|Mediterranean Garden Society|
The Crete Branch of the MGS
Tuesday 21 February - arrival 10.30 for an 11.00 start - Apokoronas
This event takes place at Pam and Geoff Dunn’s guest house, Douliana, Apokoronas and is a joint presentation by Pam Dunn, Bob Lyle and Valerie Whittington. A small donation will be charged to cover drinks and other expenses. To book your place, please send an email no later than 18 February. If you need directions, please ask when booking.
Given that 2016 was the 10th Anniversary year of the formation of our Crete Group within the MGS, we celebrated this with a bring-and-share festive buffet and a special birthday cake made by Rosemary Thomas.
Valerie gave a presentation about our membership and the variety of activities undertaken over the years, many of which can be read about on this web page.
She described how a small number of people first got together in 2006, a disparate group that had one thing in common – a love of gardening. All of them had joined the MGS independently. At this meeting it was decided to set up a group. Most of us were tackling new gardens, often on plots of land that might previously have been an olive grove or an over-grazed field and that had elements left over from the building sites of our new homes. As expatriates we found Mediterranean gardening a new challenge, no matter how much experience of gardening we’d had previously. Later that year, Jennie Gay (author of the book many of us were using at the time, ‘Greece, Garden of the Gods’ and a weekly gardening column in the Athens News) came with her partner, Piers Goldson, and talked about their experiences of working at Sparoza, the MGS garden in Athens. They gave lots of advice on choosing and working with mediterranean plants for the garden. Our activities at that time consisted of visiting each other’s gardens and supporting one another with cuttings, seeds and advice. Bob Wright was our co-ordinator.
In the autumn of 2009 Caroline Harbouri, the MGS President at that time, asked Valerie and Clive if they would consider organising the MGS’s Annual General Meeting in Crete. She visited us to talk to the members; the enthusiasm of all at this meeting persuaded her and the AC (Administrative Committee) to go ahead. Hence Valerie and Clive were given the task of organising the AGM for 2010. At this time Valerie also took over the running of our group. The AGM involved a great deal of planning: trips to Heraklion to meet with the Cretan professional conference organisers, choosing and visiting venues, hotels, places to visit and arranging for a variety of speakers. The whole event was a success and attracted 120 members from as far afield as California and Australia. A particular highlight was an excellent talk, also open to the public, by Oliver Rackham entitled The making of the Cretan landscape, held in the Arsenale, in Chania. Over 200 people attended.
Valerie pointed out that we have always looked beyond our own branch. In 2009, four members attended the AGM in Cyprus and in 2011 Pam Dunn and Valerie went to the one held in Mallorca. The 2012 meeting was held in Australia, too far for any of us from Crete to participate, but in 2013 five people from our branch attended the Athens AGM. 2014 saw six of us in Menton, France. Two of us attended the recently held AGM in Athens in October 2016 when a new administrative committee was elected.
Although the MGS has English as its lingua franca, here on Crete we have had links with MAIC (the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Crete), PPFF (the Park for the Preservation of Flora and Fauna), both in Chania, and the Botanical Park on the Omalos road. Donations from the main body of the MGS have been made to a former mosque in Rethymnon, now a museum of Cretan Natural History, to develop their traditional garden and to PPFF (The Park for the Preservation of Flora and Fauna) to develop an area of seashore plants.
Currently, the MGS Crete Branch is made up of around 40 members across the island. These originate from several different countries including Britain, France, Germany, Greece, Holland and Norway. This mix adds further interest to the group as background and gardening experiences are shared in our (largely) adopted new or second homes. Branch numbers remain consistently healthy for the size of the island so that most activities have 20 + participants. One aspect that keeps the group fresh is that some of our members live elsewhere for part of the year although they have gardens in Crete. There is a steady nucleus, but each event has a different mix, always welcoming new faces and guests.
Crete is a large island so that meetings and events tend to be in the area of Apokoronas where the majority of members have their gardens, although we have had very successful visits to the south and east visiting members’ gardens and their recommended local attractions. Also, members do travel to Apokoronas to join in events when they can for something that has particular appeal. We are always delighted when an offer to visit further afield is made, and we welcome members from other countries who are on holiday here.
Feedback following attendance at the MGS Annual General Assembly in Athens and news of the draft programme for 2017 was given.
Plenty of time was given for discussion and to look around Jane and Roger’s amazing garden set in its challenging wild and windy location. Jane told us about her more recent experiences and developments to the garden since some of us visited it three years ago.
Most notably they have bought in several old olive trees, some of which are trees rescued from building sites by a local garden centre. These provide a different focus and interest as previously the site was predominantly planted with low-growing species in keeping with its natural habitat. All of the olives are fairly old and gnarled, making potentially lovely features.
New footpaths wind their way throughout the rockery garden and surrounds to provide easier access for weeding or simply for strolling through the garden to enjoy the planting at closer proximity. Much rosemary has been removed after having succumbed to the lavender beetle.
A full report of the original visit to Jane and Roger’s garden, with more photographs and providing detailed background of the garden’s design and development can be seen by scrolling down this webpage to September 2013.Valerie thanked Jane and Roger for their hospitality, Rosemary Thomas for the birthday cake and everyone for their continuing support and enthusiasm.
It gives me great pleasure to write the report of this evening’s talk, which was one of the most interesting I have attended. It was illustrated throughout with photographs and video clips.
Part one ‘The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden’
It was a mathematical garden, based around the teachings of Leonardo of Pisa, known as Fibonacci – an Italian mathematician who in 1202 wrote the sequence that bears his name. In mathematics, the Fibonacci numbers are the numbers in the following integer sequence, characterised by the fact that every number in it is the sum of the two preceding ones (1-1-2-3-5-8-13-21 and so on).
Fibonacci sequences appear in biological settings in two consecutive Fibonacci numbers, such as branching in trees, arrangement of leaves on a stem, the fruitlets of a pineapple, the flowering of sunflowers and, an uncurling fern and the arrangement of a pine cone. All this is a reflection of the ‘golden spiral’ created by drawing circular arcs connecting the opposite corners of squares in the Fibonacci tiling. The nautilus shell is perhaps one of the best recognised examples. Fibonacci was Nick Bailey’s key for the garden design; this is illustrated in the plan below (with permission from Will Tubby).
We expect the gardens at Chelsea to be immaculate and realise – should we stop to consider – how very difficult it must be to have everything perfect in time for the judges’ visits just before the show opens in June. But all the planning and preparation . . .
Nurseries were visited and plants ordered from Italy, Belgium, Spain and Germany, and these all had to be delivered and planted within a very short time frame. There were 17 plant hunting trips in all to choose trees, shrubs and the herbaceous stock.
For a short while all seemed to be (organised) chaos as heavy machinery – cranes and diggers – delivered the plants. Hard building of the pre-prepared fixtures was needed – cement and metalwork had been planned for and executed and now all was fitted on to the site while the largest plants were placed carefully in position. These often needed turning to ensure that they fitted precisely and looked at their best in relation to all that was around them. In fact, this applied to all the plants – even the very smallest: one group planted while the other observed and advised. The whole ground level was raised by around 15 centimetres (beneath that the ground is sterile).
The garden starts with a beautiful copper water feature based on a pine cone design. The water feature represents a seedling which extends into a copper band that winds around the garden, first in the form of a bench, then on to the banister of the stairs and finally into a planting trough that sweeps around the top of the Belvedere. The copper band was carved with Fibonacci formulae. A pool of black water, surrounded by salvias, reflected the clouds.
A ‘fragmented’ meadow at the front of the garden was so full of plants that it needed the thinnest people on the team to creep carefully through to tidy them. The planting was set in a perfect circle. Once this area was planted it was covered with Breedon gravel. Plastic spoons were used to pour small amounts of this among the plants. Manoj described how chopsticks were used to nudge and direct the gravel into tiny areas in-between Briza media, Reseda, Carex testacea, Geum ‘MaiTai, Centaurea ‘Jordy’,Euphorbia epithymoides (syn. Euphorbia polychroma), Iris ‘Kent Pride’ and alliums.
The timescale fascinated me. ‘Main Avenue’ gardens have 14 days on site to complete their task and after the show is over, seven to ten days to clear it and return the area to the same state as found a month or so previously (a deposit is held by the organisers to ensure this).
Every detail mattered. Three ladies were flown in from Japan, mainly to pick all the dead pine needles from the trees. On many plants separate leaves had to be cleaned with a paintbrush, others were sprayed and cleaned with cotton buds. Trunks of the Yucca rostrata were pruned to show the Fibonacci sequence (taking about two and a half hours each).
Manoj felt that this was very much a plantsman’s garden, bursting with plants from the southern hemisphere and Mediterranean, some of which had never been seen at Chelsea before. He described the L system (named after botanist and Biologist Linden Mayer), who used this to describe the behaviour of plant cells and to model the growth process of plant development. This shows the way stems grow, creating near perfect heptagons in Corokia cotoneaster (wire-netting bush). Euphorbia acanthothamnos, which is indigenous to Crete, also follows this system and has the same growth pattern.
Cerinthe major subsp. purpurascens, with its small purple-blue bells and leaves with an almost blueish changeant effect provoked much interest. Aeonium tabuliforme, another fascinating form, was planted in the arid part of the garden. In their natural habitat these plants grow absolutely flat to the ground. Manoj had to plant each of them three times to achieve this perfectly. It was interesting to see Westringia fruticosa (a familiar plant to many of our own gardens here on Crete) used as beautiful cushioned forms defining the point where the paths crossed over.
We learned that the Belvedere was inspired by Nigella orientalis ‘Transformer’, another plant that Manoj said had not been seen at Chelsea before and which in his opinion is the prettiest and most delicate looking of all the love-in-a-mist varieties.
The garden was awarded a silver-gilt medal and missed out on a gold by only one point – and why? The judges decided that ‘The gravel on the paths was not sufficiently compacted’. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder but, having seen photographs of the winning garden, I cannot understand the judges’ preference!
In previous years, gardens were scrapped at the close of the show, which was a terrible waste of money and effort (this garden alone cost just under a million pounds to create). Now all applications have to state what will be done with the garden. Some of these plants went to the Chelsea Physic Garden, others to the sponsor.
Part 2 ‘The ten highlights of my day at the Chelsea Flower Show’
To illustrate this, several slides were shown of a varied range of sculptures available for sale on trade stalls, while others showed these as an integral part of a garden design. Unfortunately, within the scope of this report, only a small collection of photographs is possible.
Images from several of the show gardens were shown including the best in show, Andy Sturgeon’s captured landscape garden. This had been inspired by the magnitude of geological events and highlighted the need for gardens to adapt to their environment and changing climate. This garden took ten months to design and contained 80 tons of stone and plants from all over Europe.
The Morgan Stanley Garden for Great Ormond Street Hospital impressed Rosemary with its woodland garden and outstanding sculpture of a face. She liked the calm and richness in plants of this area of woodland diversity featuring a wide range of perennials. She considered that this verdant woodland scene was designed to provide a reflective space for families of the children undergoing treatment in the hospital. The garden was to be relocated to the roof of the hospital after the show – it would be a lovely place to sit.
The L’Occitane Garden, a Provence-inspired garden, featured next with images shown of dry stream beds and stone paths and lavender fields looking out over hills and woodland. Apparently there were 300 plant varieties with a gentle stream running by an old stone hut before disappearing under a dry stone bridge. Rosemary considered this a picture post card garden.
Next the Hartley Botanic Garden. The photograph above shows this as described: a lovely, restful and visually stunning garden. Featuring a glass house with potted carnivorous plants inside it. This rose out of the water and was surrounded by British native woodland plants, all inside a traditional walled garden.
The People’s Choice Award was given to God’s Own Country - A Garden for Yorkshire. Stained glass takes centre stage in this garden with a pool of water between the seating area and the glass, which wraps around the building on the left hand side. The glass represents the great east window of York Minster and was made by the York glaziers trust who are renovating the 15th-century east window at the Minster. The planting was inspired by the colours of the stained glass. The upper level of the garden is an area of planting celebrating the many fine woodland gardens of the county of Yorkshire. Particular mention was made of the stunning dogwood trees Cornus kousa (‘Midwinter Fire’) and the hydrangeas.
The next group of photographs shown were from the Artisan’s Garden section, The Garden Garage. Visitors were invited to ‘Transform your car porch! With off-street parking’. The photograph shows this two-tier structure, ground level with the garage and the roof with the garden and sitting area with tables and chairs. We all thought this was superb. The acers were beautiful and in keeping with the Japanese designer. Rosemary said that it looked as if it had been there for ever.
Other aspects shown included her favourite cactus stand by Craig House Cacti, the owners of which win gold every year for their ‘most fabulous display of cacti and succulents,’ all in perfect condition, as one would expect. This led her to show a range of handsome’ greenhouses. While accepting that we don’t need them here on Crete, she did yearn to have somewhere as beautiful in which to work and provide protection for her own renowned succulent collection during the winter.
Manoj and Rosemary spoke with such enthusiasm about their very different involvement in this year’s show, demonstrating commitment, passion and love of all aspects in creating gardens – we felt privileged and inspired.
A shared supper was enjoyed by members and guests in the delightful setting of Pam and Geoff Dunn’s garden in Douliana. Thank you.
Text by Clive and Val Whittington.
It was with great anticipation that over 20 members of our branch met to see Sara and Roger Gilding’s lovely garden and enjoy the unveiling of Roger’s magnificent sculptures.
The house and garden are in the village of Kefalas, high above Souda Bay in Apokoronas in the west of Crete. The garden is south-facing and enjoys magnificent views of the White Mountains. It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm with the mountains shimmering in the distance, and the garden looked fabulous.
Roger and Sara both have backgrounds in the creative arts and it shows in this garden. Roger’s skills as a sculptor would soon become apparent.
After a cooling drink, Sara gave a short talk on how they have developed their land into the garden it is now (some stories so familiar, like having topsoil delivered and then during the first winter watching it all get washed away with the rains). Terraces were built and paths laid. Conserving soil, and water, became the first task along with planting new trees to complement the existing ones and to give the garden its framework. More details about the early development of the garden, including photographs, are available on this web-page from a visit in September 2014 – scroll down to view.
Roger then spoke about his sculptures and the idea behind designing and making them: the theme is the sun and its relationship to their garden. Roger made us all smile with tales of the logistics of having huge pieces of stone delivered, lifted over the garden wall, and then being moved around with the help of his Greek builder friend - sounds easy doesn’t it!
The sculptures are contemporary, each one different and all using the sun and its journey across the sky as a feature. Some are made from beautiful local stone and others cast and shaped in polished concrete.
A private garden, completely enclosed by lovely stone walls and tree-lined boundaries, dividing it into several rooms. Each has its own seating area and now its own sculpture, all flowing beautifully into each other and back to the main path, making it an absolute joy to walk around. I kept coming upon another treasure to ponder over and ask myself the usual question: 'Could I grow that in my garden?'
Roger had built two special garden pools which were inspired by the water features of the Majorelle Gardens in Marrakech. It was lovely to be able to sit on the edge of the classical square-tiled pools, looking at the fish swimming around at the base of the papyrus plants and listening to the water bubbling over the fountain.
Sara and Roger were not experienced gardeners before coming to Crete but their artistic background is clearly evident in the way in which they have planted the garden; their feel for colour, proportion and structure in the borders is obvious. The terraces work well and are home to many plants. It was a good example of ‘no bare earth’ with plants allowed to establish and spread to give good ground cover and help to conserve water.
The sculptures were amazing, all large and each one different, combining local stone, polished concrete, some engraved and some painted and all placed with much sympathy to the garden and sun and, of course, how they are viewed.
The planting is predominantly mediterranean, for example succulent plants are used, which thrive on the terraces. We saw large and established agaves, Aloe arborescens and Euphorbia tirucalli. There is a beautiful jacaranda tree in full flower and a magnificent Brugmansia covered in shell-pink flowers. There are pomegranate, lemon, orange and olive trees to give shade and the under-planting is full of huge swathes of Bulbine frutescens, Tulbaghia violacea, lavender and salvias.
Roger and Sara also grow many plants in containers, from a very handsome Cycas revoluta taking pride of place on their top terrace to many pots of eye-catching succulents, from large examples of Agave attenuata to round tray pots filled with jewel-box arrangements of Echeveria, haworthias, aloes and crassulas.
There are no pastel colours in this garden. The wall by the large seating area at the top of the garden, for example, is painted a vibrant orange and makes the whole area come alive, brave and stunning to view.
An area at the top of the garden has had part of the wall painted cerise pink as a backdrop to one of Roger’s pieces, again just awesome to look at: it really draws the eye and makes you want to go and investigate.
This is still a garden in progress. Roger and Sara have more ideas to put into place and I for one can't wait to see them.
Text by Rosemary Thomas
Annika described the first garden in Kera, Apokoronas as a terraced water garden, set in the grounds of a modern villa surrounded by olive groves with spectacular views to the sea. The plot is approximately 4,000 square metres with the garden being 1,070 square metres.
The villa with its unusual design stands at the top of the property. A large pool terrace and an outdoor kitchen face the sea, giving an interesting perspective not appreciated at first.
Work on the garden began in spring 2013 continuing through the seasons to the winter of 2014; it is therefore still a young garden, being only 2½ to 3 years old. Our group entered the property through the pedestrian access below the house. Here an arched, romantic walkway has been created to draw the visitor into the garden.
The lower garden areas were once just a huge rubble slope, and Annika described the main task as ‘to give this area a useful shape by considering the sea view’. Different terraces were constructed to enhance this area and the all-important stream structure that wends its way around the lower terraces to the pond below. The Epilobium canum (Californian fuchsia) at the spring was much admired.
To the north they created soft borders with no fencing, but instead hedges of Metrosideros and vines. Garden lights were installed alongside; a particular feature of this property is that much of the garden is viewed from above and so lighting became an integral part of the overall design.
Water for relaxation and recreation, with the sound of running water, has been achieved by developing a stream and pond. This concept links the area to both the swimming pool and the sea beyond. Mediterranean lawns effectively fill large spaces using Phyla nodiflora (see photograph from the second garden).
I particularly liked a simple but effective feature in the outside kitchen: running along the back of the worktop is an integral trough with kitchen herbs growing; just right for picking when creating a meal.
Repeat planting is used effectively in the garden, including Syagrus romanzoffiana (syn. Arecastrum romanzoffianum -queen palm), Carissa macrocarpa (Natal plum), Salvia argentea (silver clary), S. leucantha, S. nemorosa, Ajuga reptans, Nepeta parnassica (Greek catmint), Knautia macedonica (Macedonian scabious), Silene coronaria (syn. Lychnis coronaria), Hypericum calycinum (St John’s wort), Oenothera speciosa, Verbena bonariensis.
The second garden, Landscape Garden Villa Alexandria in Plaka, is described by Annika as ‘a villa on the hilltop facing the bay of Souda deep in local greenery and herbal scents. This garden is located 30-45m above sea level and is just a short walk away from the sea. Each room of the modern villa has a sea view - the sea and the villa became one. And so did the garden become one with the villa and the surrounding nature.’ A very apt description.
The plot size here is approximately 4,500 square metres, with a similar construction timetable as that of the first garden, which started in the spring of 2013 and which is now three years old.
A pink and white colour scheme was chosen to bring the visitor from the entrance gate to the main villa. This has been constructed on an artificial hilltop (consisting of 6 metres of rubble), so the main task here was to design the hill to make it look as natural as possible. Annika described how they brought in a lot of soil and large rocks, using local shrubs and bushes that have a dense, deep root system for stabilisation. This has been very successful; the visitor would have no idea that this area is man-made. As Annika said, the garden ‘became one with the surrounding landscape’.
Being so close to the sea it was important to create a shelter belt to protect the pool area from the prevailing wind and to ensure privacy. As in the first garden, mediterranean lawns effectively fill large spaces, here leading to the pool area, using Phyla nodiflora. This is mown every four to six weeks and is an excellent alternative to grass. On our visit it was looking lush, covered with pretty, tiny flowers.
Many other colourful flowering plants such as agapanthus, honeysuckle, Allium ampeloprasum, Gaura lindheimeri and Tulbaghia violacea, and grasses including Stipa capillata have been planted near to the pool and house. Centaurea cineraria (syn. C. gymnocarpa) with its silver foliage caused much favourable comment.
In both gardens we enjoyed seeing a range of different salvias thriving and in full flower, including the following Salvia argentea, Salvia nemorosa, Salvia nemorosa 'Blaukonigin', Salvia sclarea, Salvia sclarea ‘Alba’, Salvia staminea, Salvia 'Allen Chickering’.
With thanks to Chloroplastes and their clients for kindly allowing us to visit these lovely private gardens.
Text and photographs by Valerie Whittington
John Fielding is a professional horticulturist who trained at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. He is a photographer, author, lecturer, garden designer and plant breeder, and he grows a wide range of plants, including many bulbous ones from the Mediterranean and particularly Crete. With Nick Turland and Brian Mathew he produced the book Flowers of Crete published by RBG Kew. He is also a committee member of the Royal Horticultural Society involved in judging shows and plant trials.
Following the great success of last year’s talk Endemic plants of Crete, a group of 47 of us met at the European Sustainability Academy in Drapanos where John shared his enthusiasm and expertise about geophytes of the region.
As part of this fascinating presentation, illustrated by John’s excellent collection of photos, we were shown maps of Europe indicating that our climate here in Crete is in some respects not so different from that of northern Europe. For example, much of Britain is a mild part of Europe, with Norfolk being very dry with a similar annual rainfall to that in Crete. This was a surprise to many, so perhaps we should be braver in experimenting more with geophytes. Nevertheless, we should remember that the distribution of rainfall over the year is of more importance in determining climate than the total annual precipitation. It is the relationship between precipitation and temperatures that determines hydric deficit, and of course the Cretan summers are much hotter and longer than those of Norfolk.
The location of Crete lends itself to many possibilities regarding plants to consider trying, given its location in the Mediterranean and its proximity to the North African coast and the Middle East. I remember being fascinated to find many similarities between our own flora here in Crete and that of the Libyan coast which my husband and I visited a few years ago. We are, of course, only 250 kilometres away across the Libyan Sea. John showed photographs of various geophytes that might grow happily in our Cretan gardens from Israel, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Turkey, and from countries nearby, as well as from the Peloponnese on mainland Greece and from private collections in the UK.
There was a lovely photo of a typical bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) wood in Dorset, England which would not be achievable here. However, another drift of flowers under showed that a similar effect may be created with Scilla latifolia, see below.
We were made aware that we should always be cautious when we introduce plants from ‘elsewhere’ into our gardens. John warned about potentially invasive plants such as Oxalis pes-caprae, showing pictures of fields overrun with this pretty plant in, for example, Prina and Gonies in Crete. This oxalis is very invasive: it does look delightful growing in olive groves, but it is a real pest in a garden. Alliums, to give another example, are very attractive plants, but can also easily become invasive because they produce many bulbils instead of flowers. Muscari species can be a similar problem. However, John suggests that Muscari macrocarpum works well in gardens and is highly scented.
In the scope of this write-up I can give but a small flavour of the content of this presentation which consisted of over 100 photos. I have chosen a selection of plants that I feel are particularly relevant to Crete with real possibilities to work well and blend in with the native landscape of our gardens. Two examples are shown below.
Euphorbia characias grows wild and happily in my own garden; I felt that the Fritillaria perscica ‘Ivory Bells’ would make a lovely companion plant.
Sternbergia lutea and other forms are deemed worthy of trying in gardens.
John highly recommends trying narcissus. We were shown some lovely specimens from Portugal and North Africa as well as from the Mani, Peloponnese. N. obsoletus is widespread on the Rodopou peninsula in western Crete and in the east at Pano Elounda. Following some questions regarding planting depths, it was suggested that given our conditions we should plant these bulbs deeper than we might normally expect and that all bulbs like occasional ‘feeding’.
Corms were discussed, colchicums being the most obvious for us to consider as they grow so well on Crete generally. I planted some very small colchicum corms in my own garden a few years ago and last autumn it was a joy to see them in flower.
As well as colchicums, cyclamens are another good choice for Crete, as long as they are planted in the shade. There is a wide range to choose from or collect. John has grown numerous varieties and clearly has a great love for these plants. Below is a photograph of some Cyclamen graecum, part of the collection in his London greenhouse.
One of the virtues of cyclamen lies in the varied and beautiful leaf forms.
As Cyclamen creticum is very common, other species should be very easy to grow as well. I have a few Cyclamen persicum and C. hederifolium growing in my garden. John presented a photo showing that in Israel, where it is a native plant, C. persicum is cultivated in olive groves as ground cover. Growing cyclamen from seed is best.
Tulips are another worthy choice and seen little in local gardens. John showed Tulipa agenensis from the Negev Desert in Israel and Tulipa sylvestris, common to the Algarve, Portugal, as an inspiration in the photograph below. Tulipa vvedenskyi was also deemed worth trying.
Given that Tulipa orphanidea subsp. doerfleri (syn. T. doerfleri)is almost a weedon Gious Kambos near Spili, Tulipa saxatilis grows successfully on the Omalos plain and Tulipa cretica in Kavousi in the east of Crete, tulips could be used more widely. John showed a photo in which Tulipa saxatilis was seen matched with Euphorbia myrsinites. This combinationwould seem to me to be a perfect addition to any garden.
Several arums, anemones, irises, gladioli, pelargoniums and ranunculi were shown and recommended as well as a few Tropaeolum tubers. I grew a Tropaeolum tricolor successfully in a pot for a couple of years - a very pretty and unusual climber. The well-known nasturtium is happy in our climate. The Tropaeolum azureum shown was a distinct blue, John believes that the whole range is worth a try.
This was very much his message: Try different geophytes and see which works best for our individual circumstances – but with the caution raised at the outset; experiment with care and share experiences. The inevitable question of sourcing was raised. The internet has sites for relevant plants from specialist nurseries.
John supports seed and plant exchanges among ourselves. The MGS has its own seed bank which is a great potential for all members to use for their own gardens; we can support it through collecting and contributing seeds. The full seed list is published twice annually.
The presentation came to an end all too quickly with a several photos of Ranunculus asiaticus andhybrids. John has been breeding plants for 20 years and this family is of particular fascination and interest to him.
The pleasure gained from the group was palpable and summed up by a guest: John ‘knows his material so well that he is a very comfortable speaker, easy to follow. His enthusiasm for his subject is obvious as well as infectious. He is also surprisingly (for me at least) knowledgeable and up to date about Crete - locations, plants, conditions. Very glad we came.’
A traditional Cretan buffet meal followed in the lovely ambience of this unique setting.
Text by Valerie Whittington
Seven members of the Cretan Branch joined a group of UK members of Mediterranean Plants and Gardens, who were on a trip organized by Heather Martin and accompanied by horticulturist and botanist John Fielding, who has a special interest in the flowers and plants of Crete. Among the Cretan members were Stelios and Daphne, hoping to pick up tips and suggestions about seeds and plants which could form a useful basis for propagating more indigenous plants in the Chloroplastes nursery.
The Imbros gorge is reputed to be one of the easier Cretan gorges to walk, being a mere eight kilometres long, with a 650 metres descent, as well as being among the richest in flora, including many plants endemic to Crete. At the beginning and end the terrain of the gorge is relatively open, but in the central area it is squeezed and tunnelled between cliffs so that the passage becomes less than 2 metres wide.
The gorge used to be the only route from the north of the island to Sfakia, passable only by foot or donkey, and some lovely stretches of the μονοπάτι or path still survive, winding between cliffs that rise to 300 metres.
The gorge has quite a history, having been the refuge of Christians, the base for revolutionaries and, during World War II, the escape route to the sea and hoped for safety of allied forces fleeing the German advance. We at least had the luxury of time to enjoy the views, the geology, plants and trees as well as the company, free from the shadow of war.
We were lucky with the weather. The breeze was chilly but refreshing and hot sunshine was interspersed with cloud and even a few drops of rain, but overall we enjoyed excellent conditions for the walk.
The gorge itself was surprisingly lush, and the geology, with the dramatically stratified limestone rocks, spectacular. The porous rocks with their crevices and ledges, the near vertical walls, the climatic variations and the millions of years over which plants have established themselves and evolved make for a unique and rich environment.
We benefited from the guidance of John Fielding who pointed out and named a range of species hanging on in seemingly impossible crevices and co-habiting and competing on vertical rock faces and ledges.
While the experienced botanists were thrilled to find rare treasures and endemic plants, for someone of limited plant knowledge the sheer beauty of more common flowers in great abundance (many new to me), and the sheer audacity and adaptability of trees and plants to find a root hold and survive in such terrain was a delight, wonder and amusement.
Halfway along the gorge we were passed by locals, a large flock of nimble-footed and photogenic goats, who nipped up crags and sampled the plants, rare or not, and no doubt they too continue to play their part in the dissemination of seeds and the control of rampant species. There has been an increase in pine and cypress trees in particular in the past two hundred years with a possible link to the decreasing number of goats.
It was enjoyable chatting to people as we progressed down the gorge. Occasionally we were overtaken by pupils on a school outing, a small French party and other walkers, but there were no crowds and at times one felt completely alone with nature.
The latter part of the walk felt a bit of a slog as the gorge widened out towards the sea, and only the lack of alternatives, such as a willing donkey, and the prospect of a meal kept us going. Most of the group had already eaten when we trailed in after four hours to the taverna. The meal was the least memorable part of the trip, but we were grateful for the lift in the coach back to the start of our gorge odyssey, and a little sad to be saying goodbye to our new friends.
Being very aware of my lack of knowledge, my cunning plan was to invite comments from other members of the group about the highlights of their day. There were two comments about the flora: one member ‘loved the Petromarula (especially as it was blue)’, while another noted that it is easy to confuse Euphorbia sultan-hassei, a notable Cretan endemic in the lower reaches of the gorge, with the more common Euphorbia dendroides. Someone else wondered how trees can find enough nutrition when they are growing out of bare rock.
Members of the two groups enjoyed sharing the experience and thanked the MPG and the MGS Branch for organizing a trip which, as one person put it, ‘I wouldn’t have done on my own’.
Imbros Gorge - list of plants seen
Text by Mary Newbery and photos by Gary Newbery
Val opened her garden to a group of 31 members and friends. Earlier in the week the weather forecast had promised rain, but in the event, despite a high wind, it remained dry.
After 10 years, the garden is fulfilling Valerie’s stated aims: ‘to make this a sustainable garden that has a sense of where we live and which is in keeping with the landscape’.
We sat on the terrace while Val talked about her priorities: to create a garden that felt right in its environment and to use native and/or drought tolerant plants wherever possible which did not depend on copious amounts of water. Her garden demonstrates that those plants which are at home here, in other words native, can coexist very happily with plants that have been brought in. She talks of ‘painting with plants’ and indeed, there is a great variety of colour and texture within the garden. The garden is a balance between design and maintenance so that it becomes largely self-sustaining (though it is hard to imagine Val sitting back at any time, satisfied with what she has created).
The land was originally a wild hillside, home to goats, and it had never been cultivated. The original soil is generally satisfactory to work with in these areas. There were few trees, so planting these has been a priority. The building work created a large area of waste and a steep bank, prone to erosion despite numerous lorry loads of soil which were brought in to cover this. The bank has now been terraced to conserve soil, with many plants growing in their own small hollows. The land is poor and rocky – like so many of our Cretan gardens. This lends itself to a variety of designs: some where the amount of bedrock dictates which areas may be planted, others where soil has been brought in and the land built up to given a greater depth.
Everywhere there is something different: a rockery, a dry garden planed with succulents, cacti and a huge Euphorbia ingens, a copse area of trees and rocks, a wild grassy meadow and so on. The ravine at the lower boundary has been cleared of the impenetrable undergrowth which blocked it, and it is now a different experience again as one walks through what feels like a woodland path, to reach what Val calls her ‘agave waterfall’.
The garden is fulfilling her stated aims and has come well through the long, dry spell of this winter with very little rain and supplementary water. Two water butts collect run-off rainwater, which supports conservation.
Plants are usually grouped together for impact and cohesion, creating plant communities – groups that work well together and have similar needs as regards both soil and water. Areas are zoned, generally by type: palms, yuccas, agaves and succulents, for example, fit well with the wild area of phlomis and euphorbia.
In spring there are a great many different wild flowers. These are valued for their natural beauty and they belong on the land. They are respected and enjoyed as a major part of the garden and they are not weeded out or cleared until after they die back. Some are used as mulch in the ‘managed wild areas’, others set seed and die back naturally. Those that are potentially invasive, such as thistles, are removed before they go to seed.
The biggest tasks in Val’s garden at present are maintenance and cutting back some of the plants and trees that were originally planted too close together. Many of these came from the Chania Forestry Department sale. Most of them were small and have survived well. There is only one tree in the garden that was not bought as a very young plant and that is the Pinus pinea which stands, well-established, by the gate. Gifts of cuttings were appreciated and some of the trees which are now features within the garden were raised from seed. The rate of growth here on Crete is always faster than we envisage, so many things take really well, which causes its own challenges. It is hard to believe that the oldest parts of this garden are a mere nine years old, and many are very much more recent.
Very little is wasted, everything is shredded for use in covering paths as an alternative to gravel or mixed in with a compost of kitchen waste and seaweed. Wood that won’t fit through the shredder is used for kindling in the wood-burning stove or cut up for logs.
There were a number of highlights, some already mentioned: the huge clumps of blue Echium candicans, covered in bees and butterflies and all grown from one original plant, the trees, such as some wonderful feathery eucalyptus – once again, many seem far more mature than they actually are. The Teucrium fruticans and Scabiosa cretica, also in flower, were much admired.
Val is now experimenting with specialist dry-garden plants supplied by Olivier Filippi from his dry-gardening nursery in Mèze, near Montpellier, France. She and her husband, Clive, visited the nursery as part of an MGS tour of gardens in that area in October 2014.
Walking around this inspiring Mediterranean garden, we enjoyed the variety of the different areas and the combination of different plants and colours.
The visit ended with a delicious meal at the local taverna in Drapanos.
In 2014 several MGS members in Crete ordered plants from Olivier Filippi’s dry-gardening nursery. Following the talk, we spent a short time discussing how well they were adapting to our particular conditions. They will continue to be monitored and outcomes will be shared to support and inform future plant choices for our branch. Particular success was noted with low-growing teucriums: Teucrium cossonii, T. aureum and T. luteum.
Main text Sam Spade. Photographs (all taken in March) by Valerie Whittington.
This year our pre-Christmas garden visit with a seasonal ‘bring and share’ buffet lunch was held in Jill and Bob Lyle’s house and garden in Vrysses. A warm welcome was quickly established as everyone was given a glass of Bob’s carefully prepared mulled wine as they arrived. It was delicious.
After a chance to chat and seasonal well-wishing, we were ushered into the lounge where we had a review of our 2015 Branch events and given a taste of activities planned for 2016.
Jill gave some background detail about the garden, describing it as a renewal of a village garden and explaining that it is still a work in progress. She was keen to point out that, as they are not here all the time, the garden has to be easily maintained.
Sections of the garden were designed and planted by Annika and Stelios (of Chloroplastes, Kalives). We were glad that both Stelios and Annika (with their two-year-old daughter, Persephone) were able to come and talk about their impact on the design and plants.
Through a selection of carefully chosen slides Jill described the garden before building renovations began in 2008. The front garden was derelict, and the rest was a garden ‘about food’ with several fruit trees, including orange, lemon, mandarin, pomegranate, pear, apricot and walnut. Vegetables and fruit are still the mainstay of the majority of traditional Cretan gardens (and olives, of course). There were no real boundaries apart from a stone wall and there was a cistern.
We were intrigued by the grafted citrus tree, which produces both mandarins and bitter oranges (just ripe for marmalade).
In 2013, building work was now completed but the ground was bare and trees overgrown, so major pruning took place with help from neighbours. The front garden was largely concrete with an apricot tree the only survivor. Jill and Bob’s first plant was an oleander planted in June of that year and attractive edges around the fruit trees in the back garden were created with barrel staves. New trees include a Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum) and Jacaranda mimosifolia.
Polygala, lavender and hibiscus were put in and provided the basic shape and layout of the garden along with various cuttings from friends. Then at the MGS Christmas party that year Jill and Bob met Annika and decided to enlist her and Stelios to help develop the garden further.
Annika took the lead in describing the next developments and how the garden was separated into different areas by strategic planting, as in the photograph below.
In May 2014 the tropical bed was created as a focal point alonside the pool. Plants were chosen as being least likely to shed their flowers and leaves. These include Cycas revoluta, Strelitzia reginae, Russelia equisetiformis, Cuphea ignea, Kniphofia uvaria (red hot poker), hibiscus, oleanders and climbers.
The far rear of the back garden has been separated to create a seating area under the walnut tree by using large stones rather like stepping stones. This shady area includes ferns, Arbutus unedo (strawberry tree), Cretan fuchsia, buddleja, Pittosporum tobira and Abelia. Acanthus mollis provides a focus in winter.
Planting boxes with Trachelospermum jasminoides and Felicia amelloides are proving effective, as well as climbers such as Campsis grandiflora (trumpet vine), Tecoma capensis (syn. Tecomaria capensis), Rosa banksiae, Lonicera japonica (honeysuckle). Passiflora caerulea (passion flower) kiwi, clematis and wisteria are used elsewhere to screen and create privacy from neighbouring gardens.
The front garden can flood during heavy rain storms; Jill descibed how they had originally planted gaura and roses in what was a flat area straight off the street and it flooded so often that plants struggled as it was often waterlogged. Neighbours put in the vines over the front path.
This is proving to be much more rewarding and practicable, ensuring that most plants are lifted out of the flooding areas. In June of this year, water drainage was a priority in preparation for winter.
Close to the kitchen is a section with herbs such as mint, rosemary, oregano, sage, bay and lavender. Here there are also a few succulents and flowering plants such as polygala, iris, agapanthus and Tulbaghia violacea. Mandevilla (syn. Dipladenia), Podranea and clematis provide a developing backdrop growing up the fence.
This was a very relaxed and enjoyable visit combined with Christmas cheer. The weather was glorious and warm, so we were able to eat outside and much time was spent wandering, chatting and enjoying the garden together.
Thanks to Jill and Bob for their hospitality and to Annika and Stelios for their professional input.
This special all-day event was held at Manoj and Clive’s home and garden in Paleloni, Apokoronas. We met in the late morning and were shown around the garden, which is still in the early stages of development. Our visit was accompanied by a short illustrated talk, of particular interest to those of us who have started a garden from scratch in a completely different environment to that of our mother countries.
Instead of a detailed write-up here, Manoj will be submitting an article for TMG based on his presentation.
This is a delightful holiday home with new planting taking place to be seen on each visit. I include here six photographs of plants carefully chosen for the site, whether old favourites like the aloe and California poppies or ‘new’ experimental irises.
A bring and share Moroccan-themed lunch followed.
In the afternoon we enjoyed excellent feedback from the visit to Morocco organised by MGS Excursions through a presentation of slides led by Sara Gilding - our ‘official’ photographer on the trip. Sara had spent many hours editing and selecting the best from her collection. She traced the journey through spectacular scenery and captured the atmosphere and chose elements of the particular cultural design typical of the stunning gardens visited.
She was ably supported by Rosemary Thomas, in particular, and informally by other members of our Branch who visited Morocco in March.
An illustrated article by Rosemary about this trip can be read by scrolling down this web page to March 2015. In addition, there is a further article in the July 2015 issue of The Mediterranean Garden by Valerie Whittington.Garden photographs were taken by Manoj Malde. Text by Valerie Whittington.
We welcomed Tim Ellis as our speaker on a glorious evening at Pam and Geoff Dunn’s home in Douliana.
Tim Ellis is a horticulturalist and a landscape gardener. He started growing and selling plants when he was 14 years old and, after leaving school, trained as a nurseryman at Merrist Wood College in Surrey, England. After working for several nurseries and later running his own landscaping business, he started his own nursery in Cornwall. In addition to this, he is now specialising in euphorbias and other hardy perennials. Tim gives talks and demonstrations to gardening groups and societies throughout Devon and Cornwall. I was delighted when, as a frequent visitor here, he offered to give this presentation for our branch on Crete.
We enjoyed a general talk on the genus Euphorbia and on plants of other genera belonging to the family Euphorbiaceae. Tim covered euphorbias known to us here in Crete, in the wider Mediterranean area and also species he grows in the UK.
He started by acknowledging that the genus Euphorbia is a group of plants that many people consider invasive and dull. Their poisonous sap can also deter interest, but he believes that they are very worthy plants for the garden. He quickly gained our interest through his keen enthusiasm and knowledge of his subject, illustrated with his excellent slides.
Euphorbias can cope with widely differing conditions, Tim enthused, ‘they actually look great with a thick coating of frost.’
He went on to illustrate an interesting feature of most euphorbias, namely the way the flowering stems turn downwards in winter and then stand up straight again to flower in spring, as demonstrated by these first two photographs.
We learned that the Euphorbiaceae family is very large with plants which can be found in almost every country of the world. Although the main area of distribution is from North Africa across the Mediterranean to the Himalayas and China, some euphorbias are also found in North America. Tim explained that some of these resemble spiny succulents and cacti; others are large, like rubber trees in Africa. Another is the much-loved plant most often bought at Christmas, the ornamental poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima). The structure of the flowering parts of the plant and the white sap that oozes from the stems when cut define this family.
Tim’s own particular interest is in the hardy species and varieties that can be grown in his own gardens in Cornwall. Most of these originate from Europe and Asia.
His collection started from just three varieties, Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii (Euphorbia characias grows in abundance here on Crete), Euphorbia amygdaloides subsp. robbiae and Euphorbia griffithii, which were put up for sale in the nursery as part of a general collection of perennials.
This cultivar is derived from the UK native wood spurge and therefore likes semi-shade and a humus-rich soil. The purple colouration is at its best in spring, and contrasts well with the bright yellow flowers on 60 cm stems.
Euphorbia griffithii is an herbaceous plant that grows to 80 cm high with bright orange bracts. The cultivar ‘Fireglow’ has deep red bracts. Tim described how many who grow this species find that it has a habit of moving or running through the ground. This will happen if it is grown in loose well-cultivated soil, but if it is planted in heavy moisture-retentive soil, it forms a tight mound of bushy growth.
Tim said, ‘I am obsessed with euphorbias’ and he has about eighty-five different species and varieties, many being very similar but exhibiting qualities that make them stand out from the rest.
Given that these plants come from differing types of climate, situations and soils, growing them together in one garden only one acre in size led to many challenges. He described his biggest challenge as where to find the best site for each plant, and much research followed. The nursery garden has different areas of full sun, partial shade, deep shade, well-drained soil and damp soil, so finding suitable planting sites was not too difficult. He found few situations where one or other species could not be planted. Some species are evergreen while others are deciduous, and, like other garden plants, some are short-lived and others much longer-lasting. Planting in the best possible situation for each species ensures the maximum lifespan for each plant.
Euphorbia mellifera and Euphorbia x pasteurii are notable for the strong scent of honey from the nectaries when in flower.
We were shown slides of the beautiful flowers of several species. Some had orange and red bracts, others were covered in a mass of small flowers and others had large bright yellow bracts. Tim explained that euphorbia flowers do not have any petals: the colourful yellow or orange parts are not parts of the flower but coloured bracts surrounding the flower – actually known as cyathia. The real flower of most euphorbias is the central cluster of nectaries with the stamens and carpel in the middle.
The above variety is similar to E. schillingii, but has beautiful pink and purple young foliage when it emerges from the ground in spring. It flowers from May throughout the summer and dies down in winter.
Many varieties have a long flowering period, some also providing beautiful leaf colour in the autumn and spring: two displays from one plant. Tim believes that, with careful choice, euphorbias can be mixed in with ordinary garden plants and shrubs to give extra background or focal colour at various times during the year.
Euphorbia schillingii,originatingfrom the Himalayas, is a summer-flowering deciduous variety growing as a strong clump to 90 cm high and wide. The bright yellow bracts are about the biggest on all the euphorbias Tim grows and the flowering lasts for several months in mid-summer. It grows best in sun or partial shade in good soil.
Euphorbias are rarely eaten by slugs or snails because of the toxic sap. The only real problem Tim has encountered is that of rust and mildew, mainly with species with darker foliage. He believes erratic weather patterns are the main cause. Aphids found on young shoots in spring and summer do not seem to cause any ill effect to the plants, though viruses may be transmitted from plant to plant.
Pruning was discussed and it was agreed that it should take place when the inflorescences or stems are brown and dead to reduce the risk of sap irritation. At this time, the sap inside the stems has dried up and no longer presents a problem.
Tim has joined the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens, and is hoping to begin the process of applying for a National Collection status for his hardy Euphorbia collection.
Since starting his collection, Tim looks for euphorbias whenever he travels abroad. Recent trips to Malta and Crete have given him an opportunity to study some new species. He says that seeing the plants growing in the wild provides greater understanding of their individual needs.
Tim finds this species useful because it is low-growing and early-flowering. Several cultivars are available of differing heights, Euphorbia epithymoides (syn. Euphorbia polychroma)‘Senior’ is one that grows slightly taller, 45 cm high, and has the same inflorescence as the species. These plants also turn a nice orange colour in late summer before retreating into the ground for winter. There are also forms available with variegated leaves.
Seeds have been collected by Tim from several different species, most of which have germinated and they are now established plants growing in a nursery greenhouse. These new plants will be added to his collection and be used as stock plants to produce more seed. Although originating from a warmer climate, these plants may eventually be used in containers outside during summer. Tim talked about the possibility of new hybrids arising from cross-pollination with hardy varieties growing in the garden.
He also explained that propagation by division or taking cuttings is a quicker way to getting a new plant, but that cuttings are very slow to root with some species, while others have proved easy once the best method has been found. A slide show giving an example was shown – with Tim advising us to wear gloves to avoid the sap.
It was interesting to learn that many new varieties of Euphorbia are being developed by plant breeders - mainly in America. They are crossing different species and varieties to create bushier and more compact forms. Many of these new varieties are protected by plant breeders’ rights or PBR, so propagation of them is actually illegal without a permit. Nurseries like Tim’s have to buy young plants or cuttings of these if they wish to stock them, and a proportion of what they pay goes back to the breeders to help fund their work.
Euphorbia characias ‘Silver Swan’ is one such new addition. Tim considers this a stunning plant that looks good all year round and grows to 80 cm height and width. It has variegated leaves and flower heads. His plant, shown below, flowered for a couple of months in late spring and then again in late summer.
Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ recently came on to the market and is most unusual as it has tiny white flowers. The plant flowers almost continually and seems only to bear a few leaves. The flower head develops into a froth of small white flowers all over the plant reaching about 30 cm high. Unfortunately, in the UK the plant is only an annual, but kept warm in a conservatory or house, it can be grown for several years and can grow much bigger. However, Tim gave me two small plants of this variety in August 2014 and I am delighted that they have been potted on, survived the winter and now the heat of summer outside here on Crete and are thriving in pots in a sheltered area.
Everyone found this presentation fascinating and we commended Tim for his outstanding knowledge and enthusiasm for his subject. Thank you, Tim.
An enjoyable bring and share supper followed outside on the terrace as the sun went down.
Photographs provided by Tim Ellis
The European Sustainability Academy, Drapanos, Apokoronas was filled to capacity when over fifty participants attended this very successful event.
John Fielding with Nick Turland produced the widely acclaimed book, Flowers of Crete, published by The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. In this illustrated talk, John showed 135 images of plants, the majority of which are endemic to Crete. It was of great interest and educational value.
It was immediately clear from his enthusiastic delivery and professional approach that John has an incredible knowledge of this subject. He started by showing maps of the distribution of various plants and the rate of endemism around the Mediterranean. From this we learned that of the 1700 plants native to the Cretan area, which includes Karpathos and Kassos, ten per cent are endemic. That is, they grow there and nowhere else. Crete, John explained, is in a special location being close to Africa, Asia and Europe and has elements of the flora of all three continents.
Palms were an early subject. I remember a discussion with a friend who was adamant she would not grow palms because they are not Mediterranean. Photographs of Crete’s own palm, Phoenix theophrasti, in Vai, were shown, followed by a distribution map of Chamaerops humilis (western Mediterranean) and Phoenix theophrasti (Crete and SE Aegean including Turkey). Our native Phoenix is widespread on Crete in isolated pockets around the coast. I found this most interesting.
Centaurea pumilio, a cornflower, or knapweed, grows only on the coast. John showed a photograph of this lovely, endangered species growing in Falassarna, western Crete.
Orchis spitzelii subsp. nitidifolia (syn. Orchis prisca), a very rare orchid in the west of the island, is also endemic to Crete. It is restricted to open woodland and pine forest in mountainous areas.
Most of us found the saxophone-shaped flowers ofAristolochia cretica fascinating.Cretan birthwort is relatively rare and not easy to find. Its habitats are shady and rocky places and the plant and flowers are well-disguised by surrounding grass and other plants. Aristolochia creticais endemic to Crete and Karpathos, blooming from the end of February to the beginning of July.
A lovely selection of plants from the Aradena gorge was shown, including cyclamen, some of John’s real favourites. Several photos of different cyclamen followed. Cyclamen creticum, endemic toCrete and Karpathos, Cyclamen graecum, native to southern Greece, southern Turkey, and neighbouring islands and prized for its variable leaf forms, which include some of the most striking of any cyclamen, and Cyclamen hederifolium var. confusum, endemic to Crete. The latter flowers first, with its leaves following later, and it is found in just two valleys, Topolia and Polyrinia.
I had seen and photographed the endemic sub-shrub, Verbascum arcturus, last year in the Imbros gorge. John showed four of these from different angles and distances to show them among the rocky terrain in which they are generally found, and to provide detail. A fascinating follow-up to these were another four photos taken in the Winter Gardens in Sunderland, in the north of England, where Lee Stephenson, the head gardener, has introduced these plants in a special collection. Having lived and worked in Sunderland for a short while, I was delighted with this connection, and I hope to visit the gardens when next in the area.
Origanum dictamnus is an endemic herb of Crete, also called erontas or stomatohorto. It has been known since ancient times and has been used as a haemostatic and wound-healing agent; its healing properties are mentioned by Hippocrates. It is said that when wild goats get injured, they rub their wound against this plant and it heals rapidly. Growing on steep slopes and cliffs, it is collected in the summer months, although it is now being cultivated in the eastern Crete. It makes a pretty garden herb plant.
Several different euphorbias were shown, some of which were photographs from John’s greenhouse in London where he has produced splendid Euphorbia characias (autumn-flowering) plants from collected seed. However, he explained that they do not flower in the UK. This is a plant very much taken for granted by those of us living here and they are stunning when in flower. At this point, in response to a question, John described seed collecting, giving the efficient example of placing the seed head inside a paper bag ready to catch the exploding seeds when completely ripe.
Among my favourites were three pictures ofthe stunning Paeonia clusii photographed in different locations on Crete. This plant is native to Crete and Rhodes (ssp. rhodia). I had hoped to see these flowering, but when visiting a recommended site the following week, very few were in flower and were inaccessible due to the inhospitable terrain leading up to them. This must be one of the most beautiful plants on Crete. It is an endemic of woodland, scrub, garrigue and rocky places and flowers between March and May. Its colours range from white through the pinks.
Petromarula is a genus of plants in the Campanulaceae family. There is only one known species in this genus, Petromarula pinnata, and it is endemic to Crete. I was delighted to discover this growing in my own garden in a gulley area cleared two years ago from dense growth of bushes, ivy, overgrown wild almond and olive trees. Here I am encouraging the self-seeding of plants from my own meadow and natural seed distribution. I have admired Petromarula pinnata in the wild for several years but did not realise that it was endemic; this makes it a very special plant in my garden.
It is impossible to mention all the plants shown and discussed in this write-up, so I have chosen those that had an impact on me personally; but it has been hard to leave any out. The final choice (given an allocation of only 10 photographs per article) is from the mountains in the ‘Snow desert’ 2,500 metres high and a contrast to the climate most people are familiar with on Crete.
John described this area as being ‘stuffed with endemics’, such as Centranthus nevadensis subsp. sieberi (syn. Centrantus sieberi), a rare endemic of the White Mountains, about 30 cm in height and growing in scree and calcareous rock crevices, flowering in June and July. Anchusa cespitosa, another rare endemic flower here, has tiny dazzling blue flowers with hairy leaves to collect what little humidity there is at night.
Crocus sieberis subsp. sieberi is a superb endemic spring-flowering crocus. It blooms just as the snow melts and is therefore unpredictable. Its sepals are white on the inside and suffused with purple to violet/black on the outside.
Most of us love wild flowers but are not sufficiently knowledgeable about those which are endemic to Crete. For example, when creating a garden, many people clear their land of everything 'wild' before planting their bought-in plants, often in ignorance of what is already there. With greater awareness, perhaps we shall value them more and 'do our bit' to help preserve these special plants. John placed some emphasis on a selection of wild flowers worth growing or looking for in the garden, even if they are not endemic. The MGS Seed Bank is an excellent resource for this purpose.
This excellent and fascinating presentation was followed by a delicious buffet of traditional Cretan food provided by the local taverna, in the friendly and lovely ambience of this unique setting.
With many thanks to John Fielding for sharing his enthusiasm, expertise and high quality photographs with us. All photographs have been taken by and provided for this article by him.Text by Valerie Whittington
Eleven of us from Crete went on the MGS tour of Morocco. Given that there were 24 participants in total, we made up a significant proportion of the group and it was a highlight of our own annual programme, hence this write-up for our web page. Many other members from our branch have asked to hear more about our experiences. One aspect we all enjoyed very much was meeting up with others with similar interests and enthusiasms from elsewhere. Rosemary Thomas has written her personal account of the trip, including photographs, below:
After arriving at Agadir Airport in bright sunshine, we were met by Abdul our driver and whisked away to Taroudant and the simply magnificent Dar al Hossoun.
You would never think as we were driving down dusty rough tracks past what seemed like a continuous mud wall that through the estate gate would be a paradise.
The rooms are laid out around the estate, all individually styled, understated, but with beautiful authentic rugs on the floor and walls and brimming with traditional artefacts. The estate has been developed from 15 acres of former olive groves and the beautiful extensive gardens are a joy to see. We were greeted by Ollivier’s assorted dogs, cats and the resident peacocks who roam around the estate at will, adding quite a regal touch to the gardens.
This was truly a wonderful place and a great place to start the tour.
Our group from Crete arrived a day early since this was the only way to travel by a direct flight. As this was an extra day and not part of the itinerary, Ollivier organized a day out for us to see some of the wild landscape and enjoy a traditional lunch.
First we went into the town of Taroudant to the ancient tanneries, which is not a place for the faint-hearted or anyone without a strong stomach. It’s fascinating and very smelly to watch the men working with ox, goat, lamb and camel skins, taking them through the long, long process in order eventually to have a product fit for bags, shoes etc. After a bit of retail therapy in the tanneries shop, we left with a much higher regard for leather.
We then drove out into the surrounding hills and walked with Ollivier down to an oasis which was surrounded by palms and fast-flowing rills of water coming straight off the mountains, very green and very beautiful. We were all surprised by the fertility of the land, not a dry barren landscape at all, maybe that comes later in the summer.
We had lunch in an open-sided tent sitting on rugs on the floor eating tagine, which was cooked in the traditional way over coals right outside, just perfect.
Ollivier introduced us to the family who were our hosts and told us that they had met when he was looking for a farmer to grow organic produce for the hotel. This was a very successful business for the farmer as the land is so fertile. Later, the family were asked to provide traditional lunches in a Bedouin tent for guests from the hotel from time to time. They agreed, but now the farmer and his family are finding themselves hosting so many lunches and events and so greatly enjoying meeting people that they don’t have time to farm any more and Ollivier must find another farm for his produce, a lesson learned.
After lunch we had a walk through the oasis to look at the work of some of the local stonemasons who were working with soapstone. They were carving the stone using very simple tools and all by hand, very impressive skills. By now it was late afternoon and we had to make our way the way back to Dar al Hossoun.
By dinner time that evening the whole group had arrived.
Thursday (first day of the tour): Over breakfast we at last met our tour leaders Chris and Başak Gardner. Chris is a botanist and plant photographer, and together with his wife, Başak, he wrote the book Flora of the Silk Road. Chris’s arrival at Taroudant had been delayed as he was flying in from Costa Rica and Başak was held up at Casablanca Airport.
It was good to meet them both and Chris wasted no time in giving the group a briefing of what to expect on the tour and confirmed the itinerary.
During our first morning Ollivier gave us a complete tour of the gardens of Dar al Hossoun, along with the story of how it all began as the dream of the architects, Arnaud Maurières and Eric Ossart, and how eventually they sold the estate to Ollivier to be his private home. He later decided to open it to paying guests to help with the running costs and because he liked people and wanted them to see this beautiful place.
We were escorted on the tour of the garden by Ollivier’s two small dogs, very pretty sisters rescued as puppies from the side of the road. Ollivier described them as being Moroccan corgis; they were very amusing and very naughty.
The buildings on the estate are all made using the traditional rammed-earth construction, which provides insulation against heat and cold. The only concession to modern living is the use of large picture windows for light.
The design of the garden is focused on the fabulous water features. The main pool in the courtyard is a traditional long Islamic-style pool (just 3m wide by 29m long) inspired by the Alhambra in Granada, with walkways along both sides, and small ponds to the side planted with Cyperus and Thalia. The second pool in the Al Borj courtyard is similar but a little smaller.
In the main Al Hossoun courtyard there were some outstanding plants, but I really liked the Pachypodium lamerei, the fabulous Bauhinia gardneri and Aloe divaricata; there was also a magnificent blue palm which really caught the eye and all the plants were in perfect condition.
We continued around the garden until we arrived at the sunken garden area. This huge hole is where they excavated the soil to build the riad; instead of building a swimming pool here, they decided to create a sunken garden, accessed by wide stone-terraced steps interplanted with a variety of succulents going down to an area with its own microclimate, allowing some tropical fruit trees, bananas and Clivia, as well as palms and more succulents,to flourish.
The riad has an orchard of lemons, oranges and grapefruit and a labyrinth of pathways and connected courtyards that encourage you to walk all around the estate, finding new garden rooms at every turn, each with its own character, and I was continually passing majestic plants. You could hear the peacocks scratching in the undergrowth, and all the time I kept stopping to think ‘that’s a nice plant, I must find out the name’, then you would bump into another member of the group doing exactly the same thing.
Clearly, this garden, although well established, is not standing still. While staying true to the original design, Ollivier and his gardeners have plans to continue to develop the planting with new species and cultivars in the future. The garden has a large nursery area where the gardeners continually propagate new plants from cuttings, seeds and offsets from succulents. You can also spot ‘air layering’ taking place on some trees and shrubs. Even though Ollivier inherited this garden when he acquired the house, he has a very hands-on approach and is involved in both the choice of plants and planting schemes, and I am sure Dar al Hossoun will continue to thrive.
After a long morning admiring Dar al Hossoun, we left to go to Taroudant for lunch in the spectacular Riad Miryam. These places have to be seen to be believed. You enter the riad from the street through a very small, insignificant door and enter a magical place. We ate an amazing lunch sitting at tables in an inner courtyard, with a roof open to the sky and surrounded by flowering trees and plants.
After lunch we visited a garden just outside Taroudant belonging to Andrew Patrick. This was another walled estate where we entered through the large wooden gate and turned a corner to be met by a beautiful white rose garden in front of the main house. This was going to be the start of something good. Andrew was a delightful man who happily allowed us to walk around his garden and look inside his fabulous home too.
Andrew bought the plot of land for his house and garden ten years ago and spent much time preparing the soil prior to planting. This was clearly evident, as the growth rate of his plants was amazing: he had four Euphorbia ingens that were tree-sized, amazingly grown from two-metre plants in only ten years, in fact all his succulents had a very good growth rate. It must help that he is gardening on sandy soil and not bedrock.
His three young gardeners were working, and all had beaming smiles at the sight of all these visitors gasping with delight and admiration at their achievements in the garden. They were so knowledgeable about their plants they could have worked at Kew.
The garden was outstanding, with the water feature again taking pride of place. As at Dar al Hossoum, it was the traditional Islamic long pool with a fountain at the head, lovely to walk down surrounded by bougainvilleas and scented plants.
When you carried on through the garden, you arrived at a collection of large Moroccan pots planted with assorted succulents such as Agave horrida (syn. A. desmettiana)‘Variegata’, Agave victoriae-reginae and Kalanchoe blossfeldiana, all in superb condition: this was my favorite spot and great source of inspiration.
The walk around the garden took you to lots of different areas including the guesthouses, all with their own terraces and all planted with both scented plants and succulents. Every terrace had a different water feature, from fountains to small square tiled pools; I thought it was fabulous. We finished our visit here with afternoon tea on the terrace with Andrew, a truly delightful man.
Friday: After another hearty breakfast, we set off on another bright and sunny day to visit the huge estate of the artist Claudio Bravo, who hailed from Chile but later chose to live in Morocco until his death in 2011. His home and garden are now a sort of private museum and I feel very lucky to have visited this place.
We arrived and parked outside the main house which was fronted by a huge border of well-established Echinocactus, Furcraea and Agave species, all spectacular plants: they certainly got my attention and the textural effect with the large stones and gravel was very pleasing. As we entered the main house through the huge front door, it was clear that this house is indeed a palace; we walked slowly through various sitting room/bedroom/bathroom areas, all with stunning artwork on the walls, some rooms with original works by Picasso displayed (Picasso was a close friend), so much artwork it took your breath away - the antiquities in the house were outstanding and we were allowed to look at everything. The artists in our group were having a lovely time, especially when we arrived at the studio where the great man sat and worked. You almost wanted to get down and kiss the ground, it was all so amazing and we hadn’t got to the gardens yet. As one might have expected, the courtyard gardens were immaculate on a very grand scale; tree-size palms graced every courtyard, under-planted with dozens of clivias, all very stylish. The water features and stone fountains in the inner courtyards are just fabulous. Claudio’s life in this huge palace is so removed from our own lifestyle that it is difficult to imagine, but his home was a great source of inspiration and you could cherry-pick little ideas for yourself. This was a house and garden on a very grand scale just bursting with art, antiques, statuary and culture; we were very privileged to be allowed to visit it.
After morning tea overlooking his private lake (unfortunately empty for cleaning), we were to leave this amazing place, only to be invited to come and see the palace stables and meet the Arabian horses owned by the estate. This was a great and unexpected treat - we met the resident magnificent stallions, mares and foals, were shown the rosette room with all the awards the horses had won in competitions along with all the authentic Arabian classical saddles which were kept there; again the grooms who cared for the horses were so delighted to be showing off their charges that they wanted to show us everything!
When we finally managed to leave, we set off back to Taroudant to visit the home and garden of Karl Morcher.
This was a private house and garden quite different from that of Andrew Patrick. It was a much bigger estate and the gardens were laid out with lawns, mature trees, olive groves and stunning outside terraces.
Karl gave us a personal tour around the garden, showing us his most precious plants, and I got the feeling he was a hands-on gardener who did a lot of the work himself. He had been gardening on this site for ten years and, once again, the growth rate of the plants was quite astonishing. Clearly Morocco has an excellent climate for horticulture.
A long narrow pool with fountains at the end took centre-stage on the lawns, which were surrounded by lots of mature trees giving welcome shade, but the most spectacular tree on show was a Ceiba insignis with its amazing thorny bark, very lovely.
Karl also had a pair of lovely flowering bauhinias in his reception courtyard, it was all very sculptural.
Karl’s home was a perfect example of house and garden merging: wide sitting room doors opened onto wide terraces and all the lines became blurred, citrus trees on the terraces gave off their lovely scent - it was all so peaceful.
We finished our time here with a delightful lunch with Karl and Ollivier, served on the shady terraces around the pool, even the poolroom was glorious, I could have lived in it. We finished the day with a visit to the souks of Taroudant, a mini Marrakech and very lively, a great end to a lovely day.
Saturday: We left Taroudant, again in bright sunshine, to go on a journey to Marrakech and Chris told us that we would be taking the most scenic and exciting route over the Tiz’n’Test pass. This was a great drive through acres and acres of argan trees, a widespread and crucial tree for this area because of its valuable oil. It was a very clear and sunny day and the views were amazing. Chris had briefed us on the wild flowers we might see, and he was right, we passed abundant Asphodelus fistulous, a smaller version of the asphodels we get here on Crete. As we drove on, we saw a lot of Polygala baetica and Helianthemum.
We stopped for our picnic lunch at a café at the top of the pass and sat outside as the sun was shining, weather-wise so far so good.
Our long descent took us through beautiful green river valleys with villages here and there clinging to the mountainside, farmed terraces everywhere. No cars or trucks here though, it is all donkey power still, fruit trees in blossom everywhere. Chris thought they were probably peach and cherry trees as they are big business in Morocco.
This was a long day, and when Marrakech came into view, it was a very welcome sight.
We arrived at Riad Aljazira, unpacked, had a lovely dinner, a short briefing from Chris about what we were going to do the next day and then fell into bed, after yet another very satisfying day.
Sunday: Now I will say more about the lovely Riad Aljazira, the buses dropped us off on Saturday evening in a little square somewhere in the city, we were then led through the backstreets of Marrakech to what can only be described as a tunnel in a wall, this was the entrance to Riad Aljazirz. Alan had to walk bent over through the tunnel to get to the small entrance door of the Riad, however, once you have stepped through the door into the interior, it was overwhelming, high ceilings, lots of space and passageways which opened on to yet another enormous courtyard - I loved it. Cool and contemporary with a pool in the central courtyard where we had our breakfast and dinner, so beautiful, all the plants in pots were perfect, a very stylish and comfortable hotel.
We had a very organized day on Sunday, starting with a guided tour around Marrakech to see the souks and on to the stunning Ben Youssef Madrasa where we spent a very pleasant hour taking in this magnificent building; after this we went to the world-famous Majorelle Gardens.
This was one of my highlights, a place I have always wanted to see and I couldn’t quite believe I was there, it was amazing. The weather was good, which helps, and it was everything I thought it would be, the colour used on the pots, the amazing cactus and succulents; I was in heaven.
Again, even though it was on a very large scale, you could see ideas for your own garden, just scaled down a bit.
The golden barrel cactus, Echinocactus grusonii, is always a favourite of mine, as is Euphorbia ingens, but there were so many plants: agaves, aloes, the number of different species was breathtaking. A truly glorious place to visit - however, if I go again, I will go first thing in the morning before the main crowds as it does get very busy.
From Majorelle we went for lunch to the Riad Enija in the old town, this was another stunning riad, and it is so exclusive it doesn’t even have its name on the door or the street corner.
A lovely lunch was enjoyed by all in an inner courtyard that was just too beautiful to be believed. We were then invited to see the other two courtyards which made up the riad and, again, the palms, tropical trees, succulents on show were all outstanding, a lovely place to stay right in the middle of the souk.
Monday: We had come to the end of the ‘gardens’ tour part of the trip now and the wild/native flower enthusiasts would get their turn. Chris had briefed us all about the number of different flowers we could expect to see in the next four days, it was all down to the weather, but he was confident we would see some amazing flowers.
After breakfast the group set off in the buses for Imlil, the scenery along the drive was spectacular and the High Atlas Mountains provided a stunning backdrop to the landscape. The buses climbed and climbed, passing several villages clinging to the mountain slopes. Chris did indeed find the Narcissus rupicola on a very steep scree slope that some hardy group members scrambled to see; we discovered that searching for flowers in the wild turns people into mountain goats. When we finally parked the buses at the top of the pass, the keen wild flower seekers were off searching for plants to photograph while the rest of us just enjoyed the most breathtaking landscape. The Atlas Mountains are so magnificent they truly take your breath away and we were fortunate to see them with a good covering of snow on the top: very, very lovely.
When all the plant hunting was finished, we set off down the mountain back to Imlil for lunch. Chris and about ten of us decided to walk to Imlil for the last stretch which took about an hour, but it gave us a real feel of the area and a chance to see the farms and homesteads up close. All down the mountain the slopes are terraced for farming, with fruit trees in full blossom and huge walnut trees everywhere.
After lunch we made our way back to Marrakech, stopping several times to search out more native flowers. One of the things I noticed was just how much wild lavender there was, it was everywhere, and we also saw more Polygala and lots of Calendula.
Tuesday: This day we were all given the choice doing our own thing; the serious wild flower members went with Chris to Amizmiz for the morning to look for Narcissus and Lygos raetam. We chose to stay in the city and make the most of our last day in Marrakech, we took a taxi to the new town to have a look around and then we walked all the way back to old Marrakech passing some very imposing buildings. We stopped at the ‘Artisan Centre’ in old Marrakech to look for gifts and have a coffee. This is housed in a lovely old building and is a centre set up to showcase the best of local handicrafts. We liked it as it was all fixed price, no haggling, thank goodness.
After lunch twelve members of the group went to ‘La Mamounia Hotel’ to have tea and see the very impressive gardens of this five star hotel.
This is by far the grandest hotel I have ever seen, there is nothing in London to match the completely over-the-top oppressive grandeur, just getting through the door was a challenge for the group and we had to enter in two separate parties of six, don’t ask why!
When inside, we went to look at the gardens which are very extensive and manicured with beautiful trees and shrubs and two very long English-type herbaceous flower borders, all perfect but a bit soulless. They had a gardener constantly sweeping up leaves from terraces and lawns and his little cart was being pulled by a donkey, all very photogenic. Also along the side of the hotel was a very handsome cactus and succulent display, some really lovely plants in here. The most interesting part of the garden was the kitchen garden, growing vegetables for the hotel restaurant. This was very impressive and a credit to the gardeners who worked there as all the plants looked very healthy.
Wednesday: We left Marrakech to travel through the middle Atlas, past lots and lots of agriculture and lovely areas of acres of wild poppies and Anthemis, many stops to take pictures and to search out other flowers, I also saw a lot of wild lavender.
We carried on to arrive at the Cascades d’Ouzud waterfalls. We had time to visit both the upper and lower falls and they are spectacular and very popular with locals as it was quite busy, but we were warned to be careful as they are completely unfenced and quite precarious in places.
I saw both yellow and pied wagtails on the river at the top of the falls, a nice little extra to be enjoyed. We all gathered to have a picnic lunch near the falls and we all sat in the sunshine.
After lunch we carried on towards Afourer, stopping to check out the truly amazing populations of Euphorbia resinifera that seem to creep for miles over whole mountainsides, a very impressive sight indeed.
We stopped several times for photographs as the landscape was breathtaking, and for the wild flower enthusiasts to look for plants.
We arrived at Le Tazarkount, our hotel, at around 6 p.m; a surprisingly big, old-fashioned hotel in such a quiet part of Morocco, our room at the back had the most outstanding views of the Atlas mountains.
Thursday: This morning Chris took a group of six of us out early to find Erinus thiabaudii on a mossy bank just half an hour out of town. We drove uphill in cold pouring rain to find one plant, we must have been crazy, but we found the plant and as a bonus we spotted a couple of small orchids Then the rain stopped and the clouds parted a little and we had fantastic early morning views looking down on to Afourer, well worth getting up early.
This day the weather started to change, it was colder and no sunshine forecast, so time to put the thermals on and get the windproof jackets out.
We started heading up into the mountains towards Ifrane, a popular tourist resort high in the mountains where the king also has a large palace to escape the city heat in summer.
We stopped several times in the foothills to look for plants, among the flowers found were Fedia cornucopiae, Echium plantagineum and lots of poppies, Ismelia carinata (syn. Chrysanthemum carinatum) and Lavendula pedunculata.
Before we knew it, the whole morning had passed and it was time to find somewhere to stop for our picnic lunch, we eventually found a spot by the side of the road and stopped. But it was so cold! We needed lots of layers of clothing and the sunshine of Marrakech was well and truly behind us.
After lunch we started the long climb to Ifrane and the limestone uplands with stands of cedars.
When we reached Ifrane, there was new snow on the ground and it was very cold. We checked into a hotel called ‘The Grand’ that Chris described as a bit ‘crusty round the edges’. It had quite clearly seen better days, some rooms better than others and the disco in the bar (for the locals we presume) heard by some until 4 a.m. in the morning didn’t help, but the staff were pleasant and the meal in the evening was very nice.
Friday: After breakfast we were off and heading up to the very famous high cedar forests of this area, with plenty of snow around and some very old and very tall trees. There were also plenty of wild Barbary macaques to see, most of them happy to pose for pictures and a lot of locals feeding them (a very bad idea).
We found many Raffenaldia primuloides and lots of other plants I didn’t find the names for; I was a little wild-flowered-out by now and left the plant hunting to the real enthusiasts.
After a couple of hours in the forest we drove to a series of high lakes with an amazing profusion of wildfowl, including the ubiquitous egret, a lovely bird that is seen absolutely everywhere in Morocco.
Chris took us to find huge areas of the beautiful Androcymbium gramineum and Linum austriacum, all growing in an area where just a few weeks earlier there had been snow. These plants were very lovely and the ‘alpine flower’ friends among us were very happy to see them, so a good day for them. It was still bitterly cold and we were all grateful to be back in the bus and on our way again.
Due to the cold we stopped at a café for lunch. The owners were kind enough to allow us to make our own picnic inside if we bought our coffee and tea from them - a very happy compromise, I think. After a long lunch we set off for Volubilis via Fez (a little extra as we were so close), arriving at the hotel about 6 p.m.
Our hotel was positioned above the plains and had a superb view of the roman ruins at Volubilis. As the sun was going down the whole area had a slightly biblical feeling to it ‑ a landscape undeveloped and unchanged since Roman times.
Saturday: We spent the whole morning exploring the ruins at Volubilis; a fascinating site with many wild flowers, along with the ruins and mosaics, there was a lot to see.
We found a lot of Urospermum dalechampii, Centaurea pullata and a whole bank of Ornithogalum umbellatum plus many, many other plants.
Our guide was keeping an eye on the sky and the weather system moving towards us and I don’t think he wanted to get wet, he kept saying we should keep moving and he was right. The storm came in very quickly, we just got back to the coffee shop in time and then the heavens opened.
Having a guide was invaluable as he talked us around the site and pointed out the history behind the monuments and the mosaics and helped build a picture of what the city was like all those years ago. It helped me understand the site and make sense of a pile of ruins. After a lunch of hot soup at the hotel, it was on to Rabat and a visit to the Chellah.
The Chellah looks like a very imposing fortress, but after entering through a huge gate you are then in a walled city. All of the interior is in ruins, but still very beautiful. Now with landscaped gardens and play areas and also home to a huge colony of white storks who nest on every conceivable chimney, column and roof stack they can find; they build enormous twiggy nests and you could just see the babies’ heads sticking out over the top (everyone was trying to get the best picture). After a very pleasant hour here, it was time to find the hotel in Rabat for our final evening together. Our hotel in Rabat was clearly popular with coach parties as it was quite busy, but very efficient, and the buffet-style evening meal had a lot of choice and was good quality.
We all said our farewells over dinner. Some new friendships will continue to thrive, but as usual, last nights are always a strange time as everyone is exhausted and has their mind set on the long journey home the next day.
The next morning we all had to be ready at 8 a.m. to get the buses to Casablanca to start our journeys home.
I enjoyed this holiday/tour so much because it was a mixture of garden design, garden plants, wild flowers and lots of opportunities to embrace the culture and history of Morocco.
The small town of Taroudant and its souks (and that tannery) was a revelation, the chance to see Marrakech as we did was truly wonderful. The high Atlas mountains on the first part of the tour and then moving on to the Middle Atlas on the second part did involve a lot of driving, but we were seeing so much of the country. I still can’t believe just how much we saw, the memory of the mountains will stay with me for a lifetime.
It was all wonderful, with a very eclectic group of enthusiastic gardeners and plant hunters from several different countries.
While I enjoyed the whole trip, I shall never forget the first part. Dar al Hossoun was for me the highlight, a never to be forgotten experience, everything from the lovely individually-designed rooms, a host like Ollivier, to the kind of garden planting I can only dream of - a true paradise garden. Also the gardens of Andrew Patrick, Claudio Bravo and Karl Morcher were a great source of pleasure and inspiration. I still find it hard to believe that I have walked around Claudio Bravo’s home and have seen his artwork on his walls. Andrew and Karl were perfect considerate hosts to a large group of people they had never met and very giving of their time and knowledge, many thanks to all of them.
And of course Majorelle: I came away from here wanting to paint all my pots deep blue or red or yellow. It is a very memorable place, too much to take in sometimes and a garden to go back to again and again.
Thanks to Chris and Başak for organizing this memorable trip. I for one will never forget it.Text and photographs by Rosemary Thomas.
Our first event of the year was out on the wild, exposed headland, home to Liz and Bob Burlumi. It was an unusually glorious sunny and warm day for the time of year. This is still a young garden and a fascinating eco-friendly built house (with no mains electricity or water) with a ‘natural’ swimming pond. We were here to learn about Liz and Bob’s botanical adventure ‘across the world’.
Last January, they embarked on a three-month trip to see friends and family in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. As the first leg took them from London to Singapore, they decided to make the most of their proximity to Hong Kong and visit an old friend in Macau.
A flavour of the presentation follows by Bob:
‘Macau was formed in 1577 as a Portuguese colony. It is now part of the Peoples’ Republic of China and it is one of the richest cities in the world. With a land mass of twelve square miles and 624,000 inhabitants, it is also one of the world’s most densely populated regions. The climate in Macau is humid and subtropical with an average yearly temperature of 22 degrees C.
There is no Botanic Garden per se in Macau, but beautiful parks and immaculate flower-beds are to be found throughout the city, even as part of indoor displays. For us, Macau’s most notable botanical feature was the groundcover which the Macanese take to an unprecedented level with thick, glossy-leaved and often highly-coloured plants and shrubs uniformly filling in all available spaces. The effect was stunning but almost unreal – too good to be true.
An enormous hotel complex slap-bang in the middle of the city boasted multiple atria, each planted out precisely and symmetrically with a variety of tulips, orchids, flowering cherry trees and hydrangeas. One shudders at the cost of maintaining areas the size of football pitches to that standard. Again, the plants and flowers were all in such perfect condition they looked almost artificial. It was our experience throughout Macau that both the hard and soft landscaping were of extremely high calibre - and never a leaf out of place.
Perth's stunning King's Park and Botanic Garden commands spectacular views over the city and the Swan River from its 400 square km prime position on Mount Eliza. The main entrance into the park is lined with eucalyptus planted in 1929 to mark the centenary of the city's formation. Almost every tree has a plaque at its base dedicating it to a member of the centenary committee as it was at that time.
Even after 70 years, the bond connecting Australia and New Zealand with Crete remains extremely strong and much in evidence were tributes to the war dead of WWII. Across both countries, on monuments, on statues and in fields of remembrance, was inscribed the word “Crete” along with references to other areas of conflict fought in by the allies. There is also such a monument in King's Park which forms part of a water-feature planted out with a variety of lavender.
On a brighter note, we were impressed by the information centres at all the parks and botanic gardens we visited throughout Australia and New Zealand. The staff at these centres, most of whom were volunteers, possessed extraordinarily in-depth knowledge about and obvious love for their particular garden. The brochures, pamphlets and data sheets we collected were beautifully presented and the signage throughout the parks and gardens was clear, informative and easy to read.
On this, our third, visit to Australia, the penny dropped as to the significance of the contribution made to botany in the 1700s by Sir Joseph Banks, chief botanist with Captain Cook. Banks' name has been associated over the centuries with hundreds of plants throughout Australasia and the Pacific Basin – a legacy for the benefit of future generations.
A great many of the trees, shrubs and plants in the gardens were used by the Aborigines as food ("bush tucker") or to create some form of medicinal preparation. Various seeds were eaten raw as a great-tasting snack; gum from the bark of eucalyptus provided a wealth of resources and strong twine from other species could be fashioned into useful implements. In common with the Greeks, the Aborigines grew trees and shrubs that would provide them with something edible or useful rather than simply something pretty to look at.
One of the highest spots in the gardens was a baobab, which was a surprise as we had previously imagined this species to be indigenous to Africa. This particular tree had travelled 3,200 km from Telegraph Creek near Warmun in NW Australia. It was estimated to be 750 years old and was re-planted in the botanic garden in July 2008. This was apparently the longest land journey of a tree of this size in history. The tree had to be moved to make way for a new bridge and so it was that the Gija people of East Kimberley in the great northern highlands gifted the tree to the people of Western Australia. It took six days to truck the tree from the Ord River to Perth.
Last but not least, cycads whose ancestors existed 250 million years ago were on display in these gardens. Their tough, sharply-pointed and leathery fronds once protected the plants from grazing dinosaurs. There are 185 living species of cycads – 69 in Australia, but just three in Western Australia.
The Royal Botanic Garden was constructed in the 1800s and, in spite of all the changes that have taken place over the years, the early settlers faced similar challenges to those we face today: securing, storing and using water wisely. This has always been a major concern for the gardens, but now there is an even greater test: climate change. This has led the management team at the gardens to rethink their modus operandi on the driest inhabited continent on earth. For sustainable gardening, smarter plant selections, a greater understanding of the local climate and conditions, and a better use of resources are paramount.
The park was extremely well supported by the general public and tourists. It was delightful to see a game of cricket in progress within the grounds on the perimeter of the park.
The main feature in the Royal Botanic Garden was a man-made mound known as Guilfoyle’s Volcano, which supported a very large water-tank that fed recycled water around the park. The mound was beautifully landscaped with cacti, palms and succulents. In the water-tank were several floating islands made of recycled material. The roots of the plants hung in the water helping to trap fine particles and absorb nutrients.
We visited the magnificent Fitzroy Gardens on the edge of Melbourne’s Central Business District in the middle of which is a small, old and typically English farmhouse. This was once the home of Captain James Cook in Yorkshire, where he was born in 1728. The building had been donated to Australia as a gift, shipped from England - and brick by brick, tile by tile, re-erected in the park.
Another great attraction in this garden is the Fairies’ Tree carved by sculptor Ola Cohn in 1930 as a gift to the children of Melbourne. The base of the tree, one of the original Red Gums, is delightfully decorated with fairies, elves, gnomes and several animals including a bat, flying foxes and koalas.
Probably the most stunning feature of Fitzroy Gardens is an avenue of elms that had been donated by the United Kingdom at the turn of the century. Both the Royal Botanic Garden and Fitzroy Gardens were irrigated using recycled water. This water is treated storm-waterharvested from the neighbouring streets, reducing the annual water consumption by up to 40%.
The Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust has sponsored a series of information boards around the park on many different subjects. Two in particular caught our attention. The first was an attempt to persuade gardeners to plant groundcover instead of lawns and to ditch their lawnmowers. The second was about finding grasses suitable for the climate and able to tolerate drought.
A yellow sandstone monument in the park carved in 1870 by a Sydney stonemason is a replica of the choregic monument of Lysicrates dating back to 334 B.C., which can be found not far from the Acropolis in Athens.
New Zealand, Auckland
A prime feature of the Auckland Botanic Garden was the collection and treatment of storm-water. This is achieved through the absorption of water by a living green roof. Any run-off gently flows down the chains underneath to a vegetated swale area. The swales used native plants to slow down and filter the flow of water which is then delivered in a relatively clean state to the lakes within the garden. The building that had been selected for this process was in fact a public convenience constructed out of local timber.
The herb garden had a huge pot bearing the sign “Go on – have a taste!” We did. It was delicious. It turned out to be a chocolate mint plant.
We visited Stanley Park, which is on the north-west side of Vancouver city. It is a beautiful, natural park with an enormous lake and some of the tallest trees that we have ever seen. When we arrived, it was spring and azaleas, cherry trees, daffodils, bluebells and tulips were all in bloom and looking magnificent.
We spent an afternoon wandering around and exploring some of the 55 acres that make up the spectacular Vandusen Botanical Garden, which first opened to the public in 1975. The beautiful landscaping includes a wide variety of plants from all over the world as well as stunning works of art and sculpture including totem poles, a maze and a Korean Pavilion. The Visitor Centre is one of Vancouver city’s most iconic buildings and a model of sustainability.’
Bob’s talk was fascinating, with stunning photographs. It was useful to have the key climate data, which enabled us to compare and contrast with our own on Crete.
A fuller account of the garden can be found on this webpage from a previous visit in May 2013, complete with several photographs. Just scroll down.
It was interesting to see how well the plants were maturing and developing in precisely the way Bob had hoped: very much in keeping with their natural surroundings.
Our shared lunch was enjoyed outside in the glorious sunshine and peaceful surroundings.
Photographs and presentation text by Bob Burlumi.
Pam Dunn and Valerie Whittington each gave an illustrated talk and provided feedback following their recent attendance at the MGS AGM in France during which several interesting gardens were visited.
The presentations were followed by discussion and a look around at Pamela and Geoff Dunn’s garden. This was fantastic, very neat and orderly, following professional pruning of trees and shrubs. It was a glorious, bright, sunny day. Pam shared her delight and experience gained from this work. We noted the hard cutting back and shaping that has taken place. Many of us find it difficult to cut back as much as we might to improve the shape or health of plants and trees; this was a lesson to be brave as the professionals, who know that plants will respond positively.
This was followed by a seasonal buffet lunch with mulled wine which we enjoyed outside in the warm sunshine.
A taste of each presentation follows. Many photographs were shown, illustrating the variety of gardens and plants seen, each presenter having chosen her own particular favourites or those of greatest interest to her. Within the scope of this article, only one photograph from each garden is possible, so illustrations are limited. Valerie chose a theme which concentrated on garden style, shaping plants, different paths and special features. Pam highlighted the grandeur, particular setting or circumstances of the gardens visited.
From Montpellier to Menton, France, 13–16 October 2014:
Our first guided visit was to Olivier and Clara Filippi’s nursery and gardens. We were taken on an interesting tour of the experimental and demonstration gardens during which Olivier explained his philosophy of selecting plants suited to the climate and soil of the region, and he showed us new projects including planting for groundcover and the creation of a ‘terrasse végétale.’ Many photographs were shown from this visit.
Olivier has designed and developed his own plant pots that encourage the roots of the plant to extend down and prevent root spiralling that often occurs in conventional pots. We were shown the effectiveness of these pots in contrast to the dead, twisted roots depicted in the photograph above. The plants had not been able to extend their roots down and subsequently choked and died.
From here we drove to Noves to visit Les Confines. This garden, created by Dominique Lafourcade, one of Provence’s leading garden designers, had garden ‘rooms’ demonstrating different styles of landscaping and planting. We were welcomed by Dominique in front of the handsome house. She explained how the garden was started over 20 years ago. We were then able to explore on our own the rose garden, the lavender garden, the Italian, Portuguese and African gardens, the potager, the meadow and other sections. This was a beautiful garden, expertly laid out with carefully chosen artefacts, and with style.
From here we drove to Avignon for the night. A day in the Luberon followed. We drove through the vineyards and orchards to Ménerbes. Here we visited Le Clos Pascal, designed by Nicole de Vésian, one of the first to combine clipped green and grey evergreens with local stone to create gardens in harmony with the surrounding landscape. This was a lovely, tranquil environment in which to stroll and be at peace.
Next we walked through the charming traditional village to La Carmejane, known as the ‘eagle’s nest’, with extensive views north to Mont Ventoux.
This stunning garden, created by Michel Biehn and the garden’s owner, clings to the cliff face and one reaches a series of terraces, each with individual character, via many steps. On each level there are places to sit and enjoy the garden from different perspectives. It was different from Le Clos Pascal visited earlier in the same village.
Following a further drive and lunch at Bonnieux, the next garden was Nicole de Vésian’s first and best-known garden, La Louve (‘the she-wolf’) which she created over 10 years from 1986.
The present owner, Judith Pillsbury, has maintained the character of the original while developing some new areas. I loved this garden with its intense clipping and repeat planting. One whole terrace was planted with multiple lavenders all trimmed and kept exactly the same size, which I found fascinating.
The next morning en route from Avignon to Menton we stopped in La Valette-du-Var, to visit the garden of Domaine d’Orvès.
This eight-hectare estate of vines, almonds and olive trees has a system of spring-fed canals which water its gardens created by painter Pierre Deval. The 17th-century house is now home to his daughter, Françoise Darlington, our host. Françoise welcomed us, gave a brief overview of the garden and acted as guide for a tour around the garden. This is a mature garden in parts overgrown, similar to woodland, a lovely place to stroll or ramble at leisure spotting the unexpected around different corners. Françoise is currently working to tame some of the wilder areas and renovating sections to her father’s original design.
The tour was followed by a delicious picnic lunch in the garden.
This was a full and fascinating trip before the main MGS meeting in Menton. One aspect of this experience was how different the climate is in comparison to Crete. Gardens in this part of France, in contrast with our home island of Crete, were so lush and green that those we saw were a completely different kind of ‘mediterranean’ garden. Well-chosen gardens, interesting, like-minded companions and impeccable organisation made this an excellent trip and experience.
MGS Visit to the gardens of the Menton area in south of France 17-21 October 2014
Like many others on the trip I was surprised by the number of gardens in this part of the south of France. It is an area where many wealthy industrialists and explorers from various countries settled and used their money to invest not only in beautiful houses but also in lovely gardens. In the early and mid-1800s it was a very popular area to go to escape due to the pure air and agreeable climate. It was also a time when botanists were gathering plants from tropical locations and bringing them back to Europe as novelties. Many of these are now flourishing in this area. While the climate here is mediterranean, it is not one that we can easily identify with in Greece. The tropical plants which have been used in many of the gardens create pockets of lush vegetation and shade and bring their own humidity, making it very green and dense and not at all parched as often in Crete.
Our base was Menton, a sleepy retired area set on the Italian border, but we did venture into the more glamorous areas of Monaco and Cap Ferrat, as well as into Italy. In fact, my favourite garden was just across the border in Italy.
The Hanbury Botanic gardens at La Mortola were quite delightful. Situated on a large headland, the garden is spread over very steep and terraced land. Half is cultivated and the remainder left to native vegetation, mainly pine trees. Thomas Hanbury purchased the land with the ruin of an Italian house in the late 1800s, after he returned from the Far East where he had been a silk trader. Hanbury landscaped the gardens inspired by the tropical plants that he had seen in Asia. On his death his daughter in law continued with the gardens, but they then had a chequered history of ownership and maintenance and were battered by shelling during the two World Wars, the damage from which can still be seen on some of the trees.
Fortunately the gardens are now in the safe hands of the University of Genoa, which maintains and uses the gardens for scientific cultivation of key plants. Many of the original plants have survived, so parts of the gardens are full of very lush, green, tropical palms and cycads, which are not cut back but allowed to develop naturally. Definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.
Another garden that I would describe as extreme was the Jardin Exotique de Monaco. Situated on a narrow but very steep terrace in the hills surrounding Monaco, it is apparently the best collection of succulents and cacti in Europe. It was started in 1895; some plants are now 80 years old and very, very large.
It is a weird sensation walking amidst them, but also beautiful as so many of them had very colourful and unusually marked flowers. The garden is crammed full of rocks and plants with not a space in between. A bizarre collection, but not a garden for the faint-hearted as it has many steep and windy paths on the cliff face overlooking the old city of Monaco.
The Ephrussi de Rothschild garden has clearly been developed with no expense spared. It is a more formal garden in every sense of the word, which has been arranged into a collection of rooms each dedicated to a different type of garden from around the world. The most minimalist, but beautiful to my taste, was the Japanese garden, which has all the key elements of running water, gravel patterns and wooden sound boards, with just a few strategically placed plants.
At the other extreme was the French garden, which consisted of lawns bordered by box hedges with ponds and fountains that ran to the sounds of classical music. This did, however, look magnificent when seen from the balcony of the beautiful house.
The other gardens were all different in their own way, but perhaps less memorable. One other place Geoff and I managed to get to see as we left Menton was a cacti and succulent nursery called Cacti Mania, where they cultivate and distribute plants all over the world. It was fascinating to see so many different types of these plants at different stages of development spread across eight or nine hothouses. They have a website which is worth visiting. Very memorable!
Text and photographs of the pre-tour by Valerie Whittington.
This visit to Sara and Roger Gilding’s Garden in Kefalas incorporated a talk in Sara and Roger’s studio by members Manoj Malde and Clive Gillmor, based on their experience in three garden design competitions.
Sara and Roger’s village garden is spacious and private, hidden behind the high walls that surround it. A highly creative approach to the layout, planting and use of artefacts in the garden makes it special.
On arrival, Sara and Roger welcomed 25 of us, as well as two guests who were staying with them. Two members had travelled from the south of the island and another two from the eastern Crete especially for today’s event. Such effort makes organising these activities very rewarding and reinforces the camaraderie of the group.
Sara gave an interesting illustrated presentation of the background and development of the garden. We learned that this, like many of our group members’ gardens, is a work in progress and has been a steep learning curve - most of us having gardened previously in northern Europe.
On completion of the house in 2004 Sara and Roger had a blank canvas on which to work and a sloping plot of 1200 square metres. Sara showed us photographs of flooding after very heavy rain in 2006 which resulted in much of the soil being washed further down the plot. One benefit of this was to expose groups of large rocks which have been incorporated into the overall design and either planted with or enhanced by appropriate plants such as an Opuntia ficus-indica (prickly pear) which was already there and is now a feature.
They realised that they would have to do something to retain soil in future downpours. Priorities were, therefore, to create terraces at the top of the garden, which they did by making gabions and filling them with rocks found on the land, as in the photograph below.
In addition, they produced hard landscaping with paths to connect the house and studio and to create different areas within the garden.
Another fascinating slide showed the garden on another occasion covered in snow. We get little snow generally, but in February 2008 it was sufficient to provide a blanket covering everything. Fortunately it did not stay long enough to do any lasting damage.
Planting focused upon introducing trees and shrubs which would grow to give height and structure, to provide shade and protection from wind, and to create different garden 'rooms' for sitting in at different times of the day throughout the year.
Cretan neighbours had encouraged the development of a predominantly vegetable garden in the early years. Vegetables were deemed more important than flowers in their neighbours’ view. This resulted in more vegetables than Sara and Roger wanted so this part has been reduced and the area has changed to reflect their current needs and design opportunities.
The design and planting within the garden reflects Sara and Roger’s experience and interests as artists: creating a garden that marries the man-made features with the organic development of the plants and that has plenty of visual interest through the creation of sculptural shapes, use of colour and texture, and later the introduction of water features. These were heavily influenced by a visit to Morocco and the Majorelle gardens in Marrakech in 2010. A water feature was designed soon after their visit illustrating this, and a second, grand, water feature with adjoining pools has just been completed with planting to be the next stage in development.
Edged with plumbago and jasmine, this is a lush area where Washingtonia and Phoenix canariensis palms are maturing well and provide much desired shade. Yuccas and Phormium tenax ‘Variegatum’ in the distance provide additional contrast and texture to the rest of the garden.
We had plenty of time to wander around the various garden areas to stop, look and enjoy this lovely garden.
Manoj, supported by Clive, then presented the talk, ‘A Designer’s Eye’. Manoj explained that creating a show garden is very different from creating a client’s garden. There are strict timescales to adhere to when putting the design in place and, in planning, it needs to work like a jigsaw. It was fascinating seeing how some of the structural planning and grouping of everything took place in their own garden. This included Clive painting trellis inside the house (as it was so cold in February). Preparation and thorough organisation was necessary for taking all that was needed in modules, ready to be put together in the exhibition centre, Olympia. Slides showed that the van was packed to precision, floor to ceiling; a work of art in itself.
A ‘Landscape Show’ held at Olympia was one of the first competitions entered. The design had to fit an area of 3 x 3 metres. Manoj described how he viewed the space as a courtyard and chose to create a green space through a vertical wall. This was the first ‘living wall’ they have designed and planted.
Inspiration had come from the philosophy of Japanese gardens ‘where everything is not a literal translation but more an essence of the real’. For example, the swept gravel in Japanese gardens represents the sea, the rocks the mountains. However, this particular design turned the whole thing on its head and made it very modern. Plant species were chosen that originate from the Far East. Dark grey trellis was used to ensure that plant colours would stand out.
The living wall was made up of Carex morrowii, Vinca minor, Heuchera ‘Purple Palace’, Heuchera ‘Marmalade’, ferns(Polystichum setiferum ‘Herenhausen’)and Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Zeblid’. The dry planting border at ground level made the connection between the vertical and horizontal spaces withPhyllostachys (yellow cane bamboo), Camellia, Fatsia japonica, Grevillea, Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’,Daphne, Pieris, Trachelospermum jasminoides, Clematis armandii and Astelia.
Linking the overall idea to our mediterranean climate, Manoj felt that the use of dry ferns such as Pellaea ovata and/or Cheilanthes tomentosa, sedums, sempervivums, Echeveria, Ballota and valerian would work well.
Daphne’s Tuscan Restaurant, Chelsea, London: The second competition was undertaken ‘to evoke the feeling of outdoor dining in an Italian garden’. Manoj described some of the challenges of this as they had particular time constraints: for example, each day’s work had to be completed by 11 am before the restaurant staff had to start preparing for lunch.
Lemon trees, white geraniums, wisteria and Clematis ‘The President’ provided the main planting scheme, finished off with long-stemmed ivy. The lemon trees had very young green lemons, but of course for the design to look at its best they wanted yellow lemons. So ripe yellow one were bought and wired on to complete the desired look - such inventiveness!
They even managed to source a bust of Daphne which they aged by getting her a bit dirty.
Next came the Mediterranean Garden Society project, their third competition.
Shape, colour, texture and materials that suited the property and surrounding landscape were important. In getting started, Manoj described how his landscape-design process is similar to that when he worked as a fashion designer in his previous career: researching, editing then working with the stronger images to put together a colour palette and create a ‘mood board’, as in the photograph below.
The planting palette is kept simple: purples fading through to lilacs, primrose yellow, silver greys and greens. This is pierced in places with a splash of red. Manoj felt that these colours would work well with the hard landscaping of dyed polished stone, the stone wall boundary and also the natural light. Several small sketches followed of areas for planting.
Structure is provided through the use of flat-headed Cupressus sempervirens ‘Pyramidalis’planted in groups, mature olive trees (Olea europea), a multi-stemmed Eriobotrya japonica and three topiaried Pinus pinea.
Lavenders and santolinas are planted in rows close to the house and they provide a sense of formality and modernity. A scree border planted up with rounded shrubs and softened with sweeps of Stipa lessingiana providing movement. Groups of Erigeron karvinskianum are dotted around with the expectation that they will self-seed and naturalise. Manoj feels that this leads the eye through to the more naturalistic planting that is further away from the house. Echium candicans are used as ‘show stoppers in this border. Stipa gigantea are dotted all the way through the border to provide a gently moving, sheer screen. The wildness of this area is accentuated with Gaura lindheimeri, poppies, Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ and the use of more Stipa lessingiana mixed with red valerian.
A repetition of rounded shrubs through the borders has been designed to provide rhythm in the garden and, again, to lead the eye through the planting. Manoj concluded this point with saying that in this particular case it also helps to create a connection with the ‘borrowed landscape’ beyond.
This was a most successful day incorporating a fascinating and informative talk after which we enjoyed an excellent ‘bring and share’ lunch in the lovely surroundings of Sara and Roger’s garden.
With thanks to Sara and Roger for opening their garden, providing the technology which enabled the illustrated talks to take place in their studio and to Manoj and Clive for their willingness to share their enthusiasm and expertise with us.
Text and photographs by Valerie Whittington unless otherwise stated.
Most of the members on Crete live in the west of the island, so a visit here was a treat for those of us who are not from this area. Because of the distance involved, Val decided on a few days away and this was supported by Birgitta, who lives near Kavousi; she helped to organise an excellent two-day programme which included a couple of walks, three garden visits and a barbecue.
Eleven of us stayed in Mochlos, a small, unspoilt seaside village with only a couple of shops and a few tavernas. It was unfortunate that our visit coincided with the hottest days we have had yet this year, so the programme was curtailed a little. Only four people ventured on the first walk, which took them along and above Kavousi Gorge. This beautiful walk was led by Anne Bouras, author of Circular Walks and Gorges in Eastern Crete.
A few others met them at the interesting archaeological site of Azoria. This is in the process of being excavated, and – although we were not allowed on to it – a helpful young archaeologist gave us a little of the background. An olive tree – reputed to be the oldest in Crete – was nearby, so both the walkers and those who visited the site of Azoria stopped to admire it.
Others in the group spent a relaxing morning back at Mochlos. We all met up for lunch in the Kavousi square and then drove up to Birgitta and Roger’s house to visit two gardens, their own and the adjoining neighbours’, Val and Gary’s garden.
Val and Gary bought their land in 2005: a steep exposed and windy hillside in a stunning location overlooking the Mirabella bay towards Agios Nikolaos. They came to live here in 2009 and started the garden with very little idea of what they wanted apart from Val’s vision of creating a garden room. Everything else has followed from that starting point. Gary designed and worked at the hard landscaping. There is no overall plan and the garden is still evolving. Like many of us starting to garden in an environment so completely different from that of our home country, Val described how much they are learning about planting and their choice of plants through trial and error. As new members of the society, they hoped for ideas and suggestions from our visit. Tips were sought and a pencil and notebook provided. Being away a great deal - often at key planting times in the year - has made the development of the garden more difficult.
Val also described the odd mishap with the strimmer: Gary in his enthusiasm, for example, on one occasion accidently strimmed a fig tree. The house surroundings were barren with rubble left from the building of the house. Around five tons of topsoil was brought in, but with it oxalis was also imported. In the steep and desert-like parts of their land, good use is being made of Mesembryanthemum cordifolium (syn. Aptenia cordifolia) and Carpobrotus edulis to help combat erosion.
They face west and suffer strong south winds and consequently feel that they need to create more shade; on the day we visited, temperatures reached 48 degrees C on the main terrace.
Birgitta and Roger’s garden was reached by climbing back down steep ‘steps’ cut into the land, which create a useful short cut between the two houses.
Roger gave us the background to how they came to live in this fairly remote spot. Keen sailors, 12 years ago they sailed into Crete looking for a safe harbour and they found the delightful beach at Tholos. Little did they realise then that within 12 months they would buy a plot of land looking down on this beach.
Like Val and Gary’s, this is a steep, exposed and windy hillside. It is a largely barren area; even the 35 olive trees were neglected when they first bought the land. The olives have always been their priority and take up the major part of the garden. A further ten were added to the original number, plus several Kalamata olive trees. They believe that some of the olives are around 250 years old. All were given names, carefully looked after and regularly pruned to ensure that the centre of each tree is open to the sun. Roger believes that this and the fact that their cultivation is totally organic is a major contributor to the success they have achieved in producing extra virgin olive oil with an acidity level measuring 0.3 to 0.4. (To be certified as extra virgin oil, the acidity has to be below one).
Since this is a potential fire risk area, Mesembryanthemum cordifolium and Carpobrotus edulis (Hottentot fig), known for their fire retardant qualities, were planted to create a firebreak around the olives. Pines and buckthorn were chosen to create a windbreak from the southerly winds, with prostrate rosemary for groundcover in these areas; this has proved to be very effective. Roger particularly recommended buckthorn as an excellent tree for a windbreak.
There are two main areas in the garden: the olives and a palm/dry garden area. The drive leading up to the house is lined with the reliable and colourful oleander.
As Birgitta and Roger are generally only in residence for six months of the year, the garden has to look after itself, so it has been planned to take that into account. The olives are not normally watered. A 2,000-litre water tank, which is fed from well water, supplies the garden needs as well as agricultural water, but the water is fairly saline.
Geraniums and succulents such as Agave attenuata, Kalanchoe luciae subsp. luciae, cotyledon and aloes, are proving very useful in this environment, many grown in pots.
Roger’s closing comment was apt, ‘Gardening is all about learning and modifying’.
The day was rounded off with an excellent barbecue generously provided by Roger and Birgitta.
The following day was even hotter, so the walk was sadly cancelled and instead we spent a peaceful morning swimming, reading and drinking coffee. Some of the group had discovered a shop with an original selection of women’s clothes. I think the shop sold more during our brief stay in Mochlos than they had the previous month.
We left in the late morning to visit Alexandra’s garden in Myrsini, a small village further east towards Sitia.
Alexandra’s garden is just off the main road but invisible from it. Because it is so tiny, Alexandra had suggested that we visit in two groups, so half had lunch in the nearby taverna while the first group visited what can only be described as a haven, an oasis. We were completely bowled over. From the pathway leading to the front door which was packed with pots flowering in profusion, we knew we were in for a real treat.
Belonging to an old village house, the garden is small and enclosed and is now very sheltered - completely different from those visited the day before. We were led through the house and into the back garden where we were met by a blaze of colour and texture.
We took our own routes and time to drink in the beauty of this garden gem before Alexandra was persuaded to tell us her garden’s story.
We learned that the garden is only five or six years old. When they moved here from their home in England they bought many plants with them from the garden they were leaving behind; that was also an old house, so the style and type of plant were likely to prove suitable. The highlight of the story was the way the plants were transported here – in a horsebox for which Alexandra had traded in her car. At each overnight stop the plants were taken out and watered so that, as she said, they felt like travelling gypsies.
The first year was spent clearing the area. This was steep in places and had become very overgrown. The plum tree, for example, was covered in brambles. Raymond then built the impressive raised pond, did much of the hard landscaping, and created the arbours.
They began work nearest the house and then worked out the design from there. Alexandra did not want the garden to be seen in its entirety from any one position, so nooks and crannies, secret sitting places, ‘rooms’, as Alexandra described them, and different levels have been built and created by building drystone walls or raised beds.
Essentially a cottage garden style, there is some formality which gives a full stop to the eye through clever hedging or hard landscaping. Excellent use has been made of space. Much has been grown from seed and these plants now self-seed, creating a riot of colour.
This is a small garden, but one does not feel it because of the different areas. Several climbers enhance the garden vertically, such as Bignonia, Clematis ‘Perle d’Azur’, C. jackmanii and Mandevilla laxa. The original fruit trees have been kept and Alexandra has successfully planted beautiful climbing roses to ramble through the branches.
Quince and eucalyptus provide a windbreak, as does pomegranate on the garden boundary with another ‘borrowed’ from just outside. Clever use has been made of olives on the boundary by making them into a hedge that provides a window view to the coast beyond from the cleverly placed bench above the pond.
Alexandra says the soil is good and they ensured that the ground was thoroughly prepared and enriched with donkey manure; they also employed the ‘cardboard box’ method before planting – In Alexandra’s words, ‘good for greedy guts plants’. Roses and clematis are the only plants fertilised. Watering is impressive: a deep watering is given once a fortnight, with garden hoses rather than a watering system, except for new planting, but this always takes place in autumn. Japanese anemones growing under an apricot tree were still flowering and happy in very high temperatures. A planting style that encourages self-seeding and closely packed borders has created a precious microclimate that suits this garden and its creator superbly well.
This was a feast for the eyes, full of happy plants with varieties seldom seen growing in our own area of Crete. For example, Alstroemeria - the Peruvian lily - regularly seen and sold as a cut flower, was growing alongside Hemerocallis, the day lily, and both were thriving with crocosmia and kniphofia. rgyranthemum is a favourite and a cultivar recommended by Alexandra that always looks fresh and keeps on flowering all summer and beyond is A. ‘Jamaica Primrose’.
At the end of this treat, we left – some for home and others to visit other parts of eastern Crete.
Our thanks to those whose gardens we visited, to Roger and Birgitta for the barbecue, to Anne Bouras for leading the walk, to Birgitta for the local organisation.
Text by Clive and Val Whittington. Photos taken by Val Whittington unless otherwise stated.
The Lavender Way is the only organic lavender farm in Crete. Here Gill grows several different cultivars, although Lavandula angustifolia predominates. She uses no pesticides, herbicides or fertilisers. All her stock is strictly home-grown. Gill says ‘all is planted and harvested by hand, with love’. The philosophy and approach is to follow the Zen of organic farming promulgated by Masanobu Fukuoka.
After a friendly welcome by Gill and Derek, we were hurried along the narrow path down to the shade of an olive in the heart of the lavender-growing area; it was a scorching hot day. Here Gill launched into a most fascinating talk about the background to the farm and how she became a farmer in Crete. We were hooked. We learned that historically in their area, land was apportioned into sections for different growing purposes. Kavros, for example, where they now live and farm, grew peanuts.
In her former life in London Gill was a project manager and not a gardener, but when she came to live here she wanted a pick-up truck, and, by law, to own a pick-up you must be a farmer. Gill decided to become a farmer and started her research. Lavender appealed, so she started to find out all she could about growing plants and producing essential oils from them. There was no foundation stock to be found in Greece, which historically had decided lavender cultivation was not cost-effective. She contacted Norfolk Lavender in England and found they were not prepared to supply her with starter plants.
Eventually, she bought and experimented with lavender plants bought in a flower shop in Chania from a lady who knew nothing about lavender. Starting with enthusiasm and through continuous research on the internet, the farm was started in May 2003 with 50 plants. There were no plant labels, which meant that at that stage the variety was unknown and in the first year Gill confessed that she nearly killed half of them through not watering. However, with perseverance and meticulous observation and recording, Gill now has a farm populated from those cuttings of the original 50 plants which are most suited to her environment. This she does with success and we were full of admiration for her efforts and her passion.
It takes three years before plants are mature and may be harvested for their specific use
Gill talked about their particular constraints – such as not being able to plant under the olives, where nets are laid for harvesting. Their olive trees receive no watering or fertilisation other than via the mulching by wild plants; Derek is the olive farmer.
At first they used a tractor to help with weeding the area, and to get rid of oxalis in particular. Then they read Masanobu Fukuoka’s philosophy and completely changed their methods: i.e. ‘nature knows best’ and, for example, seeds are put inside a clay ball and scattered. Some will thrive and others won’t. Also a ‘no till, no weeding’ approach is employed; instead they cut back where necessary and leave the clippings on the ground, as it works in nature. Gill says enthusiastically, ‘I’m not sure whether I have a well- paid hobby or am a poorly paid farmer.’ Time, the rhythm of the year, cycles of the moon for picking/planting and a build-up of knowledge have shown her which wild plants or weeds she can leave and which interfere with the lavender plants’ growth and thus need culling. Burr clover crawls all over the lavender without harming it, so she just brushes the tendrils away to allow the sun to reach her plants, as they are not in competition with each other. The burr provides natural help by giving protection from severe hot, dry, southerly winds and is therefore a natural barrier.
Early on in this venture, lavender plants were planted in concentric circles with the aim of crops protecting each other. Now, although the original shape exists in places, this man-made design has gradually evolved by going with nature, which has modified and reshaped the area. The lavender is carefully introduced to each wild environment to be accepted by the accompanying plants – or not. This approach maximises biodiversity and sustainability. These are not the monoculture fields that one would expect to see in Provence in France or in Norfolk in England. However, the concept works and is highly appropriate to this potentially harsh environment of Crete and is equally fascinating.
In the 11 years that the farm has been going, Gill has a developed huge experience and expertise. Plants are watered once a week during the summer, but preferably not before harvesting for oil. She knows the needs of her plants and their characteristics and all have names. Although Lavandula angustifolia predominates for essential oil production, the hybrid Lavandula x heterophylla (syn. Lavandula x allardii) is also produced and flowers dried for lavender tea.
Lavandula x heterophylla, a natural landscape plant on Crete, is also grown, given that there is much oil in their leaves. We learned that a staggering 30 kg of dried Lavandula angustifolia flowers are needed to produce only 750 ml of oil while 20 kg of dried L. x heterophylla flowers and leaves give the same amount of oil: this explains why the product is expensive.
Here we smelled various vintages of L. angustifolia and L. x heterophylla essentialoils produced in the last few years. Although chemically indistinguishable, each year had a slightly different aroma, just as you find in fine wines. For more information look at their website.
Derek’s olives are also successful and produce 50-120 kilogrammes of oil annually, all certified organic.
This was a hugely enjoyable occasion: we all admired Gill’s enthusiasm and knowledge of her self-chosen venture. Her presentation was excellent. Thank you, Gill.
Text and photographs by Valerie Whittington.
The visit was by courtesy of Annika Steinhausen and Stelios Kyparissis, MGS members, landscape designers and owners of Chloroplastes, Kalives. Previous visits to earlier projects have been extremely interesting and popular with several members of our branch. We have seen some of their other designs on paper and followed these by visiting the gardens with on-site explanation about choice of plants and their on-going maintenance.
On this occasion, 18 of us enjoyed seeing this delightful garden set in a forest landscape with well chosen, mostly mediterranean, plants. We were welcomed by Annika and Stelios with their three-month-old daughter, Persephone.
Annika gave an excellent background to the garden. Approximately 7,000 square metres, it is surrounded by forest. Work was started in the autumn of 2011. As well as clearing overgrown areas, preparation for planning and designing the garden required an additional 400 cubic metres of soil. There has been continuous development until spring of this year, thus the oldest planting is now three years old, and some of it very recent.
A useful introduction to the garden plan and its layout was given before a guided tour of each area. There is a flower garden, a historical square, a swimming pool area with mostly tropical plants, a fruit garden, and a low hill leading to a pergola above a steep slope with stunning views across to the sea and sheltered by the forest to the side, north-facing. A secret garden has been created by cleaning and tidying up the forest area to make walking through it easy, but it is tucked away from the house. There is also a special play area for children.
Another section is an olive grove consisting of five old olive trees (at least 50 years old), which were dug up and saved during the excavation of the site before the house was built.
Local, natural plants have been used wherever possible, for example, cistus, sage, phlomis, Scabiosa cretica and Ebenus cretica. Olivier Filippi’s nursery near Montpellier, France is the source of several of the drought-tolerant plants chosen here because of the way his methods of production and propagation give plants their best chance of survival in dry climates such as ours. (See the section, ‘Drought’ under Gardening Information on the main MGS website.)
We admired the tall spires of Verbena bonariensis among a variety of mixed planting including for example the Lavandula x intermedia hybrid that was seen to be thriving here where the land is well drained and on a slope, also providing excellent groundcover.
Much use has been made of Phyla nodiflora, often combined with Achillea crithmifolia, as groundcover between stepping stones or as a lawn alternative. We were particularly interested in these plants and how they were being used successfully. We learned that, while both enjoy full sun, Phyla nodiflora is more attractive in the summer, while Achillea crithmifolia looks its best during the winter.
Trees chosen are appropriate to the locality and include a variety of pine, mulberry (Morus nigra), a plane tree (Platanus), Jacaranda, Cercis siliquastrum and Albizia julibrissin.
Winding its way past the trees, a path leads to a focal point in the garden, the pergola. It is planted on either side with many dry garden plant species: in the foreground in the photograph above are Jacobaea maritima (syn. Senecio cineraria), Tulbaghia violacea, Gaura lindheimeri, several different Teucrium speciesand sage.
With thanks to Annika and Stelios of Chloroplastes for a very interesting and informative visit.
A very pleasant afternoon was enjoyed by 24 members and guests in this delightful and well-established garden. It has been designed and developed over eight years with different zones of interest, complete with lovely pots and different containers with a variety of succulents, which greet one at the entrance to the house and patio.
Ron and Renee shared their experience of working in our challenging climate and conditions.
Renee explained how they started working on the garden from the house outwards. Paths were laid and a large area below the house was gravelled as their area for cactus and typical dry-garden plants. It is impressive, with several statement plants such as Strelitzia reginae, Agave americana (syn. A. americana variegata), and Aloe arborescens, with pockets of Gazania, now well established and striking.
Two vegetable plots were created – ‘his and hers’. Ron and Renee have different approaches towards gardening, particularly vegetable growing, which were very interesting. Renee has an informal, experimental approach and now only grows whatever she considers are not so good when bought locally, for example, peas, beans, strawberries and some melons.
Ron’s approach is more formal and he says of his own patch, ‘I’m allowed to plant in straight lines.’ A meticulous weeder, his compost is his speciality (five bins on the go currently), and it is most impressive.
The next stage was to plant trees, including conifers and oleanders, to create greater privacy. Over time a few were lost, but Ron and Renee have had some success with citrus, in spite of being told by locals that they would not flourish on their site. Xerosterni is fairly high (approximately 240 metres above sea level) and windy. However, citrus trees have been planted behind the shelter of the house, which protects them from the worst westerly winds from Souda Bay.
Later the rock garden was started and this is gradually expanding. Renee described how this was started with plants they now consider as ‘unsuitable’, and they have invested in far more drought-tolerant plants, for example, Gazania, Agapanthus praecox, Tulbaghia violacea and succulents such as Aeonium arboreum and the useful Bulbine frutescens for filling spaces between rocks.
Privacy has been created through planting some conifers and oleanders, again a few that were pot-bound or too large to establish easily were lost, but Renee reiterated that they ‘learned by doing and experimentation, repeating success and throwing out the failures’.
This is an important aspect of learning at first by experimenting. MGS membership, meeting in each other’s gardens, sharing successes and failures, knowledge and experience as well as cuttings and seeds has helped all of us to develop a better understanding of gardening in this completely different environment.
So what do Ron and Renee feel they have learned? The following were itemised:
Renee closed her introduction with two quotes from Gertrude Jekyll on gardening:
‘It teaches patience and careful watchfulness, it teaches industry and above all it teaches entire trust,’ and ‘There is no spot of ground, however arid, bare or ugly, that cannot be tamed into such a state as may give an impression of beauty and delight.’
Renee and Ron have certainly created a garden that reflects both sentiments. With thanks to them for sharing their garden, approaches and thoughts with us, and for providing such a delicious afternoon tea.
Text and photographs by Valerie Whittington.
On a lovely sunny morning, a group of 11 members from the MGS Crete Branch met with members who were here on a visit organised by the MGS UK Branch in a taverna at the top of the Imbros Gorge, ready for some of us to join them on the walk.
The Imbros Gorge is an eight-kilometre long walk downhill through an impressive natural gorge flanked by cliff faces of impressive trees and banks of wild flowers. One wonders how the trees survive such a hostile landscape and it does become clear what happens to the ones that don't as you pass some fabulous twisted pine trunks that would make great decorative garden objects if you could ever get them out.
The walk is along a very stony path, so you have to watch your feet constantly; in order to admire the landscape you have to stop, stand still and take your time to take in the vast swathes of greenery and majesty which this gorge gives you.
We did not race down the gorge but, believe me, some folks where doing just that; we all took our time to admire the abundant and beautiful flowers currently in bloom. Some are in the photographs below. Phlomis cretica was in abundance.
Several species of orchids were spotted, including
The gorge narrows and widens constantly and in one place is so narrow you can almost touch both sides. As you carry on down to the end, it opens up completely and you can see the south coast and the sea.
It was interesting to see the Dracunculus vulgaris change as we walked down the gorge.
At the top it was very immature and small, but you could see the plants getting bigger and more mature as we walked downhill.
By the end of the gorge, the plants were huge and fully open showing the enormous purple spathes to everyone, very impressive.
We finished the day in a local taverna where we met with others who had not walked the gorge and shared a splendid lunch. It was altogether a wonderful day. Many thanks to Heather and the UK branch for inviting us to share this special day with them.
Text by Rosemary Thomas
The rest of their garden is also colourful and varied, thanks perhaps to the copious amounts of cow manure added to enrich the soil.
As it was always their intention to grow vegetables, Alan and Lynne installed a 500-litre water container for rainwater collection beneath their lower balcony, and an additional container in a higher section of the garden, bought subsequently, where a further concealed tank fills with agricultural water. These reserve tanks help when summer water is erratic and scant. Three computer-operated irrigation systems were installed to distribute water according to the needs of the trees, plants or crops.
Alan described their aims and methodology: ‘The main focus is on growing vegetables and having fruit trees and grapes. We don’t know much about flowers, but added them to the garden for colour and ground cover. We adopt a rotation system for most vegetables to prevent viruses in the soil, except for tomatoes, as they like growing in the same spot every year. We use only organic compost and fertilizers and never spray any chemicals. Any pest problems are treated organically. All seeds are organic or collected from our own vegetables every year. We plant and prune by the moon; we have a very useful chart which can be purchased from Lunar Organics.
Garden prunings are shredded and composted together with vegetable peelings, so everything goes back into the ground.
Raised beds are used for planting, as the soil stays soft and workable. Each bed is one metre by four metres, so all parts are easily reached for planting with no need stand on the soil, which would result in compaction. Posts at the corners of the raised beds are useful for covering the beds with nets as a deterrent to cats, birds and snail. Full-size olive nets are cut into four and fit over the posts of the beds very well. The nets are taken off when the plants are established and when the snails go to sleep for the summer.’
We learned that once the poppies have finished flowering, these areas are cleared and used for growing a selection of squashes and melons. Some squashes store very well, especially butternut squash. In July and August they are harvested when fully ripe and left in the sun for a few days to harden. Then they are stored in a dark cupboard in the garage - Alan and Lynne are just eating the last few now (end of March).
The group was particularly interested to discover that sweet potatoes are planted every year in May, which are ready for harvesting in December. These are washed, then dried and put in a dark cupboard in the garage and last until May, when they start to sprout again. Enough are kept to replant and can be cut into sections where there is a root.
A large variety of vegetables is grown. In November, carrots, beetroot, broad beans, garlic, cauliflowers, cabbages, broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, rocket and onions are planted. Then in February, more carrots, beetroot, onions, peas and French beans. Runner beans have been unsuccessful in this garden as the flowers refuse to set.
In February, seeds are planted in pots that are left to germinate in Lynne and Alan’s sunroom, which acts as a big greenhouse, for example, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, chillies, aubergines, courgettes, a selection of melons and squashes. When these are big enough, they are potted on and put in the cold frames outside. In May they are planted outside. In the winter months, basil, coriander and parsley are grown. Fennel comes every year from the initial seeds put down years ago.
Alan and Lynne have two fig trees, a lemon, a bitter orange, a mandarin, two plum trees, a persimmon and a loquat (Eriobotrya japonica). They have a few varieties of edible grapes as they have no interest in making wine.
An asparagus bed gives them about six to eight asparagus spears every other day, as Alan, ‘just perfect for our lunch.’
This was a fascinating visit to see and hear how passionate vegetable growers are succeeding in a completely different climate zone to their earlier experience in the UK. Thank you, Alan and Lynne.
Our next venue was in the small village of Kouses at Botano - Cretan Mountain Herbs and Teas shop. What a surprise. From outside it looked like a very small, old-fashioned, typical village store - impossible to see what is inside. Once through the door, however, it was spell-binding and like a ‘Tardis’ full of all sorts of interesting things to discover stacked from floor to ceiling, shelves with a huge selection of teas, spices, natural cosmetics, essential oils, soaps and so on.
As a welcome gesture, three different teas had been prepared for us to sample and were laid out ready on a small table for when we could tear ourselves away from shelves crammed with interest. We spent a long time perusing shelf after shelf, sampling the delicious and unusual teas and making our purchases. These included enticing teas such as ‘Love of Life’ with chamomile flowers, anise, spearmint and rosehips or ‘Ginger Lemon’ with rooibos, ginger, lemon and cacao. There were many different spices or spice mixes such as ‘Piri-piri mix’ made up of garlic, onion and piri–piri chillies which can be seen on their website.
Lunch in Petrokefali was followed by our visit to Mary and Gary Newbery’s garden, a short walk up the hill.
This is a mellow, informal garden reflecting the character of its gardeners and set in a beautiful landscape looking up to snow-capped Mt Psiloritis. It is now in its eighth year, with the teething problems of builders’ rubble and bedrock well past.
The initial plan was to provide screening and to move an old olive tree that was unsuccessful. Mary referred to this as their ‘Dennis the Menace’ tree, as this is what it looked like when it sprouted new growth.
As Mary and Gary do not live here permanently, the garden was designed to take care of itself with a lot of randomly planted lavender and rosemary interspersed with various other plants. These have spread into lovely bushes, leaving little open ground for weeds to flourish.
One type of tree that most of us had not seen before was a rather fine variety of tamarisk with unusual flowers. This was planted near the path with a background of stunning osteospermum used as ground cover, which was at its best in a blaze of colour.
Gary’s creative paths meander around the garden; these are not the usual stone paths as they have unusual mosaics set in at random intervals. Here a path leads to a small patio area with a simple water feature.
Close by was a beautiful Eremophila nivea with its delicate purple flowers contrasting with its silvery leaves.
This was a lovely garden to wander in observing individual plants at close quarters; we ended with refreshments on the terrace.
As soon as we reached the meadow site, Maria, one of our leaders, gave us all a carrier bag and very sharp knives. Immediately she sprang into action, pouncing with glee on a luxuriant poppy plant, breaking off the flower and half digging out the roots. We were all amazed, as we were aware of the uses of the poppy seed, but had not really considered the plant as something edible.
It was then heads down for the next hour or so, while we scoured through the weeds and grass for edible plants.
In general terms, it seems that plants with hair under the leaves are not right for ordinary horta dishes (but since the poppy is a very hairy plant, this did not necessarily follow). We had to look for more dandelion-type plants and dill-like weeds, mostly softer in texture. We found wild celery, which we all (the non-professionals) thought to be just right, but which was dismissed with a loud ‘Ochi’. Our search continued until our bags were stuffed with what looked like a collection of weeds, after an hour or more of collecting. Maria explained that we should only take one plant from any area, and move on to the next, to preserve the plants for future use. The identification of the plants was all done by observation. None of the leaders seems to have names for any of the wild plants.
We then settled outside a lovely old shepherd’s hut/cottage, which very conveniently had a slab stone table, where we emptied all our bags and began the big trimming and sorting session.
Here we cut off all the dead debris from around the plants and trimmed the leaves and sorted them by the type plants. There was one type of plant which looked like a large daisy, with large hairy leaves (in spite of everything we had been told about hairy plants); this was considered to be extra special and would be cooked alone as a delicacy. After we had sorted, we ended up with two stuffed bags full of horta and we returned to the village for the next step of our learning curve.
From the moment we were introduced to the kitchen (this part was only for the women of the group), it was obvious that we were the students. We were shown how to cut vegetables, mix batter, cut and mix meat, and, of course, wash our horta, and make a pudding like a real Greek.
Wearing aprons, we were all set specific tasks, with our progress monitored at every step. We were astounded by some of the measurements of the ingredients – so much oil used, and handfuls of herbs instead of a teaspoonful, and loads of semolina. Conversation was limited (we did not have time and were concentrating totally), but laughter prevailed and tears fell down Jane’s cheeks as the onion smell reached her even through her sunglasses. At each step we were permitted a taste of the dish even though some had just come out of the deep fat pan and were very hot.
Soon our work was coming to an end as a full meal had been prepared using many other ingredients as well as the horta. Mostly the horta was used for little pies and patties as well as being added to the stuffing for an aubergine recipe, which intriguingly was deep-fried before being stuffed. We were allowed to rest and take a break before lunch was served, just slightly ahead of schedule.
Everyone arrived for lunch, although the reservoir walkers missed the start of the meal, as we could not wait to test and taste our work from the fields to the kitchen. The meal was delicious but, as with most Greek meals, I think we catered for an army, not just for ten people.
With thanks to Mary Newbery for organising a very interesting programme and opening her and Gary’s garden for us to enjoy.
Text written by Mary Newbery, Valerie Whittington, Renee Fitch and Pam Dunn.
This DVD was produced by EBC Communications Ltd specially for the MGS as a way of thanking the Society for allowing it to film at Sparoza as part of a series being developed, ‘Gardens in the Sun.’ It is advertised as ‘a new and original way to help maintain and learn more about our "Garden on a Greek Hillside". Professionally produced on location over all four seasons, it is especially aimed at those who have not visited the garden as well as at those who, because they live and garden in other countries all over the world, may never have the opportunity to visit it.’
The audience was mixed with a balance of members who have visited Sparoza and most who have not, a few guests and one member new this year. A good discussion followed in which all present voiced their strong support for the importance of Sparoza being seen as a key factor in our society. Some ideas were put forward in terms of spreading the vast knowledge and experience that exists there to a wider audience outside Greece.The event was accompanied by a delicious selection of cheese and wine. The afternoon was very pleasant, interesting and informative.
This pre-Christmas get-together was a social event as much as a gardening one. Everyone contributed seasonal finger buffet nibbles, which made a delicious lunch.
This also gave an opportunity to provide some informal feedback from the AGM in Athens. Ideas for inclusion in the 2014 programme of events were discussed and we were able to see and hear about Rosemary’s latest garden plans/projects.
This is how Rosemary describes her ‘Cretan Courtyard Garden’:
It is still very inviting to walk around the garden and I have kept to the theme of developing mini courtyards around the separate sitting and eating areas. Since it's so small, I can keep most plants looking good right through the year, so even in winter it's lovely to look at.
As an avid plant collector, I am always looking for spaces for yet 'one more' plant, but I do think I am going to have to be very selective in the future.
The plants and trees we first put in eight years ago have generally been very successful. In fact, some grew too big and spread too much, such as the Polygala, Musa (banana) and the Norfolk Island pine, so they had to be taken out, but we left the Arbutus and the Metrosideros, among others, and they are thriving.
My collection of pots and containers is now quite large. Pots are my favourite medium for growing succulents and cacti, which are probably my favourite plants.
I am always happy when visitors enjoy the garden, it keeps me wanting to try and develop it even more, but I think I will have to try vertical gardening now as I am running out of space!’
The group enjoyed a guided tour of the garden, stopping frequently to discuss particular plants and hear about plans for the future.
As Rosemary said in her introduction, the garden is now eight years old. Trees and shrubs in the borders are therefore mature, well established and provide good screening and shade. This means that an excellent environment has been created which encourages a wide range of plants, ranging from local plants to exotics, to grow very successfully.
It never fails to delight the eye. It is crammed with interest, with plants of all shapes and sizes displayed alongside carefully placed artefacts.
Rosemary is a great propagator. The garden is full of countless seedlings raised from ‘mother’ plants, often as gifts to friends and fellow enthusiasts. These are usually incorporated into the overall design, as in the photograph below.
This was a delightful, interesting and convivial visit on such a beautiful sunny December day. With thanks to Rosemary and Alan for their hospitality and for all lunch contributions from everyone who joined in the event.
Text and photographs by Valerie Whittington
An overwhelming number of members and guests (over 50) gathered together at The European Sustainability Academy (ESA), in Drapanos, Apokoronas to listen and see Jennie’s and Piers’ illustrated talk. Despite difficulties with the technology and electrics at the centre, it was a most successful evening.
I first heard about this exciting project when I read Jennie’s article ‘The Rou Estate’ in the Athens News in April 2012 and so invited both Jennie and Piers to re-visit us here in Crete so that we might hear more about it. They had visited in 2006 at a very early meeting of our small, then recently formed group, and inspired us all about their experience of the garden at Sparoza and its plants. At that stage most of us were developing new gardens, and were thirsty for knowledge about appropriate plants for our particular environment and climate. Seven years on, our group has developed and moved on and is still welcoming enthusiastic new members.
Part 1: A gardening renovation project in Rou, Corfu.
Rou is 500 metres above sea level, with stunning views across the Corfu straits to Albania. Photographs showed how a collection of derelict quarry workers’ cottages has been transformed into a sensitively restored Corfiot hamlet, set among original drystone terraces and rustic glades. It is beautiful.
Abandoned in the 1960s, the houses, built of creamy honeyed stone some 200 years earlier, were in a state of disrepair and Jennie described how, ‘nature was slowly reclaiming the place that had once been a working hamlet. Trees and shrubs were intertwined with the tumbling stone walls and wild flowers grew in fragrant abundance.’
Jennie and Piers became involved with the habitat management and garden creation of Rou from the start and remain closely involved.
When they saw the site, they said: ‘We immediately understood that we needed to capture the essence of the place, the magical beauty of the abandoned Rou, in the landscaping of the future. The combination of wild flowers with the old stone walls was exquisite and became the inspiration for our planting palette.’
Through carefully chosen photographs they showed the key colours of the area, for example, the rosy purple of the Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum), the mauve of wisteria, the fresh coppery green of new Pistacia terebinthus growth, the fresh young leaves of valonia oak (Quercus ithaburensis subsp. macrolepis), and the dark green depth of holm oak. We were shown how drifts of purple honesty make a stunning natural combination with the acid green Bupleurum rotundifolium, with Anthemis chia and borage edging. It is clear that these plants remain integral to Rou.
Their landscaping philosophy placed great emphasis on the enhancement of existing habitats of woodland, maquis and meadow. They wanted to create a place in harmony with the character and colours of the locality and recognised that themaquis shrubs that were engulfing the houses would, with a little tender loving care, actually form the permanent green framework of the gardens. Whole areas were cleaned of dead wood and re-invigorated.
We were told how beautiful but neglected trees such as the valonia oak, cypress (Cupressus sempervirens, syn. C. sempervirens subsp. horizontalis), olive and Mediterranean hackberry (Celtis australis)simply needed pruning to become significant structural elements. In addition, the mulberries and almonds planted by the original villagers were obvious choices for important focal features.
The integration of existing vegetation with new planting was needed around the individual houses and in recently created ‘village’ spaces. It was important that indoor and outdoor spaces merged into the Corfiot hillside. Jennie told us: ‘We wanted the planting not only to soften the buildings, but to enhance the stonework. Fragrance was also important – helping to re-create that all-important magical atmosphere of a Greek hillside in spring.’
Decisions about what to plant were cut down until a shortlist was agreed of what they call Rou signature plants. ‘To make it on the list, plants had to pass several tests. They had to be native or quintessentially Mediterranean; they had to fit the character and colour of the locality both climatically and aesthetically. Plants had to be drought-tolerant, but able to withstand winter cold; and some key plants needed to be summer-flowering when visitors to Rou would be at their peak.’
A natural planting style was evident from the slides shown of well-chosen plants in simple but bold combinations of pastel-coloured flowers that Jennie described as being ‘within a framework of cloud-pruned greys and greens.’ We saw that climbing roses, jasmine and wisteria were used repeatedly throughout the hamlet, with swathes of lavender, rosemary, Santolina chamaecyparissus and Tulbaghia violacea.
‘Drifts of seasonal flowers in the form of alliums and irises were also key elements.’ The houses have private gardens and reflect a more personal touch, with greater planting detail and intricacy: a natural mosaic of herbs and perennials, such as Helichrysum orientale, Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’, Phlomis spp., Cistus spp., Thymus spp., Salvia leucantha, as well as the lavender and rosemary. It was important to retain the original garden plants – including several lovely pink rose shrubs. Jennie described how, in one or two cases, it was possible to keep them in their position, but often restoration works meant they had to be carefully relocated.
A particularly beautiful two-tone iris found on the outskirts of Rou has become a signature plant along the walkways and in the woodlands.
Built from the quarried stone that provided the livelihood of its former residents, Rou sits right above a cliff created by the quarrying. This is where the swimming pool has been formed, with the hewn rock face some ten metres high making a dramatic backdrop. We saw photographs of the route to this amazing feature which follows a stone-built path, winding down through the original terraces. This has been enhanced by newly created woodland glades, furnished with irises, ferns, hellebores, cyclamen, Liriope muscari and peonies. Jennie explained that such planting is greatly assisted by the Corfu climate, which has one of the highest rainfalls in Greece, along with year-round high humidity.
A link to Louisa Jones’ webpage is given here, which Jennie and Piers think members will enjoy. Just click on 'Press', and scroll down you will find an article on Rou that appeared in ‘Country Life’.
For more photographs of the garden simply put ‘Rou Estate, Corfu’ into Google.
Part 2: Mediterranean plants based on successful, practical gardening projects in Greece.
An interesting selection of shrubs and perennials, in particular, were shown from different areas of the garden as in the example below:
The audience was interested in the watering regime being used with the newly planted specimens shown. In this garden, plants are given 16 litres of water twice a month during their first summer, reduced to 16 litres per plant every 3 weeks in the second year. The plan is to reduce again or possibly eliminate watering in the third year.
Five members from Crete will be visiting Keratea as part of this year’s Annual General Meeting. It will make an interesting follow-up to the talk.
Local members had fund-raised to enable this event to take place and a donation was given by those attending the event. The generosity of people attending has meant that after expenses were paid, we had sufficient to give a donation both to support a local charity (through ESA) and to Sparoza, including the ‘adopt a plant’ scheme.
Text based on Jennie and Piers’ talk and Jennie’s article The Rou estate (Athens News, April 2012).
It was a very wild, windy afternoon when 21 members and guests visited Jane and Roger’s garden. It is a young garden, only three years in the making, but looks far more mature in the sections first planted.
The garden is very exposed, sitting on a cliff-top and sloping down to the sea below. The photograph above shows this open aspect and early planting including a young olive tree, Plumbago auriculata (syn. P. capensis), Westringia, Aptenia cordifolia, Metrosideros excelsa and agaves.
It was a pleasure to welcome several guests as well as members Clive and Manoj to the first event that they have managed to attend here on Crete. Like several of our members, they garden on Crete but live and work in the UK.
Our branch has an interesting mix of members: some who live on Crete permanently and others who live and work elsewhere.
Given the severity of the wind, Jane had to give her interesting introduction inside the house. She explained that the prime aim of the garden is to allow most wild plants to flourish among those introduced.
The main garden is constructed of bedrock, which was partially hidden by building spoil. With the help of the builder they were able to move this and reveal the natural lie of the garden, introducing more structural rocks to produce a large rockery.
Jane described how the planning and planting of the garden started in September 2010. Prostrate Rosmarinus officinalis has been used extensively and to great effect as borders for all the beds. She further explained that this has allowed other plants to flourish on the windswept hillside by providing some shelter and a windbreak. It has an added attraction in that it flowers three times a year.
The plot of land originally had no trees, so in 2011 they bought a very large, mature olive tree as a focal point. It is now flourishing.
Earlier this year 25 assorted young trees were also planted.
The two main problems in the garden are the harsh wind and the poor, shallow soil. Now that they are aware of where the wind has the most detrimental effect, Jand and Roger are making natural windbreaks through triple planting and building low walls.
Jane described how the method they found most successful for deciding on where to site the walls was to throw tissues in the air on mild days in order to find the direction and force of the wind. They had similar results in the same areas each time they tried this experiment.
New and exciting developments in parts of the garden are in the use of cacti and succulents, some flowering for the first time this year.
The sunken herb garden was created very recently. This is now a delightful walled garden with paving: an area formerly designed using bark for the main beds. The use of bark was quickly seen as a mistake when the wind tossed and spread it throughout Souda Bay, below the garden.
The walled garden has a sense of calm and peace. Troughs decorated with mosaics, reclaimed architectural items such as the gates in the photograph and pots with succulents.
Soil improvement in the raised kitchen garden is continual. Jane explained that they may need to move the fruit trees from this area as the wind is proving too strong with the resulting loss of blossom. This will probably involve forming buttresses and walled enclosures in a more sheltered area.
This was a delightful visit enjoyed by all which engendered much discussion.Text by Jane Newbery and Valerie Whittington, photographs by Valerie.
Pam Dunn and Rosemary Thomas had a lovely day at the Chelsea Flower Show in May. Before leaving, I asked them if they would look at the potential for an illustrated talk showing the highlights of their visit for those of us unable to attend. They agreed and I was delighted to arrange this ‘evening with a difference’. A similar event had been arranged for last August but had to be postponed, so this talk combined highlights from 2012 and 2013.
Twenty-six of us, members and several guests, met for a congenial welcome drink in the lovely relaxed atmosphere of Pam and Geoff’s home. Ample time had been planned to allow for a guided look around their garden before the talk.
Pam and Geoff‘s garden
A steep area below both houses has made terracing necessary to make planting easier; all the old terraces were damaged or destroyed in the house building and needed re-making. The scale of them is impressive; a grotto has been incorporated in one section and a pond with a waterfall in another.
The parts of the garden which have been cultivated are now about five years old with shrubs maturing well. There was no clear plan, they just started developing areas around the house and worked out from there.
An important aim was to have citrus and other fruit trees, and the vegetable garden is Pam’s passion; it is always flourishing.
As the site is very exposed, some areas of shade are needed, so lots of trees were necessary. In front of the guest house, young mulberries are being trained in arches all along the main terrace, which, when mature, will be a special feature.
Planting has evolved to suit the location. Given the size of the garden, Pam and Geoff have made good use of Nerium oleander in shades of salmon pink and white to define driveways and some borders. Pam explained that some plants work, others fail and either die or are moved to be tried out elsewhere. In their experience, they have found it takes at least two years for some plants to establish themselves. Most of the garden is irrigated, and in those areas which are not, we were told about the wonderful wild flowers in spring on the undeveloped terraces.
When the second house was finished, they felt it very important to develop both sites through the garden; which is now most effective. One long slope linking the two properties has been turned into a rock garden (where the rocks or boulders had to be brought on to the site). This is the home for several varieties of succulents, of which several have been donated by friends on the island, including tree aeoniums, small agaves, different types of sedums and a spectacular Agave americana.
Several people commented on two prominent Euryops virgineus (honey bush) from South Africa on one of the slopes, as they now have a diameter of at least 2.5 metres, having started life as tiny round yellow balls of less than 10 centimetres.
The garden now accounts for about 4,000 square metres. It includes an abundance of roses. One pathway is bordered by twenty 'Red Beauty', a floribunda rose bush which flowers continually through the hot summer. Most of the roses come from David Austin Roses in the UK, which is happy to send by mail order to Crete.
Photographs selected here do not capture the variety of planting, scope and design within the garden, but this taster is offered within the limits of the webpage. It is a large, demanding site and our visit showed us the enthusiasm, creativity, energy and sheer hard work expended in making this a lovely garden.
A Visit to the Chelsea Flower Show, celebrating 100 years in 2013.
While at Chelsea, I met with the lady who had been developing this Aeonium arboreum ‘Schwarzkopf’, which had been selected as one of the plants of the year. She explained that to date this has taken her four years. Her goal was to capture the robust beauty of the larger varieties, but in a plant that would be suitable for indoor cultivation. Although she has three greenhouses full of them, she is not ready to produce them commercially.
As we had such a beautiful display of lupins in Crete this year, I was interested to see this display from professional growers who had had an equally spectacular year – as this display shows. The spires were magnificent and bursting with colour.
There were some wonderful sculptures on display at Chelsea, but I feel that these two, featured in one of the sponsored gardens, demonstrated how powerful a simple structure can be, given the right location.
This was on the Royal Horticultural Society’s educational stand, which included all aspects of plant and watering technology. In the centre of the display was this magnificent apple tree which was suspended in mid-air. It was amazing to see the mirror image of the tree above ground and the incredible root structure below ground, and to comprehend how big the root structure was.
I love the Chelsea Flower Show. As someone who first attended over twenty years ago, for me it is still a day of wonder, surrounded by fabulous plants from all over the world and examples of glorious show gardens.
It is a day of make-believe, but I still think you can go and look and 'cherry pick' the ideas and plants that we know we can grow in our mediterranean environment to create our own wonderland.
Here are three examples from very many that made an impression on me:
I loved this garden, as to me it represented a perfect English garden with mixed planting of trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials: English gardens at their best.
An example of beautiful borders filled with fabulous stately Echium pininana. This is a plant that should grow well here on Crete, given some protection from the wind.
This was a beautiful example of an old stone trough (still readily available in Crete, I am pleased to say) which was planted with English garden flowers, but I could see it in my garden filled with succulents or geraniums; it would be a thing of beauty even if just left empty.
An informal get-together with a ‘bring and share’ buffet supper completed a delightful evening gathering.
With many thanks to Rosemary Thomas and Pam Dunn for their presentations and selection of photographs for this article, and to Pam and Geoff for sharing their garden with us and hosting this event.Other text and photographs by Valerie Whittington.
Garden visits in Kokkino Chorio, Apokoronas on 11 May, 2013
The weather forecast during all the previous week had said, ‘Rain,’ so we expected the worst. Instead, it was the ideal day for garden visits – sunny with a light breeze. Sadly, Valerie was not well enough to come.
We went first to Anna and Bob’s garden.
When introducing her garden, Anna said:
‘Very little has been bought at garden centres – I begrudge the money! After buying a Calandria for 60 euros only to have it die, I am off garden centres! We were given some lovely things as house warming presents – some have survived and some have not, but most of our plants have been grown from seed or from cuttings. Bob gets very embarrassed when we are on a walk and I pinch something that is hanging over a wall – he says he is not with me then. But it is very rewarding to grow things in this way, as well as being very economical.
‘My mother was a very keen gardener, but her garden was largely flat and, like most English gardens, it had quite a bit of lawn. I think she would be amazed to see what we have done here, and I like to think she would be proud of me, if more than a little surprised. I did not display much interest in gardens when I was young. It’s amazing how we change with the years’
Bob and Liz Burlumi wrote about their garden:
We started building in September 2009 and moved in at Christmas the following year. Building a sustainable property in order to minimise our contribution to the carbon footprint was our main priority so our home runs on solar heating and electricity with rainwater collection from the roof. The building itself is highly insulated with a foam preparation covered with fibreglass cement so it's very warm in winter yet cool in summer.
At the bottom of the garden towards the sea is a natural swimmable, chemical-free pond containing 80 tonnes of water filtered by hundreds of aquatic plants. At the moment the pond is full of toads and at nightfall the air is alive with the sound of the male mating call, which is something like a telephone ringing. With the skylarks and blackbirds which begin the evening chorus, and the goat and sheep bells, to say nothing of their bleating and maa-ing, it is a veritable orchestra.
Integrating our garden design with the natural contours of the land and the surrounding vegetation, we planted over 800 small Mediterranean/North African trees and plants as well as three mature olive trees, each weighing in excess of two tonnes.
Many wild plants and flowers which some consider to be weeds, have a place on our plot. Our irrigation system is computer-controlled and we use a minimum amount of water. It goes without saying that the flocks belonging to our local shepherd provide us with rich organic fertiliser.
We have had problems with red beetle demolishing our pistachios, and this year with grasshoppers munching away on practically everything, but we have nipped this in the bud with a few drops of heavily diluted biodegradable formula. We are on a big learning curve and constantly seeking and welcoming advice and ideas from more experienced and knowledgeable individuals.’
It was lovely to visit Bob and Anna's garden, and to see how beautifully they have created an interesting and colourful garden from scratch, on a very difficult, steep Cretan hillside. The garden provided plenty of visual interest in terms of colours and textures, but was sympathetic to the natural environment and to a practical approach to gardening, given the Cretan climate.
This contrasted nicely with the Bob and Liz's garden, where the aims appeared to be very similar: to create a native and self-sufficient garden in keeping with the beautiful natural environment and from an ecological perspective. It was an inspiring visit, particularly the collection and use of water feeding the natural ponds, and the practical but inspired planting scheme, which again created plenty of visual interest while at the same time complementing the natural landscape beautifully. It is a garden in its infancy which it would be fascinating to visit again in a couple of years’ time.
Bob and Liz were excellent hosts and their garden was a wonderful setting for a very nice shared picnic lunch. It was the perfect end to a highly enjoyable and informative MGS event.
Photographs by Anna Scott and Clive Whittington
It was a wonderful spring morning for our walk, with just a slight crisp breeze. We were all so anxious to see some flowers that the moment we got out of our cars and saw our first orchid, Anacamptis (syn. Orchis) boryi, everyone got their cameras out and started clicking!
However we need not have worried; the fields were resplendent with colour and flowers of all kinds. Anna and Bob led the walk in their usual caring style, with Bob leading the way and Anna scooping up the slow walkers or camera fanatics at the rear, and pointing out the many different flowers on the way.
It was not long before serious photography was under way, as members of the group could be seen crouching or kneeling as they aimed for the perfect shot of a special bloom. Among the first flowers to be seen were clumps of Galega officinalis (French lilac).
Naked man orchids (Orchis italica) were everywhere along the edges of the track, as too were pyramid orchids (Anacamptis pyramidalis), both very similar on first glance until Anna pointed out the differences.
Across the fields were acres of yellow daisies (Glebionis coronaria) giving a lovely hue against the bright green of the grass.
The shepherds were in the fields too, working their dogs and the sheep. We were concerned that the sheep might ruin the flowers, but they clearly had their permitted territory and were well under the control of the shepherds.
We saw our first clump of local red tulips (Tulipa doerfleri) very early on, but further into the walk there was a mass of them in a field, together with more yellow crown daisies, among which a deep purple vetch and a red clover gave a wonderful contrast.
Another stunning sight was the lime green of the euphorbias, while by the side of the track the hawthorn trees were in full bloom and completely covered with bees.
At one point those bringing up the rear were very absorbed, not by flowers but by a harrier that hovered high in the sky above us. We also saw and heard blackbirds, linnets, warblers and quails.
This year there was more groundwater than before, perhaps from the poor weather in the previous week, and at one point, as we turned towards the actual Bumps, there was a small stream with a further selection of flowers and even a couple of dragonflies.
Here we saw grape hyacinths (Muscari) as well as several cistuses and lupins.
Throughout the walk, if you strayed off from the track you had to be very careful where you trod because of the large numbers of flowers underfoot. There were many tiny bee orchids, spider orchids, and tiny yellow orchids (Orchis pauciflora) and others in many shades of purple and brown. Sue, a visiting MGS member from the Languedoc branch, carried a great wild flower tome, but even with its help it was very hard to identify the orchids we saw, as they were all so different.
Some of the flowers were past their best, having clearly come out for the sun earlier in the month, but others were still resplendent in their colour and beauty, and some of the miniature irises had yet to bloom. All too soon the walk was over, and we were on our way to Plakias for a traditional Greek meal where the sun shone, the sea glistened and we all reflected on the lovely time we had been flower- (and bird-) spotting at Spili. It was so sad that Val could not be there to join us.Text by Pam Dunn. Photographs by Pam Dunn, Sue Kirk and Clive Whittington
Jo's invitation said ‘come and visit our garden at the end of March. Within our garden we have tried very hard to protect and encourage the many varieties of wild flowers that grow on our plot and link these areas with those that we have cultivated. The end of March is when the wild flowers are at their peak. Last year we had more than 20 different species in flower, including Ophrys and other orchids. We think of our garden as different rooms, a mini wood, orchard, succulent garden, all surrounded by the wild flower areas.’
Twenty-three of us gathered at Jo and Bob’s garden on a delightfully sunny afternoon. Rain had been forecast and the few days before the visit had very gusty, high winds, so it was with some relief that we had respite from this for the afternoon and no rain came.
So what was our starting point? The plot contained at least 28 almond trees, obviously at that time not all pruned into tree shapes, three wild pears, Pistacia lentiscus trees, two very old olives, a great variety of wild flowers including Ophrys and other orchids, and some amazing rock structures; not forgetting an original koumos (an old stone-structure where the shepherds could take shelter during wintertime). The more negative elements were: the land was covered in ancient Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa), prickly gorse and loose rocks, making it difficult to walk through it. But the beauty of this plot was that as the phlomis and unwanted shrubs were removed, the hidden rock structures came to light and the garden began to take shape.
Our different areas are as follows:
Behind this is our new austerity garden, a large rock garden; in line with Greece’s economic problems, it is planted only with things that have been “begged, borrowed or stolen”.
Our back garden has proved the most difficult one to cultivate as it was most affected by the building of the house. As the house was raised, it presented mini hillsides, hence the planting of various shrubs. We have also tried to plant this area with hot summer colour. Sadly the hibiscuses do not like the cold wet winters but the roses are thriving and our silk tree (Albizia julibrissin) has grown at a considerable rate.
The back garden leads into our small vegetable plot, and behind it our latest project: a new orchard with 17 fruit trees.
It is a garden for wandering and wild flower spotting. In flower on our visit were Tragopogon porrifolius, Serapias lingua, Orchis italica, Anacamptis pyramidalis, wild lupins, iris (Morea sisyrinchium, syn. Gynandriris sisyrinchium), and a multitude of wild lupins.
In addition to what we saw on this visit, Jo summarised their wild flower year as including cyclamen, sea squill (Drimia maritima) and colchicum (spreading now to at least 15 clumps), Narcissus obsoletus and N. tazetta, verbascum, Crocus laevigatus, Anemone coronaria, celandines, euphorbia, and the first orchids – the giant orchid, Barlia robertiana, and the fan-lipped orchid, Anacamptis collina (syn. Orchis collina).
With thanks to Jo and Bob Taylor for opening their garden and providing the opportunity for an interesting afternoon.Text by Jo Taylor and Valerie Whittington, photographs by Jo Taylor and Clive Whittington.
With no rain since April, opening a garden at the end of this particularly long hot summer, which had temperatures in the high thirty and lower forty degrees centigrade, was considered very brave. Valerie, in welcoming everyone to the afternoon events, felt that both she and Jackie were probably either foolish or mad, as no garden in this climate looks at its best at this time of year. However, the date had been deliberately planned to show that gardens, given a waterwise gardening approach with a careful choice of plants, can look good, if not at their best, at this time of year.
Valerie also quoted a short section from June Grindley’s article ‘Why Do We Garden?’ in The Mediterranean Garden No. 69, writing about the differences of gardening in the UK and France: ‘Here in Provence, by contrast, gardening is often frustrating, hard work, costly, time-consuming. Mediterranean gardeners must be stubborn, masochistic and eternal optimists’. Everyone here could identify with this!
The two gardens are very different and complement each other well.
The first: Jackie and Dave’s garden in Cambia, Apokoronas.
The huge task of weeding took approximately six weeks of long days until they finally had a blank canvass with which to work. Six lorry loads of rocks which had been excavated during the building of the house were cleared from the garden. Many of those that were left over were pushed against the fence as part of the boundary and these are now mainly invisible due to the growth of the plants. Other rocks were placed as features.
On seeing these, we all felt that they provide a wonderful landscape in their own right, and Jackie has worked with them most effectively, making planting pockets, some with succulents or foliage which contrasts well. They have become a stunning feature which also links different areas.
Planting was limited during the first couple of years because Jackie wanted to eliminate weeds as much as possible. (This was the complete opposite of Valerie’s garden, where she has worked with the natural plants already in existence.) When they did start planting, they found that with such a large area to plant, the annual forestry sale was useful for their low-cost shrubs and trees. However, over time Jackie felt that there were too many of the same plants or that some had been planted in the wrong place. As a result, she went on to explain how she has tried to get the balance right over the last few years, but, like most of us, feels that she still has some way to go.
One of her joys was to discover a Pistacia lentiscus (mastic tree) which was completely smothered in brambles and which, after she spent days uncovering it, has now grown from a spindly weak tree into one that takes pride of place.
They have so many lovely rock formations and have successfully designed the garden around these. Jackie feels that the garden layout itself actually dictated its own design, and she considers that it is now getting easier to choose plants, because instead of planting such huge areas, there are now just small spaces to complete. A few casualties have occurred this summer as a result of the failure of two irrigation systems while they were away for a couple of weeks during August.
The vegetable patch has been little used this summer, but Jackie plans to grow more in it over the winter. She was surprised to find growing vegetables much more difficult and limited here compared to the UK, where she had a successful allotment.
Jackie describes herself as ‘an amateur who has a real enthusiasm for gardening’. We all felt that she has done a wonderful job of designing an interesting garden using the exceptional rock features to great effect.
The garden paths are a real feature of Jackie and Dave’s hard work: some are made from large pebbles while others in different areas were barked, and this contrast gave a different feel to each section
A good overview was provided from the balcony and the roof terrace.
Photographs taken by Jackie Harrison, except photo 2, which was taken by Valerie Whittington who also wrote the text based on Jackie’s talk.
The second visit: Valerie and Clive’s garden in Drapanos, Apokoronas.
The land is just under 300 metres above sea level and is 4,000 square metres (4 stremmata). It is very exposed to winds from all directions. It is an area which has been over-grazed, as evidenced by the abundance of phlomis and euphorbia. The original soil is generally satisfactory to work with in these areas, but with many rocks, including large areas of bedrock. Valerie and Clive inherited a few small trees - two olives, a wild pear and a few wild almonds -, an abundance of phlomis, euphorbia, thistles and grasses, but also lots of lovely wild flowers. The land had never been used for cultivation, just animal grazing. Other areas were made barren by building work and the resulting debris.
Visitors learned that it can be a wild, windswept landscape here with cold harsh winds in winter and severe, hot desiccating ones in the heat of summer. There had been no rain this year since early April.
Valerie explained her principles in designing and developing the garden:
She also had to remember the ‘big picture’: given the lack of trees, there was little shade, so tree planting was a priority.
Further developments since the article was written were described, for example, how the wild or natural area below the bank is now being strimmed to encourage a greater variety of plants and wild flowers. Valerie is also further experimenting adjacent to this, on the lower bank, using only drought-resistant mediterranean plants such as Atriplex halimus (tree purslane), Cistus (rock rose), Lavandula, Myrtus communis, Teucrium fruticans (tree germander) and T. chamaedrys, Rhamnus (buckthorn), Pistacia lentiscus (mastic tree), Schinus molle (false pepper tree), Santolina, Scabiosa cretica and Gaura lindheimeri (from Mexico), which once established will not require watering. This planting was inspired by a visit to Sa Dragonera, a small island visited as part of the AGM held in Mallorca last year, which she considered a beautiful, wild and completely natural ‘garden’ that she wanted to emulate. This area already provides an appropriate link from the steep bank to the ‘meadow’ area, even with such young planting, and the section discussed next.
This year’s project has been at the very bottom of the garden (what Valerie calls ‘our ravine or the gulley’). It is now very different. Previously it was totally overgrown and impenetrable, left like that to keep marauding sheep and goats at bay, until last winter/early spring when it was cleared. Numerous bonfires were necessary to clear the debris. Recently, steps have been built to enable one to walk through it easily and this is the area Valerie and Clive are enhancing now.
Of course, the garden constantly evolves and develops, and Valerie says she now ‘paints’ with plants by playing with shape, colour and texture (as in the above photographs). It is now at that rewarding stage where she can step back to re-appraise what has been done so far, before moving on with the overriding aim stated at the beginning: ‘to make this a sustainable garden that has a sense of where we live and which is in keeping with the landscape’.
After the talk, Clive took us on to the roof terrace where we had an overview of the garden set in the context of the surrounding landscape. The adjoining land gave us an idea of what it looked like before the garden was started and the challenge that it presented. From the roof the different sections of the garden could be seen, apart from the meadow and below.
Valerie had explained how plants are grouped together for impact and cohesion, and this was clear from this viewpoint. She makes use of plant communities – groups that work well together and have similar needs, e.g. in both soil and water requirements.
Areas are zoned, generally by type: for example, palms, yuccas, agaves and succulents fit well with the wild area of Phlomis, thyme and euphorbia. We looked down on the ‘dry’ garden at the top of the bank with some splendid large Euphorbia ingens, some cacti, and a variety of succulents such as Echeveria, Kalanchoe, aloesand Crassula. This approach is sensible in terms of watering needs and caters for similar soil requirements.
It is a garden to walk in and to explore the winding paths and hidden areas.
Many members commented on the parts of Jackie’s and Valerie’s gardens that struck them most or that gave them ideas for their own gardens. Of particular interest is the comment from Liz, a visitor from the UK and thus new to the concept of waterwise Mediterranean gardening. She wrote: ‘Nicky and I were so delighted to be included in the MGS visits to two wonderful gardens. We thought they were both such a testament to real dedication and a love of plants, to say nothing of the hard labour.
Jackie's garden was delightful and she had planted very well, complementing the large boulders. We both thought her large beach pebble paths were particularly impressive and effective, each stone being chosen because of its flat surface which made walking along them very easy - plenty wide enough too for a wheelbarrow!
We just loved your garden, too, Val – my goodness what an achievement. The restrained planting in the courtyard with the arch framing the view, the cool atmosphere the little fountain evoked and the pool with its water lilies and vertical planting, backlit by the sun, were particularly effective. Your passion for your garden just shone out everywhere - it was all in the detail! Your talk was most informative and for us it was so interesting learning about the difficulties you face and how you have surmounted many problems.’
Text by Clive Whittington based on Valerie’s talk and with thanks for contributions made by visitors to both gardens (acknowledged in the report). Photographs by Valerie Whittington.
Our visit in November to three gardens designed and created by MGS members Stelios and Annika of Chloroplastes was so interesting that members asked for a chance to re-visit all three gardens this May to see the progress made over the winter and spring growing period, and to see them with the bountiful colours of spring flowering.
A full account of each of the three gardens was given in the November 2011 Cretan News and in Past Events on the Crete Website page, so these will not be repeated here.
Members both on this occasion and in November were interested to know about the sourcing of the plants used in the garden designs, as Annika was very clear that their garden plans are dictated by the plants they want to use rather than just by what is available locally. This means that they have to use nurseries from Athens and Germany because it is difficult to buy endemic Cretan plants here; this is a constant frustration to us all.
The good news arising from this problem is that Annika and Stelios have now started their own nursery in which they plan to ensure that mediterranean plants, particularly those endemic to Greece, and Crete in particular, can be available locally. It is a large and ambitious project that has started in a small way and should develop over time.
We then went to look at the gardens. All three are different, they are young and still being developed.
Here a further discussion took place regarding lawns (again refer to the November 2011 article.)
The circular wooden seating area is now complete and looks very inviting with subtle lighting ready for a warm summer’s evening relaxation.
This garden has a lovely ‘Secret Garden’, which was under development in November, using the natural environment. Now complete with two swing chairs, there is a lovely peaceful feel to it, as if one was in a world of one’s own.
On the previous visit several of us were fascinated by the Pachypodium lamerei (see photo in the November report). The significant difference on this occasion was the glorious colour in the whole of the rock garden, as shown in the photograph below. The evocative scent of jasmine pervaded the whole garden.
Here we were impressed by the excellent groundcover provide by a Rosa ‘Sonnenröschen’, which is both heat- and disease-resistant, and another spreading plant, a Lotus.
Trish Mann made the following comment regarding the visit:
Jo Taylor wrote:
Admiration for the landscape architect who possesses the ability to look at a barren piece of earth and plan, in detail, an innovative garden. There is planning in our garden, but we have never been able to visualise a finished design in such detail.
Fascination by the different use of plants. I loved the cool colours of the woodland garden with its secret spaces which contrasted so well with the last garden, which made such good use of the rocks planted with various succulents varying in size.
Lastly: reassurance, because when we returned to our garden and looked at it in an objective way, although we are not professional designers, just plant lovers, we realise that we have turned a challenging plot of land into our special place.’
Another delicious Italian lunch enjoyed by the majority of the group completed this informative visit in which the background design and philosophy were supported by the practical garden visits.
Thanks to Jo Taylor and Trish Mann for their welcome contributions to the report. Photos taken by Valerie Whittington.
Particular thanks to Annika for giving her time and making this second visit possible. We wish Chloroplastes every success in their future business developments.
This was a gem of a walk. Twenty-four of us – members and guests – enjoyed a couple of hours in this delightful area of Spili Bumps, Spili, south of Rethymno. Ably led by Anna and Bob Scott, we strolled through magnificent scenery spotting many wild flowers including several species of orchids and the lovely Tulipa orphanidea ssp. orphanidea (synonym Tulipa doerfleri), thedwarf red tulip endemic to Crete.
Some of the group were mainly interested in the walk itself and the wider views, enjoying the overall picture of spring vibrancy and colour, and so walked at a faster pace with Bob in the lead, whilst Anna and I brought up the rear. This second group comprised those particularly keen on seeing the orchids and tulips close up.
It was very rewarding to see the varied enthusiasm within the group working well with individuals able to pace themselves, take their own time and stop and photograph individual specimens without feeling that they were keeping others waiting.
Dedicated photographers crouched or lay in the grass taking close-ups, others clutching wildflower books identifying and discussing the names of the abundance of flowers out in all their glory and putting on a beautiful display for us enthusiasts.
Of particular interest and delight were the fields of tulips – a very special sight and one that I could only hope for and not guarantee when arranging the trip, in view of the vagaries of this year’s weather. We were not disappointed.
The ‘bumps’ themselves had fewer specimens than anticipated, but it was interesting to explore and find individual specimens sheltering from the wind and sun behind rocks. There were so many plants of interest along the way, and the views during the whole walk were spectacular, especially with the heavy coating of snow on the White Mountains in the distance in the west and on Psiloritis to the east. This is ‘real’, rural, wild Crete – totally unspoiled – no buildings in view except a small church.
From here we took the scenic route back to Spili – rather a bumpy ride after the winter rains, but very beautiful. Then a further twenty minutes down to Plakias on the south coast for a delicious lunch in the sunshine by the sea.
Special thanks must go to Anna and Bob for leading such a rewarding walk. The good company and enthusiasm of all participants made this trip very worthwhile and we also thank those friends who have kindly given permission for their beautiful photographs to accompany this report.
Text by Valerie Whittington. Photographs by Anna Scott, Brian Stewart, Clive Whittington and Don Perritt.