May 21, 2018
Peter Calleja and Zaru Camilleri met us with strong handshakes, welcoming us into their little paradise. Peter is from the Environmental Landscaping Consortium, a public-private partnership with Malta government, responsible for public landscaping spaces…roundabouts which are abundant, public spots, roadsides, etc. Not to be outdone, the holler of a peacock sounded our arrival as well. (They were lovely ornament for the garden, and although we were never able to gaze on the fan of his tail, we caught site of the peahen meandering about and heard her screaming sound as well).
Peter worked on landed estates in Great Britain for many years and has forty years of experience, often adjunct teaching at the Malta University, he enjoys training. Zaru has worked as a gardener since 1972, first at the San Anton Gardens and later in south Malta, having returned for the past fourteen month as the head gardener of San Anton. His pride in the gardens was clearly evident in his smile of gratitude and willingness to humbly answer questions of the group.
San Anton is the oldest garden in Malta. Built in 1623, everything is grown from seed from the consortium. Many trees are 250 to 300 years of age. Built by the Knights of St. John, it has always been a public garden and served as residence for the governor after the occupation by the Knights, shared Joseph.
There are five full-time gardeners including Zaru. Both agreed that alkaline soil is a great challenge in Malta.
Irrigation was developed by the Knights of St. John and the rock barriers were quite evident. Zaru said it was utilized continuously until just a few years ago. An underground water system that showed exemplary technology dating back almost 500 years was still utilized for drainage of the new irrigation devices.
Peter shared a booklet of indigenous plants to Malta just prior to our arrival at what he called the Old Maltese Citrus Grove. In Malta, when someone moves to a new home, they typically purchase one lemon tree, one orange tree and one olive tree, said Peter.
Walking through the gardens, Washington Palms (Washingtonian robusta) , Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum), and silk tree (Chorisia speciosa), nectarines, apricots, figs, and more were abundant. Peter pointed to the Judas tree and said, the legend of the tree of course is that Judas was said to have hanged himself from the tree, but look at the trees. the branches are not sturdy enough so I don’t believe that legend.
Peter said they deal with sooty mold, fungal issue and insect damage.
Asked if they have snakes in Malta, Peter said, a few, but none poisonous. He said it must have been that St. Peter was here… Do you know the legend of St. Peter and poisonous snakes? and then shared the tale with us.
Many paths showed vibrant Lantana used as a hedge in various colors.
Peter concluded by explaining that An Anton was a typical example of a Mediterranean Garden and not to be confused with a French or English Garden such as the ones he had worked t in his career. He explained that on English estates, the measurement of the hedge was taken, raking of pebbles, the display of croquet gardens and walled gardens required precise and meticulous care.
Notes from Lydia, our guide:
Our guide Lydia walked us alongside the Presidential gardens. The current president of Malta is Marie Louise Colier Prela, and is said to be well-liked. Lydia recalled the visit of Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip a few years ago.
Then we proceeded to the Kitchen Gardens of the Presidential estate which consisted of vegetables and herbs, olive trees, pomegranate trees, peach and plum trees and the carob tree. Lydia said the Carob tree was said to have given name to carrot as used in the measurement of the precious stones of diamonds, because at a precise time in growing, all the seeds are symmetrical and identical in size. Also by the kitchen gardens, was the innovative sensory garden and petting area for children.
Great for people-watching and a place to summon someone for a cup of coffee, the Galleria is a classic window feature in much of Malta. In the US, we might refer to something similar to it as a window seat. It was introduced in the 13th century under Spanish rule in Malta. By 1630, it was modified with windows. The room behind the galleria is the main bedroom, and we love to decorate the area for Christmas, in particular. Also it was used for protection as legend would have it. A small stone was placed over the center of the floor of the galleria…you see, that way you could scoot the rock aside to see who was coming to visit. If by chance it was a burglar, you could bop him on the head with the rock and it was sometimes said, pour boiling water down the hole, said Lydia.
Iconic doors provide the finish and are often green in color, the most prominent of colors but are said to represent merchants as follows: blue for fish; green for produce; yellow for wheat and red for wine.
Lydia also mentioned the recent assassination of Daphne Caruana in October of 2017. A well known journalist, not afraid of challenging the establishment and attacking both political parties, she wrote for the New York Times, the Guardian, and other well known establishments. Speculation abounds about the motives for the car bombing which killed her but there is speculation that it was related to trafficking of either drugs and/or humans. We feel very sad about this loss, said Lydia. (This is the sixth car bombing in Malta since 2016.)