Twelve years ago, when we started making a garden at The Walnut Tree, our aim was to create a recently acquired totally barren open space into a productive, sustainable, interesting, bird and insect friendly environment. We also wanted structure, surprises and variety.
Twelve years later ….. we have a garden.
We have structure created by hedges, paths and rockeries. We have surprises introduced by cutting ‘holes’ in the hedges, introducing pathways and we created rockeries – not difficult in Kefalonia surrounded as we are by the ‘natural product’. The garden is now full of fruit trees, flowering trees, shrubs and herbs – mainly indigenous. A key feature has been to try and keep the garden as water efficient as possible.
We encourage wild flowers to grow wherever they want (within reason) and these plants are increasingly appearing. They include honeysuckle, clematis, wild rose, sea squills, verbascum, orchids, blue and pink scabious, wild arums, grasses, grape hyacinth, Star of Bethlehem, euphorbia, asparagus, fungi, harebells and poppies. More arrive each year – and I find myself saying yet again ‘Well … I’ve never seen that before!’ and having to look it up – and then promptly forgetting the name!
We have made lots of mistakes and are still making them. However, the joy of the garden is mostly about the framing of our beautiful views, attempting to add shade, light and movement – though of course, we do enjoy finding more trees and plants to inhabit it.
Balm for the soul and peace for the spirit is what we are hoping for – but we also hope our garden gives our summer guests a great place to holiday in, re-charge AND play in as well as providing some inner serenity too.
We try and have some colour throughout the year – from New Zealand Bottlebrush hedges and the hedges of Oleanders that mark the boundaries to the front and south side of the property, Hottentot fig, osteospermum, rosemary, sage, mimosa, albizia, iris, hibiscus, lavender, oregano, cistus – they all have their flowering time – and many of them are irresistible to the insects that visit the garden daily.
At most times of the year we are able to pick something. During the autumn the choice is pomegranates, figs, persimmons, quinces, olives through to spring and early summer when we have oranges, kumquats, grapefruits, lemons, apricots, peaches, plums, greengages, mulberries – if we are lucky with the weather, with pollination and if everything goes to plan. We do have apple and pear trees – and plenty of blossom on both but sadly we haven’t yet eaten our own apples or pears – perhaps we should be satisfied with what we do have!
Increased plant growth in all parts of the garden provides our many birds (both resident and migratory) with good cover and bird song is constant. This year we had a pair of Black Caps nesting in a rosemary bush right by the pool terrace – the four fledglings had flown the nest by the beginning of June.
Most years we have sightings of bee eaters and golden orioles in the spring and we always have migratory robins, swallows and swifts. Our constant bird companions are cheeky sparrows, goldfinches, jays, blackbirds, wood pigeons, hooded crows, owls (our favourite is Scops Owl with such a distinctive hoot), buzzards, sparrow hawks and others I cannot now remember! We also hear a neighbour’s peacock (how baronial!) and this year …. even an ‘escapee’ cock pheasant. What next?
Our little lizards are of constant amusement. When we disturb them, sunning themselves quietly in a corner, there is definitely an attitude of ‘Oh honestly! Whose garden is this anyway?’ And then of course there are the geckos. They are so charming and somehow rather vulnerable and I feel the need to protect them though I’m not sure from what.
The insect life in the garden is quite astounding and sometimes deafening when the Elaeagnus (the perfume of these tiny flowers just about knocks you down) and Bottlebrush hedges are at their peak. Another opportunity for me to be saying ‘Well! I’ve never seen that before!’ when a brightly coloured beetle hoves into sight, another kind of bee, wasp, ant, grasshoppers, cicadas preying mantis … and then of course there are the butterflies and moths. What a treat!
To end with my favourite photo – the expression on this mantis’s face says it all. Get down to The Walnut Tree garden – plenty for all!