A bellow of infectious laughter signals the proximity of Rosie Peddle, long before you catch sight of this dynamic bundle of enthusiasm in her natural habitat, among Mediterranean shrubbery either in the wild or in the spacious garden of her Algarve home. Rosie also makes space – diary space, that is - for numerous gardening events, where she is equally at home among the plants for sale or advising on gardening conundrums.
A long-term resident of the region, Rosie has been part of the Algarve gardening scene for more than 10 years. Together with other committee members, and as Secretary of the re-launched Mediterranean Gardening Association for Portugal (MGAP), she is currently directing her horticultural knowledge, skills and boundless energy into building up the profile and membership via events here in the Algarve and further afield. A new venture this year will be a Spring Plant Sale near to Silves on April 11th.
In partnership with Portugal’s other Mediterranean gardening groups, Rosie is involved in organising a fourth International Spring Conference which this year (2015) will be held in Estoril and Sintra from 1st to 3rd of May. The theme is ‘The Portuguese Garden – past, present and future’. The programme includes talks by experts and visits to historic and private gardens in the area.
Cyberspace gets diary space too. Rosie is no slouch when it comes to using the internet to promote MGAP events, and all her newsletters are distributed by email, with beautifully illustrated publicity material also accessible via the MGAP’s new web site, a Facebook page and a blog, which she makes time to update regularly. With broadband available across most of the Algarve, MGAP members and others have a near-instant, global and cost-effective way of keeping in touch and up to date, whilst sharing ideas and experiences.
Wildlife enthusiasts and gardeners are not always a comfortable fit. Many naturalists deplore the use of peat-based compost, herbicides and pesticides, and are vehemently opposed to the use of imported alien plant species some of which, discovering a preference for the surrounding countryside over the forced imprisonment of gardens, crowd out native wildflowers and exterminate their dependent animal life. Environment-friendly gardening is not like that.
I first met Rosie as she was earnestly holding forth on her pet subject of lawns and their lack of sustainability in the Algarve. It was a belief I shared, but was that enough to forge a bond between us? We both cringe at the curious concept of ‘English-style rose gardens’ incised into thirsty Algarve lawns fringed with woefully incompatible non-native palms. Good relationships are seldom based on negatives, however. I was equally intrigued by reports of Rosie’s garden, variously described as ‘a messy wilderness’ or ‘paths through the shrubs’. Just as interesting to me were accounts of the wild orchids to be seen in her garden, and how shredded garden waste paths and mulch promoted the growth of a diversity of colourful fungi.
The reality of this one and half hectare garden space is so much better than the rumour. Located in the eastern Algarve, which has even less rainfall than the rest, the land is unquestionably a garden – a ‘managed space’. It has several manmade structures including a magnificent marquee, and a natural swimming pond. The rest is a glorious tapestry, incorporating not just native Algarve shrubs and plants such as Myrtle, Phyllerea, Genista and Phlomis, but also fascinating species from other compatible Mediterranean biome outposts - I can confirm that there is no lawn here.
Paths through riots of flowering shrubs, including several of the Algarve’s beautiful Cistus species, lead to tree-shaded seats in quiet spots overlooking the artistry - mainly accidental, or so Rosie would have one believe - of the planting. Gnarled old trees are transformed into special features that show so clearly the invaluable contribution that ancient trees make, as their decaying structures support mini-ecosystems whose complex webs of dependent plants, animals and fungi develop and thrive.
So what makes an amazing garden like this? According to Rosie and her husband Rob, who also has to find time to run a business, it is largely down to lack of time to fiddle or endlessly water things. There is something else, though, which becomes evident as Rosie leads you from one unique part of the garden to another, and yet another. It is passion - a passion for plants and for the natural environment. Despite what many might see as the daunting size of her garden, Rosie knows exactly where ‘something new’ flowered this year or ‘something expected’ failed to put in an appearance. And then there are the wild orchids - some old friends providing the ultimate endorsement of the garden management regime by increasing their territories, and every once in a while wanderers drop in and find the ideal place to settle down and bring up a family.
Rosie has a deep love of both gardening and the natural environment. She is that rare creature - not just a committee person but a committed person who leads by example.
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