Gifts of grass

When friends came around for lunch two and half weeks ago, they asked if they could bring anything. I am sure I was supposed to say a bottle of wine, or something. Instead, I said “just your lovely selves, and some vetiver grass, if you can spare it”.

To their credit, they did bring a nice Portuguese rosé frisante (better known in English by the Italian term lambrusco), but the bigger share of my gratitude went to the gift of vetiver grass which I put into a clear plastic bucket of water straight away.

I changed the water every couple of days, and it grew some nice new roots and the leaves got greener. I split the five or six bunches I was given as much as I dared, and got thirteen separate plants.

In the intervening fortnight, I thought long and hard about where to plant them. This backburner thinking is probably one of the most important aspects of the way I garden. I have been mulling over what to do about this corner of the garden for a long time, ever since I moved the soil of a failed vegetable bed from around here to other parts of the garden about four years ago.

This is the spot: the least fertile part of the garden, with a slight slope.

It is quite hard to see, but in springtime, I had raked a ridge of cut grass mixed with soil parallel to the slope. It has partially composted since.

Barely discernible in the foreground is the ridge of partly composted cut grass mixed with soil

I raked the excess dry grass and weeds from the area, and moved the cut grass and soil mix against the slope to form a bed.

The beginnings of a bed into which to plant the vetiver grass

I am guessing the bed is five or six metres long.

Dry, hard clay soil high in lime!

I did not think to photograph the grass to show the new roots. That might have been helpful to some. With a bit of luck, I can do that next year.

Because I have rapidly expanded the number of vegetable beds I have this year, I am fresh out of compost. I decided to cheat, and purchased some potting soil to give the new plants a head start. They had gotten used to this nutrient, since I had thrown a handful of the stuff in the bucket of water two weeks ago, and they had responded well.

Necessary bits and pieces assembled on site

That hand fork was not the tool used to dig the hole. I had to use my hoe with force. I filled the resultant hole with water first. The water quickly drained away. I then placed the plant in the hole, and poured two general handfuls of potting soil around it.

Water, then the plant, then a bit of potting soil as back-fill

I then covered the potting soil with the normal soil of the bed. I should add here that the soil on the ground had a lot of dried moss in it. I hear this being mentioned in YouTube gardening videos as something people buy from gardening centres, so I guess I can count myself fortunate that it occurs naturally in my garden.

Potting soil covered by normal soil. Notice all the stones removed from the holes I dug!

It’s always nice to stand back and look at an almost finished job. Here’s the row of barely visible vetiver planted.

Freshly planted vetiver grass. Notice the leaves under the tree in the background.

The last phase of this job was to find some suitable mulch. There were at least two seasons’ worth of leaves under the loquat tree. I cleared most of the weeds between the new bed and the leaves, then raked the leaves over to their new location, and spread them around each plant.

Generous mulch of died leaves

The leaf mulch will suppress the growth of weeds and help the soil to retain moisture. It will also attract the worms to come closer to the surface. I know for a fact that they have gone deep underground. I saw them there in winter and spring.

Summers in the Algarve are hot and very dry. Even low-cost methods, such as covering non-cultivated parts of the vegetable beds with card board, help to save water and promote growth of cultivated plants.

All the dry grass raked up from this patch was put around the small clementine tree. You can see a bit of the dry grass on the left side of the photo above. This is another water conservation method. There is no photo today. When I finish the pallet structure featured in Raising beds, and prune the tree pictured there, I shall point it out.

My friend’s gift of grass is more than just a handful of plants. For one, it has given me confirmation of what to do with this neglected corner of the plot – and what to do next. If all grows well, I will have mulch for other plants next year or the year after, and that’s a great gift in my book. I also proved to myself for the second time this week that I can do roughly two and a half hours of gardening safely without the use of my back brace, some two years after my back injury.

Best of all, as the light at the end of the day had all but faded to darkness, I could sense a new energy about the place. I think of my friend, the gardener, and of all the gardeners I have known in my life. Tonight, I settle on the memory of my dad’s brother, Uncle Squeak, crouching next to a neat row of perfectly pink radishes he had grown. He and my dad were the only people I knew who had beautifully trimmed lawn in between their vegetable beds. How strange they would find the garden I have now. I hear them in my mind, laughing together as they always did, and fancy that quite possibly, they can see me.

©2019 Allison Wright–

2 thoughts on “Gifts of grass

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  1. I’m always impressed by your garden, given the conditions you have to deal with. I must pick your brain about what to do with the garden of the French house, which is currently half covered with black plastic and half overgrown with long grass!


    1. I’d have to tramp on the ground itself to suggest anything useful. It’s always a good idea to observe what your neighbours are doing, or ask them. Cutting the grass (or having it cut) is always a good idea, even if you don’t plant a thing: pile up all the cut grass, and then in spring you will have compost.


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