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Landscape and Plants of the Garrigue: A new inspiration for our gardens
Paysages et plantes de garrigue: Une nouvelle inspiration pour les jardins

The flora of the Mediterranean basin represents 10% of the world’s flora, that is, approximately 25,000 plants. Why are so few of these plants to be found in our gardens, considering that the garrigue landscape is varied and rich in colour, structure and form? We’ll look at this ‘aesthetic’ approach to the garrigue first. Although they require little maintenance, introducing these plants into our gardens is not always straightforward; success depends on having an awareness of their specific requirements. We’ll therefore go on to consider the physical characteristics of the garrigue.

La flore du pourtour méditerranéen représente 10% de la flore mondiale, soit environ 25,000 plantes. Pourquoi ces plantes sont-elles peu représentées dans nos jardins alors que les paysages formés par la garrigue peuvent être variés, riches en couleurs, en structures, et que ces plantes adoptent naturellement des formes très intéressantes? Ce sera l’objet de l’approche ‘esthétique’ de la garrigue. Mais même si elles demandent peu d’entretien, prendre ces plantes pour les mettre dans nos jardins n’est pas si facile car il faut connaître et respecter leurs conditions de vie pour réussir cette opération. Ce sera l’objet de l’approche fonctionnelle de la garrigue.

An aesthetic view of the garrigue
Une approche esthétique de la garrigue

Observing the different landscapes of the garrigue from a gardener’s perspective.
At Cape Creus, junipers, Phillyrea angustifolia, and Pistacia lentiscus combine to form a green-tinted landscape, sculpted by sea spray.

Observer les différents paysages de garrigue avec un œil de jardinier
Au cap Creus, génevriers, Phillyrea angustifolia, et Pistacia lentiscus forment un paysage vert aux structures sculptées par les embruns.

Click on the images to enlarge them / Cliquez sur les images pour les agrandir

To the south of Naples the landscape consists of silver-grey Centaurea cineraria which when flowering takes on a pinkish hue. Erica multiflora is covered with pink flowers from September to December, its dried seed heads subsequently acquiring a beautiful reddish tint. These plants adopt different strategies to retain moisture. Pistacia lentiscus has shiny leaves which limit evaporation, phlomis has downy leaves whose minuscule hairs trap moisture. The garrigue landscape is particularly striking thanks to its contrasts of colour of foliage and seed heads, of varied layers, of contrasting forms. This range of contrasts gives us the opportunity to create a beautiful garden all year round.

Au Sud de Naples c’est un paysage tout en gris argenté que Centaurea cineraria colore délicatement de rose lors de sa floraison. Erica multiflora, arbrisseau qui se couvre de fleurs roses de Septembre à Décembre est ensuite magnifique avec ses inflorescences sèches qui prennent une teinte rousse. Ces plantes adoptent des stratégies différentes pour garder l’humidité: les feuilles du Pistacia lentiscus sont vernissées ce qui limite l’évaporation, les feuilles de phlomis sont couvertes de poils qui piègent les gouttes d’humidité. Ce qui est remarquable dans ces paysages de garrigue ce sont les contrastes: contrastes de couleurs des feuillages et des inflorescences, multiplicité des strates, contrastes des structures. Cet ensemble de contrastes permet d’avoir un jardin superbe toute l’année.

Spring is not the only beautiful season!
Colour should be introduced into the garden not merely for a plant’s flower colour, as this is ephemeral. A good example of this is Euphorbia dendroides, which has a different growing cycle from many other plants. It retains its foliage in winter but loses its leaves in summer in order to withstand drought. Its yellow-green flowers appear in April, and by June the foliage takes on striking yellow, orange and violet autumnal colours.

Quitter le printemps
Il faut accepter d’autres couleurs dans son jardin et ne pas choisir une plante uniquement pour la couleur de ses fleurs, qui sont tellement fugaces. Euphorbia dendroides qui a un cycle de végétation inversé par rapport aux autres plantes avec des feuilles persistantes en hiver mais qui les perd en été pour résister à la sécheresse est un bon exemple de cette démarche. Ses fleurs jaune vert apparaissent en avril tandis qu’en juin son feuillage prend d’étonnantes ‘couleurs d’automne’ – jaunes, oranges voire violacées.

The grey foliage of Euphorbia rigida is adorned with pink and purple highlights from the onset of cold weather. One can also choose plants such as Lomelosia minoana which are covered, after flowering, with decorative dry seed heads. Another example is Cistus monspeliensis with its orange coloured dry seed heads. These are the key elements of a new garden style which also includes the use of grasses, a great asset in a garrigue garden.

Le feuillage gris d’Euphorbia rigida se pare de reflets roses et violets dès les premiers froids. On peut également sélectionner des plantes qui après leur floraison sont couvertes d’inflorescences sèches décoratives comme par exemple Lomelosia minoana ou encore, Cistus monspeliensis aux inflorescences sèches orangées. Ce sont les éléments moteurs d’un modèle de jardin nouveau comme les graminées qui sont également un atout dans un jardin de garrigue.

Euphorbia dendroides
Lomelosia minoana

Rounded shapes, naturally formed cushions, topiary
Centaurea spinosa and Euphorbia dendroides adopt rounded forms to optimise photosynthesis whilst limiting exposure to wind and drought. These forms give the garrigue landscape rhythm and movement. However garrigue plants are not shaped just by wind, sea spray or survival strategies. Phillyrea angustifolia, for example, is chewed into artistic shapes by herds of voracious goats. It may not however be necessary to introduce a goat into our gardens!

Des formes en boule, en coussins naturels, en topiaire
Centaurea spinosa et Euphorbia dendroides adoptent des formes en boule pour optimiser la photosynthèse sans trop s’exposer au vent et à la sécheresse. Ces différentes formes donnent un rythme et un mouvement au paysage. Il n’y a pas que le vent, les embruns ou les stratégies de survie qui sculptent les plantes de garrigue. Le patient travail des herbivores qui broutent le Phillyrea angustifolia par exemple est digne d’un artiste. Mais faut-il pour autant avoir une chèvre dans son jardin?

The physical characteristics of the garrigue
Une approche fonctionnelle de la garrigue

Forget horticultural references
Garrigue plants adapt to extremely harsh and particular conditions. Helichrysum orientale, for example, thrives in limestone walls where there seems to be a complete absence of soil.

Oublier les références horticoles
Les plantes de garrigue s’adaptent à des conditions très difficiles et très particulières. Helichrysum orientale est heureux dans une paroi calcaire où la terre semble être absente.

Helichrysum orientale

Helichrysum orientale, like 95% of plants, benefits from mycorrhizas, symbiotic associations between fungi and the roots of a vascular plant. An adjunct of potting soil or fertiliser will kill it off! Garrigue plants prefer poor, stony soil. A soil and gravel or soil and sand mixture is the ideal environment for these plants. In Kew Gardens a dry garden has been created from large juxtaposed stones with gravel-filled joints. The second requirement is good drainage: it must be effective and summer watering prohibited.

En fait Helichrysum orientale, comme 95% des plantes profite des mycorhizes, association symbiotique entre des champignons et les racines des plantes. Donnez-lui un peu de terreau et il quittera votre jardin. Les plantes de garrigue aiment les cailloux, les sols pauvres. Un mélange terre et gravier ou terre et sable constitue le sol idéal pour ces plantes. Le jardin de Kew en Angleterre par exemple est formé par des gros blocs de pierre juxtaposés et les interstices sont comblés avec du gravier. La deuxième condition est le drainage: il doit être efficace et l’arrosage estival est à prohiber.

Minimal maintenance thanks to use of mineral mulch
Mineral mulching is the application of a surface layer of gravel. Choose size 5/15 or 10/20 and spread to a depth of 6 cm. The gravel will promote the spontaneous self-seeding of garrigue plants and limit the germination of other plants. This natural seeding by garrigue plants will transform weeding into creative gardening, because one selectively removes some plants whilst letting others grow. Your garden will develop over time. For this reason initial planting may be random as it will no longer be relevant to ask if one particular plant associated with a selected other will produce a desired effect. The spontaneous movement of garrigue plants will create a harmonious result.

Limiter l’entretien grâce au paillage minéral
Le paillage minéral est constitué par une couche superficielle de gravier. Choisir une granulométrie 5/15 ou 10/20 et l’étaler sur 6 cm d’épaisseur. Le gravier va favoriser les semis spontanés des plantes de garrigue et limiter la germination des autres plantes. Cet ensemencement naturel par les plantes de garrigue va transformer le désherbage en jardinage créatif car vous choisirez les plantes à enlever et celles que vous laisserez pousser. Votre jardin sera évolutif. C’est pour cette raison que la plantation initiale sera aléatoire. Inutile de se demander si telle plante associée à telle autre va donner un effet recherché, la vie spontanée des plantes de garrigue va façonner votre jardin.

Mineral mulch will inhibit water loss by evaporation and thus help provide plants with the water they need. The same phenomenon applies to terraces built of stone slabs interplanted with vegetation; the slabs help to retain the moisture in the soil beneath.

Le paillage minéral va limiter les pertes en eau par évaporation et ainsi contribuer à apporter aux plantes l’eau dont elles ont besoin. On retrouve ce même phénomène avec les terrasses végétales, les dalles favorisant la persistance de l’humidité.

Avoid fertilisers and pesticides
Without fertiliser or water plants grow more slowly but become more robust and resilient. By introducing plants with flowers rich in nectar or pollen, natural predators of pests, such as hoverflies and ladybirds, will be attracted.

Oublier les intrants chimiques
Sans engrais et sans eau les plantes poussent plus lentement mais sont plus robustes et résistantes. Pour lutter contre les ravageurs les fleurs riches en nectar ou en pollen vont attirer des insectes utiles comme les syrphes ou les coccinelles qui sont des prédateurs naturels des ravageurs.

Some plants have developed effective strategies to help them compete with others, for example, Helichrysum orientale is able to grow in a challenging environment, or using allelopathy, ie disseminating chemical compounds which will inhibit the germination of other plants. Tanacetum densum is a very good example of an alternative to weeding. The garrigue garden is one in which there is no need for water or pesticides.

Pour lutter contre la concurrence, les plantes ont développé des stratégies efficaces: choisir un milieu difficile, comme Helichrysum orientale ou pratiquer l’allélopathie, c’est à dire diffuser des composés chimiques qui vont inhiber la germination des autres plantes. Le Tanacetum densum est un très bon exemple d’alternative au désherbage. Le jardin de garrigue est un jardin où l’on peut se passer d’eau et de pesticides.

Our warm thanks to Clara and Olivier Filippi who generously share the results of their research with us and continue to stimulate our curiosity and our desire to improve our gardens.

Un très chaleureux merci à Clara et Olivier Filippi qui nous font partager le fruit de leurs recherches et qui réussissent toujours à éveiller notre curiosité et nos envies pour faire évoluer nos jardins.

Texte: Martine Rouayroux, from a talk by Olivier Filippi
Translation into English: Nanouk Pelen
Images: Olivier Filippi

Daucus: the carrot / la carotte

Click on an image to enlarge it / Cliquez sur une image pour l’agrandir

Daucus gingidium

The April 2016 report in the ‘Past Activities’ section of this website describes the unusual flora on the Isles of Frioul and includes a photograph of Daucus gingidium, described as “carrot”. The Daucus genera includes some forty annual and biennial species; the most important are Daucus carota, the wild carrot, D. glochidiatus, the Australian carrot and D. pusillus, the American wild carrot.

Dans la rubrique « Activités précédentes » du mois d’avril 2016 de MGF, on peut découvrir la flore peu commune des Îles du Frioul ainsi que la photo de Daucus gingidium, dénommée « carotte ». Le genre Daucus comprend une quarantaine d’espèces annuelles et bisannuelles ; les plus importantes sont Daucus carota, la carotte sauvage, D. glochidiatus, la carotte australienne et D. pusillus, la carotte sauvage américaine.

Daucus carota

The wild carrot originated in Eastern Iran and was probably grown for its aromatic seeds and for medicinal use. Today it is found throughout the Mediterranean Basin, especially in coastal areas, much of western Asia and even in North America. Carrot seeds probably arrived in the USA in contaminated seed, possibly carried by the early colonialists. The cultivated carrot, Daucus carota subsp. sativus, which we grow today, was produced by breeders through a process of natural selection.

La carotte sauvage est originaire de l’Iran oriental et se cultivait probablement pour ses graines aromatiques et un usage médicinal. Aujourd’hui, on la trouve à travers tout le Bassin Méditerranéen et en particulier le long des côtes, l’Asie occidentale et même en Amérique du Nord. Les graines de carotte furent probablement importées aux USA par hasard, transportées peut-être par les premiers colons. La carotte cultivée aujourd’hui, Daucus carota subsp. sativus, fut introduite par des chercheurs grâce aux procédés de sélection naturelle.

It was Dutch breeders in the 17th century who began selecting for orange carrots. Orange carrots were common by the 18th century when the French breeder, Vilmorin, introduced the Chantenay and Nantes types which are still popular today. Carrots come in a bewildering range of sizes and colours including purple, black, white, yellow and red, targeted to suit modern tastes and cuisines.

Au XVIIe siècle, des producteurs hollandais commencèrent à sélectionner des carottes orange. Les carottes orange étaient communes au XVIIIe alors que le producteur français Vilmorin introduisait les variétés Chantenay et Nantes qui sont toujours cultivées aujourd’hui. On trouve une gamme ahurissante de carottes quant à leur taille ou leur couleur dont le pourpre, noir, blanc, jaune ou rouge, afin de satisfaire le goût actuel et la nouvelle cuisine.

Today the cultivated carrot comes in two distinctive types – the Asiatic, or anthocyanin carrot which can be purple or yellow,and the Western, or carotene carrot which can be orange, red or white.

Aujourd’hui, nous trouvons deux types différents de carottes – l’asiatique ou « carotte anthocyane » qui peut être pourpre ou jaune, et l’occidentale, ou « carotte carotène » qui est soit orange, rouge ou blanche.

Photo by Stephen Ausmus, copyright USDA Agricultural Research Service

Carrots are a cheap, nutritious, healthy and easily-digested vegetable containing some 5 -10% sugar as fructose or glucose, as well as beta-Carotene, the precursor of vitamin A. They can be used in salads, in savoury soups such as potage Crécy and in stews. Carrot cake is still a favourite among the British. In the Middle East and in Asia carrots may be used in sweet, sour and spicy dishes to accompany meats.

La carotte est un légume bon marché, nutritif, sain et facile à digérer contenant de 5 à 10% de sucre sous forme de fructose ou glucose, ainsi que le bêta-carotène, précurseur de la vitamine A. On peut en faire des salades, de délicieux potages tels que le potage Crécy et des ragouts. Le gâteau à la carotte est toujours un plat apprécié des Britanniques. Au Moyen-Orient et en Asie, les carottes servent à confectionner des plats aigre-doux et épicés en accompagnement de viandes.

Carrots have a relatively long growing season; anywhere from two to four months and may therefore take up a lot of garden space. Seeds are small and should be sown mixed with sand or peat. They do not compete well with weeds. Soil should be free of stones etc. To my mind, they should be grown only in tubs or deep containers where these aspects can be controlled and weeding made easy. Use short varieties. Compost should be deep, slightly acid with successive sowings made starting with early autumn rains. Root growth is best when soil temperatures are at least 15˚C, so some protection will be needed for late autumn sowings. Thin the crop as it grows and use the thinnings in salads.

Les carottes poussent sur une saison relativement longue, à savoir deux à quatre mois et occupent donc beaucoup d’espace au potager. Les graines sont toutes petites et doivent être semées en mélange avec du sable ou de la tourbe. Elles sont incapables de combattre efficacement les mauvaises herbes et la terre doit être indemne de pierres, etc. A mon avis, il faudrait uniquement les cultiver dans des containers profonds afin de faciliter le désherbage. Préférez des variétés courtes. Utilisez une grande quantité de compost légèrement acide et faites des semis successifs à partir des premières pluies d’automne. La croissance des racines est bien meilleure quand la température du sol est de 15°C minimum, aussi il faudra utiliser une protection contre le froid en cas de semis tardif. Eclaircissez la planche en fonction de la croissance des semis et utilisez les plantules arrachées en salades.

There must be a place for wild carrots in any natural Mediterranean garden but they feature little in the literature. Daucus is a host plant for swallowtail caterpillars. Flower-heads are heavy with small white flowers which often stand well above most plants. A wild carrot selection, Daucus carota ‘Dara’ has white through to dark purple petals and is very attractive especially as a cut flower.

Dans tout jardin naturel méditerranéen il devrait y avoir une place pour la carotte sauvage mais on en parle très peu dans la littérature. Daucus est une plante-hôte pour les chenilles du machaon. Les têtes florales comportant de nombreuses petites fleurs blanches surpassent la plupart des autres plantes. Daucus carota ‘Dara’ à pétales passant du blanc au pourpre foncé est très intéressante à cultiver surtout pour la fleur coupée.

Daucus carota ‘Dara’
An ornamental wild carrot
Une carotte sauvage ornementale
Daucus carota subsp. maritimus
Daucus carota subsp. halophilus
The seed-head made up of numerous individual white flowers
with a purple flower in the centre
L’ombelle composée de nombreuses fleurs individuelles blanches
et d’une fleur pourpre au milieu
After seedset the umbel closes upwards to create a carrot ‘nest’
Après la mise à graine, l’ombelle se ferme en créant un “nid”

Daucus is also the perfect flower to include in a semi-wild meadow.

Cette plante est aussi la fleur idéale à introduire dans une prairie mi-sauvage.

Carrots are finding a niche in the vegetable garden as a companion or beneficial plant. They are said to boost tomato production and may provide a microclimate for lettuce plants though the author remains sceptical and has yet to see any solid evidence to support these claims!

La carotte peut aussi servir de plante compagne au potager. On dit qu’elle augmente la production de tomates et favorise un microclimat aux plants de laitue bien que l’auteur reste sceptique et demande à voir les preuves de ces affirmations !

Text: David Bracey
Photos: David Bracey, Ian Davis, Christine Daniels
Traduction en français: Chantal Guiraud

Punica granatum: the pomegranate tree / le grenadier

Click on an image to enlarge it / Cliquez sur une image pour l’agrandir

France imports 3500 tonnes of pomegranates each year mainly from Peru, South Africa and Turkey. They are on a wave of popularity at the moment being rich in anthocyanins. The juice from the crushed seeds is popular in smoothies and as a fruit cordial, and seeds are used to make grenadine and as a garnish in salads and desserts. Is this the reason that I’ve noticed new commercial plantings of pomegranate tree orchards close to Avignon and around Bagnols in the Gard? There are probably less than 100 hectares of ‘grenadières‘ in France.

La France importe 3500 tonnes de grenades chaque année, principalement du Pérou, d’Afrique du Sud et de Turquie. Ces fruits, riches en anthocyanes, sont très appréciés pour leurs bienfaits sur la santé. Le jus obtenu à partir des graines écrasées est utilisé dans la fabrication de smoothies et d’élixirs, et les graines servent à fabriquer la grenadine ou entrent dans la composition de salades et desserts. Est-ce la raison pour laquelle j’ai remarqué de nouvelles installations de vergers de grenadiers près d’Avignon et autour de Bagnols dans le Gard ? Il y a probablement moins de 100 hectares de grenadières en France.

Commercial plantings / Vergers de grenadiers commercialisés

Punica granatum is native to Iran. It is a very successful plant, no doubt due the fact that it tolerates dry conditions, alkaline soils and below freezing temperatures. To-day it has colonised the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and parts of South East Asia. There are estimated to be well over a thousand cultivars worldwide.

Punica granatum est originaire d’Iran. C’est une plante très facile, dû au fait qu’elle tolère la sécheresse, les sols alcalins et des températures négatives. De nos jours elle a colonisé tout le Bassin Méditerranéen, le Moyen-Orient et une partie de l’Asie du Sud-Est. On estime qu’il existe plus d’un millier de cultivars dans le monde entier.

Grenadiers offer enormous possibilities in the garden and to my mind are very under-utilised. Olivier Filippi lists nine varieties in his catalogue including P. granatum ‘Provence’ the ‘local’ pomegranate, P. granatum ‘Mollar de Elche’ and P. granatum ‘Fina Tendral’. There are single and double flowered varieties with orange, yellow, cream and ‘panaché’ flowers.

Les grenadiers offrent beaucoup de possibilités dans le jardin et sont, à mon avis, trop peu utilisés. Olivier Filippi propose neuf variétés dans son catalogue y compris P. granatum ‘Provence’, le grenadier local, P. granatum ‘Mollar de Elche’ et P. granatum ‘Fina Tendral’. Il y a des variétés à fleurs simples et doubles, de couleur orangée, jaune, crème et panachées.

Punica granatum ‘Legrelliae’
Punica granatum ‘Provence’

Plants can grow into very large shrubs, some 3-4 metres tall, covered in flowers. Their spiky branches make them an ideal plant for hedging especially when clipped annually. Spring leaves have a bronze tint and in the autumn they turn a bright yellow. Some plants have attractive peeling bark. Old gnarled trees from Spain, some up to 200 years old, can be found on the market and make magnificent specimens in the garden. Florists may use cut branches for decoration.

Ces plantes peuvent devenir de très gros arbustes, certains hauts de 3-4 m, couverts de fleurs. Leurs branches épineuses permettent de les utiliser dans une haie surtout si on les taille tous les ans. Les nouvelles pousses printanières prennent une teinte bronze et deviennent jaune vif à l’automne. Certains arbustes présentent une écorce qui pèle. On peut rencontrer sur le marché de vieux arbres noueux venant d’Espagne, certains âgés de plus de 200 ans, à installer en sujet isolé dans le jardin. Les fleuristes peuvent utiliser les branches coupées pour les bouquets.

Attractive bark on the branches
Jolie écorce sur les branches

A slow-growing dwarf pomegranate, P. granatum var.nana has simple bright orange flowers and offers possibilities for hedging or could be clipped as a bonsai plant. Fruits are another feature. They are large, leathery and red, orange or yellow in colour. The fruits contain ‘pippy’ seeds which are surrounded by a fleshy pulp which can be sweet or sour. Botanically they are known as ‘berries’ i.e. any fruit that has its seeds enclosed in a fleshy pulp, for example grapes, tomatoes or juniper berries. The fruits remain on the bush after leaves have fallen.

P. granatum var. nana, le grenadier nain, pousse lentement et possède des fleurs simples orange vif. Il peut être utilisé en haie ou taillé à la manière d’un bonsaï. Autre point intéressant: ses fruits. Ils sont gros, à peau coriace et de couleur rouge, orange ou jaune. Ils contiennent énormément de graines entourées d’une pulpe charnue qui peut être sucrée ou acidulée. Au point de vue botanique, la grenade est une baie; c’est-à-dire un fruit dont les graines sont enfermées dans une pulpe charnue, comme le raisin, la tomate ou la baie de genièvre. Les fruits restent sur l’arbuste après que les feuilles soient tombées.

Punica granatum ‘Nana Gracillissima’
Fruit of Punica granatum ‘Provence’

To my mind pomegranates/grenadiers offer many advantages for the garden; the only disadvantage I can see is that they sucker profusely. These suckers need to trimmed back each year to feature and emphasise the trunk.

A mon avis, les grenadiers offrent de nombreuses possibilités au jardin ; le seul désagrément réside dans le fait qu’ils drageonnent beaucoup. Ces rejets doivent être coupés à ras tous les ans afin de mettre en valeur le tronc.

Lexicon:
pomegranate fruit
pomegranate juice
pomegranate tree
pomegranate orchard


une grenade
le jus de grenade
un grenadier
une grenadière

Text: David Bracey
Photos: David Bracey and Christine Daniels
Traduction en français: Chantal Guiraud

Editor’s note:

In October 2021 members visited Pépinière Quissac in Souvignargues for a pomegranate tasting. Miriam Quissac and her friend Faisal explained about where to plant pomegranate trees and how to cultivate them, and you can read an account of the talk in ‘Past Activities’. Details of the Pépinière Quissac pomegranate collection are available on their website.

Pépinière Baud, based near Vaison-la-Romaine, is another specialist in pomegranate trees. M. Baud has eleven varieties on his list and provides notes on cultivation. Two varieties with soft, edible seeds are P. granatum ‘Mollar de Elche’ and P. granatum ‘Seedless’.

Note de la redaction :

En octobre 2021, les adhérents ont visité la Pépinière Quissac à Souvignargues pour une dégustation de grenades. Miriam Quissac et son ami Fayçal ont expliqué où planter des grenadiers et comment les cultiver, et vous pouvez lire un compte rendu de la conférence dans « Evènements passées ». Les informations de la collection de grenadiers de la Pépinière Quissac sont disponibles sur leur site.

La pépinière Baud, basée près de Vaison-la-Romaine, est aussi un spécialiste dans les grenadiers. Mr. Baud possède onze variétés sur sa liste et fournit des explications sur la culture de ces arbustes. P. granatum ‘Mollar de Elche’ et P. granatum ‘Seedless’ sont deux variétés à graines souples et comestibles.

Prunus dulcis: Sweet almond tree / L’amandier

The sweet almond, Prunus dulcis, is a tree sadly neglected in Mediterranean gardens. The fragrant, pale pink to white flowers are the earliest flowers in the garden and are magic when seen under a clear blue Midi sky in February. My memories of almond trees in blossom set against the brown ploughed fields and vineyards of the Gard will stay with me for ever. Trees should provide many points of interest throughout the year – almonds do provide some shade but they could hardly be called shade trees and there are edible nuts in the autumn.

L’amande douce, Prunus dulcis, est un arbre malheureusement négligé dans les jardins méditerranéens. Les fleurs odorantes, rose pâle à blanc sont les premières fleurs dans le jardin et sont magiques quand on les voit sous le ciel bleu clair du Midi en février. Mes souvenirs d’amandiers en fleurs contrastant avec les champs labourés et les vignobles du Gard resteront pour toujours. Ces arbres devraient fournir de nombreux points d’intérêt tout au long de l’année; les amandiers fournissent de l’ombre, mais ne sont guère protecteurs et il y a des noix comestibles à l’automne.

Almond trees have been cultivated in for at least 3000 years. It is found throughout the Mediterranean Basin and as far east as India. Pastes made from ground almonds, pistachios, walnuts or hazelnuts are found in just about every Mediterranean country and are used to make confectionary, biscuits, cakes, soups, pastries, deserts, tarts and of course nougat, or turron.

L’amandier est cultivé depuis au moins 3000 ans. On le trouve dans tout le bassin méditerranéen et aussi loin que l’Inde. Les pâtes à base d’amandes broyées, de pistaches, de noix ou de noisettes se retrouvent dans presque tous les pays méditerranéens et servent à confectionner des confiseries, des biscuits, des gâteaux, des soupes, des pâtisseries, des desserts, des tartelettes et bien sûr du nougat ou du touron.

Ground almond paste is the basis for marzipan (massepain in French), macaroons and nougat. To-day Montélimar in the Drôme is the centre of nougat production and sales in France – every other shop sells it, at least that’s what it seems. It was Olivier de Serres who first planted almonds close to Montélimar in the 17th century. There are commercial almond orchards south of Montélimar and some close to Alès in the Gard, but not many!

La pâte d’amande moulue est la base du massepain, macarons et nougat. Aujourd’hui Montélimar (Drôme) est le centre de production (et de vente) de nougat en France où tous les magasins le vendent, du moins c’est ce que l’on croit. C’est Olivier de Serres qui planta les premières amandes près de Montélimar au XVIIe siècle. Il y a des vergers d’amandiers commerciaux au sud de Montélimar et certains près d’Alès dans le Gard, mais pas beaucoup!

The real centre for almond production is the Valsenole plateau in the Alpes-de-Haut-Provence where there are over 100 productive hectares. Growers are supported by the cosmetics company, L’Occitane-en-Provence, which purchases much of the crop to produce almond oil used in skin creams. The almonds here are said to be very ‘recherché’ for calissons and nougat. Local nougat made with locally produced lavender oil is said to be unforgettable

Le véritable centre de production d’amandes est le plateau de Valsenole dans les Alpes-de-Haut-Provence où plus de 100 hectares sont cultivés. Les producteurs sont soutenus par la société de cosmétiques, L’Occitane en Provence, qui achète une grande partie de la récolte pour produire de l’huile d’amande utilisée dans les crèmes pour la peau. On dit que ces amandes sont très recherchées pour les calissons et le nougat. Le nougat local fait avec de l’huile de lavande produite localement a la réputation d’être inoubliable!

Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat in the Haute Vienne is perhaps the centre for massepain in France. The small golden biscuits made of peeled almonds, egg whites, sugar and flour were supplied, no doubt for a small sum, to pilgrims walking from Bourges to Bordeaux and on to Compostela.

Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat dans la Haute Vienne (87) est peut-être le centre du massepain en France. Les petits biscuits dorés faits d’amandes pelées, de blancs d’œufs, de sucre et de farine étaient fournis, sans doute pour une somme modique, à des pèlerins qui marchaient de Bourges à Bordeaux et à Compostelle.

Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat dans la Haute Vienne (87) est peut-être le centre du massepain en France. Les petits biscuits dorés faits d’amandes pelées, de blancs d’œufs, de sucre et de farine étaient fournis, sans doute pour une somme modique, à des pèlerins qui marchaient de Bourges à Bordeaux et à Compostelle.

Mais retour au jardin : le RHS décrit 38 variétés «supérieures» de Prunus dulcis avec malheureusement peu de photographies et encore moins de descriptions. L’une est P. dulcis ‘Maculocarpa’, un arbre à feuilles caduques avec des fleurs roses ou blanches très pâles produites sur des pousses nues au début du printemps.

Almonds require bees for good pollination; this can be encouraged by planting forage crops, by introducing bee hives or by planting different almond varieties. There are a few self-fertile almonds, one is the ‘Tuono’ variety which has been crossed with ‘Nonpareil’ varieties to produce hybrids which are self-fertile. The Californian almond crop is truly enormous and worth over $20 billion. This production is the motor for further breeding work and varieties with new distinct characters including self-fertility, superior nuts and specific harvest dates have been bred and patented.

Les amandes nécessitent des abeilles pour une bonne pollinisation; cela peut être encouragé en plantant des cultures fourragères, en introduisant des ruches d’abeilles ou en plantant différentes variétés d’amandes. Il y a quelques amandes autofertiles comme ‘Tuono’ qui ont été croisées avec des variétés ‘Nonpareil’ pour produire des variétés hybrides autofertiles. La récolte californienne d’amandes vaut vraiment plus de 20 milliards de dollars. C’est le moteur de nouveaux travaux de sélection et de variétés avec de nouveaux caractères distincts dont l’autofécondité, des noix de qualité supérieure et des dates de récolte spécifiques.

Text: David Bracey
Translation into French: Roland Leclercq
Photographs: Hugues Pelen and J. Davis

Some must-have bulbous plants for Mediterranean gardens

Click on an image to enlarge it / Cliquez sur une image pour l’agrandir

Bulbous plants have had an important role in horticulture since the early centuries. Interest in them grew further when selected species were introduced into cultivation and began to be bred. Some plants became fashionable and highly desired: the tulip mania of the 17th century is the prime example of this, but hyacinths, bearded irises, Narcissus, Lilium and Gladiolus have all also had their moments of being the height of fashion. And fashions in bulbs continue today, with daffodils and tulips giving place to Galanthus (the snowdrop) and Crocus. We collectors can now be divided into galanthophiles and croconuts (I myself belong to the second category).

Bulbs have always been admired for their beauty and scent and in the past were quite easy to obtain, even for ordinary villagers, as they could be collected in many parts of the Mediterranean, North Africa and Central Asia.

The advantage of their period of dormancy was that it made transport easier – a good example is Iris albicans which is native to Saudi Arabia and was introduced to the Mediterranean, Southern Europe and Asia by Muslim pilgrims coming back from Mecca. This iris became particularly popular in Muslim graveyards for its white colour symbolising purity, for the importance of its place of origin and for the fact that no care is needed after the plant has become established. Similarly, Sternbergia lutea was introduced by Greek monks who carried the bulbs from their homeland and planted them in many of the monasteries spread around the Eastern Mediterranean. I cannot stress strongly enough, however, that today bulbs should never be dug up from the wild – indeed, in most countries it is against the law to do so.

Sternbergia lutea

Many species need little attention and after being planted in the ground they will thrive and with time form large clumps. Bulbous plants are a good solution for places with difficult conditions, for isolated houses where water is either not available or too precious to be used for irrigation, or for geographic areas characterised by very hot and dry conditions or extremely cold winters. In recent years I have been travelling to Central Asia and was surprised to see how popular these plants are. Early displays of tulips, daffodils, Muscari and Paeonia can be seen outside almost every village house. Some have probably been there for ages, flowering punctually every year after the snow has melted to colour the dull grey surroundings and announce that spring has arrived.

The swapping of bulbs started in early times and continues today. Gardeners are usually generous people who will gladly spare a bulb or two. In this way highly perfumed species such as Polianthes tuberosa (the tuberose), Lilium candidum and freesias are grown in pots or large metal tins at the entrances of houses and on balconies in many villages but are also popular in town gardens and urban balconies.

I particularly remember as a child seeing a small garden in Jerusalem where every spring hundreds of blue Ipheion uniflorum and yellow freesias appeared on both sides of the main path while all around the garden large clumps of the double form Narcissus tazetta ‘Constantinopolitanus’ appeared together with Cyclamen persicum and Sparaxis tricolor. Today bulbous plants are an important feature in the gardens I design, where I use them for various purposes: they are a great addition to an existing garden and often offer a lovely surprise when they flower.

I have made a list of bulbous plants which I recommend for use in our Mediterranean gardens. The criteria for my choice of species is that first of all they need no irrigation, they have a long flowering period, are resistant to diseases, moles etc, they provide a focal point at different seasons and, lastly, they are relatively easy to obtain online from specialist growers, from your local garden centre or nurseries, and of course by swapping with friends and neighbours.

Iris unguicularis

This iris is native to the Mediterranean where it has two subspecies: subsp. cretensis from Crete and subsp. carica growing in the eastern Aegean islands and south-west Turkey. These two subspecies are difficult to grow but there is a form, probably originating in Algeria which has been in cultivation for a very long time. It is occasionally sold under the name Iris stylosa (which is a synonym of I. unguicularis) or Iris algeriensis. This form is characterised by much wider leaves and larger flowers.

It is a tough plant which will grow in difficult conditions.

It can be planted under trees (even pine trees) in shade or in full sun. Its flowering season lasts throughout most of the winter months, often when nothing else is in bloom. New flowers open daily, held on short stems in the centre of the clump. The leaves tend to grow rapidly and I therefore recommend cutting the whole clump to about 10 cm high every three or four years in order to reveal the flowers again. This is also the time for dividing the clump if one wants to plant this iris in other sites. After the first two seasons it will not need any irrigation. It is a long-lived species. There are a few named cultivars, including white forms, but I find these to be weaker plants.

Iris foetidissima

This is another excellent iris species native to southern Europe and North Africa but which has naturalised in many areas. The awful smell denoted by its specific epithet is released only when the tubers and roots are crushed. As well as being a highly decorative plant, this species has the advantage that it can grow in densely shaded parts of the garden where generally very few species could survive.

The flowers are not the best feature of this plant as they are not showy but the dark green sword-like leaves are handsome while the seedpods opening in autumn to reveal the seeds – like shining red pearls – last for quite a few weeks and can be used in flower arrangements. Blackbirds are attracted to the seeds and will spread them. This iris is easily grown from seed and, like Iris unguicularis, is long-lived.

Amaryllis belladonna

Native to the south-west Cape of Africa, this species is increasingly gaining popularity, particularly in the USA. The tall, showy flowers appear in September, symbolising the end of summer. Their usual colour is soft to deep pink but some white and very dark-coloured cultivars are available as well.

Bulbs are easy to obtain but one needs to be patient as they will often not set flowers in the first year. The bulbs should be planted with their necks at ground level. They require locations with full sun or slight shade where the plant will not receive summer irrigation by sprinklers etc. The bulbs of this species do not like to be disturbed. Left to themselves they will form nice clumps after several years. Individual plants will not produce flowering stems each year; thus having several plants will ensure that one has flowers every autumn.

Habranthus robustus

This is another excellent and showy flowering species suitable for growing in pots or in the garden. It starts to flower during summer and into the autumn, the flowers usually appearing in waves at intervals of days and often weeks.

It increases very well, either by new bulbs born next to the mother bulb or by seed. The plant is easily grown from seed and self-sown seedlings will often appear in neighbouring pots. As with Amaryllis belladonna, the bulbs should be planted with their necks at ground level. Species with similar growing habits are Zephyranthes rosea and the much smaller crocus-like Zephyranthes candida. All these species can also be watered in summer.

Ipheion uniflorum (syn. Tristagma uniflorum)

This is a small species with blue star-shaped flowers. It is a super-increaser and will fill a large pot after three to four seasons. It is an excellent plant for dry areas near a path or a rockery where it does not receive any irrigation during the hot season. It flowers in spring for a few weeks and is a very cheerful plant. There are named cultivars such as ‘Wisley Blue’, ‘Charlotte Bishop’ (large pink flowers), ‘Froyle Mill’ (purple flowers), ‘Alberto Castillo’ (white flowers) and others.

Scilla hyacinthoides

A spring-flowering species native to the eastern Mediterranean. Its blue flowering spikes can grow to a metre tall and will last for a couple of weeks. It is also a good increaser which will grow in difficult conditions in any kind of soil. It will bloom in shady areas as well. It is easily grown from seed but it will take four to five years to set flowers.

Freesia refracta, F. leichtlinii and F. alba

Freesia sp.
Freesia leichtlinii

These are three similar white-flowering species which have naturalised in various parts of the Mediterranean. They are known for their amazing perfume in spring. Freesia is one of the best bulbs for growing in pots.

Use a medium-sized pot which can be put on the terrace table or indoors to enjoy when the plants are in flower. At the end of the growing season just leave the pot aside in a dry area until the first rains arrive. Freesias will increase rapidly and occasionally seed themselves in other parts of the garden.

Cyclamen persicum and C. graecum

Cyclamen persicum
Cyclamen graecum

These are two of the easiest and toughest species in this genus. Originating in the eastern and southern Mediterranean, these cyclamens can be enjoyed for their flowers but equally for their beautifully patterned leaves. The two species can live for dozens of years and will seed themselves freely in the garden, often in unexpected places such as holes in a wall or paved area. This is thanks to ants, which collect the seeds and spread them around.

Both species have a long growing season. Cyclamen graecum flowers in autumn without its leaves and produces new leaves after the first rains, while C. persicum will first set leaves and will then bloom for many weeks from January to March. Each mature plant produces hundreds of seeds that will germinate and flower after four years.

Narcissus tazetta ‘Constantinopolitanus’ and ‘Double Roman’

Narcissus tazetta ‘Double Roman’
Photo: Chris Wiesinger
Narcissus tazetta ‘Avalanche’

Of the endless cultivars, hybrids and forms of Narcissus these two are centuries-old; their exact origin is unclear but the names indicate that they have been around since Roman and Ottoman times.

These are both probably natural double forms of Narcissus tazetta which have been grown around the Mediterranean for their beauty and their amazing scent. They are strong-growing plants, highly resistant to diseases.

I remember them being sold when I was a child by old Arab and Jewish ladies in the markets of Bethlehem and Jerusalem – where they are still sold today.

The bulbs should be planted 15-20 cm deep and should be lifted when they become too crowded so that the number of flower stems is much reduced. This happens after ten years or so. These narcissi are better planted in full sun so that the flower stems are shorter and less liable to break, particularly after rain when they are wet. When brought indoors, a few stems of flowers will perfume the whole house.

Text and photos 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11 and 12: Oron Peri

ORON PERI was born in Jerusalem and now lives in the Galilee region of northern Israel. He is a plantsman, garden designer, botanist and, together with Mansour Yassin, owner of ‘Seeds of Peace’, a bulb nursery with an important collection of bulbous plants from around the Mediterranean. The seed list can be obtained by emailing Oron. Oron’s book, Bulbs of the Eastern Mediterranean, is available from The Alpine Garden Society and you can read a review of it by Trevor Nottle here.

If you would like to know more about bulbs for Mediterranean gardens, listen to the illustrated talk that Oron gave in January 2016 to our sister organisation, Mediterranean Plants & Gardens here.