Monday, 9 March 2015
Istanbul to Great Dixter and Gardening Back Again
Imagine driving through the junction of London’s M25 and M3 motorways. Then imagine, in place of the fields and woods, it is at Canary Wharf, surrounded by a high-rise new financial district with towers of luxury flats. Next imagine between the sliproads are as much as you can get in of Kew, RHS, Darwin’s Downe, Ryton, Chelsea, Edinburgh and Great Dixter gardens. Imagine, too, after some demise in great-house gardening following the Great War, it has taken 80 years to start them up again and re-awaken Britain’s interest in growing plants. Welcome to Istanbul’s Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanic Gardens, a green lung on the city’s Asian side, which Fergus Garrett (CEO and Head Gardener, Great Dixter) and I visited in November 2014.
Here on 32 hectares in eight traffic islands linked by tunnels and bridges, amid 50,000 trees and shrubs are conserved the native plants and flowers of Turkey, from each of its diverse habitats that give Britain most of what we grow in our gardens here. One island is for the 2,000 species of Istanbul province. The large Anatolia island has mountain, high plateau, Black Sea and Mediterranean, salt and arid habitats, each requiring mineral-rich regional soils and stone to cover land left bare after motorway construction. The latest project is a volcanic mountain tulip meadow.
Fergus spent his earlier years on the Bosphorus and so Turkey springs up everywhere across Dixter, from the geophytes to the verbascums and the giant fennel familiar at a glance, to the lesser known flowers he has trialled from seed. If you ask, “Would they make the transition; how are they propagated; where would they thrive?”, you see the bond with Turkey is not just for more exuberance at Great Dixter, but transferring knowledge that strengthens the conservation of plants and biodiversity everywhere.
Likewise the Gardens in Istanbul are about awareness of Turkey’s own forgotten horticulture, the exceptional richness of its habitats and the urgency of protecting the natural environment. While Istanbul’s annual Tulip Festival depends on imports from Holland, whole hillsides risk being industrially stripped of wild tulips for commercial export. So Dixter is helping to restore the balance: two students from Istanbul were invited over in January to learn how bulbs are prepared and planted out, and so restore skills to the region they first came from. Already when you go to Nezahat Gökyiğit Gardens, you can’t miss the new succession-planted border – and those trademark Dixter pot displays.
Mark Woodruff, a Friend of Great Dixter, works for the Monument Trust, which helped secure the future by purchasing Dixter Farms, now home to our scholarship students and the Education Centre.
From the Friends of Great Dixter Newsletter, March/April 2015