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The Balearic Islands Branch of the MGS
A talk about the history, cultivation, propagation and care of olives trees on Mallorca
Following the tradition started last year, twenty-five members met at the Sóller Botanical Garden for an introduction from its Director, Pep Lluis Gradaille, and a fascinating talk by the young Mallorquín agronomist Llorenç Payeras. Last year we learned about citrus growing, this year the theme was all there is to know about olives on Mallorca.
Payeras introduced the talk by giving a history of the cultivation of olives, Olea europaea, and how this hadspread to our islands,brought initially by the Phoenicians and continued by the Romans. The three most popular varieties of olive here are now the Mallorquína, the Picual, originally from Andalucía and the Arbequina, originally from Cataluña. During the 13th century oil was exported on a large scale from Mallorca to North Africa, and from the 15th century until the 18th century oil was traded from the Port of Sóller in exchange for wheat, a commodity always deficient on the island.
Olive trees in our Tramuntana mountains are on average 500 years old, but they can live for much longer, with no special care or extra water, which is why they are such a valuable crop in dry climates. Modern olive farming methods are more intensive than in former times, and fertilisers, pesticides and irrigation are now used to produce early and heavy crops. Although commercially viable, the old-timers say the oil from these fruits has a different flavour from that of older extraction methods.
Following his talk and time for questions, Payeras accompanied us to an ancient olive grove high up in the mountains above the town where, in a raging thunderstorm, with lightning crashing around us, he attempted to give a demonstration of how to prune correctly. Defeated by the threat of imminent extinction, we retired to the nearby finca to enjoy a wonderful lunch, all made from local produce and prepared for us by people from the village. Thus fortified, we inspected a modern olive press on the farm, a stainless steel machine which can process 150 l of oil per hour, before heading down to the old town of Sóller, where we were treated to a very special moment. Inside the 400-year old building of Ca'n Det, we watched the grinding and extraction of oil from olives using the only original working mill left on the island, three ancient and enormous stones turning on their wheel as they have done since the mill began. The only thing that has changed is the use of electricity instead of donkey power, and there was something immensely moving about this sight in today's fast, modern world. It was moving to see everyone's faces as they watched the wheels turn, and the wicker baskets being packed with pulp and stacked under the press to extract the oil. We all went home with a lovely bottle of fresh green oil, and very happy memories of an excellent day.
Wicker baskets being packed with pulp.
Son Menut and the Lluc Monastery Garden
Son Menut is the home of the Forestry Department, the Vivero Forestal, a public institution known as the Centre Forestal de les Illes Balears, run and organised by the Department of the Environment of the Balearic Government. Established in 1933, Son Menut was created to produce trees and plants native to the Tramuntana mountain range, and to conserve their seeds. The finca comprises a well-established and impressive seed bank, which we visited, as well as a large nursery where thousands of trees are grown and brought on, before being transplanted back into the forest. The team who work at the project are enormously enthusiastic, keen and helpful, and we were all immensely impressed by the dedication of these few young people to the nature conservancy of their island.
Following the visit, we returned to the ancient monastery at Lluc, where we were shown the botanical garden started by Brother Macía some thirty years ago. The garden is looked after by volunteers, either monks or young people who offer their services to keep this tranquil place clean and in good order. This was a special spot, conducive to meditation and contemplation, and we all enjoyed moments of peace as we walked around, as well as the excellent lunch which followed in the old monastery refectory.
Visit to Mark Whiting's new garden project
This was a beautiful small private garden in a rural area within the Tramuntana Natural Park which Mark Whiting had recently designed for his clients. The site was an old olive grove, situated on steeply sloping terraces which had all been restored and extended. The owners had required a garden of low maintenance and low cost; not being experienced gardeners themselves, they did not wish to become 'slaves' to the garden when they were on holiday. Mark's brief was therefore to provide a low maintenance, low water-consumption garden, full of the colour his clients desired, whilst not detracting in any way from the stunning natural scenery around the site. He achieved this by the clever use of winding paths and different 'rooms' leading off the paths to allow the eye to wander into areas of colour and shape at will. The old Olea europaea trees provided height and structure and a sense of timelessness, whilst Mark's use of Allium, Agapanthus and Rosmarinus provided contrast and colour. The garden appeared much larger than it actually is, thanks to his use of the paths and the gradient of the different terraces. The plants themselves were not unusual, having been chosen to be safe and easy to keep, but the overall effect was that of a large, impressive, full and bountiful mature garden, a real triumph to Mark's skill as a garden designer.
Talk by Xa Tollemache
We were incredibly privileged to host the world-renowned garden designer Xa Tollemache at our branch meeting in May. Xa is the cousin of one of our members, and had kindly agreed to fly over for a weekend to talk to us about her work. Xa lives and works at Helmingham Hall near Stowmarket in Suffolk, which boasts one of the few Grade 1 listed gardens in England. Helmingham has been in the Tollemache family for centuries, and Xa has taken it upon herself to redesign the ancient gardens extensively over the last twenty-five years. The 400-acre estate comprises a deer park, a moat, and serene gardens one of which, the walled garden, dates from 1745. Xa has to this added two rose gardens and several knot gardens.
Xa has been designing gardens since 1996, and she has worked in the USA, Scandinavia, London and all over Europe. She describes her style as ¨classic contemporary¨, and says she uses the influence of the landscape, the house and the lives of those who live there for her inspiration.
Xa gave a fascinating talk in the garden at Ca'n Beya where, in spite of rain showers, wind and numerous distractions, she kept her large audience enthralled throughout the morning. Her talk, with slides, told of her career throughout the world, and described how her style has evolved and changed with time and experience. This was a truly interesting morning, and we thank Xa for her enthusiasm and interest.
Text by Sally Beale
An organic garden and vegetable growing cooperative in Puigpunyent
Forty-three MGS members enjoyed a fascinating morning at the home of local member Laura Dirienzo, who gardens on 37,000 m2 in the hills above the mountain village of Puigpunyent. The land is steeply terraced and bordered by no less than three mountain streams (torrentes) which periodically run after winter rains and provide all the water needed for irrigation. Ancient drystone walls lend a timeless feel to the wild areas of this special place, and as one wanders from level to level amongst fields of wild orchids, one could be forgiven for thinking that time had left this paradise behind to dream in peace.
The woodland garden.
There are orchards of fruit trees, and olives and citrus, mostly quite young, as well as grape vines, holm oaks (Quercus ilex) and pines (Pinus halepensis). All are looked after, pruned and loved by Laura alone, with practically no outside help. As she told us, the garden is her passion, and it certainly shows.
Laura in her garden.
At the bottom of the land is a vegetable garden, only three years old, but already full of rich composted soil and an impressive selection of vegetables and roots. The plot is run as a cooperative venture by Laura and two keen friends who share the work, the pleasure and the large quantity of produce. Even in March the variety of plants on show was astonishing, and a hollow tree trunk nearby swarmed with wild bees which act as natural pollinators to the crops.
The organic vegetable garden.
As well as the beauty of the garden itself, we were overwhelmed by the energy and commitment of the owner. Laura gardens entirely according to organic principles, mixing and fermenting all her herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers from natural sources, such as home-grown comfrey, wild nettles and horse-tail. These are stored in containers next to the vegetables and used for every treatment necessary to control pests and encourage healthy growth, as are local seaweed and horse manure. A mixture of Neem oil and potassium soap is used to keep aphids at bay, and plantings of marigolds amongst the vegetable crops attract desirable insects.
Sniffing the organic pesticide.
Laura explained that true organic gardening is not difficult in principle, but it does require total commitment and hard work, as one must keep constantly on top of the situation and not allow pests to get out of control. This was a really inspiring and instructive visit and we are grateful to our hostess for taking the time out from her busy schedule to share her lovely garden with us.
A visit to Renate Goldberger's garden - Calonge
The Balearic Branch began the year with a visit to the fascinating garden of MGS member Renate Goldberger. Renate's garden is more than seventeen years old, so it is well established and self-protected from the cold winds of February by the mature trees which now surround it. Renate is a true plantswoman, and the garden is a reflection of her passion for Mediterranean plants of an astonishing variety. The gravel paths between the beds were strewn with self-seeded anemones, a riot of colour on a dull winter day. This garden is always interesting, as it contains many species that most of us are unfamiliar with, so one always comes away feeling one has learned something after a visit. Renate is an encyclopedia of knowledge in her field, and following her around the garden is always a joy.
The visit was very well attended, with over thirty members present.
Photos by Sally Beale
Visit to Jaime Coll's Cactus Garden
Jaime gave us a fascinating account of the biology and cultivation of cacti. Cacti are an American group of plants and are found in a wide range of semi-arid habitats from Canada to Patagonia, from 4000m to sea level. Some even grow on trees in tropical forests but few occur in real deserts. Cacti are divided into three large subgroups:
- tall and unbranched with rudimentary leaves and thorns, the most primitive form
- branched cacti which evolved from 1.
- spherical cacti, the most recent and most water-efficient subgroup (a sphere is the shape that holds the greatest volume per surface area).
All xerophytic plants have developed special water-saving features to make them drought-resistant, but none of them can live completely without water. Jaime showed us amazing examples of the water-saving features of some succulents, which include fleshy and/or light-reflecting silver leaves, enormous roots and swollen trunks.
Moving on to cacti, he discussed their water-saving adaptations which include:
- Leaves replaced by spines in order to reduce transpiration (this, however, impacts negatively on photosynthetic capacity, thus causing a slow growth rate).
- Dense spines, "hair" and ridges that produce shade.
- "Hair" can trap moisture in fog, which is then guided toward the roots by the ridges.
- Night-flowering. Some flower as little as one night a year. Those that flower during the day generally have much smaller flowers.
- Respiration occurs only at night. During the day, while photosynthesis is in progress, the stomata remain tightly closed and there is no gas exchange.
In order to germinate cactus seeds need shelter from the sun – provided either by the mother plant or by another host shrub.
- Drainage: most important! Water well once totally dry (pots usually need to be watered once per week.)
- Water: very important during growth in spring. Cacti go dormant in late summer and water can be withheld from August. Cacti in the garden need much less water and tend to withstand wind better if watered less rather than more.
- Soil: ordinary soil (2/3), fine gravel/coarse sand (1/3)
- Feeding: Jaime uses a thick layer of cow or goat manure once a year, usually in autumn. Wood ash adds important nutrients.
- Weeds: can be reduced with a thick mulch of pine needles or stones. Special implements: long surgical tweezers, barbecue tongs.
- Pests: few. For cochineal, paint on a mixture of beer and washing-up liquid.
At the end of his presentation Jaime generously conducted a little raffle and … won a container of echeverias.
A selection of Jaime's cacti.
Happy browsers amongst the cacti.
Photos by Sally Beale
Talks by Jim Gardiner and Roy Lancaster
On Friday 12 March the Balearic branch of the MGS was extremely privileged to host two of the UK's best-known horticulturists and gardeners. Jim Gardiner, a cousin of one of our branch members, and Roy Lancaster gave a talk in Sóller to 90 MGS members in the College of the Sacred Heart. The two had brought their wives to Mallorca for a few days' break and a spot of plant-hunting, and they generously gave up a morning of their stay to talk to us.
Jim Gardiner has been curator of RHS Wisley for over 20 years and since last November is the chief curator of all the RHS gardens. He kicked off the morning with a fascinating talk about the evolution of Wisley, the jewel in the crown of the RHS. He described the painstaking redevelopment of the Wisley gardens, including the building of the pioneering and vast glass house, which cost 7.7m pounds and covers an area the size of ten tennis courts. He talked about the future of gardening in the modern world, and told us about the many courses the RHS runs to encourage enthusiasm and skill in young people.
Roy Lancaster is a well-known panelist on BBC Gardener's Question Time, a best-selling author, and a world-travelled plant hunter. In a fascinating talk, accompanied by slides, he told us of his love for the native plants of China, of his travels in Nepal, and of the 1,000 plants he grows in his own garden in England. As a child, Roy catalogued all the wild flowers growing within a ten-mile radius of his home, and from there went on to become a dedicated and committed gardener and plantsman.
Both Jim's and Roy's talks were inspiring and humbling, and we at the Balearic branch of the MGS enjoyed them enormously. We hope to be able to tempt them back to us again one day.
MGS makes headlines
MGS Balearic Branch visit to Sa Canova Experimental Farm and Sa Teulera Organic Farm
Sa Canova Experimental Farm is a joint venture with the Balearic Government's department of agriculture and fishing and the Obra Social de Sa Nostra. The finca explores a wide range of experimental practices which provide data to Central Government and also on a more local scale to the island's farmers.
We were given a tour by one of only five permanent staff who look after the 160,000 square metre finca. One of the most important functions of the farm is the investigations being carried out on almond varieties. They grow 90 varieties of almond on the finca, whose flowers cover a spectrum from white through pink to almost purple. At harvest half a kilo is collected from each tree and analysed by the Consell for weight, dimensions and thickness of husk. The almond trees are crowned in March to enable easy harvest and watered in August to swell the harvest.
Further experiments are also being carried out on rosemary; an astounding 97 varieties are grown of which the flowers are harvested and sent to Germany for processing and research as regards their medicinal use. We were also shown the weather station where a range of data is recorded and sent automatically to the Consell in Palma and Madrid.
A large olive grove is also used for experimentation into new varieties. The 350 trees yield around 5,000 kg of olives each season. Education is evidently very important at the farm: the agricultural college is closely linked to work on the farm and while we were visiting students from a local school from Sa Pobla were being shown the organic vegetable plots. These are based on the principles introduced by Mallorcan Gaspar Caballero. A simple rotation system is used with very specific principles where soil in the beds must never be trodden on and beds have central stepping stones, from honeycomb roof tiles, providing shelter to beneficial insects. We were told that these beds are not used for production but to enable children to plant seedlings - with so many school visits it would not be possible to let the plants grow to maturity.
Commercially the farm grows roses and other cut flowers for sale to florists, thus helping to sustain the valuable experimental work.
The day also took us to Sa Teulera Organic Farm near Manacor. Before having a tour of the new greenhouse we raided the organic farm shop. I think much of the delicious range of bread and cakes, fresh cheeses and vegetables were cleared from the shelves before we were shown the newly constructed greenhouses. Following organic rotation practices, the greenhouse was split into four sections, one of which hosts several hundred chickens that help to clear the soil and provide excellent fertilizer. Due to the confined nature of greenhouse production they have experienced a tough learning curve dealing with the pests and diseases which thrive in such conditions. Despite this, they are following their beliefs and maintaining the organic principles on which the farm is based. We should all wish them every success.
Greenhouses at Sa Canova
Visits to a Garden in the Making and a Well-Established Garden
Son Muda, a dream come true - a garden in the making
Many people claim to dream in colour, but at the renovated 300-year old finca, Son Muda, the owners are dreaming all in white. Forty MGS members were treated to a feast for the senses at this two-month-old garden in the making — and how interesting it was. Designed by the owner, with the professional advice and help of Andi Lechte, one of our branch members, this 15,000 square metre garden is coming to life as a place where the owners' friends can come to relax, unwind, and soothe their souls. Planned on parallel lines and symmetrical rectangles, the garden encompasses different 'rooms', in which are planted row upon row of Convolvulus, Westringia and Rosmarinus. Zoysia will be planted shortly as a no-mow grass substitute, and white lavender, gauras and salvias are already in place attracting thousands of bees and butterflies. Allium, Deutzia, Melaleuca, Statice... the list is endless, all white and all planted in a specially prepared mixture of coco peat, humus, soil and lava stone. This soil is free-draining, but moisture-retentive and most beds will eventually be mulched with sun-reflecting lava gravel.
The Tibetan knot garden, a never-ending design planted in Buxus, is a tribute to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as well as an affectionate reminder of the owners' two Tibetan terrier dogs. Shade is provided by old wild olive trees, under which a 'room' of clipped Teucrium and olive balls is the setting for a pretty seat on which to relax and admire the symmetry beyond.
The garden is completely ecological. No artificial chemicals being used in its maintenance, it is fertilized with a liquid mixture of sheep urine and iron, and watered by a drip system using water from the property's well. We were given a wonderful lunch under the old trees after our tour of the garden, and we all enjoyed a chance to cool off on a very hot day with a glass of ice-cold rosé wine. It was particularly interesting for us to see the garden before it was finished, and we hope to be able to return as it develops and matures. A big thank you to the owners for sharing their dreams with us.
Can Estel – A Well-Established Garden/Park
The retired owners bought the property of Can Estel in 1991, and set about clearing the land and building a large house to provide a holiday home for their extended family and themselves. A well was dug to provide water for the new garden they were to create, and rainwater tanks were constructed under the house and in the garden. Since then the garden has expanded year by year so that it now encompasses almost all of the 33,000 square metre plot. It is a heavenly place, with a truly peaceful feeling, and we all fell under its spell.
From the terrace we immediately came upon the 'shade house', a large room made of wooden slats, painted dark green, with a central fountain, where the owner places the plants she has propagated to acclimatize them to the outdoors before they are planted out. In here we found all manners of exotica, and the feeling was very reminiscent of the glass houses at Kew, though cooler and shadier inside.
Continuing along the path we entered a scented garden, then an ornamental garden adorned with large old topiaries of Buxus and Pistacia. At the end of every avenue or path we came upon replicas of antique sculptures. The god Dionysus himself looked down upon us at several turns in the path, and guided us down to the most astonishing sight of all, an entire field of Lavandula angustifolia in full and glorious scented bloom. Above this rose ancient carob trees whose shade made a delightful contrast to the colour of the mauve flowers in the full sun. Turning a corner, we came upon the citrus orchard, each tree under-planted with a hedge of Pittosporum to add interest. Next was the soft fruit orchard where gardeners were picking yellow plums for us to enjoy later on. Behind this was an iron structure, built to give the feel of being in a room with no walls and no ceiling: just a skeleton of a room outdoors. This led to the English Rose garden, no longer in bloom in late June, and thence to the infinity swimming pool, flanked by high green hedges, with an open vista to the view beyond and a white marble statue of a reclining nude lying peacefully at the far end.
A place of utter tranquillity and charm, this established garden delights the eye and the senses, and engenders a feeling of calm. In winter the owners can sit by the rushing torrent of a natural stream which flows across the property at times of high rainfall. As well as being a master gardener, the owner is also an excellent cook and we were treated to a delicious homemade apple cake and coffee as we relaxed in the shade. We so appreciated their hospitality and look forward to returning to their magical garden in the future.
Son Muda, the future white garden.
Lavender and carob tree.
Agapanthus, rosemary and white convolvulus.
Can Estel, the view from the terrace.
Can Estel's topiary.
The Shade House.
The torrent at Can Estel.
Photographs by Mark Whiting
The visit to the beautiful garden at Son Muleta was inspiring. As you approach the property you are struck by an immediate emotional response. It certainly has a ‘genius loci': the owner's idea was ‘to plant a garden that would fit into the landscape, not exactly wild, but definitely mediterranean'. With the help of Heidi Gildemeister's book on low-water gardening, and in only five years, she has completely transformed this previously abandoned olive and almond farm. Low water consumption has become a necessity since, having failed to find a water source (despite digging a very deep but ultimately dry exploratory borehole), they have to rely on tanker delivery for the water supply.
The existing soil was very thin and lacked humus, so the owner imported a large amount of topsoil to support the new plantings. The shrub and herbaceous plantings surrounding the house are of a restricted palette of greens, whites and blues. The planting is typically mediterranean with a mixture of plants such as Pistacia lentiscus, Pinus, Phoenix, Rosmarinus, Echium, Lavandula, Agapanthus and Tulbaghia. On the terraces, and occasionally through the main planting, are pinks and reds provided by roses and pots of pelargoniums.
The wilder areas of the garden, which extend upwards away from the house and merge into the wild, include typical native flora such as seasonal wild flowers, orchids (Barlia robertiana), wild olive, Pinus, carob (Ceratonia siliqua), grasses (particularly Ampelodesmos mauritanicus), Cistus salviifolius and Pistacia lentiscus.
An especially effective focal point in the garden is the bench (painted a lilac blue), sitting perfectly at the end of the aromatic path through lavender, sage and rosemary. The stone statue also works well under the Cupressus arch.
Overall, I think we all saw how well simplicity, scale, proportion and rhythm have created a very harmonious garden.
Sally Beale's garden in S'Arraco was another garden we were lucky to visit. Some members had seen Sally's garden before, but they too were keen to see how it had matured and developed. Sally's garden is extremely steep, which, while I'm sure it gives a bit of a headache when working in it, provides amazing views over the village and valley below.
The garden was started in the summer of 2003 and took six weeks with a digger moving 600 tonnes of topsoil to provide a base in which to start the planting. The curving steps leading up through the garden invite you up to the upper levels and, as you pass under the wisteria-covered pergola, you experience a welcome shade from the summer sun. Perched above the entire garden is the infinity pool complete with a mini-kitchen so, once there, you can stay for the entire day.
Another notable feature of Sally's garden is the ‘English Rose Garden' she has created. The entire bed was a riot of every colour imaginable. All the roses came bare-rooted, posted in jiffy bags, from David Austin Roses in England. This bed certainly shows how well English roses withstand the mediterranean heat as long as they are given good soil conditions and an annual mulch of horse manure.
It was certainly amazing to think this garden is only six years old. The careful clipping of the wild olive and Pistacia lentiscus into topiary forms gives a real sense of age and structure to the garden. It is a very green and lush space, the mix of a large range of typically mediterranean plants giving a guarantee of interest and colour throughout the year.
Son Muleta blue bench focus
A mediterranean garden
The wilder areas of the garden merge into the wild
Can Beya water feature
Can Beya rose garden
Rhythm and simplicity
Photos by Mark Whiting
Visit to the Languedoc
After a good night in our hotel, we met Gill Pound to start our walk in the garrigue countryside under a threatening and darkening sky. This 5-km circuit revealed an array of beautiful bulbs, flowers and shrubs in bloom – all growing among a cover of pine trees and scrub in stony ground. Rain poured from the skies. Gill generously provided shelter at her home for a delicious picnic lunch. Improved weather enabled us to see the specialist plant nursery and recently established garden which is home to an enormous range of drought-tolerant trees, shrubs and perennials.
During the afternoon we visited Liz and Jacques Thompson's garden which they have restored over many years. Formal areas close to the house gave way to the periphery which is planted harmoniously to integrate with the hills beyond.
Arriving in Mèze, we met Olivier Filippi. He spoke enthusiastically about his theories
and practices for creating a garden with drought-tolerant plants. Strategies for propagation and management of young plants were explained and illustrated. Soil preparation prior to planting is essential, together with an appropriate watering regime during the first year (no drip systems here). Thereafter the plants should have healthy, deep root systems to enable them to cope alone with drought. These theories are successfully put into practice by growing a very strict selection of plants from a drought-tolerant list. This still gives us a portfolio of around 7,000 plants.
A walk through the garden with Olivier pointing out his views was a joy; the "dry river bed" reminded me of Beth Chatto's gravel garden plantings. I am about to fly the flag, face the challenge of the dry south in Mallorca and plant Filippi's way in September 2009.
After lunch at the charming port of Marseillan we visited the fascinating Jardin de St. Adrien at Servian. This testament to one's man's vision and enthusiasm is a prize-winning landscaped park created out of an abandoned quarry dating back to the Middle Ages.
Deep in Cathar country, day 3 allowed a brief detour from plants to visit mediaeval Minerve. Dramatically and strategically positioned on a natural causse between two rivers, Minerve withstood siege for five weeks in 1210 until its secret water source was destroyed. We visited the Archaeological Museum which the keeper then closed to allow us into the 11/12th century church with a foot-long key. The 5th-century stone altar, covered in ancient graffiti, was lit by tiny windows high in the walls. But the abiding memory of Minerve is the white stone stele with the blue sky visible through the shape of a bird on the wing. It commemorates the 180 Cathar "parfaits", their "bons hommes" (priests), burnt at the stake on this spot.
After a splendid lunch overlooking vineyards and the snow-covered Pyrenees beyond, we headed for the garden of La Bouichère at Limoux. The garden is spread over two hectares and there are many aromatic and perfumed perennials which are suitable for the dry garden, together with trees and shrubs.
The annual Plant Fair is held at the Abbaye de Fontfroide which is being beautifully restored by volunteers. Cut flowers, cactus, vegetable plants, herbs, perennial plants and shrubs were all for sale. Within the Abbey many artisans had stands selling hand-made paper, turned wood, ceramics and stone masonry. Members of the Languedoc and Catalan Branches were there and joined us for a packed lunch, after which we were given an illuminating talk by the MGS Seedbank coordinator, Chantal Guiraud.
Time then to head for our cars, and drive to Barcelona to catch the overnight ferry to Mallorca. A varied programme had been highly successful and informative for all of us, and thanks go to all those in France and Mallorca who planned the programme.
By Marjorie Gouvenot-Gardiner, Peta Jensen and Andrew Beith.
Liz and Jacques' garden
At Olivier Filippi's
Fontfroide Flower Fair
Photos by Marjorie Gouvenot-Gardiner, Jacques Thompson and Andrew Beith.
Garden and Organic Farm Visit
The name of the property is Xarbet, a Mallorcan word meaning "murmur of water". From most areas of the garden you can hear the sound of water falling, providing you with a feeling of peace and while all your senses are filled with the different scents and colours.
The garden is 15 years old and contains nearly 300 plant varieties. Its design is strongly influenced by Renaissance Italy. With this garden, I was attempting to recreate the real antique Balearic garden and its italianate roots. Around 1650, a very intelligent man, Cardinal Despuig, brought from Italy many architects and landscape designers to build most of the beautiful manors of those days in Mallorca. That is why I tried to incorporate from this period all the essential elements of antique Italian gardens: pergolas, fountains, columns, urns and the extensive use of water. I also used many typical plants such as laurels, cypresses, olive trees, citruses, roses, Buxus, Viburnum tinus, etc.
The patio is inspired by the very Mallorcan “clastra”, a space surrounded by the house, with pebbles laid in the pavement, many doors and walls covered by lemon trees, hibiscus, Trachelospermum jasminoides and balls of Pittosporum tobira ‘Nana'. The ensemble is presided over by a Roman fountain in at the centre.
On the terrace, pale flowers in white and blue cover the two big pergolas that embrace the area. In the 8 symmetrical squares, white iceberg roses are surrounded by Buxus, with lemon trees (four seasons) in pots. These pots have no bottom, allowing the roots to grow properly to their full size. Big egg-shaped laurels and cypresses frame this garden. On both sides of the terrace, two different gardens can be found, one more influenced by the English style, with roses, salvias, pomegranates, white lagerstroemia, Solanum etc., while the other comprises pink lagerstroemia, roses and two 600–year-old olive trees (each of them weighed more than 10 tons when we planted them).
The swimming pool is surrounded by two parallel walls of cypresses and bougainvilleas shaped as big bushes. Columns and palm trees (Phoenix canariensis) extend the main axis, while a lawn takes you to the paddle tennis court. Both sides are planted with pink and mauve flowers, with grey and variegated leaves in the middle of a small plantation of orange trees.
Below, instead of a typical orchard, I decided to plant tangerine and orange trees, flanking a long cascade that points towards the mountains. The mixed borders contain hardy species that normally require water only twice a week, and no fumigation. The colours of these plants are bright and match the tangerine and orange trees behind them. There is a big collection of Hemerocallis that blooms till November.
We arrived punctually at 10.30 a.m. all of us eagerly anticipating the sounds of water in a garden which was started 15 years ago. The entrance through the courtyard with a central Roman fountain has terracotta pots filled with agapanthus. Lemon trees together with hibiscus and other shrubs clothe the walls. On the south side of the house a spectacular cascade leads the eye to the mountains beyond with fruit trees and mixed borders coordinating their colours. The strong lines of formality in the garden are enhanced with superb specimens of Cupressus stricta. All is cleverly softened with arches, pergolas and other perennial plants. The avenue of Phoenix canariensis leading to the paddle tennis court is softened by underplantings of Iris, Echium candicans and other shrubs. Can Xarbet has matured with dignity since its inception.
Organic Farm, Son Barrina
Son Barrina is an organic farm outside the village of Llubi, started 11 years ago by a Canadian woman, Connie Brent. She has converted a citrus grove into outdoor vegetable gardens, poly tunnels, a family home and accommodation for WOOFERS (Workers On Organic Farms). This is a world-wide organization for unpaid volunteers who live and work on family farms for several months. Connie uses biodynamic principles, with good soil structure being the underlying principle for avoidance of pests and diseases. Her own cows and sheep provide manure to be used as fertilizer. A small shop selling fresh produce has expanded to include walk-in cold lockers and a wide selection of organic products, from exotic grains to health and beauty products. Connie has realized her dream, and Son Barrina has loyal customers from all over Mallorca.
Xarbet, the long cascade that points to the mountains
Photographs by Marjorie Gouvenot-Gardiner
A talk on Mediterranean planting and a cutting workshop by Heather Angrave
Heather Angrave runs a Callistemon nursery in Kent, which houses the National Callistemon Collection as well as a huge range of sub-tropical plants. She is an expert on propagation by cuttings and shared some of her tricks and secrets for success with us last November at a special workshop. The event took place at the home of Cindy Evans in Esporles and was quite challenging in a number of unexpected ways. First, an archipelago-wide power cut left us in the dark, listening to our speaker by candlelight in the glow of a roaring log fire for warmth. Cindy ran back and forth filling up the loos with buckets of water from the well, and resetting the lunch table with dozens of candles so that we could see to eat. It was like the old days on Mallorca, and I think most of us thought it rather fun.
Heather emphasised strongly that the most important thing to be aware of when planting a garden here is the alkalinity of the soil. Plant only those plants which will tolerate such conditions, she told us, and do not bother to try to enrich the soil but live with it as it is, feeding only ericaceous plants, as well as applying iron to those which show signs of chlorosis. For a new garden, first choose plants which will shade and protect others, such as Eucalyptus, or Acacia which will quickly provide shade for those coming next. After these, Heather suggested planting Russelia equisetiformis and Grevillea, with Correa as ground cover, and recommended applying a soft mulch to all plants to provide protection for the roots. A woody mulch was not a good idea, she said, as it is very slow to rot, and bacteria leach out of it and strip the nutrients from the soil. After 12-18 months your new plants should be established and need little watering if their roots are kept cool.
Heather mentioned some highly suitable plants for getting going in the garden, amongst them anything from Western Australia where the soil is similar to ours. These include the Protaceae family, a huge group including Grevillea and Banksia. Grevillea will tolerate extremes of heat and cold, is coastal-tolerant and flowers for 10 months of the year. Melaleuca gibbosa is a small shrub with mauve pompons which also flowers for a long period, and Anigozanthos (Kangaroo paw) is a clump-forming perennial, long-flowering and tough. Anigozanthos flavidus is the easiest species to grow. Lotus hirsutus (syn. Dorycnium hirsutum) is a pretty ground cover plant, while the correas comprise a huge variety of foliage and are tough, as is the pretty Eremophila glabra 'Peaches and Cream'. The cultivar E. glabra 'Poorinda Mary' is particularly architectural. Buddleja grows well in our soil and is tolerant and easy as long as it is pruned back hard in spring.
After our candlelit lunch, Heather gave us a demonstration of how to strike cuttings. She made it sound almost foolproof and told us she never bothers to sterilise her pots or her compost but always transplants some bacteria from the parent plant into the potting soil. This gives the little cutting a head start in rooting, as the symbiotic bacteria are already with it rather than having to be established slowly over time. Do not allow your cuttings to become pot-bound as they will then be much harder to establish in the garden, and do make sure they are not twisted in the pot and that there is an even spread of roots at the top.
This was a really interesting day, and Heather managed to demystify the slightly scary world of cuttings by making it sound simple and fun. We hope she will come and talk to us again and help us onward in the development of our Mediterranean gardens.
Thank you to Cindy for her hospitality and delicious lunch, and for her stoicism and good humour in the face of adversity.
A visit to Heidi Gildemeister's garden
In the first week of November a lucky group of twenty members were invited to view the wonderful mountain garden created by Heidi and her husband thirty years ago among the rocks and crags of the high Tramuntana. While on a hike one day they stumbled upon a beautiful and remote valley at an altitude of 400 metres, were overwhelmed by the grandeur and spirituality of the place, and decided to make it their home.
The difference in temperature from the valley floor was noticeable immediately on that sunny autumn day, being two degrees cooler at the top. Up a long and curving driveway of 6.3 kilometers we climbed, surrounded by ancient olives and natural woodland, until we reached a plateau grazed by sheep which resembled a neatly kept park. Huge old olives which had been badly mutilated by heavy snow some decades ago, and then cut by poor shepherds to feed their flocks, were gradually filling in; they led us to a vista of Heidi's entranceway, flanked by Pistacia lentiscus clipped neatly into an avenue of large balls. The effect was as impressive as the entrance to any grand house. We then proceeded on to a meandering tour of the mountain garden, on a narrow path which wandered around its contours, revealing at each turn enormous old Quercus ilex trees and stunning views of the sea beyond.
Heidi explained that she had wanted her garden to be as be as natural as possible, totally self-sustaining, and not requiring any water other than rain. For this reason, any plant which seeds itself is left to grow, unless it becomes a problem to the plants surrounding it. There were thousands of bulbs, Muscari, Iris, Puya, Amaryllis belladonna among them, mostly from South Africa or the Mediterranean. These are divided and replanted when necessary. Haemanthus albiflos and Vinca lined the paths, along with Agapanthus, Crataegus, Plectranthus, orchid cactus, and winter-flowering pelargoniums. Abutilon, Thunbergia gregorii and Melianthus major, rare cussonias, and crassula for ground cover all made a splendid show. There was a little wild rose growing out of a huge rock, which had seeded itself and was there when Heidi first came, next to an Eriocephalus which bears white flowers in winter. Shading all this glory were stately Quercus ilex, the oldest of which can boast an age of some 800 years, and under whose benign shade a Mahonia was happily growing. A Carissa macrocarpa bore scented white stars like a Gardenia, and everywhere was the sound of sheep bells tinkling in the valley beyond and a full choir of birdsong from the trees. The entire garden is evergreen and requires no extra watering whatsoever, being completely reliant on rain and dew, and provides a year-round home for many birds and animals.
Heidi told us she no longer bothers to wait for compost to rot down but spreads chippings directly from the shredder to act as mulch, as well as laying pruned Washingtonia leaves upon the ground to shade the soil, which had a certain decorative effect.
The plant species we saw thriving in this wonderful place are too numerous to name, but the overall effect was magical. A shaded woodland park, designed and built around Nature's features, it is a place which enhances the beauty of the site without competing with it or distracting from it. To me, this is real Art, and as we arrived at the snug stone house, nestling under an enormous cirque in the Tramuntana, fronted by lawn, and surrounded by roses and lavender, I was humbled by the vision and skill of our hosts, who had identified so completely with their surroundings. Black vultures soared above us as we enjoyed tapas on the lawn, the blue, blue sea in front and the granite pillars of the mountains behind, with little snowdrops winking at us from under the shade of the house walls.
For me this house and garden demonstrate the very ideal of living in harmony with nature, in sympathy with the environment and with the spirit of the place. There is a timeless feel, magnified by the sound of the torrent roaring below and the movement of the sea in the distance. Though envy is one of the seven deadly sins, I must confess to a need to suppress an upsurge of that emotion, and I suspect I was not alone in my feelings.
Thank you to the Gildemeisters for their generous hospitality in sharing their paradise with us, and also to Marianne for organizing such a memorable day.
Photo by Sally Beale.
Gardeners' Question Time Mallorca Style
By popular request, we repeated last year's Gardeners' Question Time, and I don't doubt that it will become a fixed yearly event from now on.
Marianne Beith welcomed everyone, especially new members, and introduced the panel of Elsbeth Stoiber and Helmut Michi. Their extensive scientific and horticultural backgrounds made them uniquely qualified to answer, authoritatively and entertainingly, the range of questions put to them.
Questions included: the uses of chemical fertilizers, manure and compost in Mallorca; how to get rid of cochineal; how to grow hollyhocks; how to save an old lemon tree whose trunk had split at its crotch; and whether planting times should be changed in view of recent adverse weather conditions. Samples of diseased or unidentified plants were brought and, at the end of the formal session, a lively group gathered around the experts with their materials. After three and a bit hours, all forty of us were quite happy to go to lunch and continue the discussion. After lunch we returned to Can Mel for a very successful plant exchange.
Pine tree pests
The theme of this meeting was the fight against two pine tree pests faced by the woodland gardener: processional caterpillars (Pytiocamba) and Tomicus (a beetle that breeds in pine bark, formerly known as Blastophagus). The latter has increased so rapidly since the hurricane of November 2001 that one can fairly speak of a plague.
On April 15th Mr Oriol, forest engineer from the Ministry of the Environment of the Balearic Government, explained the situation of these two different pests on damaged trees in and around a member's garden, south of Manacor.
The cycle of Pytiocamba goes through four stages: egg, caterpillar, cocoon and butterfly. The largest part of this life cycle is spent as a caterpillar when 50-100 caterpillars spin themselves into nests, clearly visible in the treetops. The caterpillars eat a lot, taking their food from the pine needles. The greater the infestation, the greater the damage to the tree will be. The caterpillars' eating of the needles will not in itself kill the tree, but if the attack is very great and happens repeatedly the tree can be seriously weakened. This favours attacks by diseases or by boring insects such as Tomicus.
The Tomicus life-cycle is: egg, larva and beetle, the latter being brown-black. The signs of an attack are sap volcanoes, where the mature beetles have bored holes into the rough bark in order to lay their eggs, and/or a yellowing of the crown needles where the young beetles have gone to build up strength before mating. Extensive breeding sites for Tomicus have been created in recent years by (1) the hurricane of 2001 and the resulting dead wood which was mostly not cleared until a year later, (2) extensive forest fires in the nearby hills three years ago, and (3) the droughts of the last few years. Tomicus attacks healthy trees and can kill them. It does so by laying eggs in the bored holes, from which the larvae spread out eating their way around the trunk if they circle the trunk, the sap will no longer flow and the tree dies. There are different species of Tomicus, with some of them breeding a number of times in the year.
What can one do ?
Processional caterpillars can be dealt with by cutting off the nests and burning them, setting up sexual traps which catch the males (the bait for such traps can be had from SEMILLA in the Agricultural Ministry in Palma, Tel. 971 176100), shooting the nests with special shotgun pellets, or spraying. Mr. Parrilla from the firm WILL KILL told us that the fight against Tomicus was much more difficult, especially since there are different species with different breeding cycles, which can also vary with the climate; moreover the only systemic treatment had been outlawed by the EU as being too toxic. He spoke of the necessity of vigilance and of an integrated fight against the beetle, including clearance of dead wood and spraying. We ourselves have begun to spray the pines with a biological spray several times a year. Whether this will prove successful or not is unknown. In the forestry business in Germany, each affected tree is felled, as well as all those trees within a ten-metre radius. Then all the felled trunks are burned. In Mallorca as a whole, however, with its park-like spaced-out pine trees, such a radical cure is not financially viable and fires are strictly forbidden from May to November.
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