Heidi Trautmann

Heidi Trautmann Column 40 - Gardening in Cyprus, a non-intellectual pastime?


A friend quite rudely said to me the other day: Most of my friends are spending more time in their garden than with their friends or doing things together such as going to a concert, enjoy a good talk about a new book or any other interesting subject. They are absentminded and never free. ‘Oh, I have to water the garden or cut the trees, and, even in summertime, when there is nothing to do outside except watering, they still would be discussing seeds, walls to be built and where to get what. It is hopeless, you can’t do anything with them, we others are being left out.’

I sat there, opposite her, pulling my face into a half grin, and raising my eyebrows into a perfect circle. I was caught. Because I am such a person, and so is my husband. But I took the complaint as a serious reminder that friendship goes two ways, or, friendship needs regular polishing if it is to shine. And, while I was walking through my garden inspecting, I started to think back what it was that made us so fascinated about ‘it’.

I remember the day when we came up here for the first time, between heaven and the sea, to see the land offered to us. It was late June, a hot day, and we had our boots on,  the grass on the land was high and honey coloured, the bees were humming in the small wild trees carrying yellow berries. There were some almond trees carrying young green fruit which we tried, they tasted good, and there was a kingly looking olive tree with a half burnt out trunk, twisting its way upwards. We had found our ‘island’ with a ravine going around it.

We came up here very often, by bike or hired car – we then lived on our sailing boat in the old harbour – to make plans, to watch the conditions, the routine of the sun, the wind coming up the ravine, the quality of the soil. Good soil, we could see that, a part was used for growing vegetables, the other part for the typical fast growing barley, but most of the land was bare and full of macchia.

And yes, we had a well, a partnership well, which we had had cleaned, the skeleton of a cow was pulled up in bits and pieces and we had a roof built over the well to prevent other cows from falling in. And so we started to take possession of that piece of land, had a garage of local stone built to give us a roof, and a wall around the land which makes you conscious of property. We lived like settlers in the old days, and we have learnt the ways of the people who came to do the stone work, saw the simple ways they lived and heard the tunes they sang during their hard task. They cooked their rice on a primitive self-made oven, a rusty gasoline container, of which they gave us to taste and it was delicious. We sat where the house should be one day and made notes and sketches.

On our way up to our land we had travelled along all the side roads to look into gardens for ideas and plants. We got to know the island and the surrounding villages of the island well, and often, when we stood there looking shamelessly into a garden, discussing, the owners came out and asked if they could be of any help, and we said yes, what is the name of that plant? Out of our curiosity many friendships were born and today we still exchange ideas and cuttings.

In those winter nights we sat in the warm boat and made detailed plans from the notes we had taken during the day and slowly the puzzle grew together. We lived a sort of abstract life at that time, planning into two different directions. We were to leave for Spain and perhaps further on across the Atlantic with our sailing boat and we had but six months left to plan for our future home here on the island. We sought the help and advice of a gardener to plan the orchard and we dug the holes ourselves to plant our first trees, these tiny-one-day-would-be-citrus-trees, we saw us already standing under them picking ripe yellow fruit (and making marmalade) and we planted pepper trees as a wind shield and oleander all around and,  while we were still there,  we regularly talked to them to please wait for us and grow and not to die.

When we left Kyrenia harbour with our boat we took all the plans with us to further work on them and the after-effect was that in every bay we anchored and went ashore we looked for new ideas in architecture and garden planning, took photos, made notes, knocked on doors and met nice people and we were welcomed, because we had a common interest, they had gone through the same time of exploring. From some places we left with the promise to come back soon. And we walked up the hills in the early months of the year with our rucksacks, containing a photo camera, a sketchbook (and often a pair of scissors to cut our hair on the top of a mountain with a governing view) and took back samples and memories of so many plants and flowers and we discussed them with the local people, and with the talks came the tales, the background of many plants, and often we said, we will have this plant in our garden because it pleases our hearts.

We came through countries and islands, saw their individual character and learnt. How beautiful can houses and gardens be, of delicate taste, if the character of the area is not changed but preserved or even enhanced. Walking through an old village, along orchards and vine yards, beautiful flowers along the road, then you know, that one day you are going to have this atmosphere in your own garden, the atmosphere of a beautiful and peaceful world. I had made sketches of my gatherings and we looked things up in our books, a new way of travelling, travelling by nature books and we saw nature from a different angle, a personal angle, it became of a possessive nature, especially when in Baja California for four months. The knowledge we had brought home from there, and our love for that form of landscape, the desert,  is now represented in our own Little Mexico with plants from here.


With so many plants I combine very dear special memories, the Jacaranda for example, I once stood in awe in front of Pretoria’s Government Park, this special blue represents good times for me. Our garden is a very important part of our life, early in the mornings we do our round, followed by the cats, and the air is like silk, the colours are fresh and intense, and, when some fruits are ripe, we pick one and eat it on our way and in winter the cold crisp air chases the tiredness out of our eyes. On many days when I have some unhappiness in my heart, the garden is the place I go to, it puts me in my place and says, you are part of us, nothing more.


And so, you see, my dear friend, we gardeners are in a way widely travelled and well informed individuals, just as all the plants are individuals in our garden. They have a long history in their roots and it was a pleasure to read them. Planning and growing a Mediterranean garden is a travel by itself, it is like painting a picture or writing a book, just as intellectual, or even more so.


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