Garigue: shrubby vegetation of dry Mediterranean regions, consisting of spiny or aromatic dwarf shrubs interspersed with colourful ephemeral species (Collins English Dictionary)
At first glance it appears to be a barren stretch of land interspersed with rocks and a few shrubs, bent and stunted by fierce winds. But if you look closer and focus on the little things, you will come to realise that the idea that the garigue is barren is just a misconception. On the contrary, it is teeming with life. You just have to know where to look for it. In Malta the garigue is most common on cliff-tops close to the shore, especially in areas like Dingli Cliffs, Ghar Lapsi, Migra Ferha, l-Ahrax tal-Mellieha and the stretch of land between the Mnajdra and Hagar Qim temples and Wied iz-Zurrieq.
The small pockets of red-brown soil in between the jagged rocks are shallow and the only plants that will thrive have short roots and are able to withstand long periods without water under a blazing Mediterranean sun. So the plants that do grow are quite tiny and the best way to appreciate them is to get down on your knees and take a close peek. It is well worth the effort, especially in spring, when the majority of plants will be in flower.
Ironically, although at first glance the garigue appears to be so barren, plants thrive and flower there year round. The most prevalent shrub of the Maltese garigue is the wonderfully-scented wild thyme but it is also common to find asphodel, fennel and spurges. Less frequently, sea chamomile, different species of tiny orchids and irises are encountered. Some of these plants are endemic to the Maltese islands.
In the past, large stretches of garigue were destroyed by urban development and the mistaken mentality that these tracts of land are incapable of supporting any useful vegetation. Nowadays most garigue areas are protected and, thankfully, they continue to be a source of delight to all lovers of nature.
More information about Malta’s garigue may be found on the blogs Maltese Nature and The Malta Photo Blog.