Mediterranean Garden Society

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Caroline Davies

Vice President
Jean-Pierre Bouchez

Vivien Psaropoulou

Jill Yakas

Margaret Lim Zafiropulo

Reserve Members
Lefteris Dariotis
John Mole

Simon Rackham

Journal Editor
Caroline Harbouri

Custodian of the MGS Garden
Sally Razelou

Web Consultant
Jon Watts and
Hereford Web Design

Web Editor
Fleur Pavlidis

Branch Pages Editor
Jorun Tharaldsen

Past Presidents
Sally Razelou
Heidi Gildemeister
Katherine Greenberg
Cali Doxiadis
Caroline Harbouri
Jean Vaché
Alisdair Aird

See also:
List of Branch Heads

To learn about how the MGS got its start, see:
A Short History of the MGS

See also:
Mediterranean Gardens
An interview with Cali Doxiadis, past President of the Mediterranean Garden Society.

Making a Garden on a Greek Hillside
A review of the book by Jackie Tyrwhitt describing the original garden at Sparoza and how to order it


About the MGS

The Mediterranean Garden Society (MGS) is a non-profit making association founded in Greece in 1994 which acts as a forum for everyone who has a special interest in the plants and gardens of mediterranean climate regions. The forum operates through the quarterly journal, The Mediterranean Garden, with articles and book reviews almost exclusively written by members; this constantly up-dated web site; and, on a more local level, through events organised by branches formed in the countries where our members live and garden. The principles espoused by the MGS are demonstrated for the members’ benefit in an experimental garden just outside Athens on a property belonging to the Goulandris Natural History Museum and generously placed at our disposal.

The aims of the MGS as set out in the Charter were deliberately drafted broadly to cover all possible directions that the society might wish to go in its life. As an international society, the MGS has members in countries throughout the world and in many of them members have formed branches so that they can meet for various activities.

*NB The word "Mediterranean" with a capital M is used to denote the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Basin, while the uncapitalized word "mediterranean" is used to describe the type of climate shared by these countries and other regions of the world.

Why a 'mediterranean' garden society?
For many years gardening literature has been dominated by descriptions and illustrations of plants and garden designs suited to the climate of northern Europe and other temperate zones where so far there is no lack of water. Seduced by these images, mediterranean gardeners have struggled to produce approximations to 'English gardens' which are quite unsuited to the conditions of the mediterranean climate areas.

It is the goal of the Mediterranean Garden Society to develop alternatives, no less attractive or alluring, which are truly based on a mediterranean way of gardening. The plants to be used, as natives to the mediterranean climate areas of the world, will of necessity be more or less drought resistant. Waterwise gardening has to be one of the basic tenets in countries where summer drought can last for four months and more - areas where the cost of water can only increase and availability decrease.

A further principle is the protection and nurturing of the existing flora. A mediterranean plot where trees and shrubs grow slowly and tortuously is no place for fashionable 'make-overs'. Mature, existing trees offer immediate shade to both people and new plantings, and wildflowers lighten up the spring garden without any effort on the part of the owner. With a little flexibility existing plants can be worked into the design of the new garden.

A new garden in an almond grove using stones from the
plot for edging and mediterranean plants.

A mature garden in an olive grove using the same materials.

In fact the design of the garden is where the principles of mediterranean gardening are rooted. Instead of rolling lawns and beds of plants all bursting into flower at once in the summer, a mediterranean garden is a more complex collection of hard surfaces of local natural and man-made materials, shaded areas, water features and plants flowering in turn for all twelve months of the year. In some parts of the garden scent will be more important than flowers for the number of mediterranean plants with scented leaves is amazing: not only herbs but geraniums, salvias, helichrysums, tanacetums and many more. Again, plant shape can be an important design feature, for instance many native mediterranean plants have a naturally cushion-like shape while the small leaves of plants like box, Pistachio and Teucrium fruticans make them ideal subjects for clipping.

Finally, the special needs of garden maintenance have to be faced. These centre on the subject of soil improvement, much more through mulching and composting than through digging.

The Mediterranean Garden
All these topics and many more feature in articles in The Mediterranean Garden, the journal which members receive four times a year and which is the major advantage of membership. The Editor, Caroline Harbouri, depends very largely on contributions from members who write from personal experience both of their own gardens and of the gardens and the countryside that they have visited. The articles are illustrated with the original drawings that make the journal so distinctive. Also included are book reviews, letters and news.

The MGS garden at Sparoza and its place in the history of the MGS
The society is lucky enough to have its seat at the Sparoza estate in Peania, (now the property of the Goulandris Natural History Museum), where there is a garden with a distinguished background. This garden is an important example of one of the earliest private waterwise mediterranean gardens to be created, and has one of the most significant collections of mediterranean plants in Greece.

The garden was founded by Miss Jaqueline Tyrwhitt who came to Greece in the early 1970s after she retired from her post as Professor of Landscape Design at Harvard University. Having chosen to buy a plot of land on a dry, stony hillside overlooking the Mesogeio plain, Jacky Tyrwhitt decided that it would be pointless to try following the gardening practices of her native England in such an inhospitable environment. She therefore set out to create a garden using plants which came from, and were thus adapted to, the mediterranean-climate areas of the world. This was a radical plan at the time and the planting of the garden proceeded by trial and error.

Twenty odd years later, when Miss Tyrwhitt had been dead for ten years, another formidable lady gardener arrived at Sparoza. The new tenant, Mrs Sally Razelou, found herself perfectly in tune with the philosophy of the garden’s creator, and continued to seek ways of creating beauty by working with, rather than against, the natural climate and conditions. She gathered around her a small, multi-national following of like-minded gardeners who eventually felt the need to pool their resources and experiences and produce a regular publication on gardening in mediterranean-climate regions. Thus in 1994 the Mediterranean Garden Society was born and its members have produced its quarterly journal, The Mediterranean Garden, ever since. The three-acre garden at Sparoza became the MGS garden; its mission is to demonstrate how a garden of beauty can be created without the use of fertilizers and pesticides and with the minimum of irrigation during the summer drought.

In 1999 the garden was formally designated as the MGS garden at Sparoza and its up-keep has since then been sponsored by the society. It continues to becared for by the Custodian, Mrs Sally Razelou, with the help of volunteer members, paid gardeners working once a week or once a fortnight and occasional resident volunteer students or members who stay for periods of up to a month.

The time-consuming routine maintenance is carried out by the dedicated group of volunteers who work every Thursday morning. The cheerful camaraderie of the group makes many of them regard this morning as a highlight of the week.

Between the years 1999 and 2015 the MGS sponsored garden assistants to spend ten months of the year at Sparoza. Garden assistants have included students coming straight from relevant courses of study and professional gardeners seeking to expand their knowledge. The garden assistant scheme is presently suspended. Accepted for short-time work-experience in the garden have been students from a French college of landscape design and from public gardens in England. Past garden assistants and short-term volunteers have regarded their time at Sparoza as an exceptional educational opportunity since chances to gain experience in such a mediterranean garden are very few and far between.

With the garden still strictly under the control of Mrs Razelou, the extra help has meant that she has been able to expand the planting beyond the limited extent of the original garden within the estate to create two new areas of unirrigated ‘improved’ wild garden. Most of the plants used in these areas have been propagated in the garden’s small nursery and surplus gems are frequently offered at the Sparoza plant exchanges. Experimentation is still very much a facet of the garden. New plants are initially tested within the irrigated terraces, after which those which show potential are propagated and moved out into harsher positions. The rich natural flora of the hillside continues to flourish side by side with introductions both of other Greek native plants and of tough plants from other mediterranean-climate regions. The summer garden, rather than being an alien imposition of lush green maintained by the lavish use of water, is a celebration of the natural aestivation of drought-tolerant plants.

The nature and lay-out of the garden and the fragility of the environment unfortunately make it quite unsuitable for opening to the general public or to commercial groups, but the garden welcomes groups from educational institutions and occasionally from other walks of life. Their donations are useful for the maintenance of the garden.

Views of the garden and hillside at Sparoza.

The MGS and the internet
The MGS operates five separate websites: the main site in English and smaller sites in Greek, French, Italian and Spanish. These are visited monthly by thousands of unique visitors, in the case of the main site, and hundreds of unique visitors in the case of the smaller sites. Regional branches have their own pages on the sites where they can advertise their programmes of events and report on past events.

The MGS Facebook page caters to the Facebook followers and some of the branches also maintain Facebook pages. The MGS Forum is where discussions about plants, gardens and gardening takes place with multiple postings every day from members and non-members alike. Member volunteers run all the many internet manifestations of the society. The websites and MGS Forum are managed by Jon Watts of Hereford Web Design.

From the beginning it was envisaged that gardeners from all the mediterranean-climate regions of the world would want to participate in the MGS - from the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, and from California, Australia and South Africa which, with humid winters and long hot and dry summers, have climates similar to that of the Mediterranean.

Although registered in Greece, the MGS uses English as its main language in order to be accessible to as many people as possible internationally. After a successful push to increase the number of members whose first language is not English, the Greek, French, Italian and Spanish websites mentioned above were set up to provide information about the MGS and about mediterranean gardening to speakers of these languages.

Members living in more northern climes join the MGS because of a general interest in mediterranean plants or because they have a second home and garden in a mediterranean area. Once a year a large number of members gather together for the Annual General Meeting which is accompanied by a few days of excursions. Old friends meet up and new friendships are made.

The Society has a number of active regional branches that independently plan their own activities ranging from lectures and demonstrations to garden visits and expeditions to areas of floral interest. Members visiting a different area are welcome to join in local events if places are available. The Branch Heads work both to provide an interesting programme of events for the members in their area, to promote the principles of the MGS among the general public and to encourage new members to join the MGS.

The Mediterranean Garden Society is administered entirely by volunteers, both at the central and at the branch levels. There is no paid staff; fees paid are for technical help in publishing the journal, managing the website and
preparing the annual tax return for the tax office.

Membership to the MGS is open to all. Annual subscriptions are payable on 1st January and new members joining throughout the course of the year will receive all four issues published in that year. Joint membership at a reduced rate is available for partners who require only one journal and there is a reduced subscription for students.

Affiliated Societies
Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature
Historic Gardens Review
Enrique Montoliu Foundation
Kirstenbosch National Botanic Garden
Conservatoire & Jardin Botanique de da Ville Geneva
Arboretum, University of California
Indigenous Bulb Association
Royal Horticultural Society
Mediterranean Gardening Association Portugal

Members who would like to have a copy of the English translation of the MGS Charter, or who have any questions about the MGS, please get in touch with the Secretary.

A garden on an olive tree.

Photographs by Fleur Pavlidis, Terry Moyemont,
Davina Michaelides and Michelle Torres-Grant.
All content (c) copyrighted by source or author, not to be reproduced without authorization.

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