|Mediterranean Garden Society|
The Crete Branch of the MGS
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This pre-Christmas get-together was a social event as much as a gardening one. Everyone contributed seasonal finger buffet nibbles, which made a delicious lunch.
This also gave an opportunity to provide some informal feedback from the AGM in Athens. Ideas for inclusion in the 2014 programme of events were discussed and we were able to see and hear about Rosemary’s latest garden plans/projects.
This is how Rosemary describes her ‘Cretan Courtyard Garden’:
It is still very inviting to walk around the garden and I have kept to the theme of developing mini courtyards around the separate sitting and eating areas. Since it's so small, I can keep most plants looking good right through the year, so even in winter it's lovely to look at.
As an avid plant collector, I am always looking for spaces for yet 'one more' plant, but I do think I am going to have to be very selective in the future.
The plants and trees we first put in eight years ago have generally been very successful. In fact, some grew too big and spread too much, such as the Polygala, Musa (banana) and the Norfolk Island pine, so they had to be taken out, but we left the Arbutus and the Metrosideros, among others, and they are thriving.
My collection of pots and containers is now quite large. Pots are my favourite medium for growing succulents and cacti, which are probably my favourite plants.
I am always happy when visitors enjoy the garden, it keeps me wanting to try and develop it even more, but I think I will have to try vertical gardening now as I am running out of space!’
The group enjoyed a guided tour of the garden, stopping frequently to discuss particular plants and hear about plans for the future.
As Rosemary said in her introduction, the garden is now eight years old. Trees and shrubs in the borders are therefore mature, well established and provide good screening and shade. This means that an excellent environment has been created which encourages a wide range of plants, ranging from local plants to exotics, to grow very successfully.
It never fails to delight the eye. It is crammed with interest, with plants of all shapes and sizes displayed alongside carefully placed artefacts.
Rosemary is a great propagator. The garden is full of countless seedlings raised from ‘mother’ plants, often as gifts to friends and fellow enthusiasts. These are usually incorporated into the overall design, as in the photograph below.
This was a delightful, interesting and convivial visit on such a beautiful sunny December day. With thanks to Rosemary and Alan for their hospitality and for all lunch contributions from everyone who joined in the event.
Text and photographs by Valerie Whittington
An overwhelming number of members and guests (over 50) gathered together at The European Sustainability Academy (ESA), in Drapanos, Apokoronas to listen and see Jennie’s and Piers’ illustrated talk. Despite difficulties with the technology and electrics at the centre, it was a most successful evening.
I first heard about this exciting project when I read Jennie’s article ‘The Rou Estate’ in the Athens News in April 2012 and so invited both Jennie and Piers to re-visit us here in Crete so that we might hear more about it. They had visited in 2006 at a very early meeting of our small, then recently formed group, and inspired us all about their experience of the garden at Sparoza and its plants. At that stage most of us were developing new gardens, and were thirsty for knowledge about appropriate plants for our particular environment and climate. Seven years on, our group has developed and moved on and is still welcoming enthusiastic new members.
Part 1: A gardening renovation project in Rou, Corfu.
Rou is 500 metres above sea level, with stunning views across the Corfu straits to Albania. Photographs showed how a collection of derelict quarry workers’ cottages has been transformed into a sensitively restored Corfiot hamlet, set among original drystone terraces and rustic glades. It is beautiful.
Abandoned in the 1960s, the houses, built of creamy honeyed stone some 200 years earlier, were in a state of disrepair and Jennie described how, ‘nature was slowly reclaiming the place that had once been a working hamlet. Trees and shrubs were intertwined with the tumbling stone walls and wild flowers grew in fragrant abundance.’
Jennie and Piers became involved with the habitat management and garden creation of Rou from the start and remain closely involved.
When they saw the site, they said: ‘We immediately understood that we needed to capture the essence of the place, the magical beauty of the abandoned Rou, in the landscaping of the future. The combination of wild flowers with the old stone walls was exquisite and became the inspiration for our planting palette.’
Through carefully chosen photographs they showed the key colours of the area, for example, the rosy purple of the Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum), the mauve of wisteria, the fresh coppery green of new Pistacia terebinthus growth, the fresh young leaves of valonia oak (Quercus ithaburensis subsp. macrolepis), and the dark green depth of holm oak. We were shown how drifts of purple honesty make a stunning natural combination with the acid green Bupleurum rotundifolium, with Anthemis chia and borage edging. It is clear that these plants remain integral to Rou.
Their landscaping philosophy placed great emphasis on the enhancement of existing habitats of woodland, maquis and meadow. They wanted to create a place in harmony with the character and colours of the locality and recognised that themaquis shrubs that were engulfing the houses would, with a little tender loving care, actually form the permanent green framework of the gardens. Whole areas were cleaned of dead wood and re-invigorated.
We were told how beautiful but neglected trees such as the valonia oak, cypress (Cupressus sempervirens, syn. C. sempervirens subsp. horizontalis), olive and Mediterranean hackberry (Celtis australis)simply needed pruning to become significant structural elements. In addition, the mulberries and almonds planted by the original villagers were obvious choices for important focal features.
The integration of existing vegetation with new planting was needed around the individual houses and in recently created ‘village’ spaces. It was important that indoor and outdoor spaces merged into the Corfiot hillside. Jennie told us: ‘We wanted the planting not only to soften the buildings, but to enhance the stonework. Fragrance was also important – helping to re-create that all-important magical atmosphere of a Greek hillside in spring.’
Decisions about what to plant were cut down until a shortlist was agreed of what they call Rou signature plants. ‘To make it on the list, plants had to pass several tests. They had to be native or quintessentially Mediterranean; they had to fit the character and colour of the locality both climatically and aesthetically. Plants had to be drought-tolerant, but able to withstand winter cold; and some key plants needed to be summer-flowering when visitors to Rou would be at their peak.’
A natural planting style was evident from the slides shown of well-chosen plants in simple but bold combinations of pastel-coloured flowers that Jennie described as being ‘within a framework of cloud-pruned greys and greens.’ We saw that climbing roses, jasmine and wisteria were used repeatedly throughout the hamlet, with swathes of lavender, rosemary, Santolina chamaecyparissus and Tulbaghia violacea.
‘Drifts of seasonal flowers in the form of alliums and irises were also key elements.’ The houses have private gardens and reflect a more personal touch, with greater planting detail and intricacy: a natural mosaic of herbs and perennials, such as Helichrysum orientale, Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’, Phlomis spp., Cistus spp., Thymus spp., Salvia leucantha, as well as the lavender and rosemary. It was important to retain the original garden plants – including several lovely pink rose shrubs. Jennie described how, in one or two cases, it was possible to keep them in their position, but often restoration works meant they had to be carefully relocated.
A particularly beautiful two-tone iris found on the outskirts of Rou has become a signature plant along the walkways and in the woodlands.
Built from the quarried stone that provided the livelihood of its former residents, Rou sits right above a cliff created by the quarrying. This is where the swimming pool has been formed, with the hewn rock face some ten metres high making a dramatic backdrop. We saw photographs of the route to this amazing feature which follows a stone-built path, winding down through the original terraces. This has been enhanced by newly created woodland glades, furnished with irises, ferns, hellebores, cyclamen, Liriope muscari and peonies. Jennie explained that such planting is greatly assisted by the Corfu climate, which has one of the highest rainfalls in Greece, along with year-round high humidity.
A link to Louisa Jones’ webpage is given here, which Jennie and Piers think members will enjoy. Just click on 'Press', and scroll down you will find an article on Rou that appeared in ‘Country Life’.
For more photographs of the garden simply put ‘Rou Estate, Corfu’ into Google.
Part 2: Mediterranean plants based on successful, practical gardening projects in Greece.
An interesting selection of shrubs and perennials, in particular, were shown from different areas of the garden as in the example below:
The audience was interested in the watering regime being used with the newly planted specimens shown. In this garden, plants are given 16 litres of water twice a month during their first summer, reduced to 16 litres per plant every 3 weeks in the second year. The plan is to reduce again or possibly eliminate watering in the third year.
Five members from Crete will be visiting Keratea as part of this year’s Annual General Meeting. It will make an interesting follow-up to the talk.
Local members had fund-raised to enable this event to take place and a donation was given by those attending the event. The generosity of people attending has meant that after expenses were paid, we had sufficient to give a donation both to support a local charity (through ESA) and to Sparoza, including the ‘adopt a plant’ scheme.
Text based on Jennie and Piers’ talk and Jennie’s article The Rou estate (Athens News, April 2012).
It was a very wild, windy afternoon when 21 members and guests visited Jane and Roger’s garden. It is a young garden, only three years in the making, but looks far more mature in the sections first planted.
The garden is very exposed, sitting on a cliff-top and sloping down to the sea below. The photograph above shows this open aspect and early planting including a young olive tree, Plumbago auriculata (syn. P. capensis), Westringia, Aptenia cordifolia, Metrosideros excelsa and agaves.
It was a pleasure to welcome several guests as well as members Clive and Manoj to the first event that they have managed to attend here on Crete. Like several of our members, they garden on Crete but live and work in the UK.
Our branch has an interesting mix of members: some who live on Crete permanently and others who live and work elsewhere.
Given the severity of the wind, Jane had to give her interesting introduction inside the house. She explained that the prime aim of the garden is to allow most wild plants to flourish among those introduced.
The main garden is constructed of bedrock, which was partially hidden by building spoil. With the help of the builder they were able to move this and reveal the natural lie of the garden, introducing more structural rocks to produce a large rockery.
Jane described how the planning and planting of the garden started in September 2010. Prostrate Rosmarinus officinalis has been used extensively and to great effect as borders for all the beds. She further explained that this has allowed other plants to flourish on the windswept hillside by providing some shelter and a windbreak. It has an added attraction in that it flowers three times a year.
The plot of land originally had no trees, so in 2011 they bought a very large, mature olive tree as a focal point. It is now flourishing.
Earlier this year 25 assorted young trees were also planted.
The two main problems in the garden are the harsh wind and the poor, shallow soil. Now that they are aware of where the wind has the most detrimental effect, Jand and Roger are making natural windbreaks through triple planting and building low walls.
Jane described how the method they found most successful for deciding on where to site the walls was to throw tissues in the air on mild days in order to find the direction and force of the wind. They had similar results in the same areas each time they tried this experiment.
New and exciting developments in parts of the garden are in the use of cacti and succulents, some flowering for the first time this year.
The sunken herb garden was created very recently. This is now a delightful walled garden with paving: an area formerly designed using bark for the main beds. The use of bark was quickly seen as a mistake when the wind tossed and spread it throughout Souda Bay, below the garden.
The walled garden has a sense of calm and peace. Troughs decorated with mosaics, reclaimed architectural items such as the gates in the photograph and pots with succulents.
Soil improvement in the raised kitchen garden is continual. Jane explained that they may need to move the fruit trees from this area as the wind is proving too strong with the resulting loss of blossom. This will probably involve forming buttresses and walled enclosures in a more sheltered area.
This was a delightful visit enjoyed by all which engendered much discussion.Text by Jane Newbery and Valerie Whittington, photographs by Valerie.
Pam Dunn and Rosemary Thomas had a lovely day at the Chelsea Flower Show in May. Before leaving, I asked them if they would look at the potential for an illustrated talk showing the highlights of their visit for those of us unable to attend. They agreed and I was delighted to arrange this ‘evening with a difference’. A similar event had been arranged for last August but had to be postponed, so this talk combined highlights from 2012 and 2013.
Twenty-six of us, members and several guests, met for a congenial welcome drink in the lovely relaxed atmosphere of Pam and Geoff’s home. Ample time had been planned to allow for a guided look around their garden before the talk.
Pam and Geoff‘s garden
A steep area below both houses has made terracing necessary to make planting easier; all the old terraces were damaged or destroyed in the house building and needed re-making. The scale of them is impressive; a grotto has been incorporated in one section and a pond with a waterfall in another.
The parts of the garden which have been cultivated are now about five years old with shrubs maturing well. There was no clear plan, they just started developing areas around the house and worked out from there.
An important aim was to have citrus and other fruit trees, and the vegetable garden is Pam’s passion; it is always flourishing.
As the site is very exposed, some areas of shade are needed, so lots of trees were necessary. In front of the guest house, young mulberries are being trained in arches all along the main terrace, which, when mature, will be a special feature.
Planting has evolved to suit the location. Given the size of the garden, Pam and Geoff have made good use of Nerium oleander in shades of salmon pink and white to define driveways and some borders. Pam explained that some plants work, others fail and either die or are moved to be tried out elsewhere. In their experience, they have found it takes at least two years for some plants to establish themselves. Most of the garden is irrigated, and in those areas which are not, we were told about the wonderful wild flowers in spring on the undeveloped terraces.
When the second house was finished, they felt it very important to develop both sites through the garden; which is now most effective. One long slope linking the two properties has been turned into a rock garden (where the rocks or boulders had to be brought on to the site). This is the home for several varieties of succulents, of which several have been donated by friends on the island, including tree aeoniums, small agaves, different types of sedums and a spectacular Agave americana.
Several people commented on two prominent Euryops virgineus (honey bush) from South Africa on one of the slopes, as they now have a diameter of at least 2.5 metres, having started life as tiny round yellow balls of less than 10 centimetres.
The garden now accounts for about 4,000 square metres. It includes an abundance of roses. One pathway is bordered by twenty 'Red Beauty', a floribunda rose bush which flowers continually through the hot summer. Most of the roses come from David Austin Roses in the UK, which is happy to send by mail order to Crete.
Photographs selected here do not capture the variety of planting, scope and design within the garden, but this taster is offered within the limits of the webpage. It is a large, demanding site and our visit showed us the enthusiasm, creativity, energy and sheer hard work expended in making this a lovely garden.
A Visit to the Chelsea Flower Show, celebrating 100 years in 2013.
While at Chelsea, I met with the lady who had been developing this Aeonium arboreum ‘Schwarzkopf’, which had been selected as one of the plants of the year. She explained that to date this has taken her four years. Her goal was to capture the robust beauty of the larger varieties, but in a plant that would be suitable for indoor cultivation. Although she has three greenhouses full of them, she is not ready to produce them commercially.
As we had such a beautiful display of lupins in Crete this year, I was interested to see this display from professional growers who had had an equally spectacular year – as this display shows. The spires were magnificent and bursting with colour.
There were some wonderful sculptures on display at Chelsea, but I feel that these two, featured in one of the sponsored gardens, demonstrated how powerful a simple structure can be, given the right location.
This was on the Royal Horticultural Society’s educational stand, which included all aspects of plant and watering technology. In the centre of the display was this magnificent apple tree which was suspended in mid-air. It was amazing to see the mirror image of the tree above ground and the incredible root structure below ground, and to comprehend how big the root structure was.
I love the Chelsea Flower Show. As someone who first attended over twenty years ago, for me it is still a day of wonder, surrounded by fabulous plants from all over the world and examples of glorious show gardens.
It is a day of make-believe, but I still think you can go and look and 'cherry pick' the ideas and plants that we know we can grow in our mediterranean environment to create our own wonderland.
Here are three examples from very many that made an impression on me:
I loved this garden, as to me it represented a perfect English garden with mixed planting of trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials: English gardens at their best.
An example of beautiful borders filled with fabulous stately Echium pininana. This is a plant that should grow well here on Crete, given some protection from the wind.
This was a beautiful example of an old stone trough (still readily available in Crete, I am pleased to say) which was planted with English garden flowers, but I could see it in my garden filled with succulents or geraniums; it would be a thing of beauty even if just left empty.
An informal get-together with a ‘bring and share’ buffet supper completed a delightful evening gathering.
With many thanks to Rosemary Thomas and Pam Dunn for their presentations and selection of photographs for this article, and to Pam and Geoff for sharing their garden with us and hosting this event.Other text and photographs by Valerie Whittington.
Garden visits in Kokkino Chorio, Apokoronas on 11 May, 2013
The weather forecast during all the previous week had said, ‘Rain,’ so we expected the worst. Instead, it was the ideal day for garden visits – sunny with a light breeze. Sadly, Valerie was not well enough to come.
We went first to Anna and Bob’s garden.
When introducing her garden, Anna said:
‘Very little has been bought at garden centres – I begrudge the money! After buying a Calandria for 60 euros only to have it die, I am off garden centres! We were given some lovely things as house warming presents – some have survived and some have not, but most of our plants have been grown from seed or from cuttings. Bob gets very embarrassed when we are on a walk and I pinch something that is hanging over a wall – he says he is not with me then. But it is very rewarding to grow things in this way, as well as being very economical.
‘My mother was a very keen gardener, but her garden was largely flat and, like most English gardens, it had quite a bit of lawn. I think she would be amazed to see what we have done here, and I like to think she would be proud of me, if more than a little surprised. I did not display much interest in gardens when I was young. It’s amazing how we change with the years’
Bob and Liz Burlumi wrote about their garden:
We started building in September 2009 and moved in at Christmas the following year. Building a sustainable property in order to minimise our contribution to the carbon footprint was our main priority so our home runs on solar heating and electricity with rainwater collection from the roof. The building itself is highly insulated with a foam preparation covered with fibreglass cement so it's very warm in winter yet cool in summer.
At the bottom of the garden towards the sea is a natural swimmable, chemical-free pond containing 80 tonnes of water filtered by hundreds of aquatic plants. At the moment the pond is full of toads and at nightfall the air is alive with the sound of the male mating call, which is something like a telephone ringing. With the skylarks and blackbirds which begin the evening chorus, and the goat and sheep bells, to say nothing of their bleating and maa-ing, it is a veritable orchestra.
Integrating our garden design with the natural contours of the land and the surrounding vegetation, we planted over 800 small Mediterranean/North African trees and plants as well as three mature olive trees, each weighing in excess of two tonnes.
Many wild plants and flowers which some consider to be weeds, have a place on our plot. Our irrigation system is computer-controlled and we use a minimum amount of water. It goes without saying that the flocks belonging to our local shepherd provide us with rich organic fertiliser.
We have had problems with red beetle demolishing our pistachios, and this year with grasshoppers munching away on practically everything, but we have nipped this in the bud with a few drops of heavily diluted biodegradable formula. We are on a big learning curve and constantly seeking and welcoming advice and ideas from more experienced and knowledgeable individuals.’
It was lovely to visit Bob and Anna's garden, and to see how beautifully they have created an interesting and colourful garden from scratch, on a very difficult, steep Cretan hillside. The garden provided plenty of visual interest in terms of colours and textures, but was sympathetic to the natural environment and to a practical approach to gardening, given the Cretan climate.
This contrasted nicely with the Bob and Liz's garden, where the aims appeared to be very similar: 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.
Bob and Liz were excellent hosts and their garden was a wonderful setting for a very nice shared picnic lunch. It was the perfect end to a highly enjoyable and informative MGS event.
Photographs by Anna Scott and Clive Whittington
It was a wonderful spring morning for our walk, with just a slight crisp breeze. We were all so anxious to see some flowers that the moment we got out of our cars and saw our first orchid, Anacamptis (syn. Orchis) boryi, everyone got their cameras out and started clicking!
However we need not have worried; the fields were resplendent with colour and flowers of all kinds. Anna and Bob led the walk in their usual caring style, with Bob leading the way and Anna scooping up the slow walkers or camera fanatics at the rear, and pointing out the many different flowers on the way.
It was not long before serious photography was under way, as members of the group could be seen crouching or kneeling as they aimed for the perfect shot of a special bloom. Among the first flowers to be seen were clumps of Galega officinalis (French lilac).
Naked man orchids (Orchis italica) were everywhere along the edges of the track, as too were pyramid orchids (Anacamptis pyramidalis), both very similar on first glance until Anna pointed out the differences.
Across the fields were acres of yellow daisies (Glebionis coronaria) giving a lovely hue against the bright green of the grass.
The shepherds were in the fields too, working their dogs and the sheep. We were concerned that the sheep might ruin the flowers, but they clearly had their permitted territory and were well under the control of the shepherds.
We saw our first clump of local red tulips (Tulipa doerfleri) very early on, but further into the walk there was a mass of them in a field, together with more yellow crown daisies, among which a deep purple vetch and a red clover gave a wonderful contrast.
Another stunning sight was the lime green of the euphorbias, while by the side of the track the hawthorn trees were in full bloom and completely covered with bees.
At one point those bringing up the rear were very absorbed, not by flowers but by a harrier that hovered high in the sky above us. We also saw and heard blackbirds, linnets, warblers and quails.
This year there was more groundwater than before, perhaps from the poor weather in the previous week, and at one point, as we turned towards the actual Bumps, there was a small stream with a further selection of flowers and even a couple of dragonflies.
Here we saw grape hyacinths (Muscari) as well as several cistuses and lupins.
Throughout the walk, if you strayed off from the track you had to be very careful where you trod because of the large numbers of flowers underfoot. There were many tiny bee orchids, spider orchids, and tiny yellow orchids (Orchis pauciflora) and others in many shades of purple and brown. Sue, a visiting MGS member from the Languedoc branch, carried a great wild flower tome, but even with its help it was very hard to identify the orchids we saw, as they were all so different.
Some of the flowers were past their best, having clearly come out for the sun earlier in the month, but others were still resplendent in their colour and beauty, and some of the miniature irises had yet to bloom. All too soon the walk was over, and we were on our way to Plakias for a traditional Greek meal where the sun shone, the sea glistened and we all reflected on the lovely time we had been flower- (and bird-) spotting at Spili. It was so sad that Val could not be there to join us.Text by Pam Dunn. Photographs by Pam Dunn, Sue Kirk and Clive Whittington
Jo's invitation said ‘come and visit our garden at the end of March. Within our garden we have tried very hard to protect and encourage the many varieties of wild flowers that grow on our plot and link these areas with those that we have cultivated. The end of March is when the wild flowers are at their peak. Last year we had more than 20 different species in flower, including Ophrys and other orchids. We think of our garden as different rooms, a mini wood, orchard, succulent garden, all surrounded by the wild flower areas.’
Twenty-three of us gathered at Jo and Bob’s garden on a delightfully sunny afternoon. Rain had been forecast and the few days before the visit had very gusty, high winds, so it was with some relief that we had respite from this for the afternoon and no rain came.
So what was our starting point? The plot contained at least 28 almond trees, obviously at that time not all pruned into tree shapes, three wild pears, Pistacia lentiscus trees, two very old olives, a great variety of wild flowers including Ophrys and other orchids, and some amazing rock structures; not forgetting an original koumos (an old stone-structure where the shepherds could take shelter during wintertime). The more negative elements were: the land was covered in ancient Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa), prickly gorse and loose rocks, making it difficult to walk through it. But the beauty of this plot was that as the phlomis and unwanted shrubs were removed, the hidden rock structures came to light and the garden began to take shape.
Our different areas are as follows:
Behind this is our new austerity garden, a large rock garden; in line with Greece’s economic problems, it is planted only with things that have been “begged, borrowed or stolen”.
Our back garden has proved the most difficult one to cultivate as it was most affected by the building of the house. As the house was raised, it presented mini hillsides, hence the planting of various shrubs. We have also tried to plant this area with hot summer colour. Sadly the hibiscuses do not like the cold wet winters but the roses are thriving and our silk tree (Albizia julibrissin) has grown at a considerable rate.
The back garden leads into our small vegetable plot, and behind it our latest project: a new orchard with 17 fruit trees.
It is a garden for wandering and wild flower spotting. In flower on our visit were Tragopogon porrifolius, Serapias lingua, Orchis italica, Anacamptis pyramidalis, wild lupins, iris (Morea sisyrinchium, syn. Gynandriris sisyrinchium), and a multitude of wild lupins.
In addition to what we saw on this visit, Jo summarised their wild flower year as including cyclamen, sea squill (Drimia maritima) and colchicum (spreading now to at least 15 clumps), Narcissus obsoletus and N. tazetta, verbascum, Crocus laevigatus, Anemone coronaria, celandines, euphorbia, and the first orchids – the giant orchid, Barlia robertiana, and the fan-lipped orchid, Anacamptis collina (syn. Orchis collina).
With thanks to Jo and Bob Taylor for opening their garden and providing the opportunity for an interesting afternoon.Text by Jo Taylor and Valerie Whittington, photographs by Jo Taylor and Clive Whittington.