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Puntos de vista - a personal Spain blog

Musings about Spain and Spanish life by Paul Whitelock, hispanophile of 40 years and now resident of Ronda in Andalucía .

Where the Grass is Greener – Not!
10 August 2021 @ 04:38

In Andalucía pretty much the only places where grass grows are on golf courses, in public parks and on the lawns of British residents. Spanish homeowners have long since twigged that trying to sustain a good sward of green in this climate is well nigh impossible without an army of gardeners and a whole lot of water. Pablo de Ronda has a large lawn. He was delighted when he and his wife Rita found the house in 2010 with the big garden and grass everywhere. How naïve can one be?!

Grass is a good thing. It’s easy on the eye, soft to walk or play on and performs an important ecological function by converting CO2 into oxygen. The dried cuttings provide mulch and/or can be left to compost, along with other green waste, such as vegetable peelings, leaves, teabags, coffee grounds, etc.

Golf courses need grass, of course, for the fairways and the greens. So they hire a team of gardeners who are constantly cutting, trimming, weeding, patching and maintaining and making sure the intricate irrigation systems are working properly.

Public parks are maintained by the local ayuntamiento, also with their dedicated teams of gardeners.

But what about the poor old British immigrant who buys a nice finca and sows grass seed or lays turves to make a nice garden?

Well, maybe he should have thought twice about it.

In our case, the house was already 25 years old and the lawns, about 2000 square metres worth, were well established. They looked great in the photos on the estate agent’s website. They looked great when we first viewed the house in September 2010 and on subsequent visits before and after we agreed to buy.

We went to the Notary to sign and pay in early February 2011 and moved in the next day when my container of furniture and belongings arrived from England.

(As an aside, the removal company we used, Roy Trevor (, is a Warrington-based company with a Spanish branch in Mijas Costa. My move was from Warrington where I had lived for over 30 years prior to emigrating here. The guys in Warrington and from Mijas were terrific. They did all the packing in my house in Warrington and all the unpacking here in Fuente de la Higuera. Nothing went missing and there was not a single breakage. The foreman even re-assembled a valuable antique French clock, which had been dismantled and wrapped separately for protection, and the clock still works to this day, 10 years later.)

Back to our move into Villa Indiana and the matter of the grass. I debated whether to get a ride-on mower, but opted instead for a large British-made rotary machine. It was a good buy. I could mow everything in about three days at two hours a day!

When the heavy rains came that spring our back lawn became a lake. My stepson Johannes and I dug an extra acequia which drained the water off into a gully in the next-door neighbour’s garden.

But the water had obviously transported lots of weed seedlings onto my plot, because within days, the place looked terrible. There were clover, dandelions and God knows what else. They grow to this day; I can’t get rid of them. We can only cut them off when we mow.

The other problem is the harsh continental climate here in the Serranía de Ronda – very hot summers and very cold winters. In the summer the grass gets burned by the sun and in the winter it gets burned by the heavy frosts of January and February. Sometimes the lawns look dreadful, but somehow the grass always grows back, so it’s not as bad as it sounds.

By the autumn of that year (2011) I had injured my back quite badly from all the physical work I was doing to keep on top of the garden through that summer. Although only 61 at the time I had clearly over-estimated my physical capabilities, or as Rita says, I overdid it with 16 hour working days not uncommon. She’s right, of course! As (nearly) always!

I could no longer garden at all; I could hardly walk. I got a walking stick and everybody thought I’d had a stroke. So I ditched the stick.

The fact was I needed a gardener urgently. I approached an English guy who had done gardening work for the previous owners of our house, but he had too many clients on his books and couldn’t fit me in.

I didn’t know of anyone else, so I asked María, my elderly next-door neighbour if she knew of anyone locally.

Within 20 minutes there was ring at the door and there stood a stocky, strong-looking, weather-browned Spanish man.

“Hola, mi nombre es Rafael. Me ha dicho mi tía, María, que usted necesita a un jardinero. Yo estoy interesado.”

Blimey! That was quick! His aunt, María had phoned him to say that her English neighbour needed a gardener, and here he was reporting for duty.

I asked what his hourly rate was and he said he normally got paid 7 or 8€ an hour. I offered him 8 obviously.

When can you start?

Now, if you want.


So I showed him where the mower, the strimmer, the hedge cutter, the loppers and all the other gardening tools were, and off he went. He did a great job that afternoon and has continued to do so ever since.

We have a lot of land so I said he could use as much as he wanted for his own personal huerta. He was delighted and the result is that throughout the growing and harvesting season he gives us a great selection of produce, all organic of course, from his allotment in our adjacent field.

He is still with me a decade on. He’s only a year younger than me, by the way, but he works like a Trojan (you’re allowed to say that, I think!) …..

He is very conscientious, takes the initiative, gives good gardening advice, based on his long experience and is reliable.

Well, he can’t be an andaluz, then, you say. Oh, yes he is! A born and bred rondeño.

I now pay Rafael 10€ an hour and he’s worth every céntimo.

During the first lockdown last year he couldn’t come because of the restrictions on movement, so I had to go back to mowing the grass. What a nightmare! I’m glad that since the lockdown ended last summer he’s been able to come regularly again.

I’ve got over the back problem with a mixture of osteopath (Stephen Cook [] in Calle La Bola, Ronda) and acupuncturist (Luz Calderón []  in Calle Jerez, Ronda), so I am gardening again and enjoying it immensely, but I leave the grass to Rafael.

No, the grass isn’t always greener, but it definitely is here in Fuente de la Higuera.




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