Permaculture Projects

Eastern Walkabout – Istanbul – The Asian Side

I am still in Istanbul and I have been spending more time on the Asian side the last few weeks, visiting new places, accidentally finding others such as Küçüksu, and returning to some of my favourite spots including Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanic Garden (NGBB).  During this post, I’ll share some more plant observations from around the city and some photos from the Botanic Garden.

The most enjoyable way to travel to the Asian side is certainly via the ferries. They run every 15-20 minutes from multiple locations on both sides of the Bosporus and no matter how many times I’ve made the journey it never fails to make a favourable impression, especially so when the sun is setting and you spot a group of dolphins making their way through the waters too. I managed to get a short, very bad video of some dolphins swimming beside the ferry crossing between Beşiktaş and Küçüksu , it’s on our Instagram page here. There are 3 species of dolphin that inhabit the Strait,  bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), common dolphin (Delphinus delphis), and harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena).  I’ve no idea which is which.

Photo by Oleksandr Ryzhkov

Usually, I’m here in the winter and I’ll bring some old bread with me to toss to the 100’s of Gulls that follow the boats. The Gulls will eventually fly down and take the bread right out of your hand but during the summer, it seems, the birds have plenty of food elsewhere and don’t bother with the people on the boats.

Plantings around the City

Whilst traveling around the more recently developed areas of the city such as Levent and Atasheir, it’s notable that many of the new housing developments have paid special attention to their landscaped gardens within and around the properties and it is generally apparent that there are more green spaces and plant cover. The below photo was taken from the top floor of the Istanbul Sapphire in Levent where you can find an incredible view of the city. It clearly shows the contrast between the older parts of the city with the newly developed

One example that really stood out for me was a 5m wide border of Sedum ground covers planted adjacent to the pathways in a residential block. The cover is composed of at least 3 species of Sedum, Sedum album on the right, Sedum acre with yellow flowers that can be seen in the third wider angled photo, and Sedem spurium – Caucasian Stonecrop on the left.  We grow all of these plants in our gardens in Shipka as clumps of ground cover in dry sunny spots but it was really interesting to see them grown this way.

The result is very low maintenance and low input ground cover that provides excellent forage for bees and other pollinators looks stunning during the flowering period and also provides year-round evergreen cover. The below photo does not really do it justice.

Over in Fulya, I found this excellent example how effective climber, Parthenocıssus trıcuspıdata – Boston Ivy can be to soften new buildings. It’s often used on new office buildings and apartments in and around the central areas.

At first, I did not recognize the plant as  Parthenocıssus trıcuspıdata – Boston Ivy as the leaves I am familiar with have sharper lobed leaves but google and two different plant ID apps seem convinced it was indeed Parthenocıssus trıcuspıdata – Boston Ivy. I would imagine you could find a large diversity of invertebrates within the vegetation and the plant produces small black berries in the Autumn which according to some reports feed over 30 species of birds.

I’d love to see a multi-year time-lapse of these plants wrapping buildings!


The majority of the residential properties in this city, which has been inhabited for over 2000 years, are no more than 40 years old and often younger. This is a result of Istanbul being within close proximity to the North Anatolian fault, a boundary between two major tectonic plates where devastating earthquakes occur frequently.  There are, however, parts of the city where wooden Ottoman-style houses built from pine and oak in the 19th century, have been preserved in excellent condition but occasionally you will find one of these homes standing among the new concrete buildings. They are quite delightful, especially so this one in Besiktas that has been claimed by Vitis vinifera cv. – Grape and Prunus armeniaca ​- Apricot espalier.

It’s the first time I can recall seeing Ligustrum lucidum – Chinese Privet Tree from the Oleaceae family. It’s a beautiful tree with large glossy leaves and produces clusters of small white flowers that are highly desirable to honey bees. The flowers are just starting to emerge this time of the year. The plant has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 1,000 years and is planted as a specimen tree in residential areas and used for hedging around the city. It being USDA hardiness 8-11 it would not survive in Bulgaria but I’m surprised I have not come across it before in the UK. According to, the shoots contain a glycoside and are probably toxic but there are some reports that young shoots can be cooked and eaten, a food source of last resort.

Mediterranean classic, Nerium oleander. I learned recently that the whole plant is deadly poisonous and there are even accounts that using the wood for a skewer when cooking can lead to death.

Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanic Garden (NGBB)

I’ve visited this garden many times over the last 8 years and have really enjoyed witnessing the growth of the place. The whole project was conceived just 26 years ago in 1995 and open to the public in 2002. The below photos were taken from the Central Island that you can see in the below image from the garden’s website.

Photo of Central Island, Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanic Garden (NGBB)

Opuntia spp. growing in the Arid and Saline Garden where you can find a collection of xerophyte and halophyte species. I’m not sure of the species, but when we were kids we would travel to Malta, my Mother’s home country, for the summer holidays and would enjoy feasting on the fruits of these plants that are quite delicious, if you know how to get into them,  and even better when chilled in the fridge. Beware of the tiny spines, they look harmless but get them on your hands and it will feel like they are on fire.

The Crevice garden on the top of a hill in the central garden is quite a spectacle featuring 145 taxa of mostly Turkish natives. These plants are generally from rocky habitats often found at high altitudes where they are protected from grazing animals by growing in rock crevices. The rocks have been arranged beautifully and the views from the hill of the surrounding city are amazing.

The crevice garden on the central island. The views of the surrounding city are awesome.  In the left photo you can see the new financial district under construction and on the right, a mall, residential zone, and university that was completed five or six years ago.

Always impressed by the prostrate Rosmarinus officinalis – Rosemary used extensively around the gardens, particularly the cascading shoots over the dry stone walls. This cultivar is ‘Prostratus’

That’s all for now.

Paul Alfrey

Hi I'm Paul, Originally from the UK I moved over to Bulgaria with my family 12 years ago and set up the Balkan Ecology Project. Prior to that, I worked as a freelance Arborist in the UK for 15 years. Balkan Ecology Project is a family project run by myself, Sophie and our two boys Dylan and Archie, and supported by the amazing volunteers we have hosted here over the years. We aim to develop and promote practices that provide nutritious affordable food while enhancing biodiversity and work to achieve this by: - Researching, designing and implementing systems on the ground - Providing working examples of our designs at our sites open for the public to visit - Providing quality education and training to aspiring growers and landscapers - Providing consultancy and design for landowners and farmers across Europe - Practicing an open source policy, whereby we disseminate our results freely and share all aspects of our work - Growing, selling and promoting the use of plants and plant communities that have high ecological and nutritional value Our activities currently include: Biological Plant Nursery, Educational Courses, Local Land Stewardship, Polyculture Research, Market Gardening​, and Consultancy and Design.

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