|Mediterranean Garden Society|
The Costa Blanca Branch of the MGS
The September Branch Meeting took us to two impressive gardens, very different in character, but both illustrating the importance of a strong and well-thought-out initial design plan. Also essential, we came to realise, were the knowledge and experience needed to select appropriate plants, and the commitment and energy to plant and maintain them. Even the best initial plans need to be amended as the gardens develop, and these two gardens impress because they are still being refined by those who envisaged them.
The first garden (designed, planted and maintained by Jan van Eijle) seemed to me almost Californian in style, with its curvaceous estanque (pond) full of Koi carp, palms both towering above and leaning over the water, lush green lawns and an exquisite dark swimming pool of small iridescent tiles. This garden has been very carefully designed, respecting the few valuable trees still on-site and creating many different ‘garden rooms’, each with its own atmosphere. There is a wide range of trees and shrubs to enjoy, including architectural palms, which all contribute to the exotic feeling with their exuberant foliage and brilliant flowers. Much thought has been given to the choice and maintenance of screens and hedges, and to the more intimate planting of small areas for relaxation. This is not a ‘low-maintenance’ garden, but it demonstrates some of the exciting things that can be achieved by a good designer if ample resources are available. We were all very grateful to the owner for allowing Jan to use it as a classroom for his enthusiastic lecture on the importance and ‘finer points’ of garden design.
(Photographs by Alan Hawes)
The second garden, La Hacienda Garden in Pedreguer, belonging to Gabriela and Felix Gschwend, was begun only seven years ago, on a plot of two hectares, and has been designed to blend into the surrounding countryside (phase I was designed by Xavi Moncho, phase II by Jan van Eijle). It has a very ‘green’ theme, with areas of woodland towards the outer edges of the plot, which are planted solely with native species of trees and shrubs. Interspersed with these are agricultural areas, where citrus and other fruits, olives, grapes and almonds are cultivated. Paths edged with unusual hedges of clipped wild olive wind through these crops, with occasional flashes of contrasting colour from red roses. Nearer to the house are other woodland plantings containing attractive non-native species which are well adapted to local conditions. There is also a vegetable garden with raised beds. All of the vegetables and fruit, and olive oil, are produced organically.
Closest to the house is the most decorative area, with lawns, flowering shrubs and palms surrounding a swimming pool. The smallest, most private garden is designed for quiet contemplation, with a cross-shaped fountain providing the delicious sound of flowing water, surrounded by beds of scented herbs. The house itself, and a guesthouse, are in the centre of the plot, behind a welcoming courtyard with an Arab fountain, creating an atmosphere of seclusion and peace, which can only increase as the woodlands mature. This whole garden has a very personal feeling, and it is obviously the focus of much thought and care.
(Photographs by Alan Hawes)
(Photographs by William Haeuser)
After lunching in the welcome shade of the patio, those of us who still had the time and energy visited the new Món Verd Garden Centre in Ondara, where we were warmly welcomed by Xavi Moncho, and offered drinks, cakes and a 10% discount on the plants that we bought. A great end to a very interesting day.
Text by Carol Hawes
The Lavender Garden at Finca La Cuta was in a tranquil mood when we visited it on June 9th for the last branch meeting before the summer break. The dry spring and the heat of early summer had hastened the passing of many flowers, and exposed the true Mediterranean character of the garden, leaving the main roles to the trees and shrubs. There are many different species of these, but all are essentially drought-tolerant and happy in their surroundings.
After a brief welcome by Susanne, when she told us about the history of the garden and of the summer routines of cutting, drying and distilling the lavender flowers, we were keen to explore all the paths, finding many secluded areas, each with its own focus. Pergolas, often covered with vigorously growing wisteria, and several pools added to the enjoyment of discovering, and trying to identify, new plants around every corner.
We were served a truly delicious four-course lunch, with special care taken to cater for those with varying dietary requirements. Both Spanish- and English-speaking members enjoyed long discussions during the meal, and we all found it difficult to tear ourselves away, so strongly had we absorbed the soothing ambience of the garden and its surrounding hills.
Text by Carol Hawes
Several kilometres from Christine Lomer’s Iris Garden, in a natural depression surrounded by hills, Jan has created a dry garden with endemic plants and trees. He first asked us to look closely at the surrounding and mostly bare hills. But on one slope there is dense young growth of Aleppo pine trees, a clear sign that there had been a fire: a man-made fire - an old Spanish and Mediterranean tradition to regain land, e.g. for sheep grazing or agricultural use. Thus the biodiversity in the Mediterranean Basin has been maintained over centuries, decreasing as wooded areas mature and increasing again after a fire. At some distance from his house there are two lonely cypresses, for Jan a sure sign that there had been a house nearby in Roman times. The Roman custom of planting a cypress tree on either side of the entrance survived long afterwards.
From old local people Jan learnt that they remembered cherry trees in this particular area, an incentive for him to plant some. They were blooming nicely when we visited, as were the Mediterranean ash trees (Fraxinus ornus), with their cream-coloured, scented flower panicles, forming with some Cupressus sempervirensa backdrop for the immediate area by the house, which is planted with various cistus species, Salvia officinalis and Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’. Jan recommended that we avoid the traditional Rosmarinus officinalis as it is prone to a fungus. An exuberant Mediterranean honeysuckle (Lonicera implexa)grows by one of the pillars of the terrace, and Jasminum officinale surrounds the bedroom window.On the other side of the house there are Grenache grape vines - typical of this region, as well as the Muscat grape (Moscatel de Alexandria) - a pomegranate tree, and some recently re-planted old olive trees to give more privacy to the garden.
Text by Edith Haeuser
One cannot be but awed by Christine Lomer’s garden, which is open to the public in April and May and attracts more visitors every year – more than 6000 this spring. Even the Minister of Tourism for the Province of Alicante visited the garden the other day to discover the formula for its success. Certainly the location is magical, 500 metres above sea level and yet so close to the coast. Christine has turned ancient Moorish agricultural land into a garden that each spring becomes a feast of colours and blossoms – even this year when we had about 80% less precipitation on the Costa Blanca than last year. Apart from the roses, no other plants have artificial watering; most of the garden is dormant in summer and re-awakes with the autumn rain.
Originally the focus was on Iris xgermanica, but Christine has since experimented very successfully with many different plants from other mediterranean climates, especially from South Africa and California. The focus seems to have shifted to roses: climbers, ramblers and shrubs. Last October she planted 300 David Austin roses, which we were all eager to see.
For our picnic lunch we appreciated the comfortable shade under one of Christine Lomer’s beautiful old carob trees (Ceratonia siliqua). Everybody was fascinated by the fact that we visited three completely different gardens situated very close to each other on our May garden visit.
Text by Edith Haeuser
After a winter of unduly cold weather and little rainfall on The Costa since January, we were wondering how any garden, at a relatively high altitude and with no natural water, would have coped, but any uncertainty disappeared at the first sight of Jan’s Mediterranean Rock Garden.
The entrance to the house is dominated by a very large rockery, with sculptured shapes of agave, aloes and many cactus species, but the starkness is softened by splashes of colour from irises, cistus and other rock-loving plants.
The drive drops down and curves round into a natural basin where the landscape is softened by bright yellow and orange-coloured flower beds of Verbena rigida, Iris x germanica, gazanias, Argyranthemum shrubs and many succulents. Here, below the house, one can imagine oneself sitting with a chilled glass of wine in the gazebo or on the terrace, calmed by the sounds from a natural-looking waterfall.
With the help of her partner, Jan has achieved a sympathetic and peaceful garden for people AND wildlife. Throughout the visit there was the constant humming of honey bees, large carpenter bees (Xylocopa violacea) buzzed busily from shrub to shrub, and even a wasp relative (Scolia flavifrons) was actively hunting small caterpillars amongst the plants.
Two lizard species (Podarcis muralis and Psammodromus algirus) were active on the sunny side of the rocks, and although it did not appear that day, I was given a photograph of the largest European lizard, the eyed lizard – Timon lepidus (formerly Lacerta lepida) - which had recently wandered into the garden.
To me, the Mediterranean garden is as much about wildlife as about plants and shrubs and this garden, with the owners’ sympathetic design and planting, appears to have achieved the perfect balance. What a treat!
Text by Simon Beattie
After having passed a wood of eucalypts in the middle of the agricultural zone around Crevillente (southern Costa Blanca) and then bright colours along the rural lane, you can easily guess which is Carol and Alan Hawes’ garden.
When meeting a group of people for the first time, I always need a while to analyse each face, each tone of voice. I compare that with investigating a garden full of unknown flowers. In this case it’s a very suitable comparison, since this garden was a discovery for me. Both in its diversity and its composition it is an extremely original garden, and I fully understand that Carol and Alan are proud of it. It is a beautiful garden with many architectural elements, well connected by paths and organised according to the vegetation of the continents. This is what I had read before visiting it, but I found much more. This garden is a small investigation centre, where all the theories of mediterranean gardening have been put into practice: compost production, meticulous watering, the use of plants which are adapted to the climate, the arrangement of plants according to their watering necessities, and the use of decorative elements from the surrounding landscape. I am still fascinated by the California poppies, which I knew only from photographs, by the many eucalypts whose forms and sizes were unknown to me, and by the magnificent Melianthus major surrounded by Carpobrotus edulis.
Text Pedro J. Moya
The Moorish Garden
It is a magnificent example of the Arab garden style, which has a long tradition in the Islamic world. The Arabs took over the idea of the enclosed garden from the Persians and developed it to perfection. In ancient Persian the word pairi-daeza meant 'enclosure'; in Greek this word became parádeisos, meaning'park'; in Latin paradisus,the word which in the Bible is used for the garden Eden.
Ultimately, an Arab/Moorish garden always reflects paradise as described in the Koran, with lush green to soothe the eye, cool shade, fragrant blossoms, delicious fruit and the refreshing sound of flowing water: a garden addressing all the senses. It is always an enclosed garden, an area where the visitor can enjoy peace and harmony and forget the bustle of the outside world. The Moorish garden which we visited consists of innumerable green rooms, many of them separated by neatly trimmed hedges of privet, others by rows of cypresses or – unusual in a Moorish garden - a screen of bamboos. Paths, each made with a different stone pattern, lead from room to room, a special stone pattern marks a threshold. Some rooms are larger, others intimately small. Tall trees shade the rooms. Stone benches and seats invite the visitor to pause and look and listen. This garden is a feast of many shades and textures of green, a sophisticated play with leaves of different form. Along a hedge of Ligustrum there is a line of bulging pots with Clivia miniata, in another corner pots with Ruscus aculeatus, with asparagus, while in one sunny corner an intricate arrangement of small amphoras lies on the ground. The bubbling sound of water can be heard here and there, water running in a shallow fountain or an inlaid rectangular pool reflecting the greenery around it, also the sound of peacocks.
The Arab garden is also an architecturally structured garden, where architecture and garden intertwine, and so it did not surprise us that as we strolled from one green room to another, we suddenly found ourselves walking through a charming small patio, with the walls tiled in the Moorish-Andalusian style and an octagonal fountain in the centre, so typical of Arab gardens, with some potted plants along the wall; stone archways led to two more patios, the last one, the darkest and most intimate one featuring a round white marble bowl set in a marble square and water flowing over the edge, and a white geranium glowing in a corner. As one member told me enthusiastically afterwards, she felt as if she were in the Arabian Nights.
Text Edith Haeuser
March 2012 - Visit to the Montgo Verd Garden Centre and Alison Tain’s Garden
Text by Alan Hawes
March 2012 - Visit to the Albarda Garden and a lecture on invasive plants
Text by Alison Tain