|Mediterranean Garden Society|
The Greek Branch of the MGS
In early May we made a second visit to see what was growing in Lefteris Dariotis’ two gardens in Peania (see entry for November 2015 for report of our visit to learn about propagation of bulbous plants from seed; see also Fleur Pavlidis’ article in TMG 85). We met first at the xeric garden he started planting last year in the yard of a house owned by his uncle who lives outside Greece for most of the year. The garden has flourished since our last visit. Lefteris has planted a huge variety of phlomis and Mediterranean salvias that are now well established. We saw the pink Phlomis purpurea and P. italica, yellow P. lanata, P. bourgaei, P. lychnitis and the quite different orange P. leucophracta. Salvia species in flower included the Turkish species S. huberi and the Greek native biennials S. argentea and S. aethiopis, as well as the Californian hybrid Salvia 'Vicky Romo'. We also saw a range of other Lamiaceae species in the genera Teucrium, Nepeta, and Stachys. As you may have guessed, Lefteris is a connoisseur of plants in the mint family and he showed us two rarely seen species, Dorystaechas hastata and Scutellaria salviifolia, both originating in Turkey. The penstemons are also well established in their second year. We saw Penstemon pseudospectabilis, P. parryi and P. eatonii, and P. palmeri, which was just about to flower.
After inspecting almost every plant in the dry garden, we formed a caravan of cars and drove to the other garden Lefteris maintains in Peania where he propagates his plants and seeds and maintains his nursery. Here we saw sages of temperate and Mediterranean origin including: Salvia heldreichiana, S. desoleana, S. moorcroftiana, S. atropatana, S. chamelaegnea, S. barrelieri, and different S. sclarea subspecies. We also saw some early-flowering Mexican and South American sages: S. blepharophylla, S. stolonifera, several S. coerulea hybrids, a range of different colours in the microphylla/greggii/jamensis complex as well the fashionable hybrids 'Amistad', 'Wendy's Wish', 'Love and Wishes' and 'Ember's Wish'. The beautiful Greek natives Nepeta nuda and Stachys parolinii were also flowering. Apart from the Lamiaceae family, other highlights of the watered garden included Erythrina crista-galli and Erythrina bidwillii, a couple of Beschorneria species, and the ethereal snow-in-summer Melaleuca linariifolia. In the bulb section of the nursery most of the winter-growing species had entered their dormant stage, but some species of Ornithogalum and Allium were still in flower.
It was a real pleasure to visit the gardens a second time in a different season. We look forward to seeing the gardens again and thank Lefteris for sharing his plants and knowledge.
Text and photos by Robin McGrew
Enough cars to constitute a large caravan met 24 members at the ferry boat dock at Edipsos in northern Evia on a Saturday morning to begin our weekend exploration. We started out by visiting the monastery of Osiou David, founded in 1540, where we found many pilgrims paying homage to the bones of David and other relics housed in the monastery’s beautifully painted church.
Outside the monastery gates it felt as if not much had changed since medieval times, with local farmers and craftsmen selling oil and olives, soaps, honey, nuts, dried fruit, herbs and teas, all produced nearby. We passed the tour buses and loaded into our cars for a short drive on small, winding roads to the waterfalls of Drimona. Despina Moschos and I had made a scouting trip for this walk along the course of the waterfalls in March. We were happy to see that in late May, the river was still high and the falls as impressive. The town or some organizing body has created very tidy paths and rails along the route past two dramatic falls with benches and even labels on many of the trees and shrubs along the path. It was a nice opportunity to stretch our legs and relax after a long drive from Athens that morning. Some of our group, two gentlemen who surprised me only slightly, could not resist goading each other into jumping into the clear cool pool of water under one of the falls.
After the waterfalls visit we drove to the north coast and enjoyed a large and bountiful meal at the seaside in Pefki. Then it was time to check into our hotels and have a brief rest.
At seven in the evening we reassembled for the drive to the walnut farm which was the highlight of our trip. The farm was established in 2004 by Despina and Michael Moschos at the urging of a friend with land nearby that they join him in north Evia. Researching walnut production in the Périgord region of France, Despina and Michael eventually imported 1,300 young walnut trees from France to start their orchard. Today, with the help of the farm manager, Yianna Mouridi, they produce around 60 tons of organically-cultivated walnuts a year from trees which have yet to reach their full productivity. The farm also produces wonderful nut and fruit bars and nuts flavored with rosemary, honey and figs, as well as a spoon treat of candied young walnuts. We were treated additionally with walnut cake as we gathered to learn about farm operations before touring the site. The farm employs up to 15 locals in an area of high unemployment and Michael is tireless in his efforts to assist others who are interested in learning about increasing walnut production in the region. Our group took up a collection at the end of our visit and Michael and Despina donated the proceeds from the walnut products we purchased at the farm so that we raised 420 euros. Despina and Michael offered this money to a local school for the purchase of a computer monitor that will be used for interactive projections in the classroom.
Read more about this walnut farm below
That night we had another memorable seaside dinner in the town of Pyrgos. The only drawback, for some, was that the television which we had been assured would broadcast that night’s European Football Championship was inoperative until the very last minutes of the game. I can’t remember who won. The next day we met in the morning to make our way back to Athens. Our first stop was for a walk in the Dasiko Horio, a series of paths through the lush forest of beech trees and ferns.
The next stop was in the traditional village of Agia Ana where we walked around and probably doubled the population during our stay and may well have matched the week’s coffee purchases. Evia is a long island and it was looking as if we would not have time to fit in our last planned visit before lunch. Sadly, we eliminated the visit to the lakes near Spathari created by magnesium mining on the island and went instead to another debilitatingly large but tasty lunch before continuing home at the close of the weekend. This trip was the last I organized in my role as Greek Branch Head of the MGS and it reinforced for me the value of the MGS in bringing together different people with shared values as regards the importance of the preservation of native landscapes and local traditions and the pleasure that can be derived from travelling together and sharing good meals in beautiful settings. I look forward to rejoining this group for more adventures together in the future.
Text by Robin McGrew
Artemision walnut farm
This is an organic walnut farm that we started, having driven through France and seen some similar farms in the Midi. The seed, so to speak, was planted and it was 2004.
Some twelve years ago we started thinking of the project and trying to locate the suitable varieties of walnut for this area. Although the slightly alkaline soil here, with a pH of 7.5, is quite fertile, and there is plenty of water which we extract from an artesian well, 75 metres deep, it is not usual to grow walnut trees at sea level and so some research and preparation had to go into the planting.
A French Périgord-based walnut expert visited here and advised us. We imported three cultivars of the Mediterranean walnut (Juglans regia) that would suit the climate and the environment. They are ‘Chandler’, ‘Franquette’ and ‘Fernor’. ‘Fernor’ is a relatively new Californian cultivar, particularly productive. ‘Franquette’ also serves as a pollinator and ‘Chandler’ is popular for the quality and size of its walnuts.
They were planted as one-year-old trees, and our first planting was 800 trees. We continued planting for the following two years until we reached the present number of 1300.
Walnut trees are planted in January, at a depth of about 60 cm, and seven and a half metres apart. The ideal productive walnut tree we have in mind is about nine metres high, with a maximum spread of seven metres, so it can be looked after and kept healthy.
We keep the trees with a longish trunk between 1.2-1.4 metres in height because this allows the branches better growth and it also increases the value of the tree itself as wood. After that we do very little pruning.
We water as often as the weather requires. We divided the farm into four sections and we water with the drip method every four days. The trees get a lot of water in the hot weather.
Our walnut farm is cultivated organically. All nutrients and diseases are treated organically. This is tricky as it requires early detection, immediate action and substantial extra cost. Throughout the farm you will notice little white boxes hanging from the trees. These contain a hormonal block that acts as an early signal to us. We monitor these very closely and spring into action as soon as we detect something we do not like. For example carpocapsa (codling moth, Cydia pomonella): the larvae attack fruit trees (apples and walnuts). It is difficult to detect and effective control depends on identifying the moment when adults are emerging from pupae from overwintering spaces and mate and begin laying eggs; this migration can take place within a few hours. Larvae of other insect species bore into the branches of the new shoots; these can only be traced through the trail they leave behind. Having spotted their presence, Yianna will then either remove the affected branch/shoot or try and spray if it is at an early stage.
Walnut trees do not like humidity and heat. They like to be dry, cold and well-aired and we are blessed that we get a northerly wind coming from the direction of Mt Olympus. The humidity directly affects the health and quality of the walnuts, and begins by creating black spots on the green husks.
The walnut flowers in May and cross-pollination starts almost immediately, producing the small walnuts from June onwards. The walnut harvest is in late October/early November and there are three harvests.
Although everywhere else the walnuts at this stage are dried either indoors or in a controlled oven, we are extremely fortunate to be able to let them dry out in the sunshine and with a gentle breeze. This improves the taste of the walnuts and adds to their organic nature. We believe this enhances their natural flavor and extends their life. We have noticed that the walnuts produced from the trees nearer the sea are slightly smaller in size, and slightly saltier. This is due to a poorer soil and the proximity of the sea.
Depending on the weather we dry them out on the beds for between ten days and two weeks. Then they go through a selector that sorts them by size. The larger ones are sold in the shell. The smaller ones are crushed and the walnut is extracted by hand. The walnuts are sold in three grades according to universal standards.
Once they have been cleaned, they are packed in airtight bags and put in the refrigerator room at a temperature of 7-10 degrees C, depending on the environment; from here they are dispatched, almost immediately as the orders come in.
Walnut shells are bagged, put through a mild crusher and fed into a specially built boiler which provides heat for the whole building throughout the colder months and hot water throughout the year. This is a totally environmentally-friendly solution to the energy requirements of the farm and to the whole walnut production. We are very happy with it, as far as we know we are the only walnut farm in Greece employing this method. Michael together with a local engineer improvised this and perfected it by trial and error.
The help and productivity of this farm depends to a very large extent on Yianna Mouridis. Originally, her husband rented this land from us and cultivated his own produce; then he unfortunately suddenly passed away - in fact in the year he had planted the first 800 trees. Yianna, asked to step in, has become dedicated to the farm and the farm has rewarded her with positive experience. Her daughter also works here, as do another 15 ladies from nearby villages. We greatly appreciate their contribution, their hard work and dedication.
The area suffers from an unemployment rate of 63%. This farm is one of the few local employers. The farm is certified organic by TUV Austria, and it is inspected regularly and without warning. The management and quality standards are ISO-certified* and the production line is HACCP-certified**.
Greece imports 5500 tons of walnuts a year, mostly from the Balkan countries, and mostly of an inferior quality. Greece produces about 1,200 tons of walnuts a year, in isolated smallholdings, and not in an organized fashion.
As far as we know, there is only one other organic walnut farm in Grevena, Northern Greece. So there is a huge scope for anyone wanting to start producing walnuts, and in fact several farmers in the area have planted their land with walnuts and have come to us for advice. (So we are a little bit of a Johnny Appleseed for this area.)
*ISO= International Organization for Standardization
Text by Despina Moschos
Around 25 members met on a Wednesday morning to visit the plant nursery of Ioannis Gryllis in Marathon. This was our second visit to Ioannis’ operation and we were hoping this time to see the irises and water-lilies in bloom. Due the mild winter and early spring, we missed the irises but found many lovely water-lilies blooming in the various ponds Ioannis has constructed on his site. The ponds demonstrate which plants do well at different depths and which plants and animals may inhabit the same ponds. Several of Ioannis’ ponds are covered with strong netting. We learned that this is to prevent migrating herons, cranes and other birds from devouring his stock of ornamental fish. An interesting construction on the property is a wetland trench that Ioannis has created to mitigate flooding and erosion on the site. This constructed wetland collects excess seasonal rainwater and filters and purifies the water using plants and microorganisms that thrive in the marshy environment. In addition to building wetlands like this, Ioannis has also built swimming ponds, in other words natural swimming pools, for clients using plants to filter and purify the water. He plans to install one of these pools at his nursey in the future. Ioannis is also constructing a botanical garden with sections showcasing plants from Mexico, Brazil, Japan, Indonesia and Australia.
We toured the nursery beds and were again impressed by the quantity of plants Ioannis is propagating in his nursery: for wet environments, in shade or sun.
Three different plants in the nursery:
At the end of our visit many members were pleased to have some plants to take home with them. We ended our outing with a lavish lunch at a nearby seaside taverna.