The builders had covered the soil with black plastic over which they had spread bark chippings to control weeds. They had planted low-maintenance shrubs and trees, such as chusan palms, all far too close together, and bushes of rosemary, thyme and lavender, all of which had sprawled over everything in rampant and untidy clumps.
Our first task was to remove the bark, which we did not like, thin out the trees and remove the shrubs.
We then ordered a lorry-load of gravel, which arrived Wednesday evening, and spread this over the ground as a canvas for the new garden.
The gravel is almost white and the strong sun creates sharp shadows, making striking leafy patterns under the plants.
In the builders’ yard, we noticed some square, yellow, concrete blocks and bought some of these to stack as tall planters. We also noted nearby that some large red rocks had been dumped by a rubbish skip so we loaded some of these into the car as we thought they would make attractive features, too.
The palms, with their spiky, fanned leaves, as well as other sharp-leaved plants, needed to be balanced by the softening effect of round-leaved plants.
We spent at least an hour at Nijar Cactus, the local specialists in desert plants, and selected a number of unusual and attractive succulents, including some lovely, pink-tinted echeverias, from Mexico. We also bought a couple of tall cacti for a dramatic effect, and a variety of prickly pear which has no thorns; its leaves have the texture of velvet.
We already had plenty of pots and other small cacti which we brought with us from our previous homes, so over the last few days we have been busy arranging the front garden.
Because water is so expensive in Almeria, and the climate so arid, we have tried to create a low- maintenance desert garden with cacti, palms and succulents. Cacti need very little water and succulents are watered every ten days or so.
In the meantime, work on the swimming-pool in the back garden is nearly complete. On Monday the workers will return to lay the terrace both around and below the pool, so we hope to be swimming in it by Thursday. We will then begin creating a garden in this area of our plot.
Inside the house, the new kitchen has been fitted and the large and ….
…. the light living room is ideal for displaying my paintings.