesIt was great being able to see a couple of the gardens Marilyn had designed, especially after seeing one of her presentations earlier in the week.

Plants noted:

  • Ballota pseudodictamnus
  • Dodonaea viscosa
  • Echium candicans
  • Euphorbia myrsinites
  • Euphorbia rigida
  • Grevillea robusta
  • Jasminum polyanthum
  • Lavandula stoechas
  • Lonicera implexa
  • Lonicera japonica
  • Salvia ‘Bee’s Bliss’
  • Salvia ‘Royal Bumble’
  • Salvia x jamensis
  • Sideritis cypria
  • Stephanotis floribunda
  • Strelitzia reginae
  • Yucca gigantea


PGG Study Tour of the Algarve – Marilyn’s Carvoeiro 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.

We visited several very different gardens during our time in the Algarve. Both Rosie and Marilyn wanted to show us the diversity in designing gardens for a Mediterranean climate, primarily with the waterwise garden theme in mind.

The rockery

View of the rockery

The rockeryWe spent the day visiting two gardens which had been Marilyn’s projects this time last year. The first one was in Carvoeiro, Lagoa, a garden nestled into the hillside. Marilyn had basically redesigned the whole garden as the previous planting wasn’t suited to the climate or overall conditions.

Both rockeries were original, Marilyn had altered the structure of both so more soil could be incorporated and to generally make them less “currant bun” like. More appropriate plants were chosen, I liked the variety of succulents and cacti used which provided great colour and texture. Echeveria setosa had wonderfully furry leaves with orange flowers, a very cute specimen! Portulacaria afra var. prostrata was similar to Crassula, a popular succulent for bonsai. This variety is a particularly low growing form.

Echeveria setosa

Echeveria setosa

View from the garden

View from the gardenWhat used to be a long strip of lawn is now a Mediterranean walk with a mixture of grasses, herbs and colourful herbaceous perennials. A weed proof membrane was laid underneath the gravel area before planting, to help keep maintenance down.

The popular hybrid cistus Cistus x purpureus (a cross between C. ladanifer and C. crispus) was used, another cistus I hadn’t heard of before was Cistus x skanbergii, a dwarf rockrose with pale pink flowers.

The Mediterranean walk

Mediterranean walk

Cistus x skanbergii

Cistus x skanbergiiThe clump planting of Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Boule’ was very effective, it sprawled across the gravel like an octopus! The fragrance was heavenly too. Syzygium paniculatum is a dense bushy rainforest tree which is used for hedging not just in Marilyn’s gardens but in quite a few gardens in the Algarve.

It was a year since Marilyn had finished planted it, I was surprised to hear no fertiliser was used prior to planting, only slight mycorrhizal fungi. Everything had established incredibly quickly and was obviously thriving.

Euphorbia rigida

Euphorbia rigida

Succulents growing along the wall

Succulents along the wallThe plants were given deep watering by hose occasionally through the first two summers, now there is no need for watering. The owners are happy as they are no longer spending small fortunes on irrigation!

The owners have recently purchased the land next door which Marilyn is taking on as a new project in September (2015). She’s hoping to turn it into a garden with a large wildflower meadow and native perennial planting.

Marilyn’s new project

The land next door, Marilyn's new project

Cyperus papyrus

Cyperus papyrus

Plants noted:

  • Aloe ferox
  • Chamaerops humilis
  • Cistus x purpureus
  • Cistus x skanbergii
  • Convolvulus cneorum
  • Cyperus papyrus
  • Echeveria setosa
  • Euphorbia rigida
  • Euphorbia characias
  • Hibiscus rosa-sinensis
  • Jacaranda mimosifolia
  • Phormium tenax
  • Portulacaria afra var. prostrata
  • Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Boule’
  • Salvia x clevelandii ‘Allen Chickering’
  • Syzygium paniculatum
  • Trachycarpus fortunei
  • Yucca gigantea