This week we have a Portuguese paradise belonging to Simon & Imi – it certainly wasn’t a paradise to begin with though – I will pass you over to Simon to give you the details…

Hi Rachel

I have been wanting to drop you a line for a while…
As a flat dweller in Hong Kong for over 20 years, when I moved to Portugal in 2020 I had no idea where to start with gardening.
While the builders were busy wrecking what was in the existing garden, I took your Successful Garden Design Course and set about planning for something new.
Here is what we started with:
I was pleased to find the Fast Track Garden Design Course which provided a practical approach with comprehensive materials. As I got stuck into the course, it became easier to determine what we liked and what we didn’t, and this helped us build confidence in developing our own design.

Our wish list was ambitious – different spaces in which we could relax, socialize, play games, a jungle, a hot tub, a farm… The challenges were a back-to-front wrap-around odd-shaped garden on a site sloping from front to rear, choice of construction materials, choosing plants, budget and ongoing maintenance. The course helped inform our decisions on all of these issues when considering the design.

Another useful resource I found was a mobile app: Sun’s Path. This told me where the light would fall at different times of the day or year, which helped ensure our sunset deck would not be left in the shade at the critical time. Philp Oostenbrink’s “The Jungle Garden” book was also an excellent guide.

Finding a gardener with expertise on local plants and access to nurseries was important, and researching and finding plants that would thrive based on our USDA Plant Hardiness Zone also meant that we could get the plants that we liked if not sourced locally.

Executing on our final design, we cleared most of the garden and started again. We flattened the slope at the front and built a retaining wall to create two levels. At the front we have a lawn bordered with shrubs and flowers with a large patio in front of the house for dining.

From the formerly crazy paved washing line area at the side, we floated a pergola island on a sea of gravel with a hot tub deck on sleepers. We retained the badminton court and installed raised bed planters at the south-facing rear of the house, and probably one of the world’s only uphill petanque court occupies the shady west side. The builders thought we were crazy but we stuck to our guns and we are thrilled with the outcome.

Rachel’s course is an excellent resource for anyone looking to create a beautiful and functional garden, providing a wealth of information, tips and guidance to help learners like us to achieve their goals. Without this course, we wouldn’t have known where to start…



Congratulations to Simon and Imi – what an amazing transformation! I do hope you keep us updated as the garden matures. Thank you so much for sharing your design journey and results with us :o)



Rachel Mathews
Rachel Mathews

Professional international garden designer for over 30 years. My mission is to de-mystify garden design and make it easy for people to successfully design their own garden - without needing to spend a fortune!

    4 replies to "SGD student Simon’s garden – Portugal"

    • jayne

      Beautiful transformation of your garden. But I’m just not sure of a lawn is such hot country. Looking forward to see it mature.

      • Rachel Mathews

        In countries like Spain and Portugal, they have a very drought-resistant grass – really thick root structure and blades, not actually that nice to walk on barefoot but it survives the hot conditions pretty well.


      What a fabulous transformation! Well Done

    • Yvette

      Wow what an inviting and cool gentle place. Love how the remaining trees have been carefully selected and included and the garden looks fresh rather tired and problematic! Huge transformation! Enjoy the time in it

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