Take a walk around any Bulgarian village and you might feel that you have happened upon a secret horticultural competition – tidy squares and patches full of blooming flowers, neatly clipped fruit-bearing trees shading the shrubs, and decorative paths winding around the flower-beds. It is enough to get your green thumbs itching, as it seems so effortless and beautiful – surely creating your own garden can't be that difficult?
It is actually as simple as it looks. Gardening is a popular pastime in Bulgaria, where the level of care that people lavish on their well-kept plots can easily grow into a small obsession. You will hardly ever see lawns and green gardens, though – Bulgarians prefer flowers, which they tend carefully. If you decide to go with the flow of the place, you can tap into an unexpected source of help: your neighbours. Go ahead and ask for seeds or cuttings of those flowers you especially like, and your request will hardly ever be spurned. They will take great delight in explaining to you how to take care of the plants, so you won't be short of advice either.
Most gardeners go for simplicity. You will find lots of carnations, chrysanthemums, gerberas and pelargoniums – the last one is ubiquitous in gardens and on balconies alike, since it is very unpretentious, easy to grow and may even survive a mild winter outdoors. If you want to achieve a dramatic effect, mix these up with some snapdragon, petunia and moss-rose – effortless annual and perennial plants that provide strong vibrant colours. Bulgaria is especially hospitable to roses, as proven by the Rose Valley where Rosa damascena is grown for commercial purposes. You can grow this variety, or more decorative fragrant roses which will thrive in the sunny patches in your garden just as well.
The climate in the various parts of the country is diverse, and if you are lucky enough to live in southern Bulgaria, you might consider growing tropical flowers too. Magnolia, jasmine and mirabilis will flourish in the right place, although you may experience trouble with the self-seeding mirabilis as it can quickly turn into a pest. Although Bulgaria is not Greece, some gardeners go for the more exotic option of growing lemons, tangerines or even kiwi vines, which may bear fruit. If you would like to flaunt your homemade fruit salad, though, better select cultivars instead of attempting to do it yourself, because your efforts may very well be futile.
Greenery in Bulgarian gardens is usually used just as an accent, but if you have different ideas, the plant nurseries offer a great number of decorative shrubs. If you prefer the "live and let live" variety, go for boxwood, which is a favourite in many Bulgarian gardens. However, its slow growth and the difficulties in cultivating the small plants may dampen your enthusiasm. Look for sturdy varieties such as spiraea and silverleaf dogwood if you don't have that much time to take care of your plants, but want a decorative effect.
Consider adding a fruit tree or two, which you can under-plant with shade-loving plants and which will give you great personal satisfaction. Bulgarians, always practical, use the fruit to make compotes and jams, and you can try your hand at that as well. It will probably take a couple of years for the tree to start bearing fruit, so you need to plan long-term. Cherries, apricots, and peaches are all popular choices because of the sweet and flavoursome fruit you will get – immeasurably better than shop-bought. Pears are a bit more capricious, and apples will give you a hard time keeping insects away. Again, if you live in the southern regions, you can experiment freely with pomegranate and quince.
It is not difficult to find your basic gardening tools, seeds and saplings wherever you are in Bulgaria. Visit the farmers' market, or go to one of the gardening chains that have sprung up in the bigger cities. Specialised gardening requirements may require a different approach. If, despite your preparations, it turns out that you need more tools or would like to plant a few more fruit trees than you already have, there is no need to embark on a long quest. Trust Econt's couriers to complete your order for whatever you need, regardless of your current location. You are free to order from shops in Bulgaria, Romania, Athens, Thessaloniki, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Hungary and Belgium. Online shops are at your disposal, including eBay and British retailers, so you can get your favourite plants rooted in Bulgarian soil. Econt takes care of delivery to every location – you will receive your goods directly to your garden.