Again feeling the need to escape the heat and crowds in town I went to visit a secret garden, hidden away in a lush green valley. Gianni: hippie, hermit, artist and now writer lives there with a menagerie of dogs, cats, bantams and doves. There are pools full of goldfish and frogs, a mosaic fountain dating back hundreds of years, animal skulls hanging in trees and a tiny magical gypsy cottage filled with trinkets and curiosities.
The garden was rediscovered in the late 1950's by Vali Myers and her companion Rudi . I first saw Vali dancing on the beach one day in the winter of 1993. Her long fiery red hair was lit from behind by the sunlight and her layers of multi coloured skirts swirled around her as she moved. She was followed by a small pack of dogs who danced with her. I was enchanted and moved closer to observe. She had tattoos on her face and arms, thick black eyeliner, bare tattooed feet and red and yellow leg warmers under her skirts.
I became a little obsessed by this magical woman and begged the local townsfolk to tell me all that they knew about her. One day I set off to find her secret garden. With my friend Lara I climbed higher and higher up into the valley. "This can't be right," she panted as we scrambled over another large rock. But finally we arrived at a walled garden with a gate. We knew it was the right place, the walls were painted bright pink and there was an old donkey wearing a scarf standing by the gate that brayed loudly to announce our arrival.
The donkeys bray alerted a pack of about thirty dogs that came bounding towards the gate, barking and yapping. Lara and I took a step back and waited to see what would happen next.
A little man appeared at the gate, batting the dogs away with his hand. He wore mismatched stripey trousers, paisley shirt and a waistcoat, a little skull cap on his head, black eyeliner and a faint paw print tattooed on his forehead.
"Hello, can I help you?" he said in perfect English. We were invited inside the garden and as the little dogs jumped up around our legs Gianni introduced us to the other animals; Fanny the donkey, Ruby the pig who was the size of an elephant, Antonino the dog who was blind and walked on his back paws, every single animal had a name.
Gianni offered us a coffee which we accepted. We watched as he took the coffee pot to a small gas camper stove. There was no electricity or running water in the cottage, but a nearby stream had been siphoned off and ran straight through the cottage and out into the garden, along homemade irrigation channels that watered the plants and the dogs. Gianni poured the coffee into small glasses and asked if we would prefer cappuccinos. Wondering how he would transform our glasses of coffee into frothy milky drinks we accepted and watched in surprise as he took the coffees over to a goat in a stall. He held the glass under the goat and squirted some fresh warm milk into it. Instant frothy drink!
Vali wasn't there the first time I visited, she was in Australia, her homeland and I didn't meet her until 1999. But I struck up a friendship with Gianni and often went to visit him in his secret garden. Yesterday I took someone up to meet him there, and listened, fascinated as they reminisced about their flower power past. Gianni has written a book based on Valis' extraordinary life. I have had a sneak preview as I helped type some of it onto disc for him, and it is a fascinating story. As soon as the book is released I will be urging everyone to buy it to help Gianni feed all his animals!