The organisers of the Australian Landscape Conference have just returned from an Australian Garden History tour of Sicily, which once again confirmed the wisdom of Louisa Jones. In Australia we complain about low rainfall and poor soil, but this doesn’t compare to conditions in Sicily where rain only falls for two months of the year!
At our 2013 conference Louisa Jones spoke forcefully about Mediterranean gardens. She states, “Mediterranean gardening is… a way of living in harmony with the earth without contrived effects or heavy spending. Born of long human experience on the land, it is frugal and fruitful, serves many purposes and gives many pleasures, year-round. Today it adapts easily to our growing ecological awareness, to individual creativity and community sharing. Above all, it perpetuates a long standing partnership between human beings and their environment, tested in Mediterranean countries for millenia.”
Louisa is not so much interested in the ‘grand gardens’ as the ‘vernacular’, claiming, “.... These humble ‘home’ gardens have always been refuges for biodiversity, places for personal collecting and experimentation as well as for neighbourly sharing. They have always adapted to changing needs and being reinvented once again by us, for our own times.”
JAMES BASSON AND HIS ‘DRY’ GARDENS
James Basson moved from England to the South of France and is a leading designer of low maintenance Mediterranean gardens in harmony with the natural landscape. His work is immensely relevant to the future of garden design in Australia.
His firm, Scape Design, has just won a gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show for a main show garden, 'Perfumer's Garden in Grasse'. Regarding his award winning design, James states, “The perfume industry in Grasse has been in decline for several years and many of the traditional plantations have become overgrown, but now with the support of ecologically-sensitive companies like L'Occitane, the industry is experiencing a renaissance. ...... The planting is designed to be aromatic, a sensation of smell, recreating the Provençal hillsides and the history of the perfume industry and includes osmanthus, iris, bergamot, lavender and thyme. Fig and rosemary hedges provide both scent and reflect their historical use for drying clothes and infusing them with their floral scent.
For a beautiful and personal introduction to James’s Gold Medal Chelsea Flower Show design click here.
James Basson writes, “Dry gardening in the South of France means working with a climate that is shared with other parts of the world – like South Africa, California, parts of Australia and South America and of course, the Mediterranean basin – hot, dry summers, wet springs and autumns and then cold, dry winters. “
“We advocate dry gardening in our region because it makes sense, is sustainable and ecological: using the right plant in the right place, adapted to the soil type, water availability and land characteristics. And we can have dry gardens without being limited to cacti! Observe the surrounding landscape which remains green throughout the summer thanks to native shrubs such as Pistaci, Phillyrea, Myrtus, Rosemary and Buxus while its colour comes from Cistus, roses, Broom, Lavender, Iris, Peony, and Lavatera.”
“Once we get into autumn and winter, we are treated to the changing leaves of Cotinus, Rowan trees, Dogwoods, Field Maples while native grasses give everything that golden glow, providing architectural interest. “
“Creating a dry garden doesn’t need imported or upgraded soil, which reduces costs immensely. The plants need to be chosen for your specific microclimate depending on winter temperatures, maritime winds and so on. The easiest way to know what works is to look at what’s doing well in the surrounding landscape.”
“From a technical point of view, it’s important to plant small specimens in the autumn giving them a chance to settle in and set down roots over the winter and spring. Then after careful surveillance for the first summer with watering as necessary, your garden will never need watering again. This water reduction vastly reduces the mosquito problem and will also boost native bee and butterfly populations.
The end result gives you a colourful, ecological, sustainable and low-maintenance garden that will evolve naturally into a truly beautiful garden.”
“The most important lesson that we have learnt in this type of gardening, once the right plants have been chosen for the site, is the importance of using predominantly evergreen shrubs and sub-shrubs which gain ground quickly to cover the soil and prevent weeds developing. The first year is the hardest to keep weeds down. There are two ways to speed up or help your chosen plants win over the weeds: one is to mulch the soil heavily – we suggest using mineral mulches such as locally sourced gravel or stones found in the garden; organic mulching is also useful but in the long-term it improves fertility which is not always beneficial to the plants chosen for your garden. Secondly, overplant the garden so that the ground is quickly covered and then the most vigorous of the plants dominate and survive, while some of the other plants are removed or die out. This second option might seem wasteful but it really does work out cheaper in the long run.”
“Life is not all rosy though; there is a cultural aesthetic to understand. By using plants from other countries with Mediterranean climates, such as Perovskia from Afghanistan and Agapanthus from South Africa we can extend the flowering season, yet still in the heat of August the flowering landscape is reduced to a series of soft summer tones.”
This article draws from the writings of James Basson and Louisa Jones and was compiled by Warwick Forge. For a more indepth look, check out Mediterranean Gardens: A Model for Good Living by Bloomings Books.
To hear more from James Basson, but one of the many brilliant international speakers attending the Australian Landscape Conference, visit us from 18 – 22 September 2015 at the Melbourne Convention Centre.
Photography: James Basson supplied images for his gardens while the others are kindly provided by Clive Nichols save for the Garden Guiliano (Warwick Forge).
For details of speakers, workshops, garden tours and other events visit www.landscapeconference.com
Sue Forge firstname.lastname@example.org or call 043 818 1578
Jenny Wade email@example.com or call 0409 000 089 (after 15 July)
Photos (top to bottom):
- Various greens, trees, shrubs and lovely views in the bright Italian light north of Milano by Paolo Pejrone.
- Provencal garden Mas du Barraquet, designed by Dominique Lafourcade (cover image for Mediterranean Gardens).
- The 800 year old garden of Guiliano near Syracuse in Sicily – Italians freely use exotic plants with similar hardy characteristics – in this case, three Xanthorroea australis.
- A Master Mediterranean Designer – James Basson and Dry Gardens - Perfumer’s Garden in Grasse Gold Medal winner for James Basson at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.
- Pool detail for a private garden by James Basson. He has a wonderful eye.