Mediterranean Garden Society

Pre-AGM visit to Corfu, October 2019

By Valerie Whittington
photographs by Valerie Whittington

Photographs to illustrate the article published in The Mediterranean Garden No. 99, January 2020

The photo at the top of this page shows a rosemary-lined path at Kanonas (Photo Valerie Whittington)

Visiting Corfu for the first time, Valerie Whittington reports for us her impressions of the Pre-AGM tour. She writes:

It is an island I have wanted to see for many years but never quite managed to do so. Flying into Corfu airport gave me a surprise – everywhere was so green and there was an abundance of trees. On Crete, where I live, we were still waiting for rain after almost five months, everywhere parched and thirsty.

Caroline Davies had put together a varied and interesting programme which took us to several different areas on the island. Our first day took us north to Zetouna, Kassiopi, the garden created and owned by MGS member Rachel Weaving, author of the book Gardens of Corfu. The vista is spectacular, having a “180-degree perspective over the hills and village below, across the sea to the Albanian coast and mountains beyond”. Rachel described how during the 15 years she has lived here the garden has been shaped by the climate and environment. Her intention is not to compete with nature, rather to bond with the landscape.

Views from the garden across the sea to Albania

Left to wander on our own, I found this a very peaceful environment with lots of shade. Half of the area of 0.7 hectares has been left to value the olive trees and pencil cypresses already there. For me, this set the tone of tranquillity, especially with shafts of sunlight beaming through the branches. More formal planting has simple stone terracing with neatly clipped and shaped plants such as lavender, rosemary, Pittosporum tobira ‘Nana’ and box. I enjoyed the simple soft tones at this time of year – blues from Felicia and Plumbago auriculata ‘Blue’ and white from Plumbago auriculata ‘Alba’, with silver from grouped and shaped lavenders. It is understated planting, although one phormium in prime position makes a bold statement.

Phormium makes a bold statement

Our next garden visit was to Casa Lucia, the home of MGS member Valerie Osborne. The gardens which link the buildings were created using local plants, blending with the original olives, cypresses, quinces and Judas trees. Bougainvillea, roses and geraniums, citrus, peach, fig and apricot trees flourish around simple lawns. Ray Sanders, their gardener (an MGS member) created the gardens as they are now. His signature euonymus hedge is impressive and on a large scale. This he clipped beautifully into flowing lines circling a large area of lawn. He died in 2017 and he is missed; there is a real challenge in maintaining his fine sculptural achievement.

Clipped euonymus hedge at Casa Lucia

I liked the swimming pool area at the centre of the garden with its mosaics, screened by pergolas of jasmine, bignonia and roses to create a private, peaceful oasis with both fragrance and shade. There is a natural feel to the rosemary and lavender hedges providing divisions between one area of the garden and another. Given the recent rain, there were several delightful autumnal treasures with Cyclamen hederifolium in flower and areas brightened by Sternbergia lutea.

Lovely old pot at Casa Lucia

On our final day the journey to the peninsulas of Kanonas and Strongilo, close to the Albanian coast, was a delight in itself. It was along a beautiful coast road with twists and turns which afforded glimpses of picture-postcard bays with views from many vantage points across to Albania.

The layout of the entrance courtyard to this family home is delightful, inspired by local sources such as the Venetian architecture, local stone and olive presses which are significant features on the island. Exquisite, intricate pebble mosaics designed by the artist Nicolas Ghika dress the various courtyard areas. Classical statuary and fragments are dotted around, reflecting the owner’s interest in all things cultural. The building is tasteful and understated, with interesting art and artefacts but it is a home, not a museum. It is comfortable and inviting with warm colours throughout, making the most of the light and breath-taking sea views.

Courtyard with mosaics designed by Nicolas Ghika at Kanonas

In the garden, the owner’s love for the place is evident everywhere, not just in the artefacts which integrate within and without the home; his strong influence is maintained in the development of the garden too, for example, in the positioning of trees and the idea of exposing a whole area of bedrock near the house. This makes an intriguing and effective feature. I loved the whimsical touch of two hammocks placed at the top of this area.

Cleared rock pavement with hammock, Kanonas

Beyond this, we walked through the peaceful olive groves carpeted with Cyclamen hederifolium and tiny, delicate narcissi starting to show after the recent rains. Following the path down and along the beach, I was astonished at the thousands of flowering pink cyclamens all the way along; I have never seen so many in such concentration as this (see photo here). The garden has an untouched natural feel. The olive grove, with its tall specimens, allowed shafts of sunlight to filter through the trees creating a golden glow. The grove is strimmed once a year to encourage the abundance of wild flowers.

Nothing could have prepared us for the first sight of the landscaped area leading to the house. An enormous swimming pool carved out of the quarry was breath-taking, both in its concept and in the stunning views across the sea to Albania. Large olives were brought in to soften the original starkness of the layout but are now pruned regularly to maintain the views. Myrtles above the pool are pruned into cloud shapes.

Pool carved out of the rock

Rosmarinus officinalis var. repens softens the area as it overhangs the top of the quarry wall in places. Running alongside the pool is an impressive well-shaped rosemary-lined path (see photo at the top of this page). Planting is kept simple and always in keeping with the natural surroundings. Columnar cypresses punctuate the view in clusters. The colour palette is restricted and muted, reflecting the natural colours of the land. Restricted use of plumbago bordered another corner by the covered pergola, as well as the silvery-grey Westringia fruticosa and Teucrium fruticans.

The Gastouri garden of Cali Doxiadis, a former MGS president, talented gardener and cook, was our final event. Cali has written an article about the garden in the October issue of this journal (TMG 98). This was a very, very peaceful garden, one to walk in at will: shady areas with swathes of Cyclamen hederifolium, patches of Sternbergia lutea and the odd Amaryllis belladonna under mixed varieties of trees including local oak.

Sternbergia lutea and sea view at Gastouri

Furthest away from the house seemed to me like a fairy wood with moss and lichen growing on fallen branches – an area for exploring, to find out what one can see at different times of the year. Birdsong filled the air. Sun filtered through the trees.

The ‘fairy wood’ at Gastouri

Returning towards the house, I enjoyed my sort of garden: the agaves, Euphorbia dendroides just coming into leaf after their summer dormancy, Tulbaghia, furcraeas, gazanias and echiums.

Thanks must go to all the garden owners, their workers and the knowledgeable guides at our various venues, and to Caroline Davies in particular for making this very worthwhile tour a reality.

The house at Gastouri from the vineyard

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