I was in Croatia for three weeks in September looking after a garden there that I first planted some years ago and it took a while to adapt to a new Covid environment not to mention travelling on a plane for the first time in these scary times .
Getting through Dublin Airport was a doddle , almost totally empty, hand dispensers every 20 metres , everyone social distancing and wearing masks and it felt very safe . The plane was half empty and lots of space for social distancing in fact I had a row all to myself and again it felt very safe apart from the fact that when the plane landed we all forgot ourselves and jumped up all together to get hand luggage from the overhead lockers !
I knew that Croatia was not on our Green List of countries but was prepared to take the risk while adhering to all precautions and I knew also that there is a kind of silent unspoken shaming attached to anyone not staying at home and taking a staycation break in Ireland but you know what I have had years of soldiering through the wind and the rain of the West of Ireland in the Summer while the children wipe the condensation off the inside of the windows to look out and whine has it cleared yet ?!!
Croatia it has to be said is not as focussed as Ireland is on washing hands in these pandemic times and although everyone wears a mask inside shops you have to go looking for a hand cleanser and then it is of the cheap portable shop bought variety and I did not see any installed dispensers nor any great emphasis on cleaning café tables and chairs apart from the pre Covic cursory type wipe with a damp cloth but of course in the Summer climate you eat and drink outside at all times .
But Croatia is a beautiful country and it’s Dalmatian Coast along the Adriatic Sea is one of the most beautiful places on earth and Covid has not changed that and I felt relieved just to get away from my normal environment and it certainly recharged the batteries .
Gardening could not have been more different in a climate which hasen’t seen rain for three months , the soil was powder dry but I have learned to only plant shrubs and perennial plants that can tolerate long periods of drought so lost no plants this year and there was good growth especially with the ground cover rosemary and the aguaves that I have been building up in a little collection these past four years . The aguave thrives in stony impoverished soil and needs no attention apart from cutting off a few dead leaves but are wickedly spiny and you need to site them away from regular foot traffic .
I love the aguaves and they are the most exotic of architectural plants , a fully grown specimen can be two metres in height , strong too and a friend of mine , Vlado , once skidded off the road in his car and a clump pf aguaves held the car from rolling down a cliff !
Snezana hates the aguave with a vengeance as she has collected a share of slashes from the pointed tips and kept rooting the young plants out behind my back so now we have come to an agreement , an aguave limitation deal where she agrees on a limited number of new planting into an agreed location , a sort of aguave détente !
I grow them from off shoots collected at old pre war Yugoslavia municipal planted areas which are totally neglected now , pot them up for a year then plant into the ground where I want them to grow .
I also go up into the old semi abandoned villages on Biokovo and collect iris’s and cannas from forgotten little gardens and when you see how these Mediterranean plants flourish in their natural habitat in the sun you realise we are only playing at growing iris and cannas in our wet damp conditions here in Ireland and England .
Another mediterranean plant I absolutely love is the blue version of trandsescantia which grows away outdoors in Croatia along the coast . We can only grow the drab grey version of trandescantia zebrina indoors in Ireland and England where the common name is the wandering jew which would never be called that in these more politically correct times and it has an anti semitic whiff about it … Wikepedia explains that the Wandering Jew name comes from a historical character of Christian folklore from the 1300s. A Jewish man taunted Jesus on his way to Golgotha with the cross. Since then, the man has been cursed to walk the Earth until the second coming. The zebrina was named after this wanderer due to its long lifespan.
I first saw the blue variety in 1996 while stationed in Herceg Novi during the Bosnian war , in Montenegro in the garden of the famous Yugoslav writer and Nobel Prize winner , Ivo Andric , which was a museum and an entire perennial bed was filled with it . It roots easily from a cutting and I grow it in Croatia both in pots and in the open ground where it prefers some shade .
Snezana bought this beautiful hand made watering can at the saint’s day , Sveti Vincent , fair in Podgora in August and the craftsman took a great pride in describing how he made it and rightly so as it is a pleasure to look at and a joy to use and as the famous artist William Morris said – Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.
And speaking of beautiful , an artistic neighbour made this little fella for us from local stone
Because I was away for three weeks in September I thought I would fill this month’s blog with a look back at a piece I wrote in September 2015 .
“Even though I pride myself that I enjoy the garden and walk through it every day I have to admit that most days I walk through with a secateurs in hand watching for brambles to cut back and really what I am doing is looking out for what needs to be done and making a mental check list of what is WRONG with the garden !
Like the song says we need to stop and smell the roses !!
I was making this point the other day with a gardener friend that we are too obsessive and should be able to let it go and at times like this I envy people like Snezana who can spend hours just enjoying the garden no matter that the grass needs urgent cutting like two days ago or that this area needs weeding or as we used to say in Ireland “ not a child in the house washed ” and I was reminded of this today when between jobs of cleaning a pond and weeding a patch , I had walked up by the stream and not heard the water tinkling over the small dams I have placed there to create the rippling effect and I actually forced myself to go back and take the time to enjoy the natural sound of running water .
I recognise this obsessiveness in myself (at this point my kids will rush to say NOOOO Dad not so ! ) and that I can’t relax while there are jobs to be done …. and as of today I am chilling out about the garden or in other words f…k the weeding / grass cutting !
The September 2015 issue of The Irish Garden featured a six page illustrated article on the garden written by Shirley Lannigan and needless to say we were thrilled to see it ……. we had known of course for some time that Gerry Daly as editor of the magazine had it in mind but nothing was definite even after Shirley came to the garden in July and interviewed Snezana and myself nor indeed were we given any advance notice until a friend rang early on the morning of August 21st to say the September issue of The Irish Garden was in the shops and Petrovska garden was in it !
After a lifetime of reading about other gardens and gardeners to see yourself quoted was unusual and to realise that your garden was now shared with thousands at the breakfast table over the corn flakes as they read The Irish Garden ….. mind you I had always secretly hoped my first time in the media columns would be along the lines of “ Naomi Cambell says she never really got over her Irish gardener ” !
We were delighted of course , no false modesty here ! Shirley did a great job with the interview and got all the salient points about how we went about creating a garden from what was a swamp ten years ago and even though we do not nor cannot grow a wide palette of plants here due to the wet conditions , she still managed to list a lot of plants and trees to give an impression of more variety than is actually here . I have always thought that it is the narrative of how this garden was created that is the more interesting than anything growing here and Shirley managed to capture that idea ” .
Coming back to Ireland in late September we faced into a wood cutting programme in the Lower Garden which was needed to complete the design for the new woodland area and Matt came in with his professional saws and spent two days cutting down thirty three mature conifers to open up the space and afterwards it took us five days of collecting and storing the blocked wood and cleaning the ground working as Snezana says “ like little donkeys ” !
The new area which was just inaccessible brambles and totally overgrown a month ago is now open and light filled with a natural pond and slowly but surely will be planted with wet loving plants over the winter .