Saturday, 11 January 2014

Mediterranean Gardening

Mediterranean Gardening

Gardening in the Sun

Born in Kent, the garden state of England, my vision of a garden has radically changed over the years. I have adjusted my ideas and now can accommodate a far larger range of plants. I’ve gradually come to understand how I can make a garden that best deals with seasonal variations and other local conditions.

I was told before traveling to Australia that it had a Mediterranean climate. Coming from England, where green is the predominate colour, I found Australian suburban gardens very brightly coloured, and council gardens very dry. Unfortunately at first I found native plants to be dry, pungent, and not particularly attractive. But that is an aspect living in Australia that I’ve now not only become accustomed to but even enjoy.

Paintings of Australian Plants, Marianne North Gallery, Kew, England

Born in Hastings in 1830, Marianne North devoted her life to travelling the world and painting plants.

At first, as a newbie, in my Australian garden in the Adelaide Hills I struggled to grow the wrong plants for the situation. While I was pleased to see that roses did well I loved lilacs and lilies of the valley and I tried to grow them. In the end I had to admit that their need for water and protection from the hot sun involved too much effort on my part - especially as at the time I also had three children, a job, and various animals to look after.

South Australia was my first experience of  ‘Mediterranean gardening’, and I have since always associated ‘Mediterranean gardening’ with this particularly state. The winters were wet and the summers were long and hot.

Singapore ‘Gardens by the Bay’

The Mediterranean Section

Weather-wise and Water-wise

Since those days I have gardened in other places in Australia and come to discover a number of Australian and other ‘Mediterranean’ plants that I could plant in places that are quite demanding’ for instance in a city courtyard; in a sandy garden by the sea; and now in Greece, in a ‘real Mediterranean garden’.

When we are on the island of Lemnos in Greece, as one would expect, we have hot dry summers and colder wetter winters. But each place, and each garden is unique. Here on our windy island weather in winter can include extreme winds, snow and frosts, and in summer the dry spells can go on for 6 months.

Lemnos: Hot Summers and Cold Winters

Sustaining Ourselves and the Planet

In 2011 I gave a talk to a group of students on this subject, ‘Sustaining Ourselves and the Planet’. It just happened to be the hottest day on record in the city of Melbourne, a city once known as the ‘Garden City’. The group in the hall was only half listening to me, as everyone was anxious to get home, to find out if the dire warnings given for the state were warranted.

They were. The next day, when I read the papers the irony of my subject and opening quote hit me. I had begun with the words of Robert Quillen that, ‘If we wish to make a new world we have the material ready. The first one too was made out of chaos.’ Little did I know when I picked that quote how true it was to be, and what kind of chaos would soon be engulfing our neighborhood.

Firestorms had swept the state, two towns were raised to the ground, and 200 lives were lost. Large areas in the Dandenongs, the Yarra Valley and Gyppsland were burnt out and hundreds of homes destroyed.

Approaches to gardening changed after that fire. Articles in magazines, gardens in the suburbs began to take into account the fact that our climate was changing. We had to adjust our mindset. Commentators were even emphasizing the idea of survival rather than that of sustainability.

Two Areas of my Greek Garden that I water rarely

The Hot Garden      

The Shady Walk

(In fact I lost the two cypress trees I was training into an arch one hot summer and have had to replace them with a wooden arch)

Two Areas of my Greek Garden I water more often

The Vegetable Garden     
(Vegetables require quite a lot of water, even the Med. Veggies!)

The Herb and Flower Garden
(I water here as I have flowers, not just herbs, to give me colour near to the house.)

It seems that not only will we have to maintain sustainability and survive in our chosen spot we will have to question old symbols and mindsets. When I first came to the Adelaide Hills I felt ‘at home’ there as there were others who loved ‘English gardens’ and I saw that camellias and azaleas were what people grew under their eucalyptus trees. But even here gardeners are changing.

There is no doubt that ecological change will continue to affect gardeners. What Joseph Campbell suggests is that; ‘One should find the symbol in the landscape itself, of the energies of the life there. That’s what all early gardening traditions do, they sanctify their own landscape.’  Though I don’t interpret that as only planting native plants. I’ve found there is no need to throw down the trowel, or only plant native plants, we can also ask, ‘What are gardeners doing in other similar places around the world?’

The place that I have gone to find this kind of answer is the Mediterranean Garden Society. This is a society with headquarters in Athens but with branches in many places around the world, each place having a similar ‘Mediterranean’ climate. On the Mediterranean Garden Society web-page and through its journal I’ve enjoyed reading the gardening stories and looking at pictures of gardens, of those who are tackling similar problems.

On this site I’ve found others who enjoy achieving a sustainable and aesthetic garden within the limits set by ‘water-wise-hot-gardening’. They also sometimes ask can, and should, a certain plant be regenerated? Can, and should, it be replaced it with a substitute? And, always, what are the limits of a particular environment?

The Mediterranean Garden Society

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