Gardening in England and Spain

by David Clayton on October 21, 2010

My parents are both keen gardeners and their love of beautiful gardens has rubbed off on me. (Although, sadly, the knowledge of how to do it hasn’t. I feel I ought to know far more than I do.)

Gardening is a great British enthusiasm. Britain is an island so there is plenty of rain brought over by the Atlantic winds; and it has a temperate climate, which means that is rarely either very hot or very cold. The absence of prolonged extremes means that a surprisingly large number of varieties of plants will flourish, including plants that one wouldn’t perhaps initially associate with Britain. For example, you see palm trees in Western Scotland, where the gulfstream hits the coast.  Once, when I visiting my brother who lives in California, I was surprised to discover that the ceanothus, a beautiful blue shrub that I remember from our garden at home in Cheshire, was growing wild in the hills above the Bay Area. It is indigenous to the region. I was told once several years ago that there are upwards of 100 common varieties of ceanothus available to gardeners and approximately 70% of them have been cultivated in the British Isles.

Mum and Dad are now retired and they spend the winter and much of the spring in Spain (along with several million other expats). Several years ago, once the four children had left home, there was no longer any need for the large house that I grew up in. This was sold and they bought a smaller one nearby in England, and taking advantage of the much lower property prices another small place in southern Spain (in common with many British retirees). This left them with the task of developing two small gardens.

The English garden is planted out with shrubs and herbaceous borders and although only about three years since they moved there, it is beginning to look established now. It is the planting of the little Spanish garden though that I find particularly interesting.

Many of the British people who have moved to Spain in the last 15 years, have tried to establish gardens there too. Their approach is to try to recreate a bit of English garden. But an English garden is always thirsty. So when I visit I see neighbours of my parents out every evening holding hosepipes that trail back to a tap on the house as they water annuals such as petunias copiously. If they did not do this, everything would die. My parents approach was slightly different. It was designed like at English garden, which is what they knew, but planted with indigenous plants, so that they would flourish without watering. My Dad explained to me that usually they have to water when they put the plants in, but once each plant is established, it just takes care of itself. This means also that there are no worries about the plants dying when Mum and Dad are back in England and can’t care for them.

As a result, people in Spain have started to ask my Dad for advice. And its not just the expats – its the Spaniards as well. They are not used to seeing a garden like this, which is the English cottage garden style, so they are curious.

Pictures below are first, of the garden in England (graced by Mum, sometimes taken by surprise!) and the second set are in their garden in Spain.

and now Spain…

The view from the garden, over the olive groves to the mountains in the distance…

And just in case you didn’t believe me… here are some palm trees on the coast of the west of Scotland, further north than James Bay in Canada

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Anna Runkle October 21, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Nice to see your parents’ beautiful gardens, David! Spain looks a lot like Tucson, in Southern Arizona, where I grew up. Tucson is situated in the Sonora Desert, considered by many to be the most beautiful desert in the world (your readers anywhere in the world will know this desert as the one with Saguaro cacti everywhere — the kind that wears a Mexican sombrero in cartoons). People with asthma and allergies flocked to this tiny cowboy town in the post-war years for the climate and low pollen — and unfortunately brought their favorite garden plants and trees with them. The result was a town scads of boxy little mass-produced houses, with a very high concentration of allergies AND allergens, including flowering mulberry trees and acres of lawns comprised of Bermuda grass, an itchy, allergic and ugly sort of grass treated in most places as a weed.

Then in the 1990s, driven by water shortages and environmental consciousness — and a very lucky return of traditional Southwestern style as the new, hip thing — residents of Tucson ripped out their lawns (and a lot of concrete too, as it causes flooding and raises urban temperatures by 10-15 degrees) and planted native gardens and shade trees. They embellished their little brick or stucco homes with beautiful Southwestern colors, garden walls, surfaces and architectural shapes. My parents’ humble little neighborhood is now featured in fancy magazines, and is very beautiful indeed.

Thanks for continually showing us how the Way of Beauty applies to so many good things in life!



Michelle October 21, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Wow – what beautiful gardens they have! I’d love to go do an “apprenticeship” with them (especially in Spain!). Hope you’re well David – this post was fun. :)


Hilary October 22, 2010 at 3:39 am

Those pictures of your mum in the garden are my dream of the perfect life. A garden and a little house in Cheshire.

What part of Cheshire are you from? My family’s from Whythenshawe in Manchestser (though when my mum lived there, it was only “near” Manchester). The family lives in Tattenhall now, where I had a cottage for a year. A single, glorious lovely year.

No place to go to Mass though, so it was a choice between London, Manchester or Rome. No contest.


davidicons October 22, 2010 at 9:35 am

They are in the Wirral, West Cheshire – a village called Willaston, although the garden I remember from growing up, which was much bigger, and was on the National Garden Scheme and open to the public three times a year, was in Neston.


laura October 24, 2010 at 10:02 pm

The pictures in England remind me of the hortus conclusus images — it would be nice to see one painted by you, if you haven’t already.


Concepción July 27, 2012 at 9:26 am

Anna Runkle, that’s the south. Northern Spain is very green and very rainy. :)
Best whishes (from Spain)


helen .w September 27, 2012 at 3:48 pm

What a great response to your spanish show!. My English friends have moved to south Spain also. Your mum looks liken the queen of England in the garden!


John June 6, 2013 at 3:52 am

Hi David,

Great article!! looks like your parents settled in near lake la Viñuela – a beautiful part of the world, but can be hard to garden in. Most of southern Spain is desert-like and more so every year. I came across your article while researching a blog post about the Cordoba patios. They really are something else and date back hundreds of years. Its amazing what people have achieved in such small spaces and in such a harsh climate. If you haven’t been, I strongly recommend doing so. Here’s a video we produced – hope you enjoy it. Best wishes from a very sunny and dry Malaga


David Clayton June 6, 2013 at 7:31 am

Shameless promotion of holidays…but you’re right it is worth visiting.


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