Sunday 15 August 2021

My Andalusian Garden - Souvenirs

Summertime should be a time for travelling but alas - we still have to hold out in our familiar neighbourhoods and wait for the world to be vaccinated. From the EU still no travel to the US is possible, where my daughter is studying now, no travel to Africa, no travel to Australia. I used to bring plants from my travels, either small cuttings or seeds from wherever I went, to try them out in my garden or in pots indoors if they were too tender and would not stand the German cold winter and lack of sunshine. The mediterranean climate in my new garden and a bit of selective artificial watering allows for plants from areas all over world with temperate climates and I am keen to travel again and find new inspiration. 

Pilea microphylla

This versatile plant I brought from our summer vacation in 2018 on the island of Jamaica where I took a tour with the head gardener of the hotel which was  surrounded by a beautiful large quasi-botanic garden. He gave me cuttings of Pilea microphylla  and said, it was a "throw it, grow it" plant. It is exactly that: I potted it in soil in Germany in my study indoors and it grew roots immediately. I made more cuttings from that and planted them outside here in my garden in Andalucia. In English the plant is called "Artillery fern" (although it is not a fern at all, it belongs to the family of Urticacea, so is distantly related to our stingy nettles) and seems to be quite common and even invasive in some parts of the world, but I have never seen it sold anywhere. In my garden it is not invasive at all, I have not found any seedlings. It is a great easy ground cover for new empty soil. Its leaves are slightly succulent and it can survive many different conditions.

Anigozanthos flavidus  

I am growing a few Australian plants that my daughter brought over when she returned from her studies in Sydney. She carried them either as little pots in her suitcases or as seeds all bought from the wonderful little plant shop in Sydney Botanic Garden. 

Anigozanthos flavidus, the cangaroo paw plant, is easily grown from seed to make imposing plants within two years. I actually found smaller versions here in garden centers, but the one I grew from seed are the strongest and biggest and very effectual with long-lasting greenish-yellow flowers that reach 1,50 m high. 

Their slender, sword-shaped leaves go well with plants with smaller leaves like salvias or dissected leaves like Geranium maderense

Another Australian plant is Hakea laurina which my daughter gave me for christmas 2019. It thrives well here and has turned into a healthy bush with interesting leaves. We are hoping it will show its beautiful flowers next winter. 

going through airport security and customs in my handbag :)

Clerondendron fragrans

Not always can I bring cuttings or seeds. Sometimes just an idea is enough, an encounter in a foreign garden, a scent, a beautiful leaf or interesting flower.  Just like collecting memories by taking photographs of nice moments in time spent with friends, or travelling to new interesting places, I am trying to collect memories of scents that remind me of special moments by planting scented plants that make me relive those moments, or by choosing plants from certain geographies that may remind me of a summer vacation - souvenirs, like memories of a comforting warm hug or a pair of black eyes.  Clerodendron fragrans is a plant I saw first in Israel in the garden beside the path to the entrance of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Its scent was so dramatic that I still remember it forty years on.  I ordered a plant online which is sometimes difficult here in Spain as shipped plants don't survive long in their cartons if transport takes too long, which it does often. Mine is growing well and making a small thicket. The first flower has not opened yet and I am waiting to see if this is the correct plant - I have something much more whitish in my mind - and whether it carries the scent I remember. 

Gardenia jasminoides

The brilliant Botanic Garden in Dallas grows huge Gardenia jasminoides in mostly shady groves underneath huge trees. When I found some here I planted them last autumn in a corresponding shady place on the east side of our terrain. So far they like it, have blossomed well and are growing a new layer of leaves this summer. 

Delonix regia can be an imposing tree, red flowered with finely structured leaves that I noticed on Jamaica but also in Israel forty years ago. We planted one on our lawn expecting it to create a umbrella-style shady area in front of the terrace. Last winter was very tough here, with high winds and an unsual amount of rain and it did not like it one bit and lost all its leaves - but it returned in May with the heat and is thriving now in our summer here. Several winters will be needed to see if it will survive the conditions on our hillside and grow into the desired natural shape of a wide shade-giving umbrella.   

Pandanus utilis 

I met this imposing plant on the St Geran golf course on Mauritius. Sadly the golf course does not exist anymore, holiday villas have been constructed and I hope the plant decorates a garden now. Here we planted a large bush with many stalky aerial roots. Its leaves appear in a characteristic spiral. 

I found seeds of Eryngium pandanifolium which I tried just for the name to compare what its leaves would look like. I had read that it is supposed to be the most imposing Eryngium. I am not sure about that, but the leaves are beautiful and the striking upwards reaching flowers are always full of bees. 

Coffea arabica

Other ideas I get from books: Tania Blixen's efforts in the wonderful movie "Out of Africa" starring Meryl Streep  who creates a coffee plantation on the slopes of Mount Kilimandscharo made me try a Coffea arabica plant. The first sample that I received here got a severe sunburn and withered within a day. I tried again and covered the second until it has adjusted - we will see (or "vamos a ver" in Spanish), whether I will be able to show pictures in a year. And hopefully I will have travelled again and have brought other species for my garden. There is still plenty of space.  

Saturday 10 July 2021

My Andalusian Garden - House Plants Outdoors

It’s about time I restarted this blog and came out of hiding. For the past year or so I spent a lot of time in reclusiveness with no desire to expose myself to the world. During the first pandemic year which coincided with my father’s strength diminishing and up to his death this spring (luckily not from COVID but simple old age) I used my time at home to sort through my memories. He had handwritten his memoirs from 1931 onwards and had
 finished last year just in time. I copied them down into a book for my family and my sisters’ families with letters and photographs. Somehow this seems to be a time for introspection and integration of one’s past and present. 

At the same time the renovation of our Andalusian “Casa de Verano” was finished and we started working on the garden. The construction workers had left the garden in the usual mess, cement, broken tiles, waste, compacted soil everywhere on the terrain. After a year of hard work the final pieces of irrigation were installed last week. 

I have gone through a steep learning curve  not only about mediterranean plants, but plants from all over the world's warm climates, Australian, Californian, South Asian, even East African that we try out here. I learn about different aspects of temperature, light, sun, wind and water and their interactions and changing conditions throughout the year. Each plant that we try out, has given me new insights, often surprising and unexpected. Our plot in this area on the western mediterranean coast, 200 m above sea level and 7 km from the sea sits on top of a hill with strong winds mostly from the west, cold in winter, occasionally searing hot in summer, but sometimes wind changes direction and comes from the east as well, and then mostly cold. We experience no frost, but last winter's temperatures dropped to a minimum of 3° C for short periods in certain areas of the garden, as my minimax thermometers tell me that I have  deployed in strategic places across our hill. 

So where do I start, one and a half acres of mostly empty soil apart from a few olive trees, pines and macchia shrubs? A huge empty canvas to be filled with shapes and colours. 

When you move into a new home, it is nice to bring some familiar faces, to furnish a new place with a few pieces of family furniture to make it less alien. I like to bring things from all stages in my life together in the places where I live, whether it be furniture, decorative pieces or art. So naturally, I decided to treat my garden the same way. What's easiest then  than to start with what I know from a different setting: house plants from my German home ?

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis "Varie

A variegated Hibiscus: This goes back to 1982 to my aunt, a long-retired pediatrician, that I stayed with over several summers decades ago, helping in her medical practice and trying to decide whether to study biology or medicine. I had taken those first cuttings forty years ago and propagated them ever since, so this is a really "old" plant

It is a very delicate plant that thrives in our dining room and has created a large bush that reaches up to the ceiling at nearly four meters, flowering occasionally in bright red. In the rather dark German dining room, this plant develops large green leaves, some of them - towards the windows - variegated, sprinkled white, where twigs reach into more light. Flowers appear occasionally between November and May, never more than five or so at a time. I had tried allowing the plant summer vacations on the terrace, but it never enjoyed it and burnt in strong sunlight.

I made fresh cuttings two years ago, they produced roots in water easily and last autumn I transferred them to Spain and into the soil on the eastern side of our hill with sunshine in the morning and shade in the afternoon. Here, leaves are wildly sprinkled green-white and much more showy than at home, but they stay smaller. Last winter the bush lost all leaves and might be deciduous here, as are many Hibiscus. Here in Andalusia we are waiting for the bush to grow to be able to produce those striking bright red flowers.


Chlorophytum comosum

This plant goes equally back a long time  to my childhood. It is one of the easiest plants for indoors and equally easy outdoors here. It has produced plenty of "Kindel" and we are using it as a pretty and healthy groundcover with a tropical appearance.

Monstera deliciosa

A very reliable house plant, I have two versions here: the classical "swiss cheese" and a variegated version. Both took half a year to establish and did not make any new leaves then, but are busily producing new leaves now. They survived last winter and we hope that they will cover a large area and climb up trees. The most spectacular example I have seen  in a large garden in South Africa where it climbed at least 8 m high up a palm tree.  

Epipremnum aureum

This "bathroom" plant is a little more demanding outdoors  requiring a constant temperature range and high humidity. Last winter was a little too cold and it lost most leaves, but has returned to try again. It may need more moisture and we are planning to install a misting irrigation in addition to the ugly agricultural brown dripping pipes that I hope will be covered with leaves soon. 

Clivia miniata, C. miniata "Aurea" and C. nobilis,

This easy going plant I know since childhood sitting on the window sills of my grandmother's living room. It is drought resistant and virtually unkillable in dark dry rooms and in my memory associated with boring 1970 restaurants. But not only: The most spectacular example, which makes this plant worth having and striving to give it perfect growth conditions, I have seen potted in a seminary in Brixen, South Tyrol in the cloister: A long row of very large pots all in orange bloom over Easter, when I stayed with my aunt for some pediatrician's conference. Cool in winter, warm bright shade in summer will bring the plant to bloom. I planted three different kinds: Clivia miniata in the orange and yellow forms and Clivia nobilis with hanging flowers.    

Clivia nobilis

Stephanotis floribunda

Sitting next to the Clivia on my grandmother's windowsill in the 1960s was Stephanotis floribunda. Here I have planned for it to climb a garage wall up to my younger son's balcony. The strong night scent is heavenly and I hope he and any guests will appreciate it. So far it seems to thrive, only about one meter left to climb :) which should be achieved in the next few weeks. 

Stephanotis floribunda

Anthurium andraeanum

Not a plant that I ever tried to grow indoors so far, but to my amazement it is thriving beautifully here in deep shade unter a camphor tree and has thrown out many new leaves and flowers. The effect is so tropical and lush with its shiny huge leaves that it turned into a favourite quickly. 

I can recommend trying whatever plant you want to grow from the house plant selection in any garden center - it may be very rewarding and if it won't grow, don't hesitate to throw it on the compost heap and use the freed up space to try something new. 

Tuesday 18 August 2020

Wanderlust : Jerusalem

With travel in the "real world" still difficult, I decided to do some "mind travel" and go through my archives. I realized I had never ever posted my journeys to one of my all-time-favourite cities: Jerusalem! Jerusalem : a beautiful, handful of a city in fine colours that can be explored on foot, walking across centuries and between religions in a few steps taking in visitors from all parts of the world, from skimpily clad young Americans to Eastern European elderly ladies in traditional ornamental costume. 

A journey back in time, not only for the city of millenia but also personally: My first trips to Jerusalem were in 1979 and 1981 when my father visited Israel on two study trips with other reverends from German parishes exploring Jerusalem and other biblical sites in two trips to the northern and southern parts of Israel. My mother did not like to travel so I jumped at this grand opportunity to take her place. That way I could take part in all the guided tours, visits and  theological discussions with Shalom Ben-Chorin and other scholars of Judaism - in the end I tried to convince my father to apply for the position as Probst in the German Protestant Church of the Saviour in Jerusalem which was becoming vacant - but I think, it was too political for his taste and my mother would never have come, so it remained a dream. When I talked to him recently - he is nearly ninety years old - he remembered this situation very well. 
Later I returned often, the photos are therefore from various decades, some reproduced from old Kodachrome slides. 

Before I came for the first time, I only knew Jerusalem from church songs and biblical stories of Jesus and his teachings that I grew up with as a child. One of my favourite songs still is the exuberant "Tochter Zion, freue dich!" .  

My father in 1979 on the rooftop of the Guest House of the Lutheran Church where we used to stay.

The cloister of the German Protestant Church of the Saviour in the Old Town

The guesthouse of the German protestant church was perfectly situated in the Old Town - from the Jaffa Gate across the square one had to walk a few steps down David Street through the main busy souk, full of locals and tourists alike, take a right turn up a steep staircase that was difficult to find, through a vendor of carpets and textiles to come out on top of the old town in a very quiet peaceful mostly deserted street built of the white local stone in the Armenian Quarter -.... Wow! To imagine I could have enjoyed this as a child every day ... 

the view down from the rooftops into David Street

The Tempelberg is straight on from there on Mount Moriah, the dry little mountain that is the contested center of all three monotheistic religions. In the 1980 we were still allowed inside the Felsendom, the Dome of the Rock. Nowadays the area is supervised by heavily armed guards and access strictly controlled and restricted to certain times which makes a visit on the Tempelberg, the birth place of the Jewish and Christian religions, where the first Temple of David around 1000 BC, Solomon's Temple and later the Herodian Temple were situated, where Jesus turned up as a 12-year old teaching. Today it is a somewhat lesser spiritual and more frightening experience. 

Nevertheless it is one of the most beautiful buildings that I know of (apart from the Taj Mahal, another masterpiece of Islamic architecture) . 

Below on the western wall lies the "Klagemauer". 

The "Dome of the Chain" on the Temple Mount where someone has constructed a most beautiful home for his young ones.

More pictures from the Old Town: 

Grabeskirche or "Church of the Holy Sepulchre"

The church is shared by six confessions, Roman-Catholic, Greek-Orthodox, Armenian, Kopts, Syrian Orthodox and Ethiopian, but no protestants, and is governed by complicated rules. The wooden ladder that you can see above the main entrance has apparently been standing there since the 19th century and no one is deemed responsible or has been allowed to remove it.

View from the Mount of Olives across the Kidron Valley  

"Sustinete hic et vigilate mecum" - the Garden of Gethsemane

they might be 2000 years old... 

A Visit to the Jewish orthodox quarter  Mea Shearim in 1979: 

Roadblocks and burning tires then as now

Visiting Yad Vashem and the Holocaust Museum and Memorial: 

Even though the Holocaust and German recent history had been a permanent topic in my home and at school, and Anne Frank's diary on everybody's mind, and so my first visit in 1979 to Yad Vashem was well prepared, it impressed me deeply and I remember it very well: the collection of shoes in crates and hundreds and hundreds of broken out gold teeth in boxes on open shelves. Six million individual stories, brutally interrupted histories and extinguished families.  
Meanwhile the museum has been extended and modernized. Its displays are protected, everything is behind glass and the atmosphere is more documentary. Still I think, every human being has to visit once. The scale and dimension of the genocide and the suffering of the Jewish people over centuries can hardly be understood only theoretically. 

We also travelled through the country, to Jericho in the Westbank, Bethlehem, Nablus and up to the north and the Syrian border.

Quneitra in the Golan heights 

 abandoned Palestine villages

the Greek-Orthodox Monastery in Wadi Quelt

at the Dead Sea 

up Masada by cable-car

At the Red Sea on the Sinai peninsula, now part of Egypt

Delonix regia, the flamboyant tree - one of my favourites - then as now. Finally, after forty years, I have found a place to plant it. I will put one in our garden in our new Andalusian domicile!

Poppies growing in the old walls of St Annes Church and the roman ruins behind

I had a print of this picture from my first journey to Jerusalem on a wall of my student lodgings for years:  Papyrus against the setting sun .