As autumn approaches here in rural Mallorca, it reminds me that gardening in a Mediterranean climate requires quite a different approach to that used by the green-fingered brigade in northern Europe.
It’s as if the seasons are in reverse, with many plants following different time schedules. The most obvious difference is that here in Mallorca everything begins to grow and flourish during wintertime when we enjoy mild weather and plenty of rainfall. Of course, in northern Europe it’s quite the opposite, with plants slumbering during the cold, harsh winters and perking up come the spring and summer. This weird role reversal means that a different modus operandi is necessary for gardeners and their spade work.
Autumn is very much a cross-over season in Mallorca. Most fruit has now ripened and been picked, although melons, apples and figs will continue for some weeks still, along with the ubiquitous lemon. Those flowers and plants that have enjoyed irrigation during the summer are seeding as they would in the north at this time. Despite grumbles from many who dislike the smoke plumes in our valley, this is a time when bonfires are all the rage as pruning takes place on a grand scale in the olive groves and the orange and lemon orchards. And once the first serious rains come, usually in November, the grass starts growing and it’s time to dust down the old mower.
It’s now that you want to plant early vegetables through to November. Once germinated, peas and broad beans for example are over-wintered in their vegetable plots till they are harvested in early spring. Come the spring when most vegetables are planted, certain dates are important, depending on the moon’s trajectory. Although some might cynically chortle about the moon’s influence, a good number of local farmers truly believe in its effect and faithfully adhere to planting at the optimum times in the moon’s annual cycle. This custom also applies to pruning vines in January.
Buying seeds and young plants in Mallorca is another joy as they cost a fraction of what one might spend in the UK and you can pick them up at local agricultural stores and nurseries throughout the island.
There are a few frustrations however when planting here and that’s down to the predominantly alkaline soil which precludes some flowers beloved of north European gardeners. These include camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas and even heathers. Sadly Lupins, a must for any country garden, are on this list. With only 16 inches of rain each year, Mallorca’s climate doesn’t suit plants and trees requiring lashings of water. However, lilacs, roses, lavenders, every type of herb and many other species thrive on the Jurassic terrain. And let’s not forget the cheery sunflower and jasmine that grow wonderfully well –in our garden at least.