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A Garden over time: Evaluating the Past, Planning for the Future

by Heidi Gildemeister
photographs by Heidi Gildemeister

For the full text of this article see The Mediterranean Garden No 52, April 2008

This path crosses the cool oak wood (Quercus ilex) that forms part of the backbone of our garden. The underplanting here has to be drought-tolerant since oaks do not tolerate summer watering. After lengthy experimentation, the following plants were found to do well under the conditions prevailing here: Heteromeles arbutifolia, Pittosporum tobira and P. tenuifolium, Rhaphiolepis, a few hebes, and, where the sunlight reaches them, Cistus, Eriocephalus africanus and Rosa banksiae, among many other plants.

We leave most self-sown seedlings to grow on. This picture shows white-flowered echiums (Echium simplex)and beyond them a buckthorn (Rhamnus alaternus)which is clipped annually into a rounded globe and marks a corner.

In full sun, the white-flowered kapok bush Eriocephalus africanus, the climbing Tecomaria capensis and further back the very sturdy Teucrium fruticans cover ground that is unwatered in summer. In the background, a slender cypress in front of centuries-old oak trees leads the eye into the distance.

A whole winter was spent laying a path and steps here, yet the time involved was well worth it. They define the spaces to be planted and allow both the gardener and visitors to walk through the garden dry-footed.

When laying these paths, careful attention was given to creating harmonious curves. They were 'designed' using a hose to mark their contours, thus making it easy to rectify mistakes before the brushed pebble-cement mix was finally poured. On both sides are planted drought-tolerant Pistacia lentiscus, Punica granatum, Garrya elliptica from California and grey-leaved Teucrium fruticans; beyond them, the path leads to an olive grove.

The blue stars of Felicia amelloides bring colour to a cover of drought-tolerant green foliage.

Further on, a happy mixture of spring-flowering blue echiums and golden broom is backed by white veils of Crataegus monogyna. Together they create a reliable groundcover which prevents erosion on dry, sloping ground.

In order to achieve a level path, the terrain had to be built up on the right hand side and the planting carried out on rock. Yet the cabbage tree from New Zealand (Cordyline) does well here; presumably its roots have found their way beneath the path where they are kept cool all summer long.

After this walk through the garden, the bench and table offer a place to rest; behind them in the centre are two cypresses (one of which was planted and the other self-sown).
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