Mediterranean Garden Society

» Home
» About
» Membership
» Journal
» Sparoza Garden
» Branches
» AGMs
» MGS Forum
» Seed Exchange
» Donations
» MGS Excursions
» Information
» Members' Gardens
» Book Reviews
» News & Views
» Contact
» Search


Valerie Whittington

Ελληνικό ιστότοπος του MGS

The Crete Branch of the MGS

Past Events   2017   2016    2015    2014    2013    Older

September 2012
Two Visits to Members’ Gardens, Apokoronas, Chania.

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.
Jackie welcomed us with a brief history of the garden:
Jackie and Dave moved into the house in April 2006. The garden was overgrown with long grasses, thistles, vetch and various other weeds, including the dreaded, in Jackie’s eyes, Oxalis pes-caprae, commonly known as Bermuda buttercup. She described their joy at discovering the fantastic rock formations in the garden which had been overgrown by the weeds and which they had forgotten, with only a few viewings before deciding to buy.

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.

To get rid of remaining excess stones and small rocks, Jackie and Dave
built a raised patio at the bottom of the garden and incorporated two
small circular areas for lawns, one of which is still to be completed

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.

Another special tree – with a leg!

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.

Of all the rocks, a favourite is one which has a tree growing out of it

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

Garden paths

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.
Valerie welcomed us to the garden. She explained that Clive will say that it is her garden because he dislikes gardening – however, she went on to explain that following a back injury the previous six weeks have been very difficult because she was able to do very little and needed his help rather more. Clive does ‘dig holes, shift soil and break rocks’ as his own designed t-shirt admits. Although a particularly difficult time for Valerie, it has also shown that the garden is fulfilling her stated aims: ‘to make this a sustainable garden that has a sense of where we live and which is in keeping with the landscape’. The fact that it has come through this long, intensely hot summer extremely well with very little attention pays tribute to her ideals.

The land as it was in 2003

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:

  • To use native and/or drought-tolerant plants wherever possible
  • To create a water-efficient garden
  • To make a garden that is a balance between design and maintenance so that it becomes largely self-sustaining.

She also had to remember the ‘big picture’: given the lack of trees, there was little shade, so tree planting was a priority.

(There is a full description of this in the article about the Cretan ‘Branch Head’ further down this page. It is also presented in The Mediterranean Garden, No. 63.)

Trees and shrubs now maturing at the top of the bank (with a statue of Athena)

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.

Different plant combinations providing contrasting textures

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.

Palms and yuccas working with the plants such as Phlomis, thyme and
maritima (syn. Urginea maritima, sea squill) already in existence

It is a garden to walk in and to explore the winding paths and hidden areas.
The visit came at the end of a very long, hot summer, and six weeks earlier Valerie fractured vertebrae, which has prevented her from undertaking almost all gardening activities. Despite this, her garden is full of character and is wonderfully rich in flora of all kinds. Visitors found this to be a great achievement and they left with ideas and inspirations.

Many people commented on the use of sweeps of pink Gaura which
was in full bloom and provided a striking contrast to the silver-grey
leaves of Leucophyllum (not in photograph)in the old vegetable plot,
while the white Gaura lindheimeri danced like butterflies in the new
experimental area of the lower bank.

The avli

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.

May 2012
A talk and a return visit to three gardens

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.
Annika greeted us in the Chloroplastes office at Kalives once again with welcoming refreshments. We were reminded of the impressive designs and plans made to suit both the garden locations and client briefs. The reasons for the choice of plants used were also explained. Questions and a good discussion followed.

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.

Garden 1
A lawn and rockery garden of 330 square metres, started in 2009 with work continuing to spring 2011. This consists of two lawns and soft borders to the neighbouring nature with small rockeries. Several of us were attracted to the lovely Scabiosa cretica in flower; unfortunately, the photograph below does not do it justice.

Scabiosa cretica

Here a further discussion took place regarding lawns (again refer to the November 2011 article.)

Many of us liked the Juncus, not seen previously

Garden 2
A nature garden of 600 square metres, it was constructed in 2010 to 2011 to blend with and include a forest inside the garden. Local plant species chosen for this garden were listed previously; on this occasion we were interested in how well the plants were filling out, for example the lavender on either side of the steps.

Lavender filling out now on either side of the steps

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.

Garden 3
A modern villa garden of 580 square metres, constructed in 2010 with four different areas. The rock garden at the entrance with succulents, mediterranean perennials, some fruit trees, hedges of Lavandula and Myrtus and a line of column cypress.

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.

The rock garden

Rosa 'Sonnenröschen'

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:
‘There is nothing like seeing the paper plan materialise into a garden and these were good examples inspiring a rethink of my own amateur, ephemeral designs. Especially interesting was the incorporation of wild flowers (e.g. cow parsley and the use of the yellow flowering Jerusalem sage as a hedge). Planted in this formal fashion, it demonstrates how many other indigenous plants could be used to equal effect.’

Jo Taylor wrote:
‘We always enjoy looking around different gardens because of the inspiration that it brings. After our visit to the Chloroplastes’ gardens I think three words come to mind: Admiration, fascination and reassurance.

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.

The Helichrysum italicum, often referred to as the curry plant, was much admired

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.


April 2012
A spring walk at ‘Spili Bumps’ and surroundings to see orchids and tulips.

A view of the poppy and tulip fields

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.

Tulipa orphanidea ssp. orphanidea

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.

Ophrys scolopax, woodcock orchid

Serapias lingua, tongue orchid

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.

Orchis italica, naked man orchid

Unidentified Orchis sp.

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.

Orchis pauciflora

Tulip and Tragopogon (Salsify or Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon)

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.

Close up in the tulip fields

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.
All content (c) copyrighted by source or author, not to be reproduced without authorization.

website designed and maintained by Hereford Web Design