Mediterranean Garden Society

The Crete Branch of the MGS

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

Our Branch Head is Valerie Whittington (biography) currently held jointly with Annika Kyparissi (biography). Valerie will hand over the role to Annika over the coming 12 months. Current and prospective members are welcome to contact Annika by email and to follow the Branch on their Facebook page.

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

Σύλλογος Μεσογειακής Κηπουρικήςjoin us on facebook
Ελληνικό ιστότοπος του MGS

Past Events

June 2022
A visit to a unique garden project by the sea on the Akrotiri peninsular

Our group photo in the stunning location of this property

A group of our local members and guests were privileged to visit this very special development by kind permission of the owners. Annika Kyparissis (Chloroplastes is the Landscape garden design company responsible for the landscaping) described the concept of the project prior to a guided tour of the land.

The land of 40,000 square metres which slopes towards the sea near Marathi, was developed with two modern earth houses. The firm of architects responsible for the house construction is well known for its simple and restrained design language, transcribing a modern architectural vocabulary into the ever-changing scene of the 21st century.  

Early planting with Salvia pomifera, Lomelosia minoana and Hyparrhenia hirta

Annika considered it a wonderful opportunity to be involved from the beginning of the project plan and Chloroplastes are still involved in the garden’s development. The success of the garden design, a natural and individual integration into the environment became clear through our tour.

New pathway with anemone

Landscaping:
An initial investigation study of the plant stock before construction began, showed an area-wide mosaic of phrygana and maquis, but also relics of the evergreen hardwood forest of northwest Crete.

Some of the species already on the land include: Calicotome villosa, Ceratonia siliqua, Cistus creticus, Coridothymus capitatus, Erica manipuliflora, Helichrysum stoechas subsp. barrelieri, Hyparrhenia hirta, Lagurus ovatus, Myrtus communis, Olea europaea, Phlomis fruticosa, Pistacia lentiscus, Querecus coccifera, Rhamnus lycioides ssp. oleoides, Salvia fruticosa, Sarcopoterium spinosum, Satureja thymbra. Near the seashore Crithmum maritimum, Limonium sp. were found.

Landscape design / planning was based on these findings and from the start of planning, great importance was attached to preservation, renaturation and ecological new planting. They would destroy as little as possible, working mostly with native plant species plus Mediterranean plants in general that don’t require water once established. Local materials particularly rocks from the land were used.

Lygeum spartum with Lomelosia minoana

Biodiversity was planned by careful consideration of plants, for example: Arbutus unedo, Ceratonia siliqua, Cistus creticus, Cistus salviifolius, Cupressus sempervirens, Medicago arborea, Myrtus communis, Phillyrea latifolia, Phlomis fruticosa, Pinus pinea, Pistacia lentiscus, Pistacia terebinthifolius, Rhamnus alaternus, Salvia officinalis, Salvia pomifera, Satureja thymbra, Thymus capitatus and many more.

The natural planting scheme was stunning

Near to the houses, the flora was further enriched with other mediterranean plants that are well adapted to the local climate and soil conditions. Plants that attract wildlife such as bees and butterflies were used to help insects play an important ecological role, for example, Calamintha nepeta, Centranthus ruber, Lomelosia minoana.

More natural planting

The use of invasive plants such as Lantana camara etc. was deliberately avoided as was creating a grass lawn. Lawn areas have been created by Mediterranean ground cover such as Phyla nodiflora.

In total more than 18,000 plants were planted (in phase 1) with over 144 plant species.

Naturally, in an area of this size the implementation of the project was phased over time.

Roof gardens:
Construction started in May 2020 and planting after the summer in November 2020. During this period the construction of the buildings continued until spring 2021.

Annika described the complexity of designing and implementing the green roof with the necessity for layers on the waterproofing insulation, two layers of special soil and irrigation.

The roof pathway and rockery slope

Garden construction:
This started at the end of January 2021 with planting making pathways, the completion of sloped-rockeries and irrigation systems where needed.

Completion of Phase 1 took place in June 2021 and Phase 2 in June 2022. So, we were visiting a very young garden.

A section of the roof garden with endemic Ebenus cretica and Stipa

Maintenance:
There were several questions regarding watering and maintenance. Although planned as a low maintenance garden nevertheless weeding until plants are established and manual watering by hand in the establishment phase took a lot of time in the first year or two.

A well-established section of the garden bordering forestry land

This was a much-appreciated opportunity for our enthusiastic group to visit and we thank the owners of the property for giving their permission to enable this rewarding and fascinating experience. We all feel that another visit in a few years would be very worthwhile to see it fully established.

A delicious, convivial meal was enjoyed nearby in a traditional taverna by the sea.

Text by Valerie Whittington
Photographs by Annika Kyparissis - Photo 9 by Valerie Whittington

May 2022
Visit to Sara and Roger’s Garden, Kefalas, Apokoronas
As every gardener understands gardens are forever changing and evolving, whether it be by the hands of nature itself or decisions taken by the gardeners. Since the last visit to our garden by the MGS in June 2016 several developments have taken place, largely due to the influence of travel to Japan in 2017, Marrakech in 2019 and a visit to the Hauser and Wirth Art Gallery in Bruton Somerset in December 2019.

Birds eye view

The influences from Japan are most acutely observed in our decision to give up on ever having a successful olive harvest from our 8 olive trees, planted as saplings in 2004, and instead to cloud prune them, creating visual, sculptural and textural interest. This was as a result of observation of the careful and contemplative process of pruning fir trees in Japan. Japanese gardens have an incredible sense of balance and harmony, creating a calm environment to encourage quiet contemplation and mindfulness, and these are characteristics we have been cultivating by incorporating water features, developing pathways through the garden, natural stone sculptures and seating areas.

View from the swimming pool

Our visit to Marrakech in February 2019 included a first time visit to the Le Garden Secret in the heart of the Medina designed by Tom Stuart-Smith and a revisit to the Majorelle Garden which is now extended to include the formerly private garden of Yves St Laurent.

A garden ‘room’

Le Jardin Secret very much appealed to our design aesthetic, incorporating both an Islamic garden and an exotic garden filled with plants from all over the world and creating an oasis of peace, where you could allow yourself to indulge in idleness and contemplation thanks to the shade of the trees and the intimacy of the enclosed space.

A garden ‘room’

We already have several aloes, agave’s and kalenchoes, including Aloe striata, Aloe speciosa, and Kalenchoe bharensis ‘Nuda’, Agave furcraea, Agave angustifolia, in our garden which first came from Morocco whilst on an MGS tour in 2015, and we are further extending their visibility in the garden and developing areas with succulents and cacti.

Aeonium ‘Suncup’

Our first fishpond was influenced by the blue waterways and ponds witnessed on our very first visit to the Majorelle gardens in 2008. But on this visit the garden and the colours of Morocco influenced the design of the most significant development in our garden, the creation of a swimming pool where the walled vegetable plot previously stood, in spring 2020! This addition has completely transformed the garden both aesthetically in terms of its design, colour and incorporation of cactus beds, but has also created a completely new perspective within the garden opening up previously unseen views across it. Needless to say, it has transformed our experience and enjoyment of the garden, and the lighting at night creates a wonderful ambience transporting us back to Morocco.

Swimming pool

We had been aware of the Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf for some time through his books, but our visit to the Hauser and Wirth Art Gallery in Bruton, Somerset was our first direct experience of one of his gardens and it was a revelation. We visited on a damp and overcast December day but the garden was so full of colour, texture, structure, movement and visual interest enhanced by the weather and raindrops on the seed heads. It was inspirational and inspired us to grow some herbaceous perennial plants from seed and try our hand at creating two beds planted with Rudbeckia, Echinacea, Salvia, Stipa, Pennisetum, Echinops, Heliopsis, and Coreopsis which provide summer colour, attract pollinators into the garden and continue to provide colour, structure and textural interest into the autumn and winter. We have also incorporated an organic plant mulch to help water retention and keep down weeds. these two borders are in their early stages of development.

Echinacea

Our garden is approximately 1,200 square metres and has been 18 years in the making to date, starting from a completely blank canvas, and with us being very inexperienced gardeners. But we have loved the journey, have learnt so much, made many mistakes but have discovered gardening to be an extension of our creative projects in which the aesthetics of the garden reflect our art and design background and visual interests.

Herbaceous perennial planting

Gardening in Crete has allowed us to indulge our love of nature, landscape and outdoor living; we spend far more time in the garden than in the house. We have deliberately created different ‘garden rooms’ to create surprises, visual interest and to encourage use of the garden throughout the seasons and at different times of day. Early planting decisions to plant trees to create provide shade, a windbreak, sculptural and textural interest and also to define spaces are maturing well. We have apricot, avocado, cherry, mandarin, orange and lemon trees, and our yuccas and palms are all tall and vigorous.

Our two wisteria are finally after 10 years flowering well and providing shade over a pergola. Some of the original perennials which we obtained from Olivier Filippi’s nursery in France, Ebenus cretica, Scabiosa cretica, Epilobium canum ‘Western Hills’, Perovskia ‘Blue spire’ and Teucrium cossonii are well established. It also gives us great pleasure that our garden is a haven for wildlife attracting bees, butterflies, toads, damsel flies and many different species of birds.

Trees and structure

A garden is never ‘finished’, but we have reached a stage where we feel the landscaping is near completion, and that apart from the ongoing maintenance we are now in a position to spend more time enjoying, relaxing and experiencing the garden. It is both good for our mental health and helps to keep us fit.

And finally…the pink wall is no longer!

Black wall

Text and photos: Sara Gilding

April 2022
Celebrating the arrival of spring with a visit Valerie and Clive’s garden, Drapanos, Apokoronas
Arriving home, after spending two and a half months in the UK, to the welcome of our glorious echiums and a meadow full of blue lupins, was quite a change from when we left in mid-January.

Crete has had one of the worst winters for some time. Spring garden visits have not taken place for three years given the pandemic, so we welcomed our local members to a spring get-together to enjoy our garden at this time of year.

Entrance to the avli, full of colour

I first wrote about the development of my garden Designing and Working with Natural Landscape in Crete in MGS The Mediterranean Garden Journal No. 63. Now into our 17th year here, it has matured well and is fulfilling my aims: two further an articles on the further development and maintaining the garden, can be read in TMG 103, January 2021 and TMG 104, April 2021. Also, on this webpage there is a review of the last members’ visit in December 2018. These provide further background to seeing the garden ‘in the flesh’ at the most splendid time of year.

That year Carl and Caroline wrote: ‘It’s amazing what can be done on an overgrazed rocky hillside. Your garden is like an oasis. In fact it stands out on google maps – we looked to check directions. Your garden has many different, private areas with an abundance of plants, it must be really special in spring. We loved the trees.’ This spring visit was intended to show the seasonal contrast and developments since then.

Mature shrubs balanced with my own and natural underplanting

This visit was to celebrate the arrival of spring and with it the profusion of colour from the many wild flowers in the garden alongside, and often among, those introduced over the years. The wild flowers have always been valued after – all they were here well before us. However, at this time of year the echiums are the most striking and I have several dominating different sections of the garden. All started as cuttings from the mother plant which has long since worn itself out with its prolific flowering. The vibrant blue flowering spires attract butterflies and bees in such numbers that the air hums with their activity.

Many different areas and walkways edged with spring flowers

I gave a brief introduction to the garden in our avli where old photographs were available for visitors to see and envisage some of the journey involved in helping the garden to reach its maturity.

Looking back, I realised that it is about 12 years since this group had visited in spring, probably because other members of our branch wish also to open their gardens at this time of year and rightly so. More recent visits have taken place after the long dry summer or late autumn to look at specific plants and strategies to survive summer heat and drought. Interestingly, it has been groups from both California and Australia that have been here in March and April.

It seemed pertinent to talk about how different the garden is in autumn compared with now. It is lush, colourful and packed full of plants gently touching each other or mulched. Hardly any soil is exposed, and this is a key strategy for keeping out unwanted grasses, thistles and the invasive oxalis at this time of year.

Looking down from the roof terrace

Looking down from the roof terrace gave the group a bird’s eye view of the shape and structure of the garden as well as insight into the land we had inherited from seeing the surroundings beyond. This path lined with Iris florentina was inspired by an early visit to Sparoza, I have continued developing the sweep of them ever since. The echium stands proud flaunting its azure blue spires.

The meadow looking down from the bank

Wildflowers co-exist, such as Smyrnium olusatrum and the stately lime green S. rotundifolium in flower beds as well as in the meadow. Anemone coronaria are usually the first to herald the spring. The meadow on the day of the visit was a sea of blue lupins with many other colours more unobtrusive filling the carpet from flora such as anthemis, artemisia, calendula, chamomile, Glebionis coronaria, Geranium robertianum, pimpernel, Tragopogon porrifolius (salsify or goat’s beard), Scabiosa maritima, silene, tordylium, trifolium, vetch and a few Muscari comosum (tassel hyacinth) starting to bloom alongside the paths.

The ‘mediterranean hillside’

The ‘mediterranean hillside’ area is densely planted with Teucrium fruticans, Pittosporum tobira, Santolina chamaecyparissus, atriplex, rhamnus and more.

Over the years I have learned what works in this garden, an exposed, windswept, rocky landscape, through advice, experimentation and experience gained through trial and error. Clive told everyone it is my obsession, and he is correct, I love it and walk it daily.

I explained how propagation is key in developing the garden further and keeps the passion for growing my own plants constant. Cuttings are taken from those plants proven to be tough and happy in this environment. For example, the terraces were originally developed with Carpobrotus edulis and Mesembryanthemum cordifolium to provide ground cover on a virgin ground and prevent erosion but now these areas are all made up of plants that have been propagated and produced in this way. The majority are succulents, cistus, osteospermum, agaves, aloes, valerian, pelargonium, and bulbines which fill areas between rocks forming bands or hummocks. All are hardy and cope through the drought of summer with little water, especially now that the trees provide shade for part of the day.

I invited people to visit my agave waterfall in our ravine – another creative way of using extra plants taken out from other areas.

At the top of the agave waterfall

Recycling is also a key aspect. I have four composts. All shrub and tree pruning debris is shredded. This is Clive’s responsibility and I keep him busy with plenty of material! This is composted along with kitchen waste or if very woody it is used for defining paths in the ravine or wooded areas. This looks attractive and keeps the paths open. The homemade compost is mixed with soil and small gravel that I have to buy in to provide a friable planting material for seedlings and small plants. Our own soil is heavy clay in very stony ground consisting of a considerable amount of bed rock, so much so that planting pockets have to be created in certain areas.

‘The paths are an adventure!’

There was plenty of interaction from the group which elicited the aspects I have written about. We all agreed that gardens are always in progress, responding to nature too.

In September a huge carob in the field to our north was blown down in a strong gale. It fell across the small lane dumping its huge canopy onto part of the northern boundary damaging the stone wall and fencing. A considerable section was flattened, destroying a number of trees such as silk, pomegranate, cypress, oleander and cassia. A large echium was also destroyed as were numerous shrubs. This whole section was smothered and had to be cleared. Fortunately our friendly farmer came to the rescue with his chain saw and helped clear the debris from our garden but it took considerable expertise to remove the formidable double trunk from blocking the lane. As you can imagine it was a shock and caused me some upset but …. then it became a new opportunity to create a new section of the garden out of this chaos!

An agave at the top of the meadow

This agave at the top of the meadow is ready to flower. Being monocarpic, sadly it will then die.

Gardens evolve and are ever changing, and that is what is so rewarding in spite of what can be viewed as a calamity. Already very badly damaged oleanders are producing new growth. The cypresses are not. The stone wall and fence have been repaired but we have lost our borrowed landscape of what was a magnificent tree. We have a photograph of the land when we bought it and before any building or garden work. The tree was a landmark from a far distance. Interestingly, a smaller tree next to its site – probably a seedling from the original is swelling and growing but it will take many years to make such a fine replacement. Meanwhile my new garden section is taking shape.

Surprises around every corner! This one in the dry garden at the top of the terraces

Much discussion and time to walk the garden followed the introduction and questions. This was a real springtime celebration and a joy to share it with likeminded, interested gardeners.

Warm comments concluded this visit such as:
‘You have created the most beautiful garden, sustainable and sympathetic with the stunning landscape. It is so colourful in springtime and glorious accompanied by the birdsong. Very inspirational.’ Sara

‘Such an amazingly beautiful garden. ……The paths are an adventure and the whole thing is a jewel.’ Breda

‘I loved the overview from the roof and the agave waterfall – and all the little sitting areas.’ Gillian

‘I enjoyed strolling around, the many paths makes you curious to explore more and more. It is obvious how much love you invested over the years: You see it, listen it, feel it and smell it!’ Annika

A delicious lunch at Leonidas Taverna in the village followed a 10-minute stroll from the house.

Text by Valerie Whittington
Photographs by Annika Kyparissi and Valerie

February 2022 - Plaka, Apokoronas
A personal reflection of the MGS Jordanian excursion
Nancy and Dave Moon had promised to, ‘do a talk/slide show of what we enjoyed of our Jordanian tour. It was a fantastic mixture of history, mostly Biblical, and lovely wild flowers.’ With the pandemic and its ensuing restrictions, it has taken until now to make it happen! Nancy provides the following precis of this eagerly, long-awaited presentation: A personal reflection of the MGS Jordanian excursion in 2020 ‘through Nancy and Dave Moon’s eyes’ at their home in Plaka, Apokoronas.

‘These notes and photos are of the MGS wildflower tour to Jordan in March 2020, which was unfortunately cut short due to Covid. John Joynes wrote a very good article about the trip which is in the MGS Journal 101 of July 2020. If members read this in conjunction with that, they will get a good idea of the trip as a whole.

The tour started in Madaba, a 45-minute journey from Amman, and much of the tour was in the surrounding area. As it has a mediterranean climate which covers about twenty percent of the country, many of the wild flowers are similar to those here in Crete.
 
The wildflower tour started on Wednesday, 11 February. A bus took the group north towards Jerash via Mount Nebo where Moses looked down on to the Promised Land. We stopped at the roadside to walk down a stony track where among other pretty flowers we found tiny wild tulips.

Tulipa agenensis on a track beside the road

Also nearby there were amazing wild irises. They could have come from a nursery. This one, in the photo below, is Iris nigricans (Black Iris); the national flower of Jordan.

Iris nigricans

After staying the night at Jerash we visited the imposing Ajlun Castle, then carried on to the very fertile Wadi Aljan which has been farmed since Biblical times. We were lucky to come across a farmer ploughing with horse and ancient-style wooden plough. The old Syrian olive trees have amazing trunks, and a ‘skirt’ of roots round the base.

Ploughing with horse and ancient-style wooden plough

During our walk along the wadi we found another wild iris, the ‘Nazarath iris’ Iris bismarckiana.

Iris bismarckiana

For the afternoon Dave and I opted to look for orchids in Dibbin Nature Reserve instead of visiting Jerash archaeological site (or as Oron, our botanist, put it, ‘a pile of stones’). Unfortunately, it soon started to rain but we were still able to find many orchids similar to those found on Crete.

The next morning, we drove south towards the dead sea through more spectacular scenery. At another roadside stop, we clambered over a muddy scrubby hillside to find clumps of Iris haynei.

Iris haynei

Also, on the hillside I noticed this unusual plant, Eremostachys laciniata.

Eremostachys laciniata

On reaching a Dead Sea resort many of the group, including us, braved the chilly water for a float. A strange feeling, which I have no desire to repeat. It soon started raining again, and the bus had to take a long detour because sections of the desert highway had been closed due to flooding. We arrived at Petra in the dark.

Due to miserable weather it was decided to visit Little Petra next day which was spectacular.

Little Petra

Apart from an oleander, the only flower I noticed was a Bellevalia stepporum in a corner. 

Bellevalia stepporum

Back on the bus we drove uphill through heavy mist and rain, to stop at a very muddy hillside to look for flowers. There were many clumps of tiny Iris Regis-uzziae (King Uzziae iris) its colour ranging from white to pale blue.

Iris regis-uzziae

This pretty Leontice leontopetalum (Lion’s Foot) caught my eye.

Leontice leontopetalum

Due to the weather we then returned to the hotel.

That evening we learnt that, due to COVID 19, Amman airport was closing in two days. We would need to return to Madaba the next morning so people could book and catch new flights. We were all disappointed that the tour had to be abandoned. Dave and I hope to return to Jordan to visit the famous Petra archaeological site, and also Wadi Rhum.’   

Jill writes:
‘It was a really lovely event today at Dave and Nancy’s. It was rather wet so the garden tour didn’t happen (though I was lucky to get a guided tour with Nancy afterwards when the rain stopped and it was looking immaculate). We had a delicious cake Nancy had made, with our coffee before the talk. Being a small group, the talk was more like a relaxed conversation - plus lots of interesting historical and other information from Nancy. Her flower photographs were amazing and we had fun trying to identify some none of us recognised.’

November 2021
Visit to Jill and Clive Pellett’s Garden in Gavalochori. As a superb extra Bob Burlumi gave a short presentation following his visit to a Bio Farm in the United Arab Emirates

Given the inclement weather during the week and the storm during the night, we were incredibly lucky to have a very pleasant morning to spend time with MGS friends having warm drinks and homemade baking as a welcome to the garden in the delightful setting of the garden.

The pergola provided a practical space for everyone gathering together to hear the ‘story of the garden’

Jill and Clive have been in their home for three years this coming January. The house was built in 2006/7 by John and Margaret McCalman. We were so pleased that they joined the group for this event. They explained that the plot was just a piece of rough hillside and after building the house they let the contours and rocky outcrops of the land dictate how the garden evolved. It is an interesting piece of land with stunning views of both sea and mountains. Photographs of the first year of garden creation were on display and it was fascinating to see the growth and development so many years later.

Various hard landscaping works created the levels and Jill and Clive have added further steps and paths to ease access to the whole plot

In this area below the pool the wild shrubs such as Euphorbia dendroides are well tended and make bold statements in this natural, mediterranean garden section. Heidi Gildemaster, author and past president of the MGS, considered this particular euphorbia as, ‘a master of drought’.

Architectural plants like the multi-stemmed yucca in the photograph make a real feature

Raised beds and borders were created with the addition of brought-in topsoil. John told how after moving a large amount of rocks and stones, approximately 35 tons of gravel have been laid over membrane in the upper garden.

Over the years trees and shrubs have come and gone and the challenge of finding the right plants for the various aspects in the garden continues.

Rosemary flourishing in its situation

Members were encouraged to walk around the garden and Jill was especially keen to hear suggestions for plants for the large rockery below the pool and leading down to the olive grove and wildflower area.

John and Margaret agreed that it had been a great deal of work to establish the garden initially but they have enjoyed many years in it. Also the stunning views of Souda Bay and the White Mountains from the garden and terrace areas, which were sadly shrouded in cloud today, have made the dream of living here in Crete even more special for Jill and Clive.

The stunning view

Emirates Bio Farm: A brief overview of Bob’s presentation.

Bob provided a very interesting background to the region of the United Arab Emirates founded in December 1971. We learned that the first President, H.H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Hahyan, wanted to recreate the fertile plains in the Arab Peninsular as they were thousands of years ago. As a result, The Emirates Bio Farm Site was created.

Our usual perception of ‘the desert’  

Located in Al Ain, Emirates Bio Farm is the UAEs largest organic farm, specialized in producing certified organic vegetables, fruits and eggs through the use of sustainable farming practices to provide customers with the freshest organic products on sale within 24 hours of being harvested.

Currently, it covers an astonishing 250,000 square metres with plans for an additional 1,000,000 square metres, nine wells 200 metres deep supply the necessary water.

A glimpse at the various methods of cultivation employed on the farm

Three methods of production were described: the use of greenhouses, shade cloth and outside areas.
Plants are individually drip fed, being watered twice a day. Weeds are picked manually and fertiliser hand sprayed to improve intake. Interplanting crops is deemed valuable in protecting from disease and pests. Pollination takes place by hand in the greenhouses.

Trees act as boundaries and provide shade

Trees, such as Moras and Neis, are used to attract insects as well as provide shade. Vegetables such as cabbage and fennel are planted to attract insects away from more vulnerable crops. Corn is planted to distract birds from eating the vegetables. Many insects do not survive the summer heat.

Thoughtful organisation and planning includes double entry doors for the greenhouses as well as cross-ventilation for cooling the environment. Fans extract air across one wall and there are cardboard screens on the opposite wall with fine water spray projected across it.

Impeccable design to provide shade and water

It was impressive to learn that vegetables produced here are on supermarket shelves within 24 hours. There is a free-range Chicken Farm with 15,000 chickens producing 8000 eggs a day. Fertiliser is made into pellets on site from chicken manure. Bee Hives produce honey.

This was a most interesting insight into farming and food production in this challenging desert region. We were delighted to have had this interesting presentation.

A successful Bring and Buy Stall of garden-related items was held to support the development of our MGS garden in Sparoza, Sally’s Memorial Fund. These were exchanged, raising a donation from our branch to this special fund.

Text by Valerie Whittington based on the visit and notes provided by Jill Pellet and Bob Burlumi.
Photos of the garden by Valerie, the Emirates Bio Farm provided by Bob.

September 2021
Excursion to the Botanical Garden of the Monasteries of Metamorfos

On this, warm and sunny autumn day we gathered in Vamos to take a small bus to our destination: the botanical garden of the monasteries of Agia Kyriaki and Metamorphoseon, east of the village of Varypetro.

The entrance to Monastery Agia Kyriaki

At the lower monastery of Agia Kyriaki we were warmly welcomed by the nuns. Then we continued on foot through the green valley towards the garden. There are caves and hermitages in many places along the paths and the main trail is part of the hiking route to the Lefka Ori (White Mountains).

The valley is home to around 335 species of flora, which is around a fifth of the rich Cretan flora (1,740 species, including 21 endemic).

Achillea cretica is a pretty endemic plant (photographed in June)

The garden itself is located on the slope below the new monastery. Approximately 1,300 square metres it has been created explicitly for the protection and promotion of medicinal and aromatic plants of Crete.

Whilst the holy sisterhood of Chrysopigi made the land available, the project was started by the Konstantinos K. Mitsotakis Foundation ("Ydrima Mitsotakis") who financed the construction of the botanical educational garden, a reforestation project above the hiking trail near Therisso, and the expansion and signposting of the E4 hiking trail.

Looking up from the start of the garden to the Metamorphoseon monastery

The Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature - HSPN was assigned to the management and co-financing of the project overall. This is the oldest society for the environmental protection in Greece, and they assigned Chloroplastes for the landscape architectural planning and construction in the summer of 2018.

Following the design study which included a topography, landscaping concept, masterplan and irrigation plan, the project was ready for construction in August 2018.

The Concept plan

The stone paths were built in the old "Kalderimi" style with the local stones from the area. Benches and a small square were added with a spectacular view of the surrounding landscape.

Stone pathways lead the visitor through the garden

As all plants are native so they did not require an automatic irrigation system. So only a water tap system was installed for manual irrigation during the establishment phase.

The collection of plants from the wild was undertaken by the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature. Miltos Gletsos from the society and the botanist Dr Eirini Vallianatou spent a considerable time in the Cretan landscape to find the relevant plants.

Appropriate signage alongside plants inform the visitor

On the other hand, a large number of existing phrygana plants have also been preserved: the list of existing plants is available for download here. The forest authority also made donations. Today the garden itself is home to about 59 species of plants, and a list of those plants which have been added is available to download here.

Many plants have taken very well such as this Salvia pomifera with Origanum onites above, flowering in June

However, as expected, it is still necessary to replant a few species that have not survived.

After the tour of the botanical garden we went to the new monastery Metamorfoseon up above. This was reached by a series of stone steps winding up the hillside. It was a delightful walk with a series of tiny humped backed bridges crossing the stream bed along the way. A few of us opted to take the bus.

The route to the upper monastery was achieved by a series of steps with attractive natural vegetation to each side

Here, too, we were welcomed in a friendly manner by the nuns. While standing in the church, we learned about the history and philosophy of the monastery. We were astounded by the skill and beauty of the nuns’ art and textile work within the church.

The Metamorphoseon monastery is beautiful in a stunning location

We had a delightful break in the lovely courtyard with delicious home-made cakes and biscuits baked by the nuns, coffee and an unusual soft drink made from the fruits of the carob tree.

Enjoying the hospitality and taking a break in the upper courtyard

After visiting the monastery shop, buying items made by the nuns themselves, the bus continued to the neighbouring village of Therisso to the Antartis tavern. In the late afternoon we were back in Vamos, exhausted and happy from the eventful day.

For more information about the botanical garden you can visit the websites of the HSPN and Chloroplastes.

Text and photographs by Annika Kyparassi and Valerie Whittington

October 2020
A visit to the Botanical Park of Crete, Fournes, Chania

At last, after it being impossible for the past seven months to hold events due to Covid19 restrictions, we were able to recommence our Crete Branch programme whilst acknowledging that our activity would, of necessity, be modified given the current pandemic and adherence to current government guidelines. During the visit, all current rules were adhered to.

Looking down from the top of the Park

Thus, in mid-October twenty six of us visited The Botanical Park of Crete, which is particularly interesting at this time of year with its various fruiting plants, several of which are used in their homemade recipes in the taverna or produce for sale in the shop. There is also plenty of shade in the garden to ensure a pleasurable walk.
 
I had arranged an individual programme for us, which included:

  • A tea tasting from Mediterranean herbs on arrival
  • A talk about the background of the development of the Botanical Park by Petros Marinakis
  • A Cookery demonstration
  • An opportunity to walk around the park
  • Lunch

The tea tasting allowed for a relaxed start to our visit. The majority of us had travelled a fair distance and many of us had not met this year because of the pandemic. Some, like Clive and me, had been in ‘lockdown’ in the UK, another in Ireland. Others had remained in Crete, unable to return to their respective countries in March. We shared our respective stories and were so glad of this opportunity to meet in such a relaxing and beautiful environment.

After tasting our welcome tea Petros led us to the stone, atmospheric amphitheatre to deliver his talk. It is in an excellent situation with lovely views into the valley below and hills beyond. He was interested that all of us in the group live on Crete, some full time, others part-time and love to garden here. He believes that all who come to Crete love the island and its rich diverse environment.

Looking down to the lake and dry river bed below from the amphitheatre

To illustrate this, we were tested on our knowledge of herbs as he passed several around for us to look at, smell or taste. There were examples of wild thyme and an Iranian variety to taste, rosemary, oregano, dittany (which is endemic to Crete) and a sweet lavender. The many different herbs varieties make them interesting and they have been used for different purposes throughout the ages both for medicinal purposes and in cooking. This was light-hearted and fun.

Then, he gave some of the history of the park. In 2003 an electric cable broke in the village of Lakki further up the mountainside and the resulting fire devastated 20 hectares of the family land with over 200 olive trees burned. Petros believes that some may have been the oldest on the planet.

So, what to do? How could they diversify, do something different to create and help the local economy as well as the family?

Petros enquired, ‘How do we live now? There is so much technology, we live in boxes and people are less close to nature.’  

Thinking creatively and using their imagination, he and his three brothers developed their project by being enterprising and after much research and hard work realized what has been called ‘this special, earthly paradise!’ They wanted to create a garden in which visitors could walk, enjoy nature, learn about fruit, food and use plants as a vehicle for education in Petros’ words, ‘to know what produces what’.

Recognising that the area’s unique micro-climate would support this new venture they opened to the public in 2010, and have become the only garden in the EU which specialises in fruit, Mediterranean plants and herbs.

The tropical area is lush and vibrant with many exotic surprises

In this area of about two hundred acres there are now fruit trees from all over the world, herbs, medicinal and ornamental plants, where the soil and the microclimate of the area make it a paradise for hundreds of plants and animals. Peacocks roam, badger sets are noted, deer can be spotted as can a variety of birds. There is also a small vegetable farm and an area where Kri Kri are raised.

It is the microclimate that has made the family vision a reality. This part of Crete has three different climate zones, it is unusual; the geography and the position of the island with its high mountains, the mediterranean on the  north coast and the Libyan sea on the south ensures that influences from Africa and the Mediterranean provide a particular richness and diversity. Crete has the richest flora in Europe with a great many endemic species on the island.

The Mediterranean section where the Mexican sage Leucantha and Cascabela thevetia (a relative of Nerine oleander) blend perfectly

The flat areas of Chania are noted for high quality citrus and avocado. Olive trees thrive in the mid zone and an alpine zone exists above this in the mountains. The Park reflects this in its layout although it does not have an alpine section, it is not high enough. The land itself is shaped like a bowl which ensures the area is protected from the north wind by the mountains.

Section one is tropical at the highest part of the park with mango, guava and many other fruit varieties and ornamental trees  from other parts of the world. Leading down the hillside to the Mediterranean section then local produce, all used in the taverna including vegetables and fruit such as citrus, cherries, apple and grapes for wine cultivation. The eco system provides a balance so that plants help each other grow and survive. No chemicals are used; the Park has ‘Green Key’ certification reflecting their environmental standards.

The Brazilian pipe plant, Aristolochia gigantea, intrigued everyone

The area as a whole is supported through the restaurant with using locally produced food and the gastronomy of the Cretan diet is promoted. Petros regards this as a philosophy, a way of thinking. A diet that has been proved as one of the best in the world with the population living longer in the past. In the local village ,for example, it was not unusual for villagers to live until they were 100 years old. Traditional work patterns usually ensured regular exercise particularly walking.

He went on the explain key aspects of the traditional Cretan diet:

  • Olive oil consumption – he told us that one family might consume 1 litre a day (200-300 litres annually)
  • The use of local, seasonal ingredients
  • Vegetables provide the basis of the cuisine (meat used to be eaten once a week on Sunday, Christmas and Easter, this was mostly lamb)
  • Wild plants such as horta are consumed regularly
  • A glass of wine at both lunch and dinner being the norm

Having given an excellent background introduction to this visit we were introduced to the chef for our cookery demonstration. This was the dish we were to see prepared and later sample with lunch.

Cookery demonstration in the ampitheatre

Ingredients assembled included the obligatory olive oil, courgette, including the flower and leaves, tomato (with leaves), horta, aubergine, solanum leaves, celery, pomegranate, orange, guava, garlic, pepper and various herbs including purslane. It was a very colourful array, all duly chopped, put into a casserole dish, sprinkled with salt and pepper then dried orange skin (for flavour!). Almost half a litre of olive oil drizzled over all ingredients completed this delicious looking dish; we looked forward to sampling it later.

Petros emphasised that the quantity of olive oil is the key to the Cretan diet. We were intrigued by the quantity of different ingredients that made up the meal. We were told that traditionally no recipes were used, instead food combinations according to what was available created a meal.

This dish was called ‘του πεθερού’ which translates loosely as sharing together, the mixing 'of the in-laws' because of the marriage of all the ingredients in the dish. Siebetherio - a relationship of mutual benefit or dependence.

Petros answered various questions, including the inevitable one regarding water use in the Park. He explained that the area has high humidity and water is plentiful underground from the White Mountains. They have their own water from a bore-hole nine metres into the ground from which plants are watered during the summer.

Another beautiful exotic from Brazil, a Princess Flower, Tibouchina urvilleana. Its large purple flowers and soft hairy leaves add interest and a burst of color to any landscape

We were then invited to wander the paths of the Park to experience more than 150 species of fruit trees along the way with the many herbs, medicinal and ornamental plants that it hosts. He hoped we would enjoy the walk and taking the opportunity to really appreciate the beauty and character of the place.

The two-and-a-half-kilometre walk took up two hours for those who explored the full trail. The path, steep in places, is amid naturally beautiful surroundings with ample opportunity to get to know the many different plants and trees that thrive in this uniquely planted slope. Starting 165 metres above sea level the path winds its way down to the dry river-bed way below. (Dry at the time of our visit).

Helpful signage along the paths provides plant names and country of origin and the route to the various parts of the Botanical Park (tropical trees, fruit trees, citrus trees, herbs and vines).

Looking at the Park and its facilities, it is impossible to imagine that it is this same area that was completely burned in the fire of 2003 that is now literally reborn through its ashes.
 

In various sections of the Park, amid the now colorful, vibrant landscape stand the shells of several burnt old olive trees, as a reminder to this sad fire, the history and origins of the park

This was a special place to meet as our first event after an unprecedented gap of so long. It was special that a few members’ non-gardener partners joined us. We enjoyed the spectacular scenery, examples of local flora and fauna as well as interesting tropical and subtropical varieties from all over the world. The changing seasons and the continuing maturity of the Park provide the incentive to enjoy visiting again and again.

Several people commented:
Jill and Bob wrote,
‘We had a lovely day - interesting talks, beautiful walk and an amazing lunch! Thanks for organising this event and please pass on a big thank you to Petros and his staff.’

Jeannie said,
‘I really enjoyed our visit especially meeting up again with other members. I was impressed by the way the whole garden is structured. There was always something interesting to look at around every corner. I hadn't been there for about four years but I'll definitely make the effort to visit more often, if only for the delicious food.

Echium candicans, The Pride of Madeira

Mary wrote,
‘It was very enjoyable, and the lunch was excellent as was the service. I suppose my main impression was just how well everything has advanced over the eight years or so since we last visited, and the great amount of shade and variation within the garden. I wonder how they sourced so many various plants. Having just been given a dragon fruit cutting, it was interesting to see some trained against uprights, and also all the underplanting in the shade. I was surprised by the turn out, and it was lovely to meet new and renew old acquaintances.’  

We all felt welcome, the talk and the cookery demonstration were excellent.  There were a few who didn’t walk round the park but were comfortable, relaxing in such a pleasant environment.  Some who walked round had not been for a few years mentioned the maturity and variety of the plants. Those who had not been before were impressed by the colours, aromas and variety of species. The taverna, justly proud of their use of local, organic and seasonal produce provided us with a fantastic lunch with excellent service. The ‘του πεθερού’ dish was delicious and the ladies loved their gift of a herb posy.

Nothing is wasted here - recycling fun!

We enjoyed the warm welcome from the Botanical Park staff in this outstanding setting and our special programme made this visit exceptional. We look forward to our next visit.
With thanks to Petros and the team at the Botanical Park.

Text and photographs by Valerie Whittington

March 2020
Wild Flower Walk, Kefalas

The route

Ten members enjoyed a beautiful walk on a glorious spring morning, along the new Roupakias Walking Route, a circular route of approximately four kilometres from Kefalas through to Souri.

The magnificent carpet of wild flowers

Walking through the valley we encountered numerous wild flowers, lupins and red and purple anemones under the canopy of olive trees, pink asphodels standing proud along the pathways. White cyclamen and Byronia Cretica carpeting the woodland tracks. There were widow iris (snake’s head iris Iris tuberosa) and evidence of many barbary nuts having flowered during the previous afternoon.

Anemone - stunning close up

Iris tuberosa commonly known as snake’s head or widow iris

Wild almond (Prunus webbii) blossomed magnificently in the sunshine against the backdrop of the White Mountains still dusted with snow. Large mediterranean spurge (Euphorbia characias) and sun spurge (Euphorbia helioscopia) provided an explosion of vivid green along with giant fennel (Ferula communis ) which were not yet in flower.

Orchis lactea

Orchis italica – monkey orchid

We also were fortunate to see several different orchid species including the giant orchid (Barlia robertiana), monkey orchid (Orchis italica), bee orchid (Orchys apifera), pink butterfly orchid (Orchis papilionacea) and Orchis lactea

Orchys apifera

Orchis papilionacea

During the walk we also encountered two large stone monuments created by local resident Vangellis, which are both memorials to families from Kefalas and provide a place to sit and contemplate the magnificent views and appreciate nature and the forest.

The group alongside one of the monuments

Upon our return to Kefalas we were fortunate to be able to visit Vangellis in his garden and learn more about his inspiration. Vangellis returned to his home village from working in Athens 30 years ago and began making his stone creations both inside his garden and in the surrounding areas of the village. Working originally with just the local natural stone. A visit to Barcelona four years ago introduced him to the work of Spanish architect, Anton Gaudi, and upon his return Vangellis began to add colourful embellishment to his work by way of broken tiles and glass. He has become renowned for his work and visitors to his garden can visit a small museum he has created with the story of his incredible artistic journey.

Vangellis’ mosaic garden

We all expressed our great fortune to live in such a beautiful area of outstanding natural beauty, to be able to walk and enjoy the spring flowers and birdsong. This was just a day before Greece began to lockdown due to the Coronavirus! Hopefully it will not be too long before we can enjoy such activities together again. 

Text and photographs by Sara Gilding

January 2020
A photographic journey to Corfu, a collaborative presentation was given by Sara Gilding and Valerie Whittington, at Valerie and Clive’s house in Drapanos, Apokoronas.

Sara visited Corfu last January. She provided a picture of the island at this time of year which ‘looked beautiful in the clear winter sunshine’. Valerie shared her experience through images of gardens visited in Corfu during the MGS pre-AGM tour in Autumn 2019.

Valerie’s article was published in the MGS journal The Mediterranean Garden, January 2020, ‘The Pre-AGM Tour to Corfu, October 2019’, which provides the background detail for her presentation. The abridged version linked from this webpage has a selection of different photographs.

In light of this and therefore to avoid repetition, participants at this event were invited to comment on particular aspects or images from the presentation that captured their interest.

At the outset, Valerie complimented Caroline Davies on the varied and interesting programme she had created, which took the group to several different areas on the island. They visited superb private and historical gardens, museums and a winery. Valerie said that the fascinating history of the island became clearer through these different experiences.

Doukades Village (Sara Gilding)

Nancy and Dave said how much they enjoyed the slide show and talk about the Corfu visits. What struck them most was how green and forested Corfu is, and they particularly liked the atmospheric photographs with the sun shining through the trees.

Koukouritsa (Valerie Whittington)

This was a quiet, tranquil landscape with plants typical of the Corfiot countryside. It was full of olive, laurel and myrtus punctuated with tall columnar cypress trees. Clive was impressed by the views down from many of the gardens and across the sea.

The garden Dave liked most was the estate at Kanonas and Strongilo, ‘although beyond the means of most, clearly the founders are great gardeners and know how to make the very best of what is already a beautiful location’. Many remarked on the views of the natural rock pool.

The pool at Strongilo (Valerie Whittington)

It was an enormous swimming pool carved out of the quarry, breath-taking, both in its concept and in the stunning views across the sea to Albania.

The lovingly tended natural olive groves at Kanonas (Valerie Whittington)

Valerie described how this part of the garden has an untouched natural feel. The olive grove, with its tall specimens allowed shafts of sunlight to filter through the trees creates a golden glow. It is strimmed once a year to encourage the abundance of wild flowers.

Everyone liked the carpets of pretty cyclamen seen here and in several other gardens. It was interesting to see Sara’s photographs of the local olive trees, entirely different to the ones on Crete.

Lianolia Olive Trees (Sara Gilding)

Both Valerie and Sara were fascinated by the olive groves in both quantity and character. We learned that Corfiot olives are different from those in the rest of Greece belonging to the Lianolia variety (Olea europaea var. cranimorpha) which the Venetians brought from Italy to supplement the native stock. This type produces a small black olive which is very rich in oil and it lingers naturally on the tree far longer than most others. The trees are rarely pruned, are taller and more mysterious looking with sinewy trunks with distinctive holes. Valerie said that she loved the feeling that these lovely trees emanated, especially when the sun shone through them. They are different from many of the olive groves here on Crete which are pruned every two years, sometimes drastically.

Gardeners are always on the lookout for new ideas. Jill was struck by the photograph of the lovely blue plumbago in the pot in Rachel Weaving’s garden.

The pot with Plumbago auriculata ‘Blue’ in Rachel Weaving’s garden (Valerie Whittington)

‘It made a nice erect, colourful bush. As it’s a plant that tends to grow fast and spread a lot in the ground this was a good idea - and it was nice to see the humble plumbago looking great in a grand garden!’ Nearby was a plumbago hedge in flower which reflected the blue of the sea beyond.
Sara liked the photographs from the Gastouri garden and felt there were many images that one could choose to highlight from others.

he welcoming entrance to the house at Gastouri (Valerie Whittington)

Sara’s images of the old villages and implements were interesting, as in the image below.

Old Perithia (Sara Gilding)

Jill found the talk very interesting and liked the focus on the underlying ‘ethos’ of the gardens, such as Lord Rothschild’s idea that the garden is about the ‘place’ and should just enhance and co-exist harmoniously with the existing landscape rather than introduce extraneous colours and styles. Acknowledging that it would not be everyone’s idea but in that stunning location it made sense!

All gardens valued their wild and natural areas and the incorporation of the cyclamen (mainly Cyclamen hederifolium), Sternbergia lutea and Amaryllis belladonna as special features impressed.

Sternbergia lutea creating a lovely natural feature in the garden at Casa Lucia.

Thanks were expressed ‘for your very thoughtful and insightful talk and Sara’s excellent photos of the wider landscapes of Corfu were a very good complement to the talk about specific gardens there’.

Euphorbia, Spianada, Corfu town (Sara Gilding)

Valerie appreciated all those people who are ready to open their gardens and often give time to talk about them. There was also time to wander in Valerie’s garden. Several agave specimens were taken to new homes.

September 2019
A visit to Bob and Liz Burlumi’s garden in Kokkino Horio, Apokoronas

Following the MGS visit to Bob and Liz's garden in May 2013, I wrote about ‘their aims: to create a native and self-sufficient garden in keeping with the beautiful natural environment and from an ecological perspective. It was an inspiring visit, particularly the collection and use of water feeding the natural ponds, and the practical but inspired planting scheme, which again created plenty of visual interest while at the same time complementing the natural landscape beautifully. It is a garden in its infancy which it would be fascinating to visit again in a couple of years’ time.’

The barren local environment beyond the garden fence

So now, six years later, this visit was most rewarding in showing further developments, such as the new area of succulents and cacti and other aspects of the garden with those early aims now coming to fruition/maturity.

Inside the garden: methods adopted to support the establishment of plants on the boundary

On this second visit we had several members who had not been to the garden before. Seeing this with fresh eyes, three made the following responses to the visit:

Jill wrote: Visiting a garden on the very exposed coast east of Kokkino Horio provided an insight into how to tame the beautiful wild Cretan hills into an interesting and beautiful landscape. It had colour, shape, interesting plants and amazingly a fresh water swimming pond with aquatic edge plants, waterlilies and attendant dragon flies.

The swimming pond

The use of native plants along-side Australian fig trees provided interest and height. Then around the corner we saw a beautiful area of cacti and succulents, a variety of shapes and sizes and some in flower.

Cereus jamacaru (Queen of the night cactus)

Opuntia imbricata (Cane cholla cactus)

Bob’s plans for the propagation of lavender and the ever-present challenge of such an exposed site will always make it a labour of love and experimentation. But it has already achieved a great amount for this corner of Crete. Looking for trees to provide natural shade but cope with the wind was a definite learning point for us as well as the concept of taming the natural plants into interesting shapes.

Disocactus flagelliformis (Rat tail)

Orbea variegate syn. Stapelia variegate (Starfish flower)

Nancy wrote: We enjoyed the visit to Bob’s garden - and the lovely lunch afterwards. Their garden was interesting, with enough ground to have some tended areas and some natural with great rocks in between. We particularly liked the succulents and cacti (like most members I suspect), some are amazing shapes, and also the pretty Cassia bush. Being covered in yellow flowers, it really caught your eye. 

The Cassia in full bloom

Nancy liked this particular cactus: Echinopsis oxygona (Easter lily cactus)

Breda wrote: I really enjoyed the garden, the new friends and the lunch. I loved how it complemented its harsh, natural environment by using so many wild, drought-resistant plants and then the delightful counterpoint of the central oasis: the natural pool and pond. Lovely.

Panoramic view across the pond to the sea

With thanks to Bob for sharing the garden with us on a delightful, sunny day. Everyone admired the results of the endeavour in developing such a successful garden in an area which can be a dry, hostile environment, especially when the wind blows.

A write up of the garden’s background, concept and early stages can be read in the Crete Branch web page archive (May 2013).

Photographs 4,5,6,7 were provided by Bob Burlumi, Photo 9 by Nancy Moon, the rest by Valerie Whittington.

July 2019
Garden visit and ‘Let’s talk plants’ followed by our annual summer 'bring and share' buffet

Our garden visit this month was in Xerosterni where we enjoyed Esther and Mike Vredegoor’s hospitality and delightful garden.

Esther and Mike Vredegoor’s garden in Xerosterni

This summer event was held during a very hot spell so a late afternoon gathering was welcome within this interesting and shady garden. We rarely meet in July and August given the heat but due to unforeseen circumstances planned events in May and June were postponed.

Another view of the garden

Esther spoke about their ‘inherited’ space and showed us the areas they are developing themselves. They have lived in the house for eighteen months and naturally have waited to see what is in the garden through the seasons before making changes.

Abundant growth

We were shown some photographs of very early development of the garden from its inception around 15 years ago. Incredible growth has taken place, particularly by the trees.

White agapanthus in the mirror

I particularly like the mass of white agapanthus which distinguishes this lovely calm environment, we were lucky that they were still in flower. Also the positioning of one clump cleverly sited to reflect in a mirror, making a special feature of this area.

View through the terrace wall

A bonus for this visit is to see Esther’s amazing garden mosaics which define the area with her personality.

Mosaic above the door

Following our look around we seized the opportunity to discuss plants in a structured session, ‘Let’s talk plants.’ Currently, our local group is made up of those who are now experienced gardeners in this challenging mediterranean climate and others facing this task more recently. Thus, it was worthwhile to have recommendations of ‘plants that have worked well for me’. Photos of these were helpful as well as where they might be sourced (phones/tablets made this a simple exercise). General questions or advice was also appreciated. There was also a plant exchange.

Dining area

Rounding off the evening our annual summer ‘bring and share’ supper followed in this charming shady setting. The afternoon extended into evening having proved both a useful opportunity for discussing plants and gardens and to enjoy asocial get together.

Shady terrace

With thanks to Esther and Mike for sharing their new garden with us and being excellent hosts. Also to those who bought photographs of favourite plants and shared knowledge and experience of what works for them in their particular gardens.

Text and photographs by Valerie Whittington

April 2019
A Spring Walk in ‘Spili Bumps’, Spili, Rethymno

For several years now we have visited Gious Kambos (Spili Bumps) to see the orchids and the endemic tulips (Tulipa doerfleri) which grow here in profusion.

Gious Kambos

This small but special plateau is usually full of flowers at this time of year. The name means the Plain of Eos, who was the goddess of the Dawn in Greek mythology. It is a lovely unspoiled pocket of western Crete with stunning scenery on the drive up.

Saturday was an enjoyable day when a group of local members visited the plateau. It is always a bit of a risk as the flowers rarely bloom at the same time each year. This year we have had a particularly wet winter and the island has suffered from a recent cyclone which has caused a great deal of damage to the infrastructure, including deep ruts in the track on parts of the plateau.

Sweeps of naked man orchids, Orchis Italica greeted us

More naked men

Although a few Anacamptis pyramidalis intermingled with Orchis Italica the latter dominated this visit. It was interesting that, although there were fewer different varieties of orchids this year, those that were there were in their hundreds. It was an amazing sight I have never seen so many growing together.

Orchis laxiflora

Anacamptis (syn.Orchis) boryi

A rare and threatened species, the Orchis boryi when seen herein the past have been mostly lone specimens. This year together with Orchis laxiflora they filled large areas, speckling the grass with purple. It is quite challenging to identify the difference between the two. Anacamptis boryi has an open lower petal with distinctive speckles, the lower petal of Orchis laxiflora appears to fold and hang down.

The delicate creamy yellow Orchis Pauciflora stood proudly on higher ground often amongst rocks.

Orchis pauciflora

It always amazes visitors that the small, delightful wild tulips(Tulipa doerfleri), declared as a protected species in 1981, grow nowhere else in the world. Here they were impressively widespread over a number of fields. Several were also growing happily by the roadside.

Tulipa doerfleri

Very few bee orchids were spotted on this visit. The photograph below was the only one I saw on our walk.

Bee orchid – Ophrys scolopax or woodcock orchid

The only negative was the weather. Although bright, the wind was bitterly cold and most of us wore coats and scarves and wished for gloves and balaclavas!

Orchis laxiflora

The walk was followed by a meal in a small, local, traditional taverna accompanied by a very warm welcome which compensated for the cold up on the Bumps.

Text and photographs by Valerie Whittington

March 2019
Gardens of Alicante and Valencia, Spain: An illustrated presentation by Valerie Whittington from the MGS AGM, Autumn 2018

The group met on a bright morning at Frances and Andy Milligan’s house in Litsarda, to listen to Val talk about her visit with the MGS to various gardens in the Alicante and Valencia areas of Spain.

Carol and Alan Hawes cactus garden

Val was so enthusiastic about the trip and the gardens they visited and gave us a very entertaining and informative talk with beautiful photographs of the truly splendid gardens.

The shade house in the Albarda garden

In the Alicante visit I was very interested in the Albarda Garden with its shade house and splendid palms and ferns: so green and beautiful and completely different from how we garden here in Crete. We might all have Mediterranean gardens but we all face different challenges.

The historic Brutinel Garden with its impressive Pavilion

Val talked us through all the gardens she visited and supported her talk with photographs, not just of the flowers but of the gardens from all different angles giving us a truly lovely view into these special places.

Huerta del Cura, Elche

Elche and the amazing garden there was clearly a favourite; we were shown several photographs of the impressive palms and cacti from the Huerta del Cura and Palmeral Museum.

The famous Imperial Palm

Val described Carmen del Campillo, which is modelled on a Moorish Tea garden, a ‘perfect treasure’. Her photographs showed this as a maze of colourful courtyards and interlocking rooms.

A private pocket in Carmen del Campillo

The garden tour then moved on to Valencia region with many great gardens to visit. I liked the idea of the Turia Garden, designed in the old river bed to give green space to the city. Diverse trees and shrubs were shown as were several varieties of palm along the Palm Walk.

Bismarckia nobilis along the Palm Walk in the Turia Gardens

I thought Bismarckia nobilis was remarkable from the photographs shown in several gardens; a palm that several of us really wish for here on Crete.

Further into the Turia Gardens a showcase rose garden in front of the Opera House

It was clear that Val was very impressed with the gardens she visited in this region and really sold it to the members present with her very informative talk and beautiful photographic journey, as many of us were making silent plans to visit this region in the future.

Innovative planting pockets form a bowl-shaped boundary in the new and developing Central garden

At the end of the talk we had the opportunity to walk around Frances and Andy's large garden, which they describe as work in progress. They have built several flower beds and planted lots of trees and its clear that is it going to be lovely, the most beautiful thing about their garden in March though is the fabulous wild flowers in the uncultivated areas, including many orchids: nature at its finest. They are so lucky to have all this on their doorstep. Read more about it and see images from the visit to their garden in May 2018 on the archived version of this web page.

Standing proud in Elche’s Huerta del Cura

A full write up and description of the MGS AGM is available in TMG Journal No. 95, January 2019.
Text by Rosemary Thomas
Photographs by Valerie Whittington

February 2019
An illustrated talk by Manoj Malde: The story of ‘Beneath a Mexican Sky’, his Silver Gilt design winning garden in the Fresh Garden’s Category, at the Chelsea Flower Show in London, May 2017.
This was a repeat of the presentation given in September 2017 as several members had been unable to attend.

The garden: ‘Beneath a Mexican Sky’. The Agave parryi in flower gave a stunning further dimension to the overall planting scheme

Rosemary Thomas describes this occasion: We all gathered on a lovely sunny morning in Sara and Roger Gilding beautiful garden for coffee in the sunshine before heading inside to listen to the presentation by Manoj Malde who designed a garden at Chelsea flower show in 2017, winning him a Silver Gilt medal.

Manoj talked about the considerable amount of preparation required by the RHS to show a garden at Chelsea and how he came up with his award-winning design. There was so much work in the planning: it is not enough to be creative in garden design you have to submit all the engineering plans and the plant provenance.

The pool with Rupert Till’s horse head sculpture featuring as part of the design

This was all worth it when we saw the finished garden design 'Beneath a Mexican Sky,' it was so beautiful with great colour combinations and sublime plantings of mediterranean plants with a very clever pool water feature. Obviously, the judges agreed and a Manoj was a very worthy medal winner.

We all felt very privileged with this opportunity to see and hear the 'behind the scenes' workings of Chelsea Flower Show and everyone came away better informed about professional garden design, plant care and how to be brave with colour. It was a very enjoyable morning indeed.

The Puya coerulea was a show-stopper as were the osteospermums in the beautiful chimney-pot tops from South Africa

Photographs were provided by Manoj Malde which acknowledge his design; the build by Living Landscapes and sponsorship by Inland Homes PLC Photography copyright Jonathan Buckley.

A full write up of the talk can be read in the Crete Branch web page archive with photographs showing aspects of the garden coming to fruition and a list of the plants used.

January 2019
An illustrated talk by Nancy Moon: Highlights from The MGS tour of Italian Gardens in Umbria, Italy, May 2018 held at Nancy and Dave’s garden in Almyrida.
Nancy had recommended reading John Joynes’ article in TMG journal No. 94, October 2018, ‘Excursion to Lazio and Umbria’, which provided very good background detail for her talk. She showed a map of the two centres where they had spent time, Frascati first and then Todi, about 80 miles further north.
Speaking with great enthusiasm for the tour, she took us chronologically through the gardens visited giving us a glimpse of these lovely places through her favourite images, which were of excellent quality.

I have, in turn, chosen a few photographs that the group particularly enjoyed and which provided some discussion.

The first visit was to an estate in which the owners had created a garden within the ruins of a medieval village. The garden of Torrecchia Vecchia looked delightful within the village walls, providing a real atmosphere.

Showing the garden through the walls of the medieval village garden

This garden looked very natural and could almost be taken for an old English cottage garden with its lush vegetation and profusion of foxgloves.

A David Austin rose variety, Jude the Obscure

A rose, Jude the Obscure, was much admired and led to an interesting discussion about the move away from the traditional rose beds in many gardens. This is a change in practise, by including roses as an integral part of herbaceous borders in less traditional planting schemes. I found this to be the case in several of the gardens we visited in South Africa, which made me look at roses in a different way, never having been keen on discrete rose beds. Nancy is keen to buy a Jude the Obscure specimen for her garden and much discussion took place regarding ease of sourcing. Roses do well in Crete and are very popular plants in Cretan gardens, often flowering for months on end.

The Ninfa Water Gardens in Sermoneta has been described by many as ‘the most beautiful garden in the world’. It certainly looked lovely, with dense planting providing a lush environment rich in colour and sprawling over the ruins of this medieval town. I liked the photograph below with the vibrant blue clematis climbing an old wall juxta composed alongside a deep red rose.

The vibrant colours blue clematis and climbing red rose look stunning

La Landriana was described as a garden of different rooms largely defined by colour. I liked several images from this garden. Purple alliums stood stately, tall. Huge sweeps of lotus plants spread in the substantial pond. There were many cheerful roses and a spectacular tulip tree. In contrast to many of the other gardens, I have chosen a formal view of ‘the room’ of orange trees with clipped box balls; it looks delightful.

La Landriana: The orange trees and clipped box balls

There were climbing roses in profusion in the Garden of Maresa Del Buffalo: its speciality. The images showed it looking spectacular. I understand why Nancy considers this a particular highlight.

Climbing roses in the trees and the winding path along them makes this a very inviting scene

Leaving the Frascati region, the group moved north to Todi, stopping on the way at a specialist peony nursery and then the Iris Umbria Nursery where many images of pretty iris varieties were shown; ‘Loreley’ was Nancy’s favourite.

Iris Umbria Nursery – Iris ‘Loreley’

The next photograph that I have selected is the focal point, a ‘natural’ swimming pond in Yvonne Barton’s garden, which I think looks most inviting. Others were less sure about swimming alongside frogs and other water creatures but liked the pond itself. One of our members on Crete has also made a ‘natural’ swimming pond which is both beautiful to look at and environmentally sound. Should more of us be developing pools in this way? Perhaps more information about doing so would be helpful.

Nancy told us that Yvonne’s garden was very much in keeping with MGS philosophy. Irrigation being provided to plants for the first year or two to allow them to establish after which ‘they are on their own’. Yvonne is an MGS member in the Italian Branch with responsibility for the main MGS website, as well as that of the Italian language website.

Yvonne Barton’s beautiful bio-lake swimming pond

A very different garden was that belonging to Daniela Fe d’Ostiani. Having said that many of Nancy’s slides showed gardens much lusher than those we know on Crete, this one struck me as being particularly green. In the photograph visitors are almost dwarfed when exploring.

Daniella Fe d’Ostiani’s  garden

The next garden, overlooking Lake Bolensa, was completely unlike any of the others we had been shown. The owner, Antonella Fiaschi, has created a large-scale rock garden which included many unusual plants including both yellow and prostrate Oenothera. Several people liked the Erigeron hugging the steps on either side of the path in the slides seen.

Antonella Fiaschi’s Rock Garden

Nancy concluded her excellent presentation by commending this MGS Tour and its organisation. She said that it was also very much a gourmet trip. Having been on several tours myself, I had to concur that good food and company are a strong feature of so many of the Mediterranean Garden Society trips and events alongside the main emphasis of garden visits or wildflower walks.

Following the talk Nancy and Dave showed us around their interesting garden, completing a convivial, informative and productive morning.

Being January both Nancy and Dave felt that the garden was not being seen at its best. They will invite the group back at a later date with the full emphasis being on the garden and its development with both ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs. We look forward to that; meanwhile a very special thank you to Nancy and Dave for the carefully selected, high quality presentation and their hospitality.

A pre-view of Nancy and Dave’s garden

Photographs by Nancy Moon
Text by Valerie Whittington

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terracing around individual plants

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

Mediterranean hillside area

Another view of the mediterranean hillside area

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

Grevillea rosmanifolia stunning in full flower

A different but unidentified Grevillea

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

The Agave waterfall

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

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

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


Mature trees and shrubs, neatly shaped, were much admired

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Temple Pavilion under construction

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

The pathway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joint Branch Head Annika Kyparissi
Annika studied Landscape architecture and environmental planning at the Technical University Ostwestfalen-Lippe in Hoexter. After her intensive practical experience at "Planstatt Senner" in the Southwestern part of Germany, she decided to leave for Crete in 2009. Her husband Stelios had founded the landscaping company "Chloroplastes".

Today ‘Chloroplastes’ is not only a company for landscape architecture and landscaping construction but also a small native plant nursery offering Mediterranean plants plus Greek and Cretan species in particular.

THE MEDITERRANEAN GARDEN is the registered trademark of The Mediterranean Garden Society in the European Union, Australia, and the United States of America

Data Protection Consent

website designed and maintained
by Hereford Web Design