What on earth prompted me to start working for myself as a gardener in 1977? Need. Pure and simple need to earn some money and stay alive. Arriving via a strange route I had been living on the poverty line in Australia for almost a year.

Two years earlier, 1975 saw me scuttling off to find somewhere warmer to live for Winter. The Magic Bus took me to Athens where it wasn’t too warm in late November so I hopped on a ferry to Crete. In Chania I met up with some other travellers, we were quaffing ouzo when somebody suggested a beach they had heard about , info collected from some hippies they had stayed with on Hydra. A crazy bus trip, chaperoned by a driver who argued incessantly with passengers, took us to a pebble beach at the foot of the Samaria Gorge. An American, Kevin H, who was cycling around the world and collecting recipes as he went, infused my mind with a whole new dimension and I was propelled on a wild and improbable journey.

We set off past Oleander and Bignonia hedges

We camped on the beach for around a week, everyone sharing travel experiences and my desire to be an explorer mushroomed out of control. Kevin was instrumental in firing me up to travel further afield with his improbable tales of his journey to that point. More like a wandering Bohemian, searching for something, instinctively goading me on, I had to keep moving to find it for myself.

One morning I decided to walk up into the gorge as far as I could. My hillwalking experience in the Lake District had prepared me well. I loaded up my Haston Alpiniste with supplies for a couple of days and kicked off up the barren gorge. I quickly found it wasn’t barren at all, the place was filled with life, the high pitched chirring of cicadas, insects, bugs, lizards, unknown birds and loads of very different types of vegetation.

Thinking back I am sure it was the herbs, so natural to these areas, but only known to me as dried up dust in the kitchen back home, that started me looking at things a little closer. Of course plants don’t run away when you want to see them, they just sit there obligingly and as the heat of the day built I took refuge more frequently in the shade of boulders and cliffs. As I sat there sipping a little water, rationing my chunky bread and cheese I noticed flowers and different leaves, some with strange seed heads, others spreading out and looking like a fish out of water in this arid area. Where did they get sufficient moisture to survive? The scents in the warm air were somehow familiar.

It was here that my need to identify plants developed. Right then I couldn’t do anything about it, but later, in Australia my mind became spongelike and I soaked up as much knowledge as possible with the massive array of exotic plants on offer.

Muted voices and tumbling rocks took me by surprise, I thought that people were in the cliffs above throwing stones at me so that I would run away into the waiting arms of some robbers.  My gut lurched and I started to flee.  After a few paces I was stunned to notice eyes looking down at me, goat’s yellow eyes. Phew what relief. The gorge was famous for the wild goats and when I looked more closely the whole area was full of them in the most impossible places, nibbling on whatever vegetation they could find.

I went on up and out to the higher ground and found myself walking over herb fields, literally fields of common kitchen herbs that filled the air with their scent. This was also my first encounter with fat tailed sheep, a young lad with a couple of mangy looking dogs was tending the sheep. My head in a whirl with all this new stuff I pitched a tent nearby and crashed for the night, listening to the bells of the sheep as they tinkled away.

Back on the beach the following day we hatched a plan for Kevin to cycle along a rough coastal road whilst myself and Ted, a red haired Londoner, were to travel to another beach at the other end of the island where we intended to visit Heraklion and meet up with Kevin if he managed to negotiate the rough track.