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Mediterranean Gardening France

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Oasis Park, Fuerteventura, Canary Islands

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Oasis Park, on the island of Fuerteventura, comprises a botanical garden with educational exhibitions, a zoological park with small and large animals, birds and reptiles and a collection of plants endemic to the island. It covers 80 hectares of land, has over 6000 plant species, and the largest collection of cacti and succulents in Europe.

The Director, Dr Stephan Scholz, is actively involved in conservation and preservation, especially of endemic species, and writing scientific papers including those on invasive species.

Large panels in English and Spanish describe plant groupings.

The plantings are excellent simply because they all look so natural.

Nicotiana glauca, an invasive species which arrived in Fuerteventura in 1890.

A group of Ferocactus cacti
Aloe vaombe
Euphorbia cooperi
Euphorbia ingens
Aloe arborescens
Stetsonia coryne with Aloe x principis in the background.
Aloe striata
Aloe dichotoma
Beaucarnea recurvata

If you are on Fuerteventura then a visit to Oasis Park is a must. I’m sure that Dr Scholz will give you a warm welcome.

Text: David Bracey
Photos: David Bracey & Dr. Stephan Scholz

Giardini Botanici Hanbury, Ventimiglia, Italy

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Like many other nineteenth century English gardeners who wanted to collect and grow exotic plants from warmer climes, Sir Thomas Hanbury was drawn to the coast near the French and Italian border. Protected from cold winds by the mountains behind and enjoying high humidity from the sea, the winter temperatures rarely drop below zero, making it possible to grow plants from other Mediterranean climate zones around the world, including Central and South America, South Africa and southern Australia.

In 1867 Hanbury purchased the crumbling ruins of the Palazzo Orengo (built in the 11th century on the site of an ancient Roman villa) on Capo Mortola between Menton and Ventimiglia with the fortune he had made in China from trading in silk, cotton and tea.

With the help of his brother Daniel who was a pharmacist and botanist and the German botanist Ludwig Winte, Hanbury soon made a magnificent botanic garden with many classical features, which attracted the attention of visitors from around the world, including Queen Victoria and other heads of state and Kuo Sung Tao, the first Qing dynasty minister to be accredited in Europe.

The Palazzo Orengo

A shady pathway

Sir Thomas died in 1907 but his daughter-in-law Dorothy also a passionate gardener, maintained the collection, which listed 5800 species in the catalogue of 1912.

Dorothy made some structural changes to the garden between 1925 and 1939 which then sadly suffered serious damage during the Second World War. Dorothy sold the garden to the Italian state in 1960 but due to lack of funds for the required restoration, it was entrusted to the University of Genoa in 1987.

The garden today covers 18 hectares, only half of which is under cultivation, with around 2500 taxa, the remaining half is natural forest of Pinus halpensis. As it covers a steep hillside the garden has been extensively terraced and access is via many flights of steps or paths following the contours and affording occasional stunning views of the sea. There are significant collections of palms, aloes and agaves, araucarias, eucalypts, melaleucas and salvias.

As with the gardens around Montpellier, this garden was exhibiting signs of extreme stress due to the hot summer and absence of rain. It also is seriously understaffed and many of the old trees are in need of restorative pruning. Despite that we enjoyed our visit enormously being alternately delighted to come across plants we had never before seen and many familiar species from home.

Although the perfumed garden, exotic fruit orchard and rose gardens would present much better in spring or early summer it is very valuable to observe those plants which still look wonderful despite extended drought. Several varieties of ornamental passionfruit were in bloom as were the ever reliable plumbago, russelliana, oxalis and brugmansia and a startling magenta dipladenia.

Passion flowers
Dipladenia sp.

Text and photos: Merilyn Kuchel, South Australia MGS

Parc Oriental de Maulévrier, Maine-et-Loire

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Il se trouve à 12 kms de Cholet dans la Mayenne.

Le parc fut la propriété des Colbert (Ministre de Louis XIV). C’est Alexandre Marcel qui achète les lieux et entreprend d’en créer un jardin, « à la japonaise » vers 1920. Puis le parc est abandonné à sa mort. Il renait en 1980, grâce à l’achat de la commune.

Parc de 29 hectares, traversé par un long lac artificiel, lanternes, Torii, ponts, sculptures, maison de thé ponctuent le paysage au bonheur du visiteur. 300 espèces de plantes, dont la plupart est taillée « en nuages ». De grands conifères, camélias, cornus, azalées, fuchsias, rhododendrons, Acer palmatum, etc.

On se sent bien dans ce parc aux eaux calmes, aux petits espaces de méditation, aux goulis-goulis des sources…

A visiter sans faute.

Texte et photographies de Elisabeth Gratraud

Les Jardins de l’Evêché, Limoges, Limousin

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Situé dans la vieille ville, surplombant la rivière Vienne, tout en terrasses, ce lieu botanique était le jardin de plaisance de l’évêque de Limoges.

Transformé en 1950, il comprend 3000 plantes dont 1500 espèces végétales. Les plantes sont groupées en carrés ou plates-bandes, classées par thèmes : médicinales, alimentaires, colorantes, aromatiques, décoratives, grimpantes etc.

Les plantes groupées par thèmes
Platycodon grandiflorus, à grandes fleurs blanches et bleues

Transformé en 1950, il comprend 3000 plantes dont 1500 espèces végétales.

Les plantes sont groupées en carrés ou plates-bandes, classées par thèmes : médicinales, alimentaires, colorantes, aromatiques, décoratives, grimpantes etc.

Cryptomeria japonica
Cedrus libani ‘Sargentii’
Digitalis ferruginea

Texte et photographies de Elisabeth Gratraud

Le Jardin Antique Méditerranéen, Balaruc-les-Bains

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Recently your author was honoured to lead a small party of keen gardeners and garden-lovers to Montpellier in the south of France, almost but not quite on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. A highlight of the tour was a visit to the Jardin Antique Méditerranéen at Balaruc-les-Bains on the Étang de Thau – a broad, shallow bay on the coast. The garden is intended to replicate the mood and reality of a colonial Roman garden of some 2000 years ago.

Imagined, created, and curated by Laurent Fabre the garden is remarkable for its serene atmosphere and spirituality. Each and every part, all connected and continuous, is both beautiful and a powerful evocation of an ancient Roman garden with its links to the landscape of man and the landscape of the gods. The garden is not modelled on a peristyle or atrium typical of a town house but on the more expansive and close-to-nature examples of the villa rustica – the country establishment.

Of long standing in Roman culture, the country place exemplified the ideas of self-sufficiency and independence which were held as the essence of a Roman man’s status and dignity. It was in its most frequent expression a small farm. Such is the way of things that the most familiar versions of the villa rustica are the archeological remains of larger, more grandiose country villas such as those found at Oplontis, or those described by Pliny as the ideal retreats from the congested and busy cities. The Villa of Poppaea, at Oplontis is a luxurious mansion by any standard with many refinements such as would befit the wife of an Emperor, in this case thought possibly to be the second, murdered wife of Nero.

The landscape we see at the Jardin Antique Méditerranéen is much simpler and more intimate, the sort of garden that might have been made around a farm and villa intended in equal parts to be for rest and recreation – a hobby farm, a place where a busy citizen could escape for a while from the hard world of ‘negotium’ (business).

Plan of the site

So, to begin with, put all ideas of the Getty Museum at Malibu in California out of your mind. This place is nothing like a replica of anything, especially the Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum, on which the museum is modelled. A visit to the garden begins in a lecture room with a large mural as a backdrop. The mural is derived from those found in Pompeii and is representational of a Roman garden with fruit trees, a fountain, flowers, herbs, birds and a low fence.

Each object depicted has a rich text behind it; for instance, the apple tree references the goddess Pomona while the fence references philosophical concepts behind the human condition and safety, enclosure, apart-ness and separation. The water of the fountain harks back to the nymphs and spirits of the countryside that Romans ‘saw’ everywhere.

Outside, a small amphitheatre sets the scene of an academic sacred grove where learning and discussion can take place. This conceptualises the Roman ideas of being a civilised man pursuing his ‘otium’, or relaxation, in the enjoyment of (male) company and philosophical discussion. From there the garden develops as a stroll garden leading visitors through productive gardens with herbs – medicinal and aromatic, and vegetables, then through a vineyard, olive plantation and into a grove of trees, at the conclusion of which is a garden of mortality and death represented by a grave in a sacred precinct, planted with rosemary, myrtle, pencil pines and hemlock – the symbolism of which remains potent to this day. To emphasise the concept, a bleached skull completes the picture.

The amphitheatre
The nymphaeum

From then on, the garden takes on a more recognisable Roman aspect, with a series of stone colonnades swathed in shady vines raised on a terrace that gives views back over the groves, vineyards and productive gardens. From here a garden visitor can see and hear a nymphaeum, a series of small spouts dribbling water into a shallow trough set at ground level and planted with aquatic plants. Above it is a large, raised, rectangular reservoir of water fed from a spring – a real spring that has been known and regarded as sacred since Roman times at least. The spring-head is marked by a small shrine featuring statues of the gods of family life (Lares). Having established the many connections between the gods in their heaven and man on his earth, the garden then moves into a more secular mode with a pair of borders featuring a very Roman mix of flowers, herbs and vegetables, then a topiary garden and finally a representation of a wilderness.

In Roman terms, M. Fabre would be the villicus of the garden – the Head Gardener but what of the other staff – the arborator, tree expert; the vinitor – the vine expert, the olitor – the veggie grower, the aquarius – who watered by hand, and the toparius – who shaped the evergreens? None seemed present on the day I visited though there were a number of volunteer scribes in the atrium. Somehow M. Fabre manages the entire production but, like most slave-run places, the presentation is Roman, not American, so the presentation is rustic – and very authentic for it.

At every step Laurent explains the linkages which were once so obvious to ancient Romans and Greeks, and now so sadly lacking from our own insight into the meaning of gardens. We are the poorer for not having that rich background tapestry of myth, lore, religion and tradition that imbued every aspect of daily life in ancient times. While the skull is pretty much self-explanatory, though possibly not a feature of real Roman gardens, there are strange white ceramic masks hanging from the shrubberies here and there; these are replica oscilla – in this case representing theatrical tragedy. Sad-faced and open-mouthed, they remind the visitor that fate is ever-present, even in a delight-filled garden such as this. The Romans knew that the gods, however self-centred and disdainful of Man, cast their careless whims on all below them.

A rectangular reservoir of water
An oscilla being taken over by foliage

While it is almost impossible to ‘read’ modern gardens in the manner the ancients did, we can at least recognise the strong links between the Romans, the Mediterranean climate they experienced in much of the Roman empire, and the influence it exerted on their lifestyle. The lessons are there for us to read and understand: climate compatible gardening, the use of a (relatively) simple, restrained plant palette, water-wise and seasonal planting, the contrast between formal and informal elements within garden spaces, the combination of productive and decorative components, and the use of gardens as living spaces, even those associated with death, as well as those associated with eating, talking, listening, learning and loving.

They knew a thing or two those ancient Romans, didn’t they?

Text and photos: Trevor Nottle, South Australia MGS