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A garden with an agricultural history

Text and photographs by John Joynes

I was asked to contribute a short piece about my 'garden' not because it is anything special horticulturally speaking, but because of the story behind it.

The property covers roughly 2,600 sq m, is situated approximately 2 km from the sea, is about 30 m above sea level and is completely flat. It was purchased by my late mother-in-law in the early 1940s for Cyprus £105. At that time it contained a number of olive trees of varying ages, mostly around the boundaries but with a few scattered across the field. For generations it had been farmed traditionally: ploughed annually and sown with a variety of crops like trefoil, broad beans, okra, caraway, etc., then after these crops were harvested, sheep and goats were allowed to browse the stubble.

The land as given to John and his bride.

This practice continued until 1968 when the land was given to my wife and me as a wedding present. From that time we slowly began to increase the number and variety of trees, adding mainly citrus. Even in those days irrigation was a major problem. On our land it was effected in a way that possibly went back for centuries. In medieval times sugar cane was a major crop in this area of Cyprus. In the 14th century a sugar mill and factory were built in the village (Kolossi), the mill being powered by water brought from the nearby Kouris river. The brook that carried this water still ran in the 1960s and those with land adjoining it were entitled to water for irrigation. The brook ran around two sides of our property and we had a sluice gate in one corner of the field. The water rights were strictly controlled and policed by the village water warden. In the 1980s the Kouris was dammed and the water ceased to flow. The brook was filled in and replaced by a piped conveyor system. Our sluice gate was exchanged for an inlet pipe and a meter. We still had our untreated water direct from the dam but now we had to pay for it and also suffer the vagaries of rationing in times of drought.

The 14th century a sugar mill and factory built in the village of Kolossi.

John's house under construction in 1987

In 1988 we built a house and took up permanent residence in 1997. That's when we began to create a garden from our field. It is no longer ploughed but strimmed, with the cut material left in situ. I also shred as much as possible of any prunings to use as mulch. Sheep and goats are prohibited but neighbouring farmers still supply manure, so the old methods of soil improvement haven't been completely abandoned. I am fortunate in having a rather more fertile, water-retentive soil to work with than is the norm. Many of the trees that I have planted over the last 10 years have matured and create areas of shade during the summer. Some are deciduous and their fallen leaves help to provide a natural mulch. 

The house as it is today

A view of the garden
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