samedi 23 juin 2012

Mediterranean oasis, close to Athens, closer to paradise : headquarters of the Mediterranean Garden Society. May 2012.

The MGS* garden of Eden

A few years ago, I was spending some days in the Peloponnese, and found a very exciting book named : "Making a garden on a Greek hillside".
This book was written in the 80s by a South-African urban planner - Mrs Jacqueline Tyrwhitt - who spent the last 14 years of her life in Greece, on a hillside in Attica, situated in the eastern Athens countryside.
In addition to completely designing her garden there, she wrote down every event or technique she experimented in her garden; then this diary was published a few years after her passing away, in 1998.

The shady face of the house, surrounded by Melianthus major (Melianthaceae), Rosa 'Iceberg' and Papaver rhoeas : a lesson of reconciling aesthetic considerations and a botanist's fantasy

One of the reasons I kept on reading this book again and again (and happily acquired it through her current publisher) is that our garden in the Peloponnese has many similarities with the one described in detail by Mrs Tyrwhitt. They both face a 6-month drought during summer, a hillside facing south, a thin topsoil with rocky sub-soil underneath.

The next step was planning a visit to this little Heaven. The occasion came during my last stay in Athens, last May 2012. After a few phone calls, I spent the whole morning with Mrs Sally Razelou, the founding member and first MGS* President, who now is the custodian of the garden and who has tremendously improved and extended it since she came to live in this estate in 1992. A very very nice moment, spent sharing her experiment and her constant advice about setting up a garden scheme and gardening with lack of water.

One of the garden's paths, with beds full of plants with scented-foliage, among which Origanum vulgare, Helichrysum sp., Phlomis fruticosa, partenered with sword-shaped leaves of Iris inguicularis, an invaluable plant for foliage contrasts (as well as for its spring contribution in flower colour)

I wish I had such gardening lessons when I was studying in Versailles !

Ornithogalum arabicum, Liliaceae. A delicate bulb which bears a cluster of white flowers, each with a black eye in the centre. Mavromati (black eye) in greek.

Aloe sp., situated in the south garden, where no water at all is provided. Heaven of phrygana plants (greek maquis).

This place is absolutely divine for those passionate about gardening in the Mediterranean climate, or about botany. For those, like me, who also design gardens, it is also really interesting in terms of combinations of plants, where all features of the plants are considered : shape, hardiness, drought-resistance, foliage colour, texture, fruit and flowers, as well as their ability to enhance a planting scheme by association with their neighbour.

Stonewalled restanque with Rosa bracteata, a must-have for mediterranean-climate gardeners

Unfortunately, this garden is not open to the public, it is open to the Mediterranean Garden Society members, by appointment.

Santolina virens, ready to bloom, beautifully contrasting with its neighbour of grey foliage

However, Mrs Razelou agreed that I could post some photographs of the garden, for the pleasure of my readers. I would like to express my gratitude for this visit. Not only because drought-tolerant plants are gorgeous, but also, even in Paris or London, because we now have to employ waterwise methods to help gardens thrive all-year-long, in a long-term approach of sustainable gardening.

Lavandula sp. -in the middle-, Ptilostemon chamaepeuce ('False Pine' from Asteraceae family) on the right.

Echium fastuosum (Boraginaceae)

Phlomis fruticosa (Lamiaceae, "Jerusalem sage"), a vigorous grey-leafed shrub which lights up the whole bed and brings a "glorious burst of bloom" according to Mrs Tyrwhitt's book. We definitely cannot deny it...

More about the mediterranean-climate flora
POLUNIN, Oleg, Flowers of Greece and the Balkans, a filed guide, Oxford University Press, 1987.
TYRWHITT, Mary Jacqueline, Making a Garden on the Greek Hillside, Denise Harvey Publishing, 1998.
More about the MGS* (Mediterranean Garden Society)
The Mediterranean Garden Society website
Louisa Jones**'s blog article dedicated to this particular garden (**: a renowned English author, specialist of the mediterranean garden)

4 commentaires:

  1. My first visit and I feel like I won the lottery!

    What a fascinating post full of great flowers and wonderful arrangement.


  2. Such a quick and warm comment, Jane ! I do not know how you found my blog but I guess you may come back soon! Yes, this garden is a small Eden...
    Thanks again and have a good day.

  3. Hi Gabriel,
    Ornithogalum are one of my favourites, they flower and flower for such a long time here. We planted Echium fastuosum as extravagant bedding plants in front of the house last year and the years before Echium pininana in the rear garden which were incredible although lots of protection was need over winter.
    I have been considering growing Santolina as those forms would be just perfect in our garden although only the green I am not so fond of the grey.
    Speak soon

  4. Hi Paul,
    thank you for all the comments you recently gave here.
    Echium pininana is absolutely gorgeous in the garden. The famous Kerdalo garden in North Brittany has some of them displayed in front of the house : it is incredible. Partenered with Agave attenuata, this could be a spectacular bed!
    About Santolina, I must admit I prefer S. virens instead of S. chamaecyparissus, however they are both interesting in the garden, if well drained.
    See you around later !