When thinking about the Algarve and its landscape, it is normal for mental images of palm trees and golf courses to occur. The Algarve landscape has been invaded by a landscape model, the so-called “tropical paradises”, which proliferated through the tourism industry. It was from here that the study “Sustainable Beauty for Algarvean Gardens: Old Knowledge to a Better Future” started, defining as a problem the lack of sustainability of the Algarve landscape dominated by lawns with palm trees that deplete the region's water resources.

Ana Duarte Rodrigues, researcher at the Department of History and Philosophy of Sciences and the Interuniversity Center for the History of Sciences and Technology, is the coordinator of this project, started in 2015 and financed by the Foundation for Science and Technology, under the Researcher Program FCT, worth 50 thousand euros.

The project is explained in the article “Sustainable beauty for algarvean gardens: cross-boundary solutions between the humanities and the sciences", published online by Interdisciplinary Science Reviews in October 2017.

Through books and documentation from the 16th to the 19th centuries, this research aims to demonstrate that more sustainable solutions can be found using indigenous species from the Algarve region, capable of adapting to the characteristics of the climate and soils of that area. Historical research has made it possible to discover which species dominated the Algarve landscape between the 16th and 19th centuries, many of them perfectly adapted to the climate of the Mediterranean region and which, therefore, did not require irrigation. In addition, this study made it possible to discover ancient horticultural techniques that protected the evaporation of water from the land and traditional irrigation systems.

“In the early modern age, farms were self-sustainable and the technology that exists today, such as automatic irrigation systems, was unknown. (…) Water-wise management involves an intelligent choice of species, which must naturally come from those that have prevailed in the region for centuries-long"

Ana Duarte Rodrigues

In order to better understand the problem, the team that supports the study on the ground - still composed of a landscape architect and two agronomists - is developing pilot experiments, in plots with native species and different types of irrigation to compare water costs and the performance of plants compared to a lawn.

The preliminary results are already visible, the native plants have performed noticeably better than the lawn and do not need any irrigation system, as they are adapted to the climate.