Mediterranean Garden Society

The Crete Branch of the MGS

The Crete Branch is for those who enjoy mediterranean gardens. Members originate from several different countries and for most of us gardening in the Mediterranean is a new challenge. This mix adds interest to the group as backgrounds and gardening experiences are shared in our adopted new or second homes. Gardening here has been traditionally vegetable and olive cultivation; there are few public gardens. Promoting the aims of the society, we exchange ideas and share experiences of particular plants, water management, propagation methods, and controlling pests and diseases. Valuing the landscape and its flora, our programme of events includes wildflower walks and talks.

Our Branch Head is Valerie Whittington (biography). Current and prospective members are welcome to contact her by email and to follow the Branch on their Facebook page.

The photograph at the top of this page shows Balos lagoon, western Crete. Famous for its turquoise water and wild natural beauty, the lagoon and its wider environs have rare species of flora and fauna protected by Natura 2000. Photo Sara Gilding

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Forthcoming Events

19 January - Apokoronas
Highlights from The MGS tour of Italian Gardens in Umbria, 2018

An illustrated talk starting at 11am by Nancy Moon: Highlights from The MGS tour of Italian Gardens in Umbria, 2018. Nancy recommends reading John Joynes’ article in TMG Journal No. 94, October 2018, ‘Excursion to Lazio and Umbria’, which provides good background detail for her talk. This will also be an opportunity to see Nancy and Dave’s garden, Almyrida. Numbers are limited for this event so do book early by emailing but no later than Tuesday 15 January.

5 February - Kefalas
‘Beneath a Mexican Sky’

An illustrated talk at Sara and Roger Gilding’s Studio starting at 10.30am. Manoj Malde will tell his story of ‘Beneath a Mexican Sky’, a Silver Gilt winner in the Fresh Garden category at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2017. This will be a repeat of the talk Manoj gave in September 2017, as several interested members were unable to attend on that occasion. To book your place please email from now as space is limited, closing date 29 January.

Past Events

December 2018
A pre-Christmas get-together at Valerie and Clive Whittington’s home in Drapanos, Apokoronas

Following several days of rain, the sun shone in a clear blue sky

Recently returned from the MGS AGM in Spain, Valerie took the opportunity to share new developments within the society and other topics discussed at the very positive General Assembly held in Alicante.

We reviewed our annual programme for 2018: much had been achieved across the year. All events have written reports on our ‘old’ Branch web page and can still be accessed on the MGS website. Everyone contributed ideas for our branch development and the programme of events for 2019: a good balance of garden visits, presentations and a wildflower walk.

This was also a chance to get together to chat ‘gardens’ over morning coffee. Some stayed to look around the garden, completing a convivial, informative and productive morning. Everywhere was looking lush and green after so much rain this autumn. One member commented how different it looked in comparison to his previous visit in the summer when everywhere was very dry.

Valerie wrote about the development of her garden ‘Designing and Working with Natural Landscape in Crete’ in MGS TMG Journal No. 63. It has matured well and is fulfilling her aims: time for an article on the further development and maintaining the garden, and to celebrate her success.

Terracing around individual plants

This garden visit concentrated on the lower bank to look at particular aspects. For example, as can be seen in the above photograph, simple terracing and stones around individual plants are effective in combating erosion on the bank caused by torrential rain. All the plants in these ‘planting pockets’ have been propagated by Valerie from cuttings.

Mediterranean hillside area

Another view of the mediterranean hillside area

Teucrium fruticans and T. fruticans ‘Azureum’, are beautiful in bloom on the successful ‘mediterranean hillside’ section of the garden. Pyracantha and Lavandula angustafolia blend in well with this section. Providing a delightful contrast is an unusual dark evergreen Senecio, successfully grown from a cutting given by Heidi Gildemeister when Valerie visited her Mallorca garden in 2011.This is propagated frequently and now features in several parts of the terraced garden.

Grevillea rosmanifolia stunning in full flower

A different but unidentified Grevillea

Since writing in the TMG Journal, some of the wild area below the bank has been developed to create a delightful flower bed with Rosemary repens, Grevilleas, Gaura lindeheimeri, Convolvulus cneorum, Tulbaghia and Lavandula angustifolia. The ‘gulley’ at the very bottom of the garden was completely overgrown until five years ago. Now it has been cleared, providing a completely different garden in an old river bed. Valerie is allowing wind-blown seeds to establish here as well as putting in a few cuttings from elsewhere in the garden. Petromarula pinnata and Scutellaria sieberi, both Cretan endemics, now grow here. The latterwas looking very lush after all the recent rain, even though growing in a very stony section. Alongside this an Agave ‘waterfall’ has been very successfully created in an area of steep scree.

The Agave waterfall

June 2018
A Garden visit to Pam and Geoff Dunn’s Guest Housein Douliana, followed by an illustrated talk by Yvonne Innes

Several events have been held at Pam and Geoff Dunn’s home over the years where they have space for us both to meet informally and to enjoy more formal presentations. Members always have the opportunity to look around the garden at these events.

On this occasion, before Yvonne’s talk, Pam showed us around their immaculate garden. For more detail about this lovely garden look at the article written in June 2013. Since that time plants have matured considerably. The photograph above shows well-established succulents and agaves filling the spaces and providing a contrast between the rocks on the side of the path linking the two houses.

Mature trees and shrubs, neatly shaped, were much admired

Further into the garden there were interesting plants such as Cascabela thevetiaor yellow oleander, Caesalpinia gilliesii (syn.Erythrostemon gilliesii) a beautiful shrub commonly known as bird of paradise tree (it is not related to Strelitzia reginae; which is also called the bird of paradise). Leucophyllum frutescens, or barometer bush, has small vibrant purple flowers when watered or after rain; this is a compact but loosely branched shrub that Pam shapes in her garden.

Following the garden tour Yvonne Innes gave a fascinating talk about her commission for the 2008 Chelsea Flower Show. Yvonne is a garden designer and plant consultant who has extensive experience, including work in Spain and France. After George Harrison’s death she designed a Chelsea Flower Show garden in his memory, commissioned by Olivia Harrison, his wife. The main focus for this evening’s presentation was the background, design and implementation of this particular garden called ‘From Life to Life, a Garden for George’. The design for this memorial garden for George Harrison was a celebration of his life, music and philosophy, created to depict his life and journey from the material to the spiritual world.

George and his wife Olivia loved going to the Chelsea Flower Show each year and they brought many ideas home. He was said to have viewed himself as a full-time gardener and part-time rock star. Yvonne spoke of ‘his incredible eye’ and considers that he could easily have been a garden designer himself. Clearly, this is what he was in his own garden of 60 acres, which had been neglected for many years when he bought the derelict property in 1980. It had originally belonged to an eccentric who had created areas of several different microclimates including rock gardens, caves, moss, water gardens and a lake.

Yvonne talked of the privilege of creating gardens at Chelsea. Given the commission, she expressed how the ‘world was her oyster’, being able to choose her team, plants and materials with no problem. This was, she said, a dream job, whatever you can draw you can build. She is immensely proud of the results, and rightly so.

To provide the context for her design, she started by giving insight into the background of George’s own garden at his home in Friar Park, Henley. She has been involved in designing and planning sections over the years and she retains her links there. This was fascinating and helped provide ideas for the design of the memorial garden. Friar Park remains a private garden; key plants and features chosen for Chelsea were those that were much loved there, such as maples, ferns, grasses, moss, Japanese anemones and other perennials.

So to the design as seen in the photograph below. The model shows the idea of the ‘moving through the ages’ pathway.

Divided into four areas representing different stages in George’s life: the Liverpool Garden representing his childhood, the Psychedelic 1960s Garden (the Beatle years), the Contemplative Garden (post-Beatle years) and the Afterlife Garden.

The Temple Pavilion under construction

The implementation of the building work started four to five weeks before the show week. All materials were chosen to be as eco-friendly as possible. For example, red bricks from Liverpool and a bicycle Olivia found that was identical to the one from a childhood photograph of George were used in the first section.

The pathway

The ages pathway was made in colours reflecting that stage of life. Brian Clarke, a glass artist, produced the amazing mosaic of Liverpool and the Liver Building for the childhood section. This was an impressive 1.2 metres wide. Yvonne chose to make a vegetable garden alongside this with plants such as peas, beans, parsley, cabbage and kale. George’s father was a keen vegetable grower and this was strongly reflected in his interest in gardening from an early age.

Colour changes from blue to red, orange and yellow as the path moves into the Psychedelic garden. Then it changes from blueish into white. Planting alongside reflects these colour changes admirably.

The pathway is protected as plants arrive and are placed in position ready for planting

The design comes to life as trees are in place and finishing touches are made to the Temple Pavilion

The Psychedelic Garden is jam-packed with hundreds of plants of vibrant colours. Yvonne had submitted a plant list with the design plan to provide the effect she wanted, but she explained that the planting list you start out with is not necessarily the one you end up with, as plant crops may fail or their names are changed etc. So it is really a sort of plants 'such as' list with a few definite ones which plant enthusiasts will be able to identify themselves. The whole Chelsea week is so rushed that there is not time to redo the list with the additions of plants you have managed to scavenge from local nurseries.

Plants such as Acer palmatum "Atropurpureum" and Heuchera micrantha "Palace Purple" provide purple foliage, with Allium "Purple Sensation" and Lupinus "Masterpiece" for purple flowers. Examples of yellow and orange foliage were Heuchera "Caramel" and Ligustrum ovalifolium "Aureum", while for yellow and orange flowers Achillea "Moonshine", Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus and Forsythia "Lynwood Gold" were planned choices. Centranthus ruber, Lupinus "My Castle" and various roses were examples of red flowers. Blue and silver foliage examples were Achillea "Moonshine" and Santolina decumbens (syn. Santolina incana), while for flowers Ceanothus "Blue Mound", Delphinium "Bluebird" Lupinus "Gallery Blue", and Rheum and Hosta varieties. Pittosporum "Garnettii" and Miscanthus sinensis "Variegatus" provided variegated foliage.

The vegetable garden can be seen bordering the Psychedelic garden with simple fencing delineating each one, and the ‘Here comes the Sun’ mosaic sunflower stands proud within the planting area

The post-Beatles garden was a contemplative garden. For this, Yvonne chose Betula utilis var. jacquemontii (Himalayan birch), having a more static, formal, upright habit than a silver birch with a denser crown, ideal for use as a specimen tree. Moss, a variety of ferns and wild grasses from Friar Park were also incorporated into the design. A water wall with a larger than life picture of George was featured at the end of this section.

The Indian Temple was erected with beautiful artisan touches, it was intended to be ethereal. We were shown details of the tiny mosaic finish and lattice work inside the pavilion and the benches which were covered with beautifully made cushions. The base of the pavilion was inscribed: ‘Floating down the stream of time, of life to life ... with me’ (An extract from lyrics written by George).

In the After Life garden, the planting was primarily white with choices such as white roses and lupins, Phlox paniculata, Cornus controversa "Variegata", Heucheravarieties and Hosta "Bressingham Blue. The result was exquisite.

This was a fascinating presentation. All of us at the event were of an age when we knew of George Harrison but not necessarily the details of his life and values. Listening and seeing aspects of this that led to the design and making of ‘From Life to Life, a Garden for George,’ a memorial garden at the Chelsea Flower Show, was a privilege.

Yvonne described her involvement in making this garden as an amazing experience; everyone wanted to be part of it and to give of their best. It seemed appropriate to learn that the pavilion went to Friar Park.

We were delighted to welcome Yvonne Innes to Crete and thank her for an inspiring presentation and experience. She is a fellow MGS member, now living in the South of France. Our branch prides itself on welcoming members from elsewhere.

A bring and share supper on Pam and Geoff’s delightful terrace completed the evening, thank you both. Also thank you to Pam for showing us around the garden.

Text and photographs from Pam’s garden by Valerie Whittington
Photographs from Chelsea by Yvonne Innes

For older reports and articles please check out the archived (non-responsive) Crete Branch page.

Branch Head Valerie Whittington
Valerie retired with her husband, Clive, to live full-time in Crete in 2005, having had a holiday home here since 2000. Their house is built on an exposed, windswept hillside with cold harsh winds in winter and severe, hot, desiccating ones in the heat of summer; this hillside was previously home only to goats.

Gardening is Valerie’s passion and, with little previous experience of plants of the mediterranean, she is developing a garden which is in keeping with the landscape, which attempts to be waterwise and where new plants coexist with the original flora.Valerie has written about her garden for The Mediterranean Garden, No. 63.

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