|Books and Good Reading
MAKING A GARDEN ON A GREEK HILLSIDE. Author: Jaqueline M. Tyrwhitt.
Having just moved to Crete and been presented with a patch of Cretan hillside around our new house, I leaped at the chance to read and review this book.
Jacky Tyrwhitt was an internationally-known town planner, Harvard professor and keen plantswoman. She bought a plot of land near Athens in 1962, where she built a house and created a garden. She managed to acquire adjoining strips over the years which she sold on to friends, creating a small community known as Sparoza – ‘the place of the sparrows’. This book is created from notes she wrote during the last two years of her life. Sparoza, her former home, has subsequently become the headquarters of the Mediterranean Garden Society.
The individual chapters reflect the happenings in her garden and the locality during each month of the year. Under the ‘events’ subdivision we learn about what is going on in the surrounding area, any religious festivals or happenings in the olive groves, vineyards and countryside around Jacky’s home.
The ‘jobs’ section deals with tasks in the garden – planting, pruning, mulching, tidying up – very useful if you need to know when to prune your vines or plant your citrus trees. ‘Fauna’ tells us about what animals and birds are passing through or resident during the month and ‘climate’ reveals when the first thunderstorms are expected, how long the meltemi blows and when any frosts are likely to occur.
What is likely to be of interest to most of us gardeners is the section on ‘Flora’.
Jacky took the decision early on in her garden-making not to limit herself to the sole use of native Greek plants – sensibly enough, because most flower early and die back to an unattractive brown stubble. She researched and describes a palette of species likely to do well in Mediterranean conditions. These are listed under ‘native’ or ‘introduced’ species and each month she tells us what is currently in flower or looking particularly fine. Not only does Jacky give us the Latin name, but also its familiar one and, if available, its Greek one as well. Each has a short description giving information on colour, size, whether or not it is a good ‘doer’ and sometimes even from where she obtained it.
Thanks to this book and armed with a huge list of names in three languages, I visited a range of plant nurseries recently – only to discover to my dismay that very few plants are actually labelled here! However, I found Jacky Tyrwhitt’s book very enjoyable to read and a most useful starting point for our own garden. Now I’m looking for a book that tells me how to divide the 60 degree scree slope left by our builder into sturdy little terraces. Any suggestions?