Tur­key’s for­got­ten par­adise

The Daily Telegraph - Gardening - - Front Page -

Ihadn’t ex­pected dis­tinc­tive Thir­ties ar­chi­tec­ture. Nor had I fore­seen so many trees, or so many re­minders of Nan­tucket, the Amalfi coast­line, Cal­i­for­nia… An hour on the steamer from Is­tan­bul and I was among the Princes’ Is­lands, a set of nine ver­dant out­crops in the Sea of Mar­mara that have been in­hab­ited since an­tiq­uity. My com­pan­ion for the day was Gur­san Ergil (pic­tured right), one of Tur­key’s lead­ing gar­den de­sign­ers with an in­ter­na­tional port­fo­lio – a re­cent com­mis­sion was for a gar­den at the new Turk­ish em­bassy in Mon­go­lia. Gur­san is a na­tive of Buyukada, the largest of the Princes’ Is­lands, and while he keeps the fam­ily house there in or­der as a sum­mer re­treat, he works from a stu­dio at home on the Asian side of the Bospho­rus. Ear­lier this year he showed me the steeply ris­ing sev­en­ter­raced gar­den he has so sym­pa­thet­i­cally re­mod­elled for a prom­i­nent lo­cal fam­ily at Be­bek, a chic vil­lage on the Euro­pean side of the strait, some 10 miles north of Is­tan­bul’s heav­ing heart­lands.

Apart from min­i­mal es­sen­tial ser­vices, there are no petrol-driven ve­hi­cles on any of th­ese is­lands – it’s clip-clop only, and Buyukada’s taxi rank, a few strides from the Ot­tomanstyle ferry ter­mi­nal, has the whiff of an Ir­ish horse fair. Si­lence rules, bro­ken only by the hum of elec­tric bikes, seag­ulls, the odd wheelie suit­case and the rum­ble of pave­ment re­frig­er­a­tors, dis­play­ing ice cream and the trawler­man’s morn­ing catch.

We set off on foot, shaded on an un­sea­son­ably hot Novem­ber morn­ing by plane trees and lofty aca­cias. “This,” said Gur­san, “is how the streets of Is­tan­bul looked when I was a boy.” Those streets are less leafy to­day, and pres­sure on ex­ist­ing ur­ban green spa­ces is in­tense. Last year it was a plan to de­velop Gezi Park, next to Tak­sim Square, Is­tan­bul’s hub, that pro­vided the ini­tial spark for the waves of protests that con­tinue to rock the coun­try. In July, ac­tivists and fright­ened on­look­ers (my­self in­cluded) fled to es­cape tear gas and wa­ter can­non.

Shade is para­mount on Buyukada and its widespread­ing cedars, some cloaked with bougainvil­lea, are re­put­edly Is­tan­bul’s health­i­est and largest. Alas the same can­not be said of its palms, some of which, like those be­ing treated along the French Riviera, are dy­ing from a disease brought by a red bug ap­proach­ing the size of a Turk­ish lira coin.

Fine cedars shade Ço­lak Villa, a strik­ing early Thir­ties res­i­dence with an al­most purely green gar­den that seems to have dragged its an­chor from Mus­solini’s Rome. Cy­presses, yew and clipped pit­tospo­rum hedges are en­livened with wis­te­ria, threads of Vir­ginia creeper and a few to­ken scar­let gera­ni­ums. In­deed, Ço­lak was built by an Ital­ian ar­chi­tect, for the grand­par­ents of Nazim Un­sal who lives here dur­ing the sum­mer with his fam­ily, his par­ents and his brother’s fam­ily. Like so many Turk­ish gar­dens, where space per­mits, there’s a small bostan or veg­etable gar­den at the top, out of sight, close to re­dun­dant sta­bles, newly planted on my Novem­ber visit with broad beans and let­tuces against beds of rocket, pars­ley and rose­mary. The gritty and slightly acidic soil is of a rich foxy hue – a char­ac­ter­is­tic en­shrined in the name of nearby Ki­na­li­ada (Henna Is­land), where cliffs ris­ing from a cobalt sea are the same red.

Our next gar­den was even more of an in­tact pe­riod piece. Dervish Villa is close to where Trot­sky lived in ex­ile for four years from 1929 and where he be­gan his his­tory of the Rus­sian Rev­o­lu­tion. The house was built in the late Fifties by Sedad Hakki El­dem – Tur­key’s Le Cor­bus­ier – who also de­signed the gar­den and gar­den fur­nish­ings (lamps, seats, pool, steps), in one sweep.

El­dem knew his ge­ol­ogy, and de­signed the villa to with­stand earth­quakes with­out se­ri­ous dam­age. Nes­li­han Taki lives there now and, rare among Turk­ish women I have met, is her­self some­thing of a hor­ti­cul­tur­ist, skil­fully main­tain­ing her clifftop

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.