Master Mediterranean Landscapers Thomas Doxiadis and James Basson are speaking at the Australian Landscape Conference in Melbourne, 18-22 September 2015. Both are highly skilled in the art of seemingly effortless design in low rainfall climates and sensitive environments, much like many parts of western and southern Australia.
For six thousand years the isles of the Greek Cyclades sheltered a maritime civilisation based on trading minerals like marble, copper, gold and obsidian. In a recent exciting project, Athenian landscape designer Thomas Doxiadis has worked with a team of architects on the island of Antiparos developing low-density housing harmoniously embedded within the low lying matorral-covered hillsides.
Thomas says, we were all in love with the landscape, wanting to keep it as intact as possible… houses are large by Greek standards and everything you do shows up immediately. Each house bears the mark of its own architect but most avoid the generic Cyclades cliché of whitewashed, blue-shuttered cubes.
Houses were built with local stone and designed for minimal impact in this highly sensitive landscape with earth recycled, some old ruins have been retained and access roads discretely confined within the drystone terraced contours of the slopes. Albanian builders were trained to build the stonework with great skill.
This second image shows a very simple building and if you look carefully, there is fresh revegetation around the house and also, a veggie garden being tended by its owner.
Louisa Jones comments:
“Human construction and natural landscape form an exceptionally harmonious whole, whether examined in close detail or admired as broadly framed views onto neighbouring islands.”
Indigenous plants have been conserved with great care. This is the Greek phrygana, the natural state of these islands after millennia of grazing, forest clearance, and fires. The vegetation is made up of the prickly Centaurea spinosa, Sarcopoterium spinosum, and pot marigold Calendula arvensis.
Doxiadis examined how species were organised and then provided new plantings arranged in a complex matrix with certain areas left dormant for colonising by native plants.
Very little water is available. Maintenance is offered to owners but there have been mistakes such as some reviving native plants accidentally being removed as ‘weeds’ and, in some areas, native plants being neglected, to be overwhelmed by weeds.
In spring, the hillsides burst into one vast and glorious floral carpet but in summer, the aromatics dry out and everything is dormant.
Louisa Jones says it was a learning experience for everyone. The results are breathtaking. Doxiadis consequently won an Emerging Architecture Award.
I first met Thomas at a dining room on the top floor of a hotel in Athens. On entering, I saw him immediately, then turned to get my bearings and was quite stunned by the breathtaking view of the Parthenon which dominates the city. Thomas subsequently explained that his design for the Acropolis environs had won a special design award. He has a keen interest in the urban fabric of the city and for historic precincts in particular.
‘Greening of the City‘ – Thomas Doxiadis plans renewal through greenery and the construction of a mall.
And, of course, the Greek Gods often revisit the timeless landscapes of the Greek isles which must explain the meaning behind this enigmatic landscape of Thomas Doxiadis. What else could it be?
In addition to his work on landscaping in Mediterranean climates, Thomas will discuss -
* How his firm is gaining international recognition not just from their ecological approach, but through a sincere and creative re-examination of Greek values.
* Landscape and urbanism in crisis Greece.
Note – Louisa Jones first recommended I approach Thomas Doxiadis for our conference and I have drawn heavily upon her wonderful book, ‘Mediterranean Landscape Design’, (Thames & Hudson). Photographs from the marvellous Clive Nichols and Thomas Doxiadis.
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, and is a sustainable and ecological way of approaching your garden: using the right plant in the right place, adapted to the soil type, water availability and land characteristics.
Our dry gardening guru, Olivier Filippi, has studied the art of creating a water-free garden in his book, The Dry Gardening Handbook: Plants and Practices for a Changing Climate, and he observes that luckily the natural evolution of flora here in the south of France is actually far more varied and long-lasting than the more temperate areas in northern France.
So the great news is that we can have a dry garden without being limited to cacti! If we look in the surrounding landscape, we see it 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, and field maples, while native grasses give everything that golden glow, providing architectural interest.
So how do we create a dry garden? You don’t need to import or upgrade 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 was written by James Basson and previously appeared in the Riviera Reporter, AUG/Sept 2014]
James Basson’s firm, Scape Design, has just won a gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show for a main show garden ‘Perfumer’s Garden in Grasse’.
‘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 garden is designed to reflect this with historic elements and a more naturalistic view to represent the history of the perfume industry combined with an emerging, more tended feel that shows the present day growing importance of Grasse for perfume. The planting is designed to be aromatic, a sensation of smell, recreating the Provençal hillsides and the history of the perfume industry and will include 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’. (see more at Scape Design’s blog)
More about the making of a ‘Perfumer’s Garden in Grasse‘
Register now for the Australian Landscape Conference 2015, filled with fascinating and inspirational international speakers, including Thomas Doxiadis and James Basson.
[This post is brought to you by the Australian Landscape Conference]