This is a remarkable book, a book of extraordinary depth and of marvellous inspiration. Olivier and Clara Filippi have run a nursery, specialising in Mediterranean plants, in the south of France for over thirty years. They have travelled the world to study the plants of dry-climate regions and have made an in-depth examination of such areas in the Mediterranean basin. Olivier has lectured widely, has published two previous books, and this book is the most comprehensive, beautiful and inspirational treatment of his life’s passion, a culmination of many years of study and experience; truly a work of great significance.
It is often better, simpler and more effective, to show beauty rather than attempt to convince the reader of it and this is the approach taken in this book and the author gives us a grand tour of the landscape gardens of the Mediterranean basin (called garrigue, maquis or matorral depending on location) ranging from Cyprus, Crete, via Greece, Italy, the southern coasts of France, Spain and Portugal to the Atlas mountain of north-west Africa. It is quite surprising to realise that one may encounter 25,000 different species of plants, one tenth of the world’s flora, in these conditions for, at first glance, the conditions certainly don’t appear amenable to plant growth and, as the author states: “All of these plants seem to be waiting for gardeners to tame them and to benefit from their many qualities – flowering that is sometimes spectacular, a diversity of foliage colour, often amazing scents and a remarkable ability to withstand tough conditions, prolonged drought, strong winds and poor, stony soil.”
It may come as rather a surprise that these Mediterranean landscapes are entirely man-made through centuries of farming, grazing/overgrazing by animals, afforestation and deforestation, a landscape with a history of continuous disturbance yet one which has recovered time and again because the native flora suits these conditions perfectly. Though there are thousands of plants which are suited to such challenging conditions only a couple of hundred are actually grown in cultivation – a situation the author would wish to redress.
His approach does require a new perspective on gardens: “The garrigue gardens invites us to discard our traditional aesthetic ideals. There are no lawns or old roses here, no beds of annuals smothered in flowers in mid-summer. This is instead a strongly seasonal garden with an appearance that changes profoundly between its flowering and dormant periods. Thanks to the structural character of evergreen foliage, the transitory flowerings seem almost an accessory. The garrigue garden is not subject to criteria that require a lush and flowery setting with the static perfection of a painting. It opens up a new perspective, different but just as interesting, which perhaps has more similarities with sculpture than painting.”
Long, hot and dry summers are becoming more and more the norm in areas further north in Europe and, of necessity or because of aesthetic appeal, many people are turning to this style of garden – the dry garden at The Beth Chatto Garden is an excellent example. Olivier Filippi, with his understanding of the ecology of the garrigue flora, his years of experience selecting and growing these plants and of creating gardens of this style is undoubtedly the foremost authority and the very best guide for those who wish create such a garden.
This book is the perfect handbook, the result of a lifetime’s experience, outlining a closer relationship between gardener and nature. It is wonderfully written and beautifully illustrated and will be both a pleasure and an inspiration to read.
[Bringing the Mediterranean into your Garden – How to capture the natural beauty of the garrigue, Olivier Filippi, Filbert Press, 2019, Hardback, 288 pages, £40, ISBN: 978-1-9997345-1-0]