This post is a re-write of “A gardener dreams”, which wandered off in an unintended direction – sigh. I guess it’s okay to have trouble keeping the writing under control, from time to time.
III. Melding Sicily and Egypt. Back home in New Cairo after our Mediterranean wanderings, there are loads of tasks I should be doing. But I’m still armchair gardening, and dreaming…
I saw so much I loved, it’s hard to know where to begin.
There was truly inspired planting, especially in the wide vistas of lawn with cleverly positioned trees. From towering stone pines (Pinus pinea) to compact grass palms (Xanthorrhoea arborea), the combination of an open lawn with the added interest of height and different colour tones was very persuasive. And it was lovely to encounter what I think of as Cezanne’s pines (P. pinaster) with their beautiful bark and striking leaves, a great choice if your garden is the size of a small park.
We have Calliandra haematocephala (the powderpuff), Calliston citrinus (bottlebrush) and Frangipani rubra – shrubs more than trees – in the herbaceous borders, and an olive sapling in the lawn, close to Boris the rosemary.
But perhaps I should try more interesting planting in the lawn: white banksia rose (R. banksia fortuniana) and carefully restrained Bougainvillea (various cultivars) were used in one garden. Then there’s pomegranate (Punica granatum) – we saw fine specimens, notably at Casa Cuseni, the garden created a hundred years ago by Englishman Robert Kitson on a terraced hillside above Taormina. Blue plumbago (P. auriculata), much in evidence in the gardens of Sicily, could be a spectacular choice, but it’s hard to control.
What also impressed me was the imaginative and colourful mixed planting in borders, almost wholly without the use of annuals. Maybe I should I jettison my dream of growing sweet peas and concentrate on plants that can survive winter winds, cold and dust storms in Egypt – conditions that can also affect Sicily.
I’m less convinced by the use of succulents. True, they have their advantages, particularly in a relatively arid region. In larger gardens they don’t seem out of place, and agaves and aloes are planted extensively on the slopes of Al-Azhar Park in Cairo. But I don’t think they would work in our garden. We need to keep a sense of scale, so that no one plant dominates the landscape of a garden but there’s an overall sense of harmony.
Although we talked about drought-tolerant plants for the lawn, I didn’t note down what was used at Villasmundi; I doubt we would find it here in Egypt anyway.
I wish we had seen some kitchen gardens: It’s fascinating to see a well-organised veg. patch, and to understand strategies for success in varied growing conditions. But apart from a marvellous herb bed on the Villasmundo estate, and the use of citrus trees in mixed planting there and elsewhere, I couldn’t see how the wonderful produce we spotted in various local markets was grown. From aubergines to zucchini via a huge variety of salad leaves, Sicily produces a wider range of veg than I ever see in Egypt, and I’d love to see how it’s done.
Which leads me on to Sicilian food, an incredible discovery: Pistachio pesto, pasta a la Norma, arancini, caponata, fish of all kinds. That’s another story: dream on!