Edward Whittall Garden

History & Information

The gates of the Edward Whittall Garden open onto splendours of the past. And yet, even now, you may pause on the threshold to listen to the concerto of a thousand frogs accompanied by a cello, two violins and the rustle of a silk dress. Walk along the avenue, beneath the long shadows cast by ancient cypress and pine, bordered by climbing roses and scented with jasmine. See the wooden shutters of the villa thrown open, and light flood the lawns, illuminating the faces of guests enjoying excellent food, vivacious company, dancing and more dancing. If you are planning a special event, a wedding, an anniversary celebration or a coming of age party, there is no place better in the Izmir environs to recapture the grandeur of a bygone era.

The history of Izmir is entwined with the heritage of Levantine families. Most of the the elaborate gardens of the traders’ mansions in Bornova and Buca have been lost to development and the ravages of time, but the Edward Whittall Garden is an enduring legacy to the industry and vision of the entrepreneurial settlers. Within the walls, it is still possible to imagine their family garden parties and lavish marriage celebrations. The grounds carry the echo of their voices in Turkish, French, English, Greek, Italian and Dutch; the language does not matter. Their tones are ringing with good cheer, with happiness and laughter.

Remember the poets, Pierre Loti, Lamartine and Lord Byron who have walked the same paths of this historic garden. Hear the chatter of the guests of Prince George and the Duke of Edinburgh as they banqueted beneath the same trees and the click of their heels as they danced beside the lily ponds one September evening. And bow your head for a moment to remember with respect that half a century later Ataturk walked on the terrace before he rallied his troops to retake Izmir.

The Edward Whittall garden today, landscaped with soaring trees, terraced lawns, ponds and winding paths planted with an extravagant array of shrubs and flowers, has been sculpted by history as well as created by the hands and imagination of the plantsman, Edward Whittall, a merchant-venturer who dedicated his leisure hours to the science of plant taxonomy and the art of gardening.

Edward Whittall developed the grounds of his family home into a botanical treasure. Beneath the already mature cypress and oak trees, he designed much of the current structure: overseeing the placement of feature trees and the digging of channels for spring water irrigation; creating lily-ponds brimming with fish and frogs; planning the iris and acanthus-lined pathways that wind between swathes of shrubs, fruit trees and specimen flowers. In a letter to Sir Thistleton Dyer of Kew he describes it as ‘an Oriental garden, with an admixture of English and Italian ideas in the plan.’

Born in Bornova in 1851, Edward Whittall grew up surrounded by the extensive grounds and ancient cypress trees of ‘the Big House’ that is now the Rectory of the Aegean University. He moved to the garden that carries his name at the time of his wedding in 1875. A keen sportsman, who enjoyed shooting and fishing, he is remembered as a collector and cultivator of flower species from Asia Minor. He employed ‘collectors’ and sent them into the ‘interior’ of Anatolia, to bring back unusual plant specimens. His regular correspondence with Kew Gardens in London is testimony to his meticulous record keeping, his dedication to propagating notable seeds and bulbs, and the European obsession for discovery and cataloguing. New species of tulip, snowdrop, veronica, hyacinth and fritillaria all bear his name.

Although Edward Whittall died in 1917, the garden continues to flourish in the hands of his great-grandson, Brian Giraud. By introducing a varied range of new plants, landscaping the lily-ponds and ensuring water continues to flow from the wells dug into the hills above the village centuries ago, the perpetuation of Edward Whittall’s legacy, this superb, historic garden, is ensured for future generations.

For further information on the history of the property please visit: The Levantine Heritage Website.

Click to read an article published in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine 2011: ‘Edward Whittall (1851-1917) and his contribution to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’ by Alison and Martyn Rix