Posted: Friday 26 April 2013
by Kate Bradbury
In Argentina I was lucky enough to meet Fabiana, a city garden designer with a dream for a simpler life in the country.
One of the best things about visiting a new country is meeting its gardeners. Never mind the gardens, it's the people behind them that interest me. Wouldn't it be wonderful to go back in time and meet Christopher Lloyd or Vita Sackville-West, or chat with the designers of today’s famous gardens and ask them why and how they made their creations?
In Argentina I was lucky enough to meet Fabiana, a city garden designer with a dream for a simpler life in the country. For the last 10 years she has been living her dream on weekends, in a former 'estancia' (large farm) on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.
The 'garden' is nothing I could imagine having myself, either at home or abroad. At 30 hectares, it's on a par with some of the grandest gardens I've visited. It has sculpted meadows, native wildflowers (including Verbena bonariensis) and a plethora of fruit and nut trees, dominating the landscape. Except for the beautifully kept English rose garden and vegetable patch, the garden is almost entirely dedicated to wildlife.
At times, I felt I was looking in the mirror at a South American version of myself. Unlike Fabiana, I doubt I will ever be in the position of having to commission the building of a water tower, but I can empathise with her desire to incorporate bespoke nesting holes for barn owls into the design (I can just imagine the look on the builders' faces when she showed them the plans). A barn owl and three chicks were in the tower when I visited – Fabiana was kind enough to let me climb up to silently observe them.
Barn owls aren't the only birds making use of the garden. The nests of tiny, ground-nesting owls, Lechucita vizcachera, are dotted all over the lawn, flamingos and wild ducks also visit. We also saw plenty of hummingbirds, and small southern lapwings (Vanellus chilensis) known affectionately as 'terro terro', due to their call. I was in my element counting and photographing different types of bumblebee and solitary wasp, and later was joined in the swimming pool by a couple of toads and a wonderful stripy frog.
Unlike most of her gardening friends, Fabiana grows native plants for moths and birds. A former farm, the land was sown mainly with Italian rye grass for grazing animals. Fabiana removed most of this grass and replaced it with native grasses. Slow growing Argentinian trees such as tipa trees, Tipuana tipu, were decorated with the cocoons of native moths when we visited.
At night, we watched the sunset while capybaras swam in the large pond, bats flitted above us and glow worms blurred the boundary between the earth and the stars. It was the most magical place, created by the most wonderful gardener.