I am sure that many of you have traveled to Crete for holidays, but how many really know the island? The inland landscape, the gorges, the forests in the mountains, the gentle flowers that grow here and there? Julia Jones, at first, just wanted to share her passion for the wild flowers of Crete with other people and so she started a website with a calendar showing such flowers in bloom month by month.
"This was so popular, I started to expand the website and soon realized that there was a need for a centre for botanists, artists, photographers, etc, to share and find information", she told us, explaining the idea behind the creation of her company, eloquently named Flowers of Crete. "The company is actually established as not for profit and in December this year we go before the courts in Crete to ask for charitable status. I have had a keen interest in wild flowers since I was a young child growing up outside Birmingham in the West Midlands of the UK and in later years I trained as a botanical artist. I am a Fellow of The Linnaean Society of London and a member of Plantlife International and PlantaEuropa and my images of rare Cretan endemics can also be found on the International Database ARKive."
What exactly is the scope of your company?
Flowers of Crete exists to educate the general public on the need for conservation and preservation. During the summer months, we hold exhibitions, slide shows and lectures which are open to residents and tourists alike. We have established a small reserve to protect a variety of wild flowers, orchids in particular, in situ and have applied for sponsorship to enable us to establish an orchid reserve at Houmeriako in eastern Crete. We attend international conferences in order to speak to scientists and botanists about our concerns for the environment on Crete and on the need to protect its endemic species. We also organize flower finding day trips and holidays to enable visitors to get the most out of their visits to the island.
How often do you organize trips around Crete? What do these trips include?
Our main season for trips is in the early spring and we have a period of around three months when the flowers are at their best. Trips can be arranged for up to six people. In order to limit damage to the environment, it is not possible for us to take more people at a time. Although the flowers are not so prolific in autumn, it is possible to find rare and beautiful species from late October through to late February and trips can be organized during these months. July and August are not suitable for flower finding, as the dryness and the extreme heat destroy most vegetation.
Trips include all accommodation on a bed and breakfast basis, packed lunch or meal in a mountain tavern, all trips and transfers, and they are led by myself and, on occasions, myself and my son, Matthew. Day trips can be arranged in most parts of the island throughout the year. We try to seek out unusual and interesting places to stay, from the mountain eco-village of Milia to character houses and small, traditional hotels.
In your opinion, which locations in Crete have the best flowers? Which are your favorite flowers?
It is impossible to say which locations in Crete have the best flowers. Habitat differences around the island produce differing species. For orchid finding the well-known areas around Spili in central Crete and Tripiti in the east are excellent, but for the flower finding trips, I am able to take guests to areas that are off the beaten track and provide stunning scenery, together with a wealth of rare and beautiful flowers. It is also almost impossible to name my favourite flowers as I love them all, but, if I had to name my top five they would most certainly be: Pancratium maritimum- the sea daffodil, this bulb grows on the seashore and was known to the Minoans; Biarum davisii- a small Cretan endemic that is classified as rare; Crocus oreocreticus- a beautiful autumn saffron crocus that is the emblem of Flowers of Crete; Ergyngium creticum- Cretan sea holly, which has the most amazing metallic blue and purple stems; and last but not least, Ophrys heldreichii- Heldreich's ophrys, a superb orchid which has a magnificent magenta coloring.
Julia, do you live permanently in Elounda Crete? Why did you choose to live and set a business in Crete out of all places in the world?
I live for three quarters of the year in Crete. I decided to come to Crete around 15 years ago. I have always had a love for the Greek islands and when I first visited Crete I was blown away by the wonderful variety and number of species of wild flowers here. I didn't intend to start a business, but my passion for the island, its heritage and its flora and fauna has turned a private interest in photography and watercolor painting into an association that is finding supporters around the world.