Me and My Mentors

I dedicate this book to my first two mentors, my father John and my mother Angela, who taught me the values of life that have stayed with me throughout my 76 years of existence. These same values, with the help of my wife Simone, I have transmitted to my loving children Daniela and Carlos Alberto in the hope that they too will hand them down to our grandchildren, Jacques, Benji, Yann, and Luca.

Life offers many aspects, and we, the protagonists for a few score years or less, even if we live life to the fullest, hardly leave a world-shattering impact. Some of us rise to power or prominence, some choose to be followers or marginalised. But one thing that has always impressed me is that what we do and how we affect our surroundings is not due merely to luck or happenstance.

We reach all our set goals with the help of others, but we must take responsibility when we fail. I will try to show in this book of mentors how we are all deeply affected by other people. Mentors make us wiser while preparing us for life and all it throws at us. Mentors do not make us, as we are the ones who mould ourselves into what we truly are. But, whether we know it or not, and whether we acknowledge it or not, mentors are a supremely important facet of all we are.

Scholars and gurus who stick to one definition of anything are not necessarily right because they have a following. To me, the word mentor has a much vaster meaning than the linear definition usually given to it. In this book, I will concoct a definition of mentoring which might not be the traditional one. One of these definitions states that “mentoring is a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, in which a more experienced or knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person.

When we are born the process of learning from our parents is in itself a process of mentoring. What we learn in our first two years stays with us for our entire lives. This is mentoring on a grand scale from persons, our parents, who can offer knowledge and experience to us, their children, who start from zero knowledge and know-how. For the great majority of children, parents will, of necessity, be the most important mentors in their lives.

Organisations, with the services they provide, the shared knowledge and the possibilities for increased experience, can also take on the mantle of mentors in peoples’ lives. These can include schools, scout movements, clubs (particularly in sports), religions, the army, voluntary organisations and international organisations such as the UN, which can all be very important mentors in the lives of people with whom they come in contact.

It is this very wide interpretation of mentoring that I would like to follow in expressing my gratitude to my family and those persons and organisations which have helped me achieve what I did in my kaleidoscopic life. A life which enabled me to pay back what I learned from my mentors and, hopefully, made a mentor out of me in the process. You will also find an instance in my book of ‘passive mentoring’ and ‘reverse mentoring’, when I became my mentor’s mentor and when my own mentoring of others enhanced my life in a big way.

Throughout history, mentoring has been not just important but vital in shaping peOple’s lives. Trades, art, and even professions were passed on from one generation to another. The art of passing on knowledge, of sharing, of mentoring, is one of the most significant parts essential for civilisation to continue flourishing.

One of the most interesting mentor and mentored relationships was Socrates mentoring Plato who in turn was the guiding light for Aristotle who subsequently mentored Alexander the Great. It’s amazing how someone as great as Socrates could affect the leading philosoPhers and also a leading Emperor, ensuring his legacy was perpetuated. Nobody becomes an achiever in life without having been mentored at some stage in his life process. Precious mentors are rarely recognised or thanked and their role remains unsung. I decided to do otherwise and give credit where credit was due because without my many life mentors I would not be where I am today. For this, I will remain eternally grateful and this book is a testimony to that.

Maltese Plants in the Bible

The inspiration for this book came to me many years ago when I was still a young man. At the time, I was working as a horticultural advisor to the Malta Government. l was full of enthusiasm and willing to face any new challenges which presented themselves. One of these challenges came along in late 1966 when l was offered a six-month scholarship by the Israeli Government to go and study modern horticultural practices, in particular, drip irrigation, in that new and fast developing country which was the new Israel.

On my arrival, l was met at the airport by a retired army general by the name of Avidgor Carmi. This fine gentleman was to become my mentor for the next six months and my life-long mentor in the way discipline could and should govern our lives. Avidgor, I found out, was a well-known general decorated several times for his valiant work and military prowess in a new country that was facing the possibility of war as an everyday matter of fact.

I was assigned to several kibbutz in various localities which included Natalya, Haifa, Tel Aviv, Bethlehem and as far down as Eilat. Kibbutz life was very hard. We worked 12-hour days, toiling from five in the morning till five in the afternoon with a short half-hour break for lunch. At first, I found this schedule quite daunting but I was young, strong and eager to learn. Very quickly it became routine and l was accepted as one of the boys. The atmosphere was one of impending war. This was all we spoke about all day – and at night, the prospect of war haunted me. Little did I realize that just a short six months after I returned to Malta, the famous Six Day War would take place which pitched the little state of Israel against the might of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.

With better training, preparedness and the element of surprise, it took the Israelis just six days to wipe off the enemies’ air power and conquer lands which were crucial for the future safety of Israel. Before I returned home, Avidgor, who was by this time more like a father and a mentor to me, gave me a present in the form of a book with the title Plants of the Bible. This book held great fascination for me, not only because it was so well written and researched but also because, in it, I could see the similarities of life in the Holy Land of many years back with that of our little Island of Malta in a recent past. At this time an idea started brewing in my mind that one day I would write a book about Maltese plants in the Bible.

As the years rolled by, I shifted the idea of the book to the back burner and the book itself was lost somewhere along the line. It was only a year or so ago while choosing some books to give away to a young lad who could not afford to buy any, that the book which Avidgor had given me resurfaced. I held it again in my hands with tears in my eyes and Avidgor’s face staring at me as if to say ‘the time has come to realise your dream’. And so it was that with a lot of help, support and encouragement, in particular from Janice Vella, a very competent budding architect and landscape designer who is working for the ELC consortium and whom I was mentoring in this respect, that my dream of 50 years earlier started taking shape and became the precious book that you are now holding in your hands.

Gardening in Malta

Gardening is truly a form of art. A layman may be able to plant a couple of trees and plants here and there but just like in any other art, it takes a professional, this time the competent gardener to combine the elements of line, form, texture and colour in a manner to create a pleasing setting. Gardeners have an extra challenge as their creativity and imagination is presented on a living canvas. After they finish their job, nature itself moulds and transforms their artwork.

And that is where the science comes in. The gardener needs to have a good grip of plant cultivation and planting techniques in order to help his garden to establish and mature beautifully in the set natural environment and micro-climate. Experience can lend a helping hand in this!

After the great success of my two books “Maltese Plants in The Bible” and “Me and My Mentors” I felt that at my ripe old age of 78 I should go back to my roots and write the ultimate guide to “Gardening in Malta”. In the year 2000 I had published a book titled “Mediterranean Gardening” which treated the subject of gardening in Malta in a very simple and light hearted way. The book was reprinted three times and became the only guide in English for amateur gardeners in Malta and 0020. For many years now the book has been out of print and there is nothing to replace it in local bookshops and libraries. Hence my decision to reinstate and amplify the contents of that book bringing it up to date with modern methods of gardening and designing of Maltese gardens specifically to cater for the way we live and the space we chose where we can enjoy some precious moments away from the rush, hustle and bustle of the modern world.

Gardening has now become more than just a hobby. We are now witnessing an almost productive approach in gardens of a certain size. A good number of my friends who own sizeable gardens are now gardeners, in their own right, of top quality wines while others are producers of first class cold pressed virgin olive oil. Many of them are actually marketing their wines and olive oil with their personalised labels not so much in order to make any money but to subsidise the investment which is being made in this mini industry which keeps growing from year to year. There are others who are producingjams,juices and preserves from fruits growing in their gardens.

The joy of eating and drinking the fruit and vegetables, and their derivatives, from plants growing in your own garden cannot be outweighed by any purchases of locally produced or imported items. There is also the growing trend of biologically produced items, free from pesticides and artificial fertilisers and such cultivation is much easier to control in the smaller area of fruit and vegetable production in our own home gardens. Indeed the positive trend for healthy eating has given rise to a more scientific approach to gardening.

The other reason for investing so much time on gardens is the ever present problems of stress. A hardworking family is on the go all the time, hours are spent looking at computer screens and deadlines are to be met on a daily basis. This kind of life brings a lot of stress with it but also more cash in the hand. It has been proven in umpteen experiments that gardening and contact with nature are the perfect antidote of stress and perhaps the only solution to this growing problem. The therapeutic properties of gardens are also being used successfully to treat young children with mentally related conditions such as autism, dyslexia and attention disorders.

In short we can all rest assured that even just looking at a well-kept garden, with greenery, turf, plants and flowers gives us all the “feel good factor” that we cannot obtain from any other dimension they choose to create. Enjoy your gardens, big or small and give your life a real meaning. Roll up your sleeves and have some fun!

Gardening in Malta

As part of our Gardening Club activities we had to publish a monthly magazine for our 800 members. It was my first experience in publishing and I practically had to write the full magazine from cover to cover and keep the monthly deadline. This went on for four full years and gave me a great publishing experience. Later the magazine was turned into a bound gardening book which was a big first for those days when home gardening was still in its infancy. It later led me to publish a full colour book on Mediterranean Gardening. Two year ago I published my iconic book MALTESE PLANTS IN THE BIBLE and recently my biographical masterpiece ME AND MY MENTORS a 400 page account of my life and my mentors who helped me to become what I am today.

The passion Joe and David showed that day carried me into dreams of going where I had never gone before: into the realms of publishing, partnership, and business. It was the first time I was delving into the wonderful world of creating something printed for the public. Developing and running a monthly magazine was not a just serious business, it was also tough. I knew I had to carry a lot on my shoulders as I was the only one who knew the technical side of the main content of the magazine gardening and all things associated with it.

I quickly went from being a sceptic to a fellow passionate believer in the project. Another thing I learned from my two newly-acquired partners is that new things that sound mad and undoable can, through discussion and brain-storming, turn into feasible ideas. I just cleared the way with some of my friends in the legal world about the limited liability proposal and the next step was to get cracking-we had an agreement and a new era in my life was evolving.

The response to the adverts to join the club was staggering. Hundreds wanted to be a part of it. We set a reasonably low membership fee and before we knew it the Maltese islands had a proper gardening club and a proper magazine. Today it is still quite difficult to actually issue a publication, even not on a regular basis. Back then it was much harder-if not close to hell. Computers were still not around and it was a question of cut, paste and more cut and paste but not what cutting and pasting means today via computer. It was literally having rolls and rolls of positive film with text and pasting it into a page design with visuals, illustrations, and diagrams that also needed sizing up, cutting and pasting. It was quite a nightmare-and we did it all with cow-gum, the old favorite glue ideal for paste-ups and proper artworks. It was gum all over-not just where it should be but all over us.

I did the writing in long-hand while David typesets it and then we pasted away gleefully or gleefully. I also found the proper visuals for the articles, which were not just chosen haphazardly but all planned to coincide with the time of year and the seasonality of the gardening and plants and their upkeep. It was tough and hard but it was all part of an experiment and a mission which we loved being part of.

The magazines were always greeted enthusiastically. If you compared them to today’s publications generated as they are on the computer and so much more faithful in their reproduction, the results would be considered not up to standard. For those days, and with the limited resources available, we achieved amazing quality. The content was not just readable but good, entertaining and instrumental instructing our members and readers in all things green. When putting together the magazine formed a truly workable and simple encyclopedia of gardening. We kept our deadlines religiously and, for the four years of its existence, the magazine appeared bang on time, full of the right stuff for our growing, but demanding, readership.