“A Greek Island Nature Diary” is a watercolor trip through some of the country’s most outstanding flora and fauna, with each flower and animal depicted lovingly by an artist who fell in head over heels in love with Greece long ago.
Written and illustrated by Jani Tully Chaplin, her new book is described as “A cornucopia of watercolor studies of flora, fauna and natural objects found in Corfu and the Ionian Sea, peppered with fascinating references to related history, mythology, medicinal and culinary uses.”
A graduate in art and art history in Great Britain, Tully Chaplin shows the most distinctive flowers and animals found on Corfu and the Ionian Islands in delicate watercolored hues that emphasize their beauty as well as their fragility in the modern environment.
Chaplin’s journal is a treasure trove of highly detailed watercolors and pencil drawings of flora, fauna and nature scenes that she observed and collected during her family’s sojourn on Corfu and sailing the Ionian Sea on their catamaran.
Watercolor and gouache provide the ideal medium for her exquisite artistry.
Her evocative diary is based on her notes and sketches made in remote coves, along its innumerable beaches and in the thyme-scented mountains of Greece’s interior.
Alongside these studies, the book includes many fascinating, informative and even practical descriptions of the medicinal and culinary uses of the plethora of wild plants and flowers found in this naturalist’s paradise.
As well as her own personal observations, the text reveals surprising links between ancient Greek civilization and modern medicine; references to related Greek mythology and folklore intermingle with quotations from poetry and prose associated with the plants.
Asked by Greek Reporter what it was that first struck her about the country when she first went there, she explained that her very first experience with Greek culture was actually in Cyprus, in 1978, when she went there to visit friends.
“As soon as I stepped off the plane at Larnaca Airport I felt as if I had come home. Everything seemed delightfully déjà vu, as if I had been there before. Even the long-eared goats seemed familiar!
“What struck me most was the wonderfully hospitable Greek people and their exuberant attitude to life, as well as the pure beauty of the scenery, unspoilt beaches and mountains, abundant flowers and trees, to say nothing of the absolutely delicious food and wine! I even fell in love with the language which I began to speak very easily, and I adored the music and traditional dances of course.”
It wasn’t long after that when, in 1980, after she married her husband Jeremy they sailed from their home in Salcombe, South Devon, to Cyprus for an extended two-month honeymoon.
They ended up living on the boat for two years, only returning to the UK for the birth of their son, Rory. However, as she tells Greek Reporter, “Jeremy and I never felt at home in England and longed to return to Greece again. When Rory was 15 and his sister, Miranda, was 10, we flew to Corfu for a week’s holiday.
“Immediately rejoicing in being on Greek soil once more, and falling madly in love with the island and its wonderfully kind and friendly people, we determined to buy a larger catamaran to keep on the island, she recalls.
“My family and I spent eight years on our oceangoing catamaran in Corfu, from where we sailed the Ionian and visited many other islands. Jeremy and I spent a further four years building our family a house for all seasons in Northeast Corfu,” Tully Chaplin adds.
Those eight idyllic years are described in her autobiographical book, “The Butterflies Fly Backwards;” the sequel,”The Swallows Fly Back,” which will be published in October 2021, takes up the Chaplins’ story where the first book ends.
Both books, as well as A Greek Island Nature Diary, feature photos from the family albums of Gerry Durrell as a boy in Corfu and later, as a world famous author and conservationist; proceeds from all the books will benefit the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.
As most people are aware, the life story of the Durrells was filmed as a delightful television series called “The Durrells in Corfu.”
Asked how she became interested in botany and the world of nature, Tully Chaplin was effusive.
“My earliest memories of my love of nature are as a tiny child when my father used to take me on nature walks; the beaches, moors and countryside of my birthplace of South Devon were my playgrounds and schoolrooms,” she states.
“My father had a profound knowledge of the natural world and was a naturally gifted artist; he inspired me to collect, and draw and when I was old enough, to write notes on everything we found. There was never a time when I didn’t pick wild flowers, collect seashells, sand-smoothed sea glass, beautifully coloured autumn leaves, feathers, pebbles, the fruits of the hedgerow, nuts and seeds!”
Although she owns a number of Greek books on plants and flowers, she says “to my knowledge there has never been one written in the same ‘nature diary’ format with watercolor illustrations, pencil sketches executed in situ from life, with personal observations by the author.
“Many of the medicinal, olfactory and culinary uses of the wild plants have been passed to me by venerable Greek yiayas and pappous! Many applications are preserved in Greek folklore and traditions going back to the Ancient Greeks and Phoenecians.
“Sadly, some uses have been forgotten and buried by the sands of time,” the author states, “but many, many hours of my painstaking research, mostly from antique books on the subject, as well as from the internet, have unearthed the most unbelievable and extraordinary connections to the discoveries and medical advice of the great Greek physicians,” she says with amazement.
“Some eminent present day Corfiot scientists, medical professionals and botanists have kindly verified my research and recounted their own discoveries.”
“Greek mythology reveals coincidences in the wild plants and their uses which cannot be denied; some may call them ‘old wives tales’ but these old wives knew a thing or two!” she says with admiration.
“‘Never eat bananas when you have a cold’ was a frequent piece of advice to me by Greek housewives. Laughing at this quaint belief, I investigated further and discovered that bananas encourage the production of mucus. After all, today’s modern medicines and homeopathic remedies have their roots planted firmly in the vastly advanced civilization of Ancient Greece,” she explains.
“The tiny, insignificant but aromatic weed Calamint, that flourishes in Greece and her islands has been planted around houses from time immemorial to deter snakes and mosquitoes. In Greek mythology Calamint was the only thing that would repel the legendary gargantuan Basilisk. The modest wild carrot is rich in phosphorous, which has given rise to the sensible belief that carrots help one see in the dark.”
Tully Chaplin, ever interested in all aspects of the natural world, has also included paintings of some of the animals, birds and insects found in Greece and her islands, with interesting details of their lifestyle and habits.
Flowers are stunningly beautiful and strong — just like the Greek people
Asked by Greek Reporter what her favorite Greek flower is and which one she believes represents the country best, the author and artist replied “My favorite Greek flower has to be the Sea Daffodil, Pancratium maritimum, or “Lily of Knossos.”
“This highly fragrant white flower overwhelms the remoter sand dunes of many Greek islands from August to October. Growing straight out of dry sand, the extraordinarily beautiful lily is now protected by Greek and international legislation.
“I think it represents Greece perfectly because it is stunningly beautiful and as its name Pancratium, (meaning ‘all strength’ in Greek) suggests, is strong enough to survive and thrive, despite all odds, and to lift the hearts and spirits of all who experience it – just like the Greek people!” she says warmly.
Tully Chaplin and her family traveled far afield, including Crete, Rhodes, Cyprus and the Ionian Islands, to see all the nature that Greece and Cyprus have to offer, and to allow her to capture its beauty in watercolors.
“Wherever we sailed we would explore not only the coastal regions but also the countryside and mountains on a hired motorbike, collecting wild flowers and plants to paint once back on our catamaran,” she recalls from her home in north Cornwall.
Anyone who wishes can, like Tully Chapin, be transported immediately back to the stunning beauty of Greece simply by reading her memoirs and gazing at her exquisite representations of the flora and fauna of the country.
Along with “The Butterflies Fly Backwards,” “The Swallows Fly Back,” and “A Greek Island Nature Diary,” Tully Chaplin is also the author of “The Manor House Stories.”
A Greek Island Nature Diary, published by Unicorn in the UK, will be available as of October 4; all those interested may preorder the book here.