Here is the story of the garden make-over, in the words of those involved at the sharp end – Liz and Martin:
Pickaxes at Dawn (by Elizabeth Grice)
Towards the end of a grim, snow-bound English February, an email arrived inquiring if I’d be interested in a trip to the Peloponnese in April to “do a bit of digging and some planting” to prettify the grounds around Sunvil’s nine holiday villas on a private estate near Chrani. If so, did I have any friends “with a modicum of gardening nous”, people with an eye for things, who might like the idea? In return for “slave labour”, flights would be taken care of and we would stay in the villas to consumer-test them before the start of the holiday season.
It was sleeting, temperatures had dropped to minus-1 in London and there was no sign of spring. It took about 30 seconds to decide that the prospect of Greece in April was the most hopeful thing since Noah saw an olive twig in the beak of his returning dove. I co-opted my sister and brother-in-law, bought a book called The Mediterranean Gardener and started to dream of sipping Greek wine at dusk under an arbour of bougainvillea. Two months later, we arrived at Messinia Villas, embedded in seven acres of fragrant maquis on a hillside. The landscape was stunning,
the gardens like nothing we had ever worked in – rocky, wild and neglected with straggly geraniums reaching for the sky under a deep coniferous shade. As we began to unpack trowels, hand forks, kneeling mats, hats and old clothes from our weighty bags, we noticed that two heavy-duty pickaxes, two long-handled spades with sharp points and a quantity of vicious looking
smaller tools, pronged and mattocky, were already waiting for us. What did our taskmasters know that we didn’t?
Possibly more than they were saying. Noel Josephides, chairman of Sunvil, and his wife Sue, had been on a recce a few weeks earlier. They had equipped us for the job. And what a job it was for a small party of enthusiastic amateurs (four to six of us) with knees and backs that had seen better days. But we worked willingly under blue skies with the immense Taygetos mountain
range, still snow-capped, in the distance.
From the terrace of our villa, between us and the mountains, all we could see was the peaceful Gulf of Messinia and an occasional fishing boat. Lemons grew at our door. In the evenings, we were amazed to eat bountifully at friendly village tavernas for 10 euros a head, with wine. And each day, as the rock-hard flower borders were subjugated, one by one, and filled with rosemary, geraniums, campanula, dazzling osteospermum and a yellow-and-pink flowering shrub we called “the bobble shrub”, we felt quite chuffed.