Malta Diary Mary, Mary, quite contrary – how do Maltese gardens grow?
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Coming from a family of brothers that includes one of Malta’s most-loved, prominent and highly-famed stage and television comedians (Narcy Calamatta), and a prominent stockbroker (Alfie Calamatta), Peter Calamatta is approaching his 80th year and still has ambitions to write a book.
Mind you, it will not be his first because he has already published four that have earned him great acclaim. He intends to write a review of his life and activities – not as an autobiography he hastens to add – but as a review that will reflect the course and progress of his work.
And who is Peter Calamatta you may well ask; a politician, a sportsman, a leading corporate businessman? No, he is simply … a gardener – but a gardener of renown, an expert and without doubt Malta’s most renowned gardening expert.
Some may well conjecture that Peter’s fame, he is now aged 78, will no doubt have been aided and propelled by the fame of his brother Narcy who shot to fame in the part of Wenzu (Lorenzo) in the amusing series of stories Wenzu and his wife Rozi, written by Dr George Zammit and going back to the early days of the 20th Century, televised by TV Malta a good 40 years ago – but still much-loved today, even though in black and white.
Wenzu is famed for being a feisty, blustering and short-tempered peasant, married to his cantankerous wife Rozi who is always hassling him about this, that and the other, but equally particularly for his continual scrapes with his badgering sister-in-law who resides with them and does not give him a moment’s peace.
However, Peter Calamatta achieved his own niche of national acclaim in the gardening sphere and in which he is still much revered today. For almost the last 20 years he has been advising the Government on horticulture and has been responsible for the garden embellishment of roundabouts and road flower strips.
He also had his own weekly television gardening programme ‘Dawra mal-Gnien’ (Out and About in the Garden) for a good 45 years and went on to publish four books including one on Mediterranean Gardens as well as Maltese Plants in the Bible in which he traced at least 45 plants that are mentioned in the Bible but also flourish in Malta. The proceeds of this best-seller he kindly donated to the Millennium Chapel, a chapel that provides solace for down-and-outs, the homeless, desperate immigrants and drug addicts.
His third book was Me and My Mentors and his most recent Gardening in Malta which is also proving to be a best seller. He acknowledges his fame and achievements to his great friend, advisor and collaborator over the years, Peter Calleja.
This book is described by a critic as being “gentle, genial and generous. Gentle, because it leads readers carefully by the hand without being too technical and imposing. Genial, because it is user-friendly and generous because the author unselfishly pours out his knowledge for everyone’s benefit and takes nothing for granted. This work is undoubtedly the essence of a lifetime dedication.”
The book traces a short history of international gardening but then offers invaluable advice on gardening in Malta dealing with soil composition, ideal plants and shrubs adapted to Malta’s alkaline soil and weather conditions (strong and devastating sunshine at the height of summer and lack of rain water) as well as aspects denoting plant deficiencies.
The people of Malta and Gozo have a natural love of gardening and greenery, although this was highly stunted over the years by the uncaring destruction of many trees with foreign occupying forces using the wood for their ship repairs or clearing stretches of trees for their fortifications.
Before the development of boxed apartments, virtually every house in the islands had its own small (and sometimes large among the well-to-do) garden or otherwise a small internal courtyard packed with potted plants, normally surrounding a well.
Down through the years public gardens, mainly of an exotic nature, have been highly popular such as San Anton Gardens, Buskett Gardens, the Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens in Valletta, Villa Rundle Gardens in Rabat, Gozo, and the Argotti Gardens in Floriana.
In recent years a Kitchen Garden has been highly upgraded at the Presidential San Anton Palace, a natural magnet for families and school parties with a wide array of herbs and plants and an equal magnet for garden lovers. Annually, San Anton and Buskett stage a horticultural show
In the Islands, the gardening year generally starts in September and Peter Calamatta’s book offers all the advice and information the amateur gardener needs to know such as suitable lists of flowers, vegetables and fruits, their appropriate month and the technique needed to nurture them.
The careless destruction rendered previously by colonisers for their own military needs denuded the Islands and left much barren limestone rock that is an eyesore, particularly in the furnace of the blistering heat of the sun.
Stretches of greenery and colourful flowers nowadays provide much welcome relief.
“If you are born a circle, you will not die as a square”
People do not change their philosophies or their habits – they die holding the same concepts they always had.