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Making a Garden on a Greek Hillside

Mary Jaqueline Tyrwhitt  (1905-1983)

illustrated by Derek Toms

 

paperback

9.5×6.7in • 24×17cm

248 pages

(publ. posthumously)

index included

ISBNs: 9607120140 • 9789607120144

Denise Harvey, Limni (Evia) Greece • 1998



Trevor Nottle - author & horticultural consultant, Crafers, South Australia, AU

The reasons for being interested in Mediterranean gardening may be varied but it is almost certainly far ranging because of the challenges faced in making a garden in a climate which may, at the outset, seem unfriendly to a gardener's good intentions. The literature on the subject is not large in English, or in any other language, and the traditions of Mediterranean gardening often seem at odds with those of the decorative flower gardens of Northern Europe and the USA.

A sense of curiosity, and hope, has lead many to read books such as French Dirt (Richard Goodman, Pavilion, 1991), A Year in Provence (Peter Mayle, Vintage, 1990), A Tuscan Year (Elizabeth Romer, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1984), A Tuscan Paradise (Marina Schinz, Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1998), The Hills of Tuscany (Ferenc Máté, Flamingo, 1998). Charming, endearing, swish, hopelessly Romantic, over-weaning, patronising or overtly Yankee-fied - none really hit the mark. All lack that sure touch of credibility and connectedness; all have a disoriented sense of place and leave gardeners (among others), even the most lackadaisical, with nowhere to go, no inkling of what might be done, no insight into how that vague thing called 'The Mediterranean' influences perceptions of lifestyle and living. Variously embarrassed, pained, effusive, mystified, enthusiastic, charmed or outraged in different parts they all sought to alter the Mediterranean experience to something more understandable. Superficially they all love The Med. but underneath it does not sit comfortably unless it is modified, altered, interpreted and made more like somewhere else - all too frequently New York.

Coming from the age (1960's) when frequent commuting by jet was the preserve of the seriously wealthy, Jacky Tyrwhitt, the author of this book, immersed herself slowly and at length in The Mediterranean experience. At first a short summer in Greece and then longer return summer visits for some years, followed by a decision to buy a house there, and the search for it according to some priorities chosen to ensure that she did not become trapped in a touristic enclave. Indeed, she wanted to be part of Greek life without a dishwasher, without access to American foods and a supermarket, without central heating and without numerous 'washrooms'. When she was settled (in 1965) she named her home 'Sparoza' (Hill of Sparrows) and started making a garden.

Her life long experience as a town planner and urban designer gave her some insights into the challenges she faced on what is a rocky, waterless hillside on the Eastern slopes of Mt Hymettus overlooking Spata and the plains of Mesoghia. She was attracted to the idea of a garden made only of plants native to Greece but found Athenian nurseries too unsophisticated for such advanced ideas, and she found her geriatric Greek garden helpers too intent on removing such 'weeds' for her idea to be successful.

So her story of acclimatisation unfolds with humour, and keen observation of the life of her village: the people, the wildlife, the pattern of the seasons, the harvests, religious feast days, traditional cookery, marriages, deaths and the slow relentless suburanization that she knew must come.

It is fortunate that Jacky decided early to write about her garden making in Greece as a guide to those who might try to do the same in new homes around the Mediterranean basin. With sharp minded academic thoroughness she settled on a format: Events, Jobs, Fauna, Climate, Flora, Native Plants, and Introduced Plants. Keeping notes under these headings for two years, 1981 - 82, she fleshed them out with remembrances across almost 20 years of occasions, personalities and experiences and wrote a book that was almost completed at the time of her death in 1983. Thoughtful editing by Sally Razelou and the publisher, Denise Harvey, allow Ms Tyrwhitt's vibrant personality to shine through.

For gardeners inexperienced or experienced in garden making in mediterranean climates the book is an invaluable primer. More informative than a list book of suitable plants, with more insight than grand style books and with more human understanding than many expert books Ms. Tyrwhitt's book, Making a Garden on a Greek Hillside offers readers and gardeners a true adventure tale with plants. Jacky Tyrwhitt accepted that where she had chosen to live could only be like the place it was and sought to make it as beautiful as possible within sensible environmental limits. Is that not what we all are trying to do?


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