|Mediterranean Garden Society|
The Crete Branch of the MGS
Pam Dunn and Valerie Whittington each gave an illustrated talk and provided feedback following their recent attendance at the MGS AGM in France during which several interesting gardens were visited.
The presentations were followed by discussion and a look around at Pamela and Geoff Dunn’s garden. This was fantastic, very neat and orderly, following professional pruning of trees and shrubs. It was a glorious, bright, sunny day. Pam shared her delight and experience gained from this work. We noted the hard cutting back and shaping that has taken place. Many of us find it difficult to cut back as much as we might to improve the shape or health of plants and trees; this was a lesson to be brave as the professionals, who know that plants will respond positively.
This was followed by a seasonal buffet lunch with mulled wine which we enjoyed outside in the warm sunshine.
A taste of each presentation follows. Many photographs were shown, illustrating the variety of gardens and plants seen, each presenter having chosen her own particular favourites or those of greatest interest to her. Within the scope of this article, only one photograph from each garden is possible, so illustrations are limited. Valerie chose a theme which concentrated on garden style, shaping plants, different paths and special features. Pam highlighted the grandeur, particular setting or circumstances of the gardens visited.
From Montpellier to Menton, France, 13–16 October 2014:
Our first guided visit was to Olivier and Clara Filippi’s nursery and gardens. We were taken on an interesting tour of the experimental and demonstration gardens during which Olivier explained his philosophy of selecting plants suited to the climate and soil of the region, and he showed us new projects including planting for groundcover and the creation of a ‘terrasse végétale.’ Many photographs were shown from this visit.
Olivier has designed and developed his own plant pots that encourage the roots of the plant to extend down and prevent root spiralling that often occurs in conventional pots. We were shown the effectiveness of these pots in contrast to the dead, twisted roots depicted in the photograph above. The plants had not been able to extend their roots down and subsequently choked and died.
From here we drove to Noves to visit Les Confines. This garden, created by Dominique Lafourcade, one of Provence’s leading garden designers, had garden ‘rooms’ demonstrating different styles of landscaping and planting. We were welcomed by Dominique in front of the handsome house. She explained how the garden was started over 20 years ago. We were then able to explore on our own the rose garden, the lavender garden, the Italian, Portuguese and African gardens, the potager, the meadow and other sections. This was a beautiful garden, expertly laid out with carefully chosen artefacts, and with style.
From here we drove to Avignon for the night. A day in the Luberon followed. We drove through the vineyards and orchards to Ménerbes. Here we visited Le Clos Pascal, designed by Nicole de Vésian, one of the first to combine clipped green and grey evergreens with local stone to create gardens in harmony with the surrounding landscape. This was a lovely, tranquil environment in which to stroll and be at peace.
Next we walked through the charming traditional village to La Carmejane, known as the ‘eagle’s nest’, with extensive views north to Mont Ventoux.
This stunning garden, created by Michel Biehn and the garden’s owner, clings to the cliff face and one reaches a series of terraces, each with individual character, via many steps. On each level there are places to sit and enjoy the garden from different perspectives. It was different from Le Clos Pascal visited earlier in the same village.
Following a further drive and lunch at Bonnieux, the next garden was Nicole de Vésian’s first and best-known garden, La Louve (‘the she-wolf’) which she created over 10 years from 1986.
The present owner, Judith Pillsbury, has maintained the character of the original while developing some new areas. I loved this garden with its intense clipping and repeat planting. One whole terrace was planted with multiple lavenders all trimmed and kept exactly the same size, which I found fascinating.
The next morning en route from Avignon to Menton we stopped in La Valette-du-Var, to visit the garden of Domaine d’Orvès.
This eight-hectare estate of vines, almonds and olive trees has a system of spring-fed canals which water its gardens created by painter Pierre Deval. The 17th-century house is now home to his daughter, Françoise Darlington, our host. Françoise welcomed us, gave a brief overview of the garden and acted as guide for a tour around the garden. This is a mature garden in parts overgrown, similar to woodland, a lovely place to stroll or ramble at leisure spotting the unexpected around different corners. Françoise is currently working to tame some of the wilder areas and renovating sections to her father’s original design.
The tour was followed by a delicious picnic lunch in the garden.
This was a full and fascinating trip before the main MGS meeting in Menton. One aspect of this experience was how different the climate is in comparison to Crete. Gardens in this part of France, in contrast with our home island of Crete, were so lush and green that those we saw were a completely different kind of ‘mediterranean’ garden. Well-chosen gardens, interesting, like-minded companions and impeccable organisation made this an excellent trip and experience.
MGS Visit to the gardens of the Menton area in south of France 17-21 October 2014
Like many others on the trip I was surprised by the number of gardens in this part of the south of France. It is an area where many wealthy industrialists and explorers from various countries settled and used their money to invest not only in beautiful houses but also in lovely gardens. In the early and mid-1800s it was a very popular area to go to escape due to the pure air and agreeable climate. It was also a time when botanists were gathering plants from tropical locations and bringing them back to Europe as novelties. Many of these are now flourishing in this area. While the climate here is mediterranean, it is not one that we can easily identify with in Greece. The tropical plants which have been used in many of the gardens create pockets of lush vegetation and shade and bring their own humidity, making it very green and dense and not at all parched as often in Crete.
Our base was Menton, a sleepy retired area set on the Italian border, but we did venture into the more glamorous areas of Monaco and Cap Ferrat, as well as into Italy. In fact, my favourite garden was just across the border in Italy.
The Hanbury Botanic gardens at La Mortola were quite delightful. Situated on a large headland, the garden is spread over very steep and terraced land. Half is cultivated and the remainder left to native vegetation, mainly pine trees. Thomas Hanbury purchased the land with the ruin of an Italian house in the late 1800s, after he returned from the Far East where he had been a silk trader. Hanbury landscaped the gardens inspired by the tropical plants that he had seen in Asia. On his death his daughter in law continued with the gardens, but they then had a chequered history of ownership and maintenance and were battered by shelling during the two World Wars, the damage from which can still be seen on some of the trees.
Fortunately the gardens are now in the safe hands of the University of Genoa, which maintains and uses the gardens for scientific cultivation of key plants. Many of the original plants have survived, so parts of the gardens are full of very lush, green, tropical palms and cycads, which are not cut back but allowed to develop naturally. Definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.
Another garden that I would describe as extreme was the Jardin Exotique de Monaco. Situated on a narrow but very steep terrace in the hills surrounding Monaco, it is apparently the best collection of succulents and cacti in Europe. It was started in 1895; some plants are now 80 years old and very, very large.
It is a weird sensation walking amidst them, but also beautiful as so many of them had very colourful and unusually marked flowers. The garden is crammed full of rocks and plants with not a space in between. A bizarre collection, but not a garden for the faint-hearted as it has many steep and windy paths on the cliff face overlooking the old city of Monaco.
The Ephrussi de Rothschild garden has clearly been developed with no expense spared. It is a more formal garden in every sense of the word, which has been arranged into a collection of rooms each dedicated to a different type of garden from around the world. The most minimalist, but beautiful to my taste, was the Japanese garden, which has all the key elements of running water, gravel patterns and wooden sound boards, with just a few strategically placed plants.
At the other extreme was the French garden, which consisted of lawns bordered by box hedges with ponds and fountains that ran to the sounds of classical music. This did, however, look magnificent when seen from the balcony of the beautiful house.
The other gardens were all different in their own way, but perhaps less memorable. One other place Geoff and I managed to get to see as we left Menton was a cacti and succulent nursery called Cacti Mania, where they cultivate and distribute plants all over the world. It was fascinating to see so many different types of these plants at different stages of development spread across eight or nine hothouses. They have a website which is worth visiting. Very memorable!
Text and photographs of the pre-tour by Valerie Whittington.
This visit to Sara and Roger Gilding’s Garden in Kefalas incorporated a talk in Sara and Roger’s studio by members Manoj Malde and Clive Gillmor, based on their experience in three garden design competitions.
Sara and Roger’s village garden is spacious and private, hidden behind the high walls that surround it. A highly creative approach to the layout, planting and use of artefacts in the garden makes it special.
On arrival, Sara and Roger welcomed 25 of us, as well as two guests who were staying with them. Two members had travelled from the south of the island and another two from the eastern Crete especially for today’s event. Such effort makes organising these activities very rewarding and reinforces the camaraderie of the group.
Sara gave an interesting illustrated presentation of the background and development of the garden. We learned that this, like many of our group members’ gardens, is a work in progress and has been a steep learning curve - most of us having gardened previously in northern Europe.
On completion of the house in 2004 Sara and Roger had a blank canvas on which to work and a sloping plot of 1200 square metres. Sara showed us photographs of flooding after very heavy rain in 2006 which resulted in much of the soil being washed further down the plot. One benefit of this was to expose groups of large rocks which have been incorporated into the overall design and either planted with or enhanced by appropriate plants such as an Opuntia ficus-indica (prickly pear) which was already there and is now a feature.
They realised that they would have to do something to retain soil in future downpours. Priorities were, therefore, to create terraces at the top of the garden, which they did by making gabions and filling them with rocks found on the land, as in the photograph below.
In addition, they produced hard landscaping with paths to connect the house and studio and to create different areas within the garden.
Another fascinating slide showed the garden on another occasion covered in snow. We get little snow generally, but in February 2008 it was sufficient to provide a blanket covering everything. Fortunately it did not stay long enough to do any lasting damage.
Planting focused upon introducing trees and shrubs which would grow to give height and structure, to provide shade and protection from wind, and to create different garden 'rooms' for sitting in at different times of the day throughout the year.
Cretan neighbours had encouraged the development of a predominantly vegetable garden in the early years. Vegetables were deemed more important than flowers in their neighbours’ view. This resulted in more vegetables than Sara and Roger wanted so this part has been reduced and the area has changed to reflect their current needs and design opportunities.
The design and planting within the garden reflects Sara and Roger’s experience and interests as artists: creating a garden that marries the man-made features with the organic development of the plants and that has plenty of visual interest through the creation of sculptural shapes, use of colour and texture, and later the introduction of water features. These were heavily influenced by a visit to Morocco and the Majorelle gardens in Marrakech in 2010. A water feature was designed soon after their visit illustrating this, and a second, grand, water feature with adjoining pools has just been completed with planting to be the next stage in development.
Edged with plumbago and jasmine, this is a lush area where Washingtonia and Phoenix canariensis palms are maturing well and provide much desired shade. Yuccas and Phormium tenax ‘Variegatum’ in the distance provide additional contrast and texture to the rest of the garden.
We had plenty of time to wander around the various garden areas to stop, look and enjoy this lovely garden.
Manoj, supported by Clive, then presented the talk, ‘A Designer’s Eye’. Manoj explained that creating a show garden is very different from creating a client’s garden. There are strict timescales to adhere to when putting the design in place and, in planning, it needs to work like a jigsaw. It was fascinating seeing how some of the structural planning and grouping of everything took place in their own garden. This included Clive painting trellis inside the house (as it was so cold in February). Preparation and thorough organisation was necessary for taking all that was needed in modules, ready to be put together in the exhibition centre, Olympia. Slides showed that the van was packed to precision, floor to ceiling; a work of art in itself.
A ‘Landscape Show’ held at Olympia was one of the first competitions entered. The design had to fit an area of 3 x 3 metres. Manoj described how he viewed the space as a courtyard and chose to create a green space through a vertical wall. This was the first ‘living wall’ they have designed and planted.
Inspiration had come from the philosophy of Japanese gardens ‘where everything is not a literal translation but more an essence of the real’. For example, the swept gravel in Japanese gardens represents the sea, the rocks the mountains. However, this particular design turned the whole thing on its head and made it very modern. Plant species were chosen that originate from the Far East. Dark grey trellis was used to ensure that plant colours would stand out.
The living wall was made up of Carex morrowii, Vinca minor, Heuchera ‘Purple Palace’, Heuchera ‘Marmalade’, ferns(Polystichum setiferum ‘Herenhausen’)and Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Zeblid’. The dry planting border at ground level made the connection between the vertical and horizontal spaces withPhyllostachys (yellow cane bamboo), Camellia, Fatsia japonica, Grevillea, Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’,Daphne, Pieris, Trachelospermum jasminoides, Clematis armandii and Astelia.
Linking the overall idea to our mediterranean climate, Manoj felt that the use of dry ferns such as Pellaea ovata and/or Cheilanthes tomentosa, sedums, sempervivums, Echeveria, Ballota and valerian would work well.
Daphne’s Tuscan Restaurant, Chelsea, London: The second competition was undertaken ‘to evoke the feeling of outdoor dining in an Italian garden’. Manoj described some of the challenges of this as they had particular time constraints: for example, each day’s work had to be completed by 11 am before the restaurant staff had to start preparing for lunch.
Lemon trees, white geraniums, wisteria and Clematis ‘The President’ provided the main planting scheme, finished off with long-stemmed ivy. The lemon trees had very young green lemons, but of course for the design to look at its best they wanted yellow lemons. So ripe yellow one were bought and wired on to complete the desired look - such inventiveness!
They even managed to source a bust of Daphne which they aged by getting her a bit dirty.
Next came the Mediterranean Garden Society project, their third competition.
Shape, colour, texture and materials that suited the property and surrounding landscape were important. In getting started, Manoj described how his landscape-design process is similar to that when he worked as a fashion designer in his previous career: researching, editing then working with the stronger images to put together a colour palette and create a ‘mood board’, as in the photograph below.
The planting palette is kept simple: purples fading through to lilacs, primrose yellow, silver greys and greens. This is pierced in places with a splash of red. Manoj felt that these colours would work well with the hard landscaping of dyed polished stone, the stone wall boundary and also the natural light. Several small sketches followed of areas for planting.
Structure is provided through the use of flat-headed Cupressus sempervirens ‘Pyramidalis’planted in groups, mature olive trees (Olea europea), a multi-stemmed Eriobotrya japonica and three topiaried Pinus pinea.
Lavenders and santolinas are planted in rows close to the house and they provide a sense of formality and modernity. A scree border planted up with rounded shrubs and softened with sweeps of Stipa lessingiana providing movement. Groups of Erigeron karvinskianum are dotted around with the expectation that they will self-seed and naturalise. Manoj feels that this leads the eye through to the more naturalistic planting that is further away from the house. Echium candicans are used as ‘show stoppers in this border. Stipa gigantea are dotted all the way through the border to provide a gently moving, sheer screen. The wildness of this area is accentuated with Gaura lindheimeri, poppies, Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ and the use of more Stipa lessingiana mixed with red valerian.
A repetition of rounded shrubs through the borders has been designed to provide rhythm in the garden and, again, to lead the eye through the planting. Manoj concluded this point with saying that in this particular case it also helps to create a connection with the ‘borrowed landscape’ beyond.
This was a most successful day incorporating a fascinating and informative talk after which we enjoyed an excellent ‘bring and share’ lunch in the lovely surroundings of Sara and Roger’s garden.
With thanks to Sara and Roger for opening their garden, providing the technology which enabled the illustrated talks to take place in their studio and to Manoj and Clive for their willingness to share their enthusiasm and expertise with us.
Text and photographs by Valerie Whittington unless otherwise stated.
Most of the members on Crete live in the west of the island, so a visit here was a treat for those of us who are not from this area. Because of the distance involved, Val decided on a few days away and this was supported by Birgitta, who lives near Kavousi; she helped to organise an excellent two-day programme which included a couple of walks, three garden visits and a barbecue.
Eleven of us stayed in Mochlos, a small, unspoilt seaside village with only a couple of shops and a few tavernas. It was unfortunate that our visit coincided with the hottest days we have had yet this year, so the programme was curtailed a little. Only four people ventured on the first walk, which took them along and above Kavousi Gorge. This beautiful walk was led by Anne Bouras, author of Circular Walks and Gorges in Eastern Crete.
A few others met them at the interesting archaeological site of Azoria. This is in the process of being excavated, and – although we were not allowed on to it – a helpful young archaeologist gave us a little of the background. An olive tree – reputed to be the oldest in Crete – was nearby, so both the walkers and those who visited the site of Azoria stopped to admire it.
Others in the group spent a relaxing morning back at Mochlos. We all met up for lunch in the Kavousi square and then drove up to Birgitta and Roger’s house to visit two gardens, their own and the adjoining neighbours’, Val and Gary’s garden.
Val and Gary bought their land in 2005: a steep exposed and windy hillside in a stunning location overlooking the Mirabella bay towards Agios Nikolaos. They came to live here in 2009 and started the garden with very little idea of what they wanted apart from Val’s vision of creating a garden room. Everything else has followed from that starting point. Gary designed and worked at the hard landscaping. There is no overall plan and the garden is still evolving. Like many of us starting to garden in an environment so completely different from that of our home country, Val described how much they are learning about planting and their choice of plants through trial and error. As new members of the society, they hoped for ideas and suggestions from our visit. Tips were sought and a pencil and notebook provided. Being away a great deal - often at key planting times in the year - has made the development of the garden more difficult.
Val also described the odd mishap with the strimmer: Gary in his enthusiasm, for example, on one occasion accidently strimmed a fig tree. The house surroundings were barren with rubble left from the building of the house. Around five tons of topsoil was brought in, but with it oxalis was also imported. In the steep and desert-like parts of their land, good use is being made of Mesembryanthemum cordifolium (syn. Aptenia cordifolia) and Carpobrotus edulis to help combat erosion.
They face west and suffer strong south winds and consequently feel that they need to create more shade; on the day we visited, temperatures reached 48 degrees C on the main terrace.
Birgitta and Roger’s garden was reached by climbing back down steep ‘steps’ cut into the land, which create a useful short cut between the two houses.
Roger gave us the background to how they came to live in this fairly remote spot. Keen sailors, 12 years ago they sailed into Crete looking for a safe harbour and they found the delightful beach at Tholos. Little did they realise then that within 12 months they would buy a plot of land looking down on this beach.
Like Val and Gary’s, this is a steep, exposed and windy hillside. It is a largely barren area; even the 35 olive trees were neglected when they first bought the land. The olives have always been their priority and take up the major part of the garden. A further ten were added to the original number, plus several Kalamata olive trees. They believe that some of the olives are around 250 years old. All were given names, carefully looked after and regularly pruned to ensure that the centre of each tree is open to the sun. Roger believes that this and the fact that their cultivation is totally organic is a major contributor to the success they have achieved in producing extra virgin olive oil with an acidity level measuring 0.3 to 0.4. (To be certified as extra virgin oil, the acidity has to be below one).
Since this is a potential fire risk area, Mesembryanthemum cordifolium and Carpobrotus edulis (Hottentot fig), known for their fire retardant qualities, were planted to create a firebreak around the olives. Pines and buckthorn were chosen to create a windbreak from the southerly winds, with prostrate rosemary for groundcover in these areas; this has proved to be very effective. Roger particularly recommended buckthorn as an excellent tree for a windbreak.
There are two main areas in the garden: the olives and a palm/dry garden area. The drive leading up to the house is lined with the reliable and colourful oleander.
As Birgitta and Roger are generally only in residence for six months of the year, the garden has to look after itself, so it has been planned to take that into account. The olives are not normally watered. A 2,000-litre water tank, which is fed from well water, supplies the garden needs as well as agricultural water, but the water is fairly saline.
Geraniums and succulents such as Agave attenuata, Kalanchoe luciae subsp. luciae, cotyledon and aloes, are proving very useful in this environment, many grown in pots.
Roger’s closing comment was apt, ‘Gardening is all about learning and modifying’.
The day was rounded off with an excellent barbecue generously provided by Roger and Birgitta.
The following day was even hotter, so the walk was sadly cancelled and instead we spent a peaceful morning swimming, reading and drinking coffee. Some of the group had discovered a shop with an original selection of women’s clothes. I think the shop sold more during our brief stay in Mochlos than they had the previous month.
We left in the late morning to visit Alexandra’s garden in Myrsini, a small village further east towards Sitia.
Alexandra’s garden is just off the main road but invisible from it. Because it is so tiny, Alexandra had suggested that we visit in two groups, so half had lunch in the nearby taverna while the first group visited what can only be described as a haven, an oasis. We were completely bowled over. From the pathway leading to the front door which was packed with pots flowering in profusion, we knew we were in for a real treat.
Belonging to an old village house, the garden is small and enclosed and is now very sheltered - completely different from those visited the day before. We were led through the house and into the back garden where we were met by a blaze of colour and texture.
We took our own routes and time to drink in the beauty of this garden gem before Alexandra was persuaded to tell us her garden’s story.
We learned that the garden is only five or six years old. When they moved here from their home in England they bought many plants with them from the garden they were leaving behind; that was also an old house, so the style and type of plant were likely to prove suitable. The highlight of the story was the way the plants were transported here – in a horsebox for which Alexandra had traded in her car. At each overnight stop the plants were taken out and watered so that, as she said, they felt like travelling gypsies.
The first year was spent clearing the area. This was steep in places and had become very overgrown. The plum tree, for example, was covered in brambles. Raymond then built the impressive raised pond, did much of the hard landscaping, and created the arbours.
They began work nearest the house and then worked out the design from there. Alexandra did not want the garden to be seen in its entirety from any one position, so nooks and crannies, secret sitting places, ‘rooms’, as Alexandra described them, and different levels have been built and created by building drystone walls or raised beds.
Essentially a cottage garden style, there is some formality which gives a full stop to the eye through clever hedging or hard landscaping. Excellent use has been made of space. Much has been grown from seed and these plants now self-seed, creating a riot of colour.
This is a small garden, but one does not feel it because of the different areas. Several climbers enhance the garden vertically, such as Bignonia, Clematis ‘Perle d’Azur’, C. jackmanii and Mandevilla laxa. The original fruit trees have been kept and Alexandra has successfully planted beautiful climbing roses to ramble through the branches.
Quince and eucalyptus provide a windbreak, as does pomegranate on the garden boundary with another ‘borrowed’ from just outside. Clever use has been made of olives on the boundary by making them into a hedge that provides a window view to the coast beyond from the cleverly placed bench above the pond.
Alexandra says the soil is good and they ensured that the ground was thoroughly prepared and enriched with donkey manure; they also employed the ‘cardboard box’ method before planting – In Alexandra’s words, ‘good for greedy guts plants’. Roses and clematis are the only plants fertilised. Watering is impressive: a deep watering is given once a fortnight, with garden hoses rather than a watering system, except for new planting, but this always takes place in autumn. Japanese anemones growing under an apricot tree were still flowering and happy in very high temperatures. A planting style that encourages self-seeding and closely packed borders has created a precious microclimate that suits this garden and its creator superbly well.
This was a feast for the eyes, full of happy plants with varieties seldom seen growing in our own area of Crete. For example, Alstroemeria - the Peruvian lily - regularly seen and sold as a cut flower, was growing alongside Hemerocallis, the day lily, and both were thriving with crocosmia and kniphofia. rgyranthemum is a favourite and a cultivar recommended by Alexandra that always looks fresh and keeps on flowering all summer and beyond is A. ‘Jamaica Primrose’.
At the end of this treat, we left – some for home and others to visit other parts of eastern Crete.
Our thanks to those whose gardens we visited, to Roger and Birgitta for the barbecue, to Anne Bouras for leading the walk, to Birgitta for the local organisation.
Text by Clive and Val Whittington. Photos taken by Val Whittington unless otherwise stated.
The Lavender Way is the only organic lavender farm in Crete. Here Gill grows several different cultivars, although Lavandula angustifolia predominates. She uses no pesticides, herbicides or fertilisers. All her stock is strictly home-grown. Gill says ‘all is planted and harvested by hand, with love’. The philosophy and approach is to follow the Zen of organic farming promulgated by Masanobu Fukuoka.
After a friendly welcome by Gill and Derek, we were hurried along the narrow path down to the shade of an olive in the heart of the lavender-growing area; it was a scorching hot day. Here Gill launched into a most fascinating talk about the background to the farm and how she became a farmer in Crete. We were hooked. We learned that historically in their area, land was apportioned into sections for different growing purposes. Kavros, for example, where they now live and farm, grew peanuts.
In her former life in London Gill was a project manager and not a gardener, but when she came to live here she wanted a pick-up truck, and, by law, to own a pick-up you must be a farmer. Gill decided to become a farmer and started her research. Lavender appealed, so she started to find out all she could about growing plants and producing essential oils from them. There was no foundation stock to be found in Greece, which historically had decided lavender cultivation was not cost-effective. She contacted Norfolk Lavender in England and found they were not prepared to supply her with starter plants.
Eventually, she bought and experimented with lavender plants bought in a flower shop in Chania from a lady who knew nothing about lavender. Starting with enthusiasm and through continuous research on the internet, the farm was started in May 2003 with 50 plants. There were no plant labels, which meant that at that stage the variety was unknown and in the first year Gill confessed that she nearly killed half of them through not watering. However, with perseverance and meticulous observation and recording, Gill now has a farm populated from those cuttings of the original 50 plants which are most suited to her environment. This she does with success and we were full of admiration for her efforts and her passion.
It takes three years before plants are mature and may be harvested for their specific use
Gill talked about their particular constraints – such as not being able to plant under the olives, where nets are laid for harvesting. Their olive trees receive no watering or fertilisation other than via the mulching by wild plants; Derek is the olive farmer.
At first they used a tractor to help with weeding the area, and to get rid of oxalis in particular. Then they read Masanobu Fukuoka’s philosophy and completely changed their methods: i.e. ‘nature knows best’ and, for example, seeds are put inside a clay ball and scattered. Some will thrive and others won’t. Also a ‘no till, no weeding’ approach is employed; instead they cut back where necessary and leave the clippings on the ground, as it works in nature. Gill says enthusiastically, ‘I’m not sure whether I have a well- paid hobby or am a poorly paid farmer.’ Time, the rhythm of the year, cycles of the moon for picking/planting and a build-up of knowledge have shown her which wild plants or weeds she can leave and which interfere with the lavender plants’ growth and thus need culling. Burr clover crawls all over the lavender without harming it, so she just brushes the tendrils away to allow the sun to reach her plants, as they are not in competition with each other. The burr provides natural help by giving protection from severe hot, dry, southerly winds and is therefore a natural barrier.
Early on in this venture, lavender plants were planted in concentric circles with the aim of crops protecting each other. Now, although the original shape exists in places, this man-made design has gradually evolved by going with nature, which has modified and reshaped the area. The lavender is carefully introduced to each wild environment to be accepted by the accompanying plants – or not. This approach maximises biodiversity and sustainability. These are not the monoculture fields that one would expect to see in Provence in France or in Norfolk in England. However, the concept works and is highly appropriate to this potentially harsh environment of Crete and is equally fascinating.
In the 11 years that the farm has been going, Gill has a developed huge experience and expertise. Plants are watered once a week during the summer, but preferably not before harvesting for oil. She knows the needs of her plants and their characteristics and all have names. Although Lavandula angustifolia predominates for essential oil production, the hybrid Lavandula x heterophylla (syn. Lavandula x allardii) is also produced and flowers dried for lavender tea.
Lavandula x heterophylla, a natural landscape plant on Crete, is also grown, given that there is much oil in their leaves. We learned that a staggering 30 kg of dried Lavandula angustifolia flowers are needed to produce only 750 ml of oil while 20 kg of dried L. x heterophylla flowers and leaves give the same amount of oil: this explains why the product is expensive.
Here we smelled various vintages of L. angustifolia and L. x heterophylla essentialoils produced in the last few years. Although chemically indistinguishable, each year had a slightly different aroma, just as you find in fine wines. For more information look at their website.
Derek’s olives are also successful and produce 50-120 kilogrammes of oil annually, all certified organic.
This was a hugely enjoyable occasion: we all admired Gill’s enthusiasm and knowledge of her self-chosen venture. Her presentation was excellent. Thank you, Gill.
Text and photographs by Valerie Whittington.
The visit was by courtesy of Annika Steinhausen and Stelios Kyparissis, MGS members, landscape designers and owners of Chloroplastes, Kalives. Previous visits to earlier projects have been extremely interesting and popular with several members of our branch. We have seen some of their other designs on paper and followed these by visiting the gardens with on-site explanation about choice of plants and their on-going maintenance.
On this occasion, 18 of us enjoyed seeing this delightful garden set in a forest landscape with well chosen, mostly mediterranean, plants. We were welcomed by Annika and Stelios with their three-month-old daughter, Persephone.
Annika gave an excellent background to the garden. Approximately 7,000 square metres, it is surrounded by forest. Work was started in the autumn of 2011. As well as clearing overgrown areas, preparation for planning and designing the garden required an additional 400 cubic metres of soil. There has been continuous development until spring of this year, thus the oldest planting is now three years old, and some of it very recent.
A useful introduction to the garden plan and its layout was given before a guided tour of each area. There is a flower garden, a historical square, a swimming pool area with mostly tropical plants, a fruit garden, and a low hill leading to a pergola above a steep slope with stunning views across to the sea and sheltered by the forest to the side, north-facing. A secret garden has been created by cleaning and tidying up the forest area to make walking through it easy, but it is tucked away from the house. There is also a special play area for children.
Another section is an olive grove consisting of five old olive trees (at least 50 years old), which were dug up and saved during the excavation of the site before the house was built.
Local, natural plants have been used wherever possible, for example, cistus, sage, phlomis, Scabiosa cretica and Ebenus cretica. Olivier Filippi’s nursery near Montpellier, France is the source of several of the drought-tolerant plants chosen here because of the way his methods of production and propagation give plants their best chance of survival in dry climates such as ours. (See the section, ‘Drought’ under Gardening Information on the main MGS website.)
We admired the tall spires of Verbena bonariensis among a variety of mixed planting including for example the Lavandula x intermedia hybrid that was seen to be thriving here where the land is well drained and on a slope, also providing excellent groundcover.
Much use has been made of Phyla nodiflora, often combined with Achillea crithmifolia, as groundcover between stepping stones or as a lawn alternative. We were particularly interested in these plants and how they were being used successfully. We learned that, while both enjoy full sun, Phyla nodiflora is more attractive in the summer, while Achillea crithmifolia looks its best during the winter.
Trees chosen are appropriate to the locality and include a variety of pine, mulberry (Morus nigra), a plane tree (Platanus), Jacaranda, Cercis siliquastrum and Albizia julibrissin.
Winding its way past the trees, a path leads to a focal point in the garden, the pergola. It is planted on either side with many dry garden plant species: in the foreground in the photograph above are Jacobaea maritima (syn. Senecio cineraria), Tulbaghia violacea, Gaura lindheimeri, several different Teucrium speciesand sage.
With thanks to Annika and Stelios of Chloroplastes for a very interesting and informative visit.
A very pleasant afternoon was enjoyed by 24 members and guests in this delightful and well-established garden. It has been designed and developed over eight years with different zones of interest, complete with lovely pots and different containers with a variety of succulents, which greet one at the entrance to the house and patio.
Ron and Renee shared their experience of working in our challenging climate and conditions.
Renee explained how they started working on the garden from the house outwards. Paths were laid and a large area below the house was gravelled as their area for cactus and typical dry-garden plants. It is impressive, with several statement plants such as Strelitzia reginae, Agave americana (syn. A. americana variegata), and Aloe arborescens, with pockets of Gazania, now well established and striking.
Two vegetable plots were created – ‘his and hers’. Ron and Renee have different approaches towards gardening, particularly vegetable growing, which were very interesting. Renee has an informal, experimental approach and now only grows whatever she considers are not so good when bought locally, for example, peas, beans, strawberries and some melons.
Ron’s approach is more formal and he says of his own patch, ‘I’m allowed to plant in straight lines.’ A meticulous weeder, his compost is his speciality (five bins on the go currently), and it is most impressive.
The next stage was to plant trees, including conifers and oleanders, to create greater privacy. Over time a few were lost, but Ron and Renee have had some success with citrus, in spite of being told by locals that they would not flourish on their site. Xerosterni is fairly high (approximately 240 metres above sea level) and windy. However, citrus trees have been planted behind the shelter of the house, which protects them from the worst westerly winds from Souda Bay.
Later the rock garden was started and this is gradually expanding. Renee described how this was started with plants they now consider as ‘unsuitable’, and they have invested in far more drought-tolerant plants, for example, Gazania, Agapanthus praecox, Tulbaghia violacea and succulents such as Aeonium arboreum and the useful Bulbine frutescens for filling spaces between rocks.
Privacy has been created through planting some conifers and oleanders, again a few that were pot-bound or too large to establish easily were lost, but Renee reiterated that they ‘learned by doing and experimentation, repeating success and throwing out the failures’.
This is an important aspect of learning at first by experimenting. MGS membership, meeting in each other’s gardens, sharing successes and failures, knowledge and experience as well as cuttings and seeds has helped all of us to develop a better understanding of gardening in this completely different environment.
So what do Ron and Renee feel they have learned? The following were itemised:
Renee closed her introduction with two quotes from Gertrude Jekyll on gardening:
‘It teaches patience and careful watchfulness, it teaches industry and above all it teaches entire trust,’ and ‘There is no spot of ground, however arid, bare or ugly, that cannot be tamed into such a state as may give an impression of beauty and delight.’
Renee and Ron have certainly created a garden that reflects both sentiments. With thanks to them for sharing their garden, approaches and thoughts with us, and for providing such a delicious afternoon tea.
Text and photographs by Valerie Whittington.
On a lovely sunny morning, a group of 11 members from the MGS Crete Branch met with members who were here on a visit organised by the MGS UK Branch in a taverna at the top of the Imbros Gorge, ready for some of us to join them on the walk.
The Imbros Gorge is an eight-kilometre long walk downhill through an impressive natural gorge flanked by cliff faces of impressive trees and banks of wild flowers. One wonders how the trees survive such a hostile landscape and it does become clear what happens to the ones that don't as you pass some fabulous twisted pine trunks that would make great decorative garden objects if you could ever get them out.
The walk is along a very stony path, so you have to watch your feet constantly; in order to admire the landscape you have to stop, stand still and take your time to take in the vast swathes of greenery and majesty which this gorge gives you.
We did not race down the gorge but, believe me, some folks where doing just that; we all took our time to admire the abundant and beautiful flowers currently in bloom. Some are in the photographs below. Phlomis cretica was in abundance.
Several species of orchids were spotted, including
The gorge narrows and widens constantly and in one place is so narrow you can almost touch both sides. As you carry on down to the end, it opens up completely and you can see the south coast and the sea.
It was interesting to see the Dracunculus vulgaris change as we walked down the gorge.
At the top it was very immature and small, but you could see the plants getting bigger and more mature as we walked downhill.
By the end of the gorge, the plants were huge and fully open showing the enormous purple spathes to everyone, very impressive.
We finished the day in a local taverna where we met with others who had not walked the gorge and shared a splendid lunch. It was altogether a wonderful day. Many thanks to Heather and the UK branch for inviting us to share this special day with them.
Text by Rosemary Thomas
The rest of their garden is also colourful and varied, thanks perhaps to the copious amounts of cow manure added to enrich the soil.
As it was always their intention to grow vegetables, Alan and Lynne installed a 500-litre water container for rainwater collection beneath their lower balcony, and an additional container in a higher section of the garden, bought subsequently, where a further concealed tank fills with agricultural water. These reserve tanks help when summer water is erratic and scant. Three computer-operated irrigation systems were installed to distribute water according to the needs of the trees, plants or crops.
Alan described their aims and methodology: ‘The main focus is on growing vegetables and having fruit trees and grapes. We don’t know much about flowers, but added them to the garden for colour and ground cover. We adopt a rotation system for most vegetables to prevent viruses in the soil, except for tomatoes, as they like growing in the same spot every year. We use only organic compost and fertilizers and never spray any chemicals. Any pest problems are treated organically. All seeds are organic or collected from our own vegetables every year. We plant and prune by the moon; we have a very useful chart which can be purchased from Lunar Organics.
Garden prunings are shredded and composted together with vegetable peelings, so everything goes back into the ground.
Raised beds are used for planting, as the soil stays soft and workable. Each bed is one metre by four metres, so all parts are easily reached for planting with no need stand on the soil, which would result in compaction. Posts at the corners of the raised beds are useful for covering the beds with nets as a deterrent to cats, birds and snail. Full-size olive nets are cut into four and fit over the posts of the beds very well. The nets are taken off when the plants are established and when the snails go to sleep for the summer.’
We learned that once the poppies have finished flowering, these areas are cleared and used for growing a selection of squashes and melons. Some squashes store very well, especially butternut squash. In July and August they are harvested when fully ripe and left in the sun for a few days to harden. Then they are stored in a dark cupboard in the garage - Alan and Lynne are just eating the last few now (end of March).
The group was particularly interested to discover that sweet potatoes are planted every year in May, which are ready for harvesting in December. These are washed, then dried and put in a dark cupboard in the garage and last until May, when they start to sprout again. Enough are kept to replant and can be cut into sections where there is a root.
A large variety of vegetables is grown. In November, carrots, beetroot, broad beans, garlic, cauliflowers, cabbages, broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, rocket and onions are planted. Then in February, more carrots, beetroot, onions, peas and French beans. Runner beans have been unsuccessful in this garden as the flowers refuse to set.
In February, seeds are planted in pots that are left to germinate in Lynne and Alan’s sunroom, which acts as a big greenhouse, for example, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, chillies, aubergines, courgettes, a selection of melons and squashes. When these are big enough, they are potted on and put in the cold frames outside. In May they are planted outside. In the winter months, basil, coriander and parsley are grown. Fennel comes every year from the initial seeds put down years ago.
Alan and Lynne have two fig trees, a lemon, a bitter orange, a mandarin, two plum trees, a persimmon and a loquat (Eriobotrya japonica). They have a few varieties of edible grapes as they have no interest in making wine.
An asparagus bed gives them about six to eight asparagus spears every other day, as Alan, ‘just perfect for our lunch.’
This was a fascinating visit to see and hear how passionate vegetable growers are succeeding in a completely different climate zone to their earlier experience in the UK. Thank you, Alan and Lynne.
Our next venue was in the small village of Kouses at Botano - Cretan Mountain Herbs and Teas shop. What a surprise. From outside it looked like a very small, old-fashioned, typical village store - impossible to see what is inside. Once through the door, however, it was spell-binding and like a ‘Tardis’ full of all sorts of interesting things to discover stacked from floor to ceiling, shelves with a huge selection of teas, spices, natural cosmetics, essential oils, soaps and so on.
As a welcome gesture, three different teas had been prepared for us to sample and were laid out ready on a small table for when we could tear ourselves away from shelves crammed with interest. We spent a long time perusing shelf after shelf, sampling the delicious and unusual teas and making our purchases. These included enticing teas such as ‘Love of Life’ with chamomile flowers, anise, spearmint and rosehips or ‘Ginger Lemon’ with rooibos, ginger, lemon and cacao. There were many different spices or spice mixes such as ‘Piri-piri mix’ made up of garlic, onion and piri–piri chillies which can be seen on their website.
Lunch in Petrokefali was followed by our visit to Mary and Gary Newbery’s garden, a short walk up the hill.
This is a mellow, informal garden reflecting the character of its gardeners and set in a beautiful landscape looking up to snow-capped Mt Psiloritis. It is now in its eighth year, with the teething problems of builders’ rubble and bedrock well past.
The initial plan was to provide screening and to move an old olive tree that was unsuccessful. Mary referred to this as their ‘Dennis the Menace’ tree, as this is what it looked like when it sprouted new growth.
As Mary and Gary do not live here permanently, the garden was designed to take care of itself with a lot of randomly planted lavender and rosemary interspersed with various other plants. These have spread into lovely bushes, leaving little open ground for weeds to flourish.
One type of tree that most of us had not seen before was a rather fine variety of tamarisk with unusual flowers. This was planted near the path with a background of stunning osteospermum used as ground cover, which was at its best in a blaze of colour.
Gary’s creative paths meander around the garden; these are not the usual stone paths as they have unusual mosaics set in at random intervals. Here a path leads to a small patio area with a simple water feature.
Close by was a beautiful Eremophila nivea with its delicate purple flowers contrasting with its silvery leaves.
This was a lovely garden to wander in observing individual plants at close quarters; we ended with refreshments on the terrace.
As soon as we reached the meadow site, Maria, one of our leaders, gave us all a carrier bag and very sharp knives. Immediately she sprang into action, pouncing with glee on a luxuriant poppy plant, breaking off the flower and half digging out the roots. We were all amazed, as we were aware of the uses of the poppy seed, but had not really considered the plant as something edible.
It was then heads down for the next hour or so, while we scoured through the weeds and grass for edible plants.
In general terms, it seems that plants with hair under the leaves are not right for ordinary horta dishes (but since the poppy is a very hairy plant, this did not necessarily follow). We had to look for more dandelion-type plants and dill-like weeds, mostly softer in texture. We found wild celery, which we all (the non-professionals) thought to be just right, but which was dismissed with a loud ‘Ochi’. Our search continued until our bags were stuffed with what looked like a collection of weeds, after an hour or more of collecting. Maria explained that we should only take one plant from any area, and move on to the next, to preserve the plants for future use. The identification of the plants was all done by observation. None of the leaders seems to have names for any of the wild plants.
We then settled outside a lovely old shepherd’s hut/cottage, which very conveniently had a slab stone table, where we emptied all our bags and began the big trimming and sorting session.
Here we cut off all the dead debris from around the plants and trimmed the leaves and sorted them by the type plants. There was one type of plant which looked like a large daisy, with large hairy leaves (in spite of everything we had been told about hairy plants); this was considered to be extra special and would be cooked alone as a delicacy. After we had sorted, we ended up with two stuffed bags full of horta and we returned to the village for the next step of our learning curve.
From the moment we were introduced to the kitchen (this part was only for the women of the group), it was obvious that we were the students. We were shown how to cut vegetables, mix batter, cut and mix meat, and, of course, wash our horta, and make a pudding like a real Greek.
Wearing aprons, we were all set specific tasks, with our progress monitored at every step. We were astounded by some of the measurements of the ingredients – so much oil used, and handfuls of herbs instead of a teaspoonful, and loads of semolina. Conversation was limited (we did not have time and were concentrating totally), but laughter prevailed and tears fell down Jane’s cheeks as the onion smell reached her even through her sunglasses. At each step we were permitted a taste of the dish even though some had just come out of the deep fat pan and were very hot.
Soon our work was coming to an end as a full meal had been prepared using many other ingredients as well as the horta. Mostly the horta was used for little pies and patties as well as being added to the stuffing for an aubergine recipe, which intriguingly was deep-fried before being stuffed. We were allowed to rest and take a break before lunch was served, just slightly ahead of schedule.
Everyone arrived for lunch, although the reservoir walkers missed the start of the meal, as we could not wait to test and taste our work from the fields to the kitchen. The meal was delicious but, as with most Greek meals, I think we catered for an army, not just for ten people.
With thanks to Mary Newbery for organising a very interesting programme and opening her and Gary’s garden for us to enjoy.
Text written by Mary Newbery, Valerie Whittington, Renee Fitch and Pam Dunn.
This DVD was produced by EBC Communications Ltd specially for the MGS as a way of thanking the Society for allowing it to film at Sparoza as part of a series being developed, ‘Gardens in the Sun.’ It is advertised as ‘a new and original way to help maintain and learn more about our "Garden on a Greek Hillside". Professionally produced on location over all four seasons, it is especially aimed at those who have not visited the garden as well as at those who, because they live and garden in other countries all over the world, may never have the opportunity to visit it.’
The audience was mixed with a balance of members who have visited Sparoza and most who have not, a few guests and one member new this year. A good discussion followed in which all present voiced their strong support for the importance of Sparoza being seen as a key factor in our society. Some ideas were put forward in terms of spreading the vast knowledge and experience that exists there to a wider audience outside Greece.The event was accompanied by a delicious selection of cheese and wine. The afternoon was very pleasant, interesting and informative.