A Postcard From Lindos, Rhodes

My holidays are often quite adventurous: cycling though the German countryside, hiking across British mountains, bobbing down the Zambezi in a barrel, play-wrestling polar bears on Svalbard – that sort of thing.

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Jim’s flip-flop time

But this year, Jim and I decided to plump for something a little more conventional, a lot more lazy.  A few weeks ago we boarded a very swish, very new Boeing 787 Dreamliner – which was a personal excitement  – and flew to the far end of Europe, to the Greek island of Rhodes.

Pallas Beach, Lindos

Our ultimate destination on the island’s eastern coast was Lindos; somewhere I know very well.  I say that but as my first visit was in 1983 and my last in 1985, perhaps I don’t know it quite as well as I like to boast.

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But thankfully, mercifully, in 32 years it has barely changed.  Lindos is still a little town of blinding-white houses clustered adoringly at the foot of a rocky acropolis.

Acropolis Lindos (3)

And what an acropolis: a site and sight as good as any in Greece.

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It is imposing, dramatic and craggy from any angle; and not a citadel I should want to storm after breakfast.

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They’ve all been here you know, on the acropolis: the Romans, the Byzantines, the Knights of St John, the Ottomans, the Italians.  The Greeks.

Acropolis Lindos (1)

And now an international crowd of scantily clad tourists, thoughtfully displaying their wobbly, sun-burnt skin and once crisp, what-once-might-have-seemed-a-good-idea tattoos.  I thought it quite sweet that they thought this intimate display might lighten up my day (but then I was in a snooty frame of mind).

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With sheer force of will, I tore my eyes off the most eye-popping examples, closed my mouth and hacked my way through a thicket of selfie-sticks to the medieval walls on the western side of the acropolis.  I gazed down over the Middle-Eastern-looking town, trying to pinpoint the house I’d rented in 1983.  It had been small, square, flat-roofed and white.  So that narrowed it down a bit.

Lindos

Mountains, headlands and bays fade way northward to the tip of the island and Rhodes Town.

St Paul's Bay, Lindos (1)

Whilst, to the south lies beautiful St Paul’s Bay.

St Paul's Bay, Lindos (3)

St Paul was shipwrecked here, hence the name, and in August 1983 I was moped-wrecked here (which doesn’t really work as a link but never mind).  Zipping about on a rental moped, I zipped a curve too fast.  The bike slewed one way and I flew, all flailing limbs, in the other.  I clearly remember floating through the air, seemingly in slow motion, with time enough to quietly repeat the same four letter word.  Like Icarus my inaugural flight didn’t end well.  Luckily, I didn’t head-butt a rock; unluckily, and wearing shorts and a vest, I landed on knee and elbows, skidding across gravel.

Moped Crash

That smarts.

St Paul's Church, Lindos

I was laid up in my Rhodes Town room for several days; nursed, fed and fussed over by an adorable, clucking landlady before my pal, Michael, and I relocated to Lindos.  We spent our time doing not very much: riding slower-than-a-moped donkeys to near-by Pefkos, reading, exploring the hot hills and snorkelling in St Paul’s Bay.

St Paul's Bay, Lindos (4)

The bay is busier now, of course, but it is just as lovely; the water as clear, as warm and as full of sea-life.  On that first visit, I spent absorbed hours with mask and snorkel: exploring the cove, chasing brightly coloured fish, seeking that elusive ancient statue or golden amulet I was convinced was waiting to be discovered on the sea-bed,

Lindos (2)

and then kicking out into the open sea.  In the bay, the water is a few feet deep but beyond the natural harbour walls a vast underwater cliff disappears into the deep and the sea bottom disappears. Suddenly, I was floating alone in the Big Blue, dazzled by flickering sun-beams, dipping down as far as I could into colder water.  But then three thoughts coalesced in my hitherto empty head: a recent report of Great White sharks in Greek waters, my moped wounds seeping blood and a half remembered fact that sharks can taste and hone in on blood from 800 miles away.  Or something.  My moment of calm in the Big Blue evaporated and, with an imagined razor toothed maw torpedoing toward me,  I splashed breathlessly back to the safe confines of St Paul’s.

And that’s my best-est anti-climatic Lindos story.

St Paul's Bay, Lindos (2)

I didn’t visit the beach at the northern end of the bay in the 80’s but from memory it was deserted: no beach umbrellas, no friendly dog, no plump children, no disembodied limbs.

Lindos Rhodes (30)

But neither did it have one of the nicest tavernas I know.  Jim and I returned here most days for perfectly ripe Greek Salad with crumbly, salty, perfect feta; hot, crisp, perfect calamari; or warm, garlicky, puffy, perfect pittas served with dollops of perfect taramasalata, tzatziki, hummus and baba ganoush (all four as unrelated to supermarket tubs as I am to the Duchess of Windsor).   In short, it is perfect.

Lindos Rhodes (46)

On the slope behind the taverna is a nicely tended, terraced vegetable garden and I envied the customers who, later in the year, would bite into tomatoes, aubergines and cucumbers plucked metres from their table.

St Paul's Bay, Lindos (4)

Should you ever visit Lindos, make sure you walk down to this taverna.

St Paul's Bay, Lindos (6)

I don’t know its name but don’t worry you’ll find it easily enough.  Just head down to St Paul’s Bay.  The restaurant is next to the enormous dog resting her muzzle in the salt water.

Asklipio

One day, tiring of the Lindos crowds (and too chicken to rent a car and drive on Greek roads), we took a taxi to the small, inland town of Asklipeiou.  There isn’t a lot to do in Asklipeiou other than sip iced coffee; pay €1 to enter the stunning Byzantine church,  whisper our awe over the wall paintings;

Agapitos Restaurant, Rhodes

Agapitos Restaurant, Asklipio

and dawdle over a slow lunch, with maybe a cold beer.  And then maybe a second.

Asklipio castle (4)

Afterwards, we climbed a steep, dusty road (in 33º heat) to the Castle of Asklipeiou, above Asklipeiou.  (I’m repeating the name Asklipeiou simply because I suspect you have no idea how to pronounce it.  Asklipeiou.  I could have made it easier for you by providing the alternative English spelling, Asklipio, had I been so minded).

Asklipio castle (1)

The castle was deserted and, after the hubbub of Lindos, deliciously quiet save the hum of insects and my laboured, beery wheezing.  We tried to imagine the lives of the Knights of St John who built the castle in the C13th; many of whom were English.  It was hard to imagine men from Gloucestershire or Sussex living and dying in this alien, often violent landscape.  They won’t have missed mud.

Asklipio castle (2)

Greece has little money for the upkeep of her architectural treasures – nor much money for anything – but without information boards, an entrance kiosk or café, the ruin was all the more charming; if heart-stopping for any health and safety executive.  There were no no-go areas, no railings, no warnings about loose masonry or imminent death by falling.

Asklipio castle (5)

Jim took that as a challenge and clambered about the crumbly walls, precipitous falls all about, with fat cracks in the wall beneath his feet.  I watched from between my fingers.

Asklepeiou castle (3)

As we explored, bickering over reckless castle climbing and squinting at the views, I recoiled at a sudden hit of noxious smell.  After glancing suspiciously as Jim – who denied, as usual, any knowledge – I followed my nose.

Dracunculus vulgaris (3)

Dracunculus vulgaris was the culprit … and I apologised to Jim.

Dracunculus vulgaris (1)

The dragon arum is very stinky.  I had assumed, at second thought, that maybe a goat had fallen from the castle walls, its carcass baked by the sun.

Dracunculus vulgaris (2)

And that is the best description I can give for the scent of Dracunculus vulgarisNext time you sniff something rotten in Greece, it might be road-kill or it might be this extraordinary lily.  Enjoy (but best not plant one under the kitchen window).

Bougainvillea

Anyway, what was meant to be a postcard from Lindos has grown into a multi-paged letter, with tiny writing.  I’ll finish off with some pictures of less noisome, ubiquitous plants:  Bougainvillea;

Oleander

oleander;

Lindos Rhodes (48)

and jasmine –

Jasmine

swamping the lanes of Lindos with a more delectable perfume.

Greek thistle

I fell in love with Greece absolutely as a young man and it lures me back time and time again.  But I don’t suppose I shall return to Lindos.  As special as it is to me, it is too busy, too touristy for my 2017 self.  On our next visit, Jim and I will stick to our abandoned independent travel plan and revert to adventurousness: fly out, make plans on the hoof, hop amongst the islands perhaps or journey across the mainland, eat a lot, drink some, fly back.  But that’s a trip which will, I’m afraid, result in a far, far longer postcard.

Lunchtime pint

Cheers.oooOOSave

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A Garden Tour: The Clergy House, Alfriston

On a sunny day in June of last year, and anxious to avoid a long list of home DIY jobs, I drove a few miles over the South Downs to the village of Alfriston.* I spent an absorbing hour browsing in the book shop, peering through windows (some of them public), not going into the pub

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The Tye, Alfriston

and finally gravitated to the church on the Tye (or village green, if you’d rather).

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Sussex Day, Alfriston

I hadn’t realised that it was Sussex Day (I hadn’t even heard of Sussex Day) and enjoying the fete atmosphere, I circled amongst the stalls, watched a little sword fighting re-enactment (but only a little), grabbed a coffee and glancing at my watch, decided I still had plenty of spare time.

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I looked across at The Clergy House next to the church and decided on a spontaneous visit.  I have annual membership of the National Trust and, each year, I shamelessly wring as much value out of it as possible.  The Clergy House is my local NT property and I’ve explored the garden several times over the years.  But, like most gardens, it repays visits at different times of the year – and besides, I’d chalk up a £5.35 entrance fee to my tally.  I fished out my dog-eared, NT card, gulped the last of my coffee and strolled over.

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As you probably know, The Clergy House was the National Trust’s first acquisition; bought in 1896 for the mighty sum of £10.

Copy of an 1894 black and white print of Alfriston Clergy House

The Clergy House, 1894. National Trust image

Which given the house’s state, sounds more of a bargain than it probably was.  This rare example of a medieval Wealden hall house was built in about 1350 and by the late nineteenth century was in such a state of disrepair that the owners, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, decided to demolish it.  But first they agreed that a woman, Harriet Coates – who had been born and still lived in the house – could see out her days there.

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The Clergy House, 1896. National Trust image

After she died in 1888, the new vicar of Alfriston, the Rev. Beynon, sought to save the building and eventually contacted the newly formed ‘National Trust for Places of Historical Interest or Natural Beauty’.  They agreed to buy and sympathetically restore their first building (many Victorian renovations were anything but sympathetic).

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Stepping through the front gate, and before reaching the ticket office at the back of the house, I passed a large bed plumped up with Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum × hybridum).  I wondered whether theirs is attacked as virulently by sawfly as mine.  After writing about the scourge of Solomon’s seal sawfly (see – ‘Garden Visitors’ ), I found that picking off the grubs one year led to a dramatic decrease in numbers in subsequent years.  In 2013 I collected well over a hundred, in 2016 hardly a handful and my plants no longer resemble lace-work by autumn.

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Above the Solomon’s seal rose spires of monkshood (Aconitum napellus): a plant I love despite its toxicity and one that happily flowers in shade or sun (and isn’t prey to slugs).

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St Andrew’s Church, Alfriston – ‘The Cathedral of the South Downs’

From the ticket office, I veered off to the east (I’m making the garden sound much bigger than it is) to an area of lawn merging into uncut grass.

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I leave similar areas un-mown in ‘my’ gardens and a simple display of buttercups and daisies gives easy reward, even without adding wild-flower plugs or bulbs.

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Mowing paths through the long grass makes a feature of what is, after all, unkempt lawn.  More close sward or buttercups and daisies?  I know which I prefer.

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I walked along the bank of a reed-filled pond to the rear of the ticket office and towards the beds and borders near the house.

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As the garden is fairly small, I paused often: studied plants, smelled roses and tried/failed to photograph small birds zipping amongst the reeds.

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As every flight of sunny steps should, these were lined with Mexican fleabane (which trips off the tongue easier than Erigeron karvinskianus).  This little wonder will flourish in the tiniest of cracks, self-seed and flower non-stop till the first frosts.

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To the west of the house lies the vegetable garden and it’s impressive.  Past stately artichokes;

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and a lavender hedge (worth another visit to see in flower);

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I arrived amongst the raised beds.  These are seriously constructed and I winced at the inadequate, half-inch width boards I have used.  Unlike mine these will last decades.  (After eight years, several boards at The Priory are rotten and need replacing but I suppose eight years is quite a long time).  Though still relatively early in the season, the kitchen garden was zingy green and harvest-able … but I didn’t.

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I pulled a face at memories of eradicating, fanatically, opium poppies in The Old Forge vegetable garden, in an ongoing battle to prevent it self-seeding.

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But actually, why did I do that?  They add to a vegetable garden rather than detract … and are easy enough to pull up if they appear somewhere unwanted.

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I hadn’t seen mint ‘hedges’ before and they proved impossible not to touch (and then sniff my fingers).  How nice an idea is that?  Mint lining a path, softening those hard, straight beds and readily available for Pimm’s O’clock?

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Silky bronze fennel also drew my hand, growing against burgeoning potatoes, with a nearby teasel left to flower in its own good time.  I would have pulled that up too but resolved to be more relaxed about interlopers in future.

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I liked the vegetable garden very much but as much as I’m relaxed about poisonous aconitum, I might balk at it flowering in a kitchen garden.  Pretty blue flowers on that salad, anyone?

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I retraced my steps to a small brick-paved area, with a central bed and peony in flower, to views over the yew hedging, across the river valley with the Downs beyond.

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A massive container should hold huge plants, shouldn’t it?

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Well, no actually. Not if filled with something as pretty as this saxifrage (which I think is Saxifraga ‘Esther’).

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Nearby, relishing the southerly aspect, was a very impressive helianthemum.

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When I worked in an alpine nursery, I knew these as scraggly, little plants in 3″ pots.  How marvellous to see it as a huge, established specimen.

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And close by are erodiums.  This one looks like Erodium x kolbianum ‘Natasha’ but I don’t think it is.  Anyone?

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Two more erodiums peeped out from under the yew.  I do know these but, for no good reason, I don’t grow them: both the very pretty Erodium × variabile ‘Album’ and the pink,  Erodium × variabile ‘Bishop’s Form’ suppress weeds and flower from spring to autumn.  Find space.

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Four clipped box trees sit near the west wall of the house, under-planted with dianthus.

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These pinks were just coming into flower during my visit but will be a sight – and scent – a little later on.

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Red campion, blue geraniums and magenta gladioli jostle against the house wall

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with white rambling rose, summer jasmine and vine racing to obscure windows.

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And so back, through a cloud of rose perfume, to the ticket office

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and the blackboard.  I’m always interested to see how much work goes into making a garden and appreciated this easy to do, yet often missing, extra detail from the team.

I turned to enter the house but, though the garden was mostly empty, it was too busy with the door blocked by visitors waiting to get in.  I decided to come back on another day (and chalk up another £5.35).  My brain mulling over gardening ideas and inspiration, I returned to the entrance gate (avoiding the plants-for-sale with steely willpower) and walked out to the Church.

Right then, time enough for The George Inn and that pint of Harveys.

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The Clergy House is open mainly from March through to the end of October (but not Thursdays and Fridays.  Check detailed opening hours here).  There is no parking near the property, so if you’re driving, leave your car in one of the village car-parks and walk along the High Street and down to the church.  Alternatively, take the train to Seaford and follow a grand walk to Alfriston (two or three hours).  The Clergy House has a shop if no tea-room but there are plenty of cafés, and those pubs, in the village.

*I’ve recently learnt that I’ve been mispronouncing the name of the village.  Wow the villagers with your local knowledge and say it right – ALLfriston.

oooOOOooo

January has been a busy time for my blog.  It featured in Gardener’s World Magazine as one of ’50 New Things To Try’; and it was also recommended as one of six gardening blogs to follow in an article by Rachel de Thame for The Sunday Times. (Photos of both articles are on my ‘As Featured In’ page).

In addition, I’ve answered questions posed by a couple of websites.  The first, for Capital Gardens, was about New Year’s resolutions.  The second, for Garden Buildings Direct, on the health benefits of gardening.  Click the links to read answers from me and other garden bloggers.

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