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An island flora

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Alys Fowler Alys Fowler | 07:00 UK time, Sunday, 19 June 2011

After four days of seawater I finally have rid myself of the permadirt that clings to my weeding fingers. I am almost beginning to miss weeding, but not the tyranny of watering.

Malta is not perhaps the best destination for a gardener. There are a few gardens, some jolly, if thirsty municipal plantings - a lot of palms and Lantana camara - but not in much that is actively gardened so to speak. It's too dry for that.

A fig neolithic ruin

A fig at a Neolithic ruin

The market gardening seems largely confined to the northern part of the island. Here terraces of red earth with low walls house bush tomatoes, melons, globe artichokes, aubergines, a surprising amount of cabbages, lots of small peach trees and errant figs sprouting here, there and everywhere.

The best bits though are the wild, rocky shorelines. Here there is little soil just sand, the soft limestone rock and seawater. I saw a bank of what I took to be the sand daffodil; Pancratium maritimum, in full bloom, but it seems that their flowering time is August to September. Perhaps it was something else. Still it was quite extraordinary to see a daffodil growing out of nothing but sand.

Wild fennel and thyme

Wild fennel and thyme

The rocky cliffs are covered in the delicate purple of Mediterranean thyme; Thymus capitatus, which in turn are covered in bees. The smell is heavenly and it is quite a sight. Again it seems to be growing out of nothing but rock. It is tough, woody and quite divine to see. If you need proof that to grow good thyme you need to grow it hard than perhaps these pictures will sway you. The pungent oils hit you long before you can see the plant.

My first sightings of thyme were surrounding some of the oldest Neolithic standing buildings (also quite something to see) in the world, way older than Stonehenge and full of touching decorations, including a wonderfully modern looking wall of drilled holes (apparently something to do with counting the days between sighting of stars).

There is rich pickings for wild edibles, herbs grow out of any crack that allows life, just miles upon miles of herb fennel, wild rocket, several mallows including a small tree Lavatera that grows near to the shore.

The Buskett Gardens

The Buskett Gardens

We had a peaceful wander through the Buskett Gardens, which is a wooded area surrounding a 16th Century hunting lodge. There's a suitable crumbling classical grotto with tufa interior and Renaissance columns and endless terraces housing all manner of Mediterranean trees and shrubs; ancient olives, holme oaks, pomegranates, citrus, palms, cypress and bay amongst others. It is quite something on an island that seems almost treeless to see such fertile woodland. I'd like to return in autumn to harvest some of the bounty, it must be rich pickings.

Tomorrow we leave for Gozo, which is said to be rich in wildlife and flora as it is much more untouched than Malta. There is said to be more farming there too.

I must admit that I am longing for a little more green between dips in the sea. Though I am very envious of anyone who gets to grow row upon row of aubergines and tomatoes (thick for picking already) outside.

And whilst I'm here I guess I should thank Black Gold Salon for allowing me to prop up the bar whilst writing this. I am quite the incongruous sight tapping away amongst the revellers (anything for free wifi).

Alys Fowler is a writer and broadcaster. Read more of Alys's Gardening blog posts.

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