Mediterranean Garden Society
The Attica Branch of the MGS
The Attica Branch welcomes all gardeners and want-to be-gardeners of all ages and from all backgrounds. Our members are spread out across the region and range from people who have large designed gardens to those who live in the city and get creative on a tiny balcony. We regularly get together to visit gardens of interest, both private and public, visit local nurseries, hear talks by experts and participate in workshops. A couple of times a year we arrange a weekend away to other regions of this beautiful and fascinating country to explore and connect with members who are not resident in the Athens area. We try to offer a diverse range of activities to appeal to our broad membership.
The Attica Branch is home to the wonderful garden of Sparoza, the centre of the MGS. Some of our members volunteer weekly (Thursday 10-12) to help take care of the garden. If you would like to join us contact Vina, the volunteer coordinator, for more details.
Twice a year we host a seed and plant exchange at Sparoza. Members, their friends and family are invited to the garden to stock up on healthy plants propagated by the Head Gardener of Sparoza, from seeds and cuttings from the garden. These events are held in the Spring and Autumn on dates that are posted on our website. We also invite our members to get together at two relaxed dinners/lunches at Sparoza - one just before the Christmas holidays and one before our long summer recess.
Our Branch Head is Janet Harley (biography). To find out more about the activities of the Attica Branch, current and prospective members are welcome to contact Janet by email.
The photograph at the top of this page shows an olive grove in spring carpeted with wild Anemone coronaria. We are lucky that here in Greece not all the natural flora has been destroyed by intensive farming.
April 2022 - Sparoza
Seed and Plant Exchange
A superb day in Attica last Saturday saw the revival of the Seed and Plant Exchange after the hiatus brought about by Covid and the extended lockdown.
A poignant occasion where Sally was fondly remembered by all, especially members visiting the garden for the first time since her passing. Her spirit was with us all on this truly splendid day.
The garden was glorious, bathed in sunshine and alive with members and friends wandering admiringly along the paths linking the exquisitely groomed gardens. Lucie, supported by Máté and the trusty team of volunteers, has worked tirelessly and enthusiastically to bring the garden into its own splendour.
While Lucie was present to advise members choosing from ready potted plants, labelled and meticulously displayed in the re-vamped Nursery outside, Máté manned the table inside offering invaluable guidance to those choosing from the wide selection of seeds.
Special thanks are due to Christa on the welcome desk, to Vina supporting Lucie in the nursery, Sue and Frosso making sure all guests were supplied with refreshments, Catriona for the lovely photos, and Ioannis Gryllis for the tray of Helichrysum italicum kindly offered as take-home gifts.
Thank you to all members and friends who were able to visit and donated so generously.
Text by Janet Harley, photos by Catriona Gallagher
Environmental Groups Get Together to Plant Trees and Learn about Sustainability, Kouvaras
MGS members, together with volunteers from Let’s Do It Greece and the Women’s International Group South (WIGS) enjoyed a wonderful day at the house of David Davis, engineer and inventor. Helios Eco Lab in Kouvaras is about 45 minutes from the centre of Athens. For details of the sustainable house project see (below) the write up of MGS Greece branch visit in March 2019.
Anastasia Ioannidis, local representative of Let’s Do It Greece told us about the origins of this group and advised that this year’s campaign is called “The Roots that Bind Us” which is to encourage the planting of trees up and down the country. For the day’s event, eight trees had been purchased by the sponsoring groups: three carobs and five fruit trees, as a token of support for the campaign. Everybody took up a sapling or a spade or a watering can and dispersed around the garden for the planting session.
With this task successfully completed, we all (now about 60 people) returned to the house for a presentation by David which covered his origins as an engineer and inventor, his desire to use only sustainable ways of living including powering the house and electric cars/bikes from solar PV panels, water and space heating with solar thermal energy, harvesting rainwater, growing his own food, recycling materials and batteries and much more.
Lunch followed (dishes having been provided by the participants) then some people stayed on to go on mountain walks and bike rides in the beautiful countryside.
Let’s Do It Greece began as a teachers’ initiative in schools in the Athens suburb of Glyfada. Pupils were encouraged to do volunteering work through environmental groups. By 2019 the annual activity had reached 119,000 volunteers. The pan-Hellenic volunteer campaign Let’s Do It Greece for 2020 will take place on Sunday 10 March.
Women’s International Group South (WIGS) is an informal group whose aim is to provide a social milieu to build friendships and support group members for English-speaking women of all nationalities who reside in areas located in the southern part of Attica, Greece. The group’s volunteer work is related to social networking and supporting local community charities.
Text - Jeannette Arduino
Photos - Rosey Boehm
Visit to Gryllis Water lilies, Marathonas
On a clear, bright morning about 30 MGS members with family and friends met at Ioannis Gryllis’ amazing nursery near the historic town of Marathonas, outside Athens. Over delicious doughnuts and chocolate croissants, tea and coffee served by Ioannis’ mother and sister he gave us a talk about green walls and roofs.
In cities there is limited space for greening the city with all the advantages that brings - helping with keeping cities warmer/cooler as needed lessening the need for air-conditioning; making an impact on noise and air pollution and all the psychological advantages that being able to see and experience plants gives us, using the walls and roofs makes sense. Of course, there are difficulties in doing this but it is all possible.
On the wall of the room there was a vertical wall planted less than 12 months ago and receives no direct sunlight. The plants that have been used for this planting include tradescantia, bromeliads, saxifraga and air-plants mounted on wood, and as is always the case it has to be “right plant/right place”. They are planted in pockets created in a special geotextile that is strong enough to hold the weight of the plants as they grow and to enable the plants to establish a root system. Ioannis pointed out that it is important to consider this when planting a green wall as there have been many occasions when the whole planting has ended up on the ground. Irrigation is from the top of the planting and trickles down. It is irrigated for a few minutes twice a day. The water could be collected in a channel at the bottom and recycled. There are other systems using pots which need to be attached to a frame in which bigger plants can be grown. Drainage and irrigation are always of prime importance.
We then moved onto green roofs. At the nursery there is a green roof planted largely with sedums as it is a relatively small structure, actually it’s a dog kennel!
The depth of the soil is only 10cms which is about the minimum required to create a garden. The sedums planted here can withstand the full sun they receive in this position. Once again drainage for the plants and protection of the roof are of prime importance and Ioannis suggested that unless you really know what you are doing it is a good idea to employ the knowledge of an expert. We also saw plantings on a number of shipping containers on site. These are in a soil depth of about 12cm and the plants include a number of grasses and salvias which are doing well.
We then spent quite some time walking around the nursery admiring the koi fish, the water lily ponds, the work done on the “European garden” and the mediterranean sections with I am sure each of us drawing up a mental “wish-list” for all the plants we would like. We finished this amazing and interesting visit with a wonderful lunch given by Ioannis family for which we would all like to say a big “thank you.”
Visit to David Davis’s house, Attica
About 25 members of the Greek Branch visited the house of David Davis outside Markopoulo in the Attica region of mainland Greece close to the Athens international airport. The house is situated in some of the last remaining pine forests in the Attica region. David bought the land on which the house stands in 2003 and since then the house and the land surrounding it have become his on-going project. His aim is to create a system which illustrates that it is absolutely possible to create house that is off-grid and makes use of what nature provides to live a life that is affordable and comfortable. His question is: can we live with nature in a more sustainable and successful way?
We began the visit at the front of the house with David telling us about the green roof. It is set up as an interlocking box system. They are filled with soil and climate-suitable plants. During the first summer they were watered to give them a chance to get established but have received no additional water since. Being in boxes means that should one fail, for whatever reason, it can easily be removed and replanted.
Outside the front gate is an electric car charging station. David himself has only an electric car and bike which he says are more than enough for his needs. He aims to introduce electric cars into the Greek system. This presents some problems, of course. In Greece there are hardly any charging stations and virtually none outside the Athens area. Most are run from the main electrical system which burns fossil fuels. He encouraged us to believe that we can live comfortably off-grid: this absolutely is possible and at a relatively small cost especially in a country like Greece with our wonderful climate.
Someone commented that electric cars are still relatively expensive. David pointed out that as there is only one moving part in an electric car (except for the wheels) servicing costs are virtually nil. Almost all the journeys we make in our lives are within a radius of about 50 km and so the range of the electric car more than covers most of our needs. When asked how long it takes to charge an electric car, he said we were, naturally, thinking like petrol people. With an electric car you do not stop to fill it up - you top it up when you are not using it and, therefore, it takes no time. David harvests all his electricity from the sun and we went to look at the 54 solar voltaic panels on the roof and the battery room.
The inside of the house is made almost entirely of reclaimed materials - from the steel and wood that make up the staircase to a magnificent two-storey cupboard which is made of old wooden doors and shutters and looks fantastic. Many of the ceilings are made from recycled pallet wood. It is, David told us, a much more interesting way to create a house than the usual way of employing people to get everything up and ready as quickly as possible.
There is enough storage under the house for 30,000 litres of harvested water. The space for this was dug out when the land was being prepared for the house and it is insulated with 600mm of waste building materials. Water is pumped up from the water storage under the house to two 2,500 litre tanks at the top of the property and this is used to irrigate the garden with a gravity feed system. David said that this winter, because we have had an unusual amount of rain, he could easily have done with another couple of tanks of this size.
There is a pool which also stores water and for most of the year is a home for mosquito-eating fish and frogs but, for the three summer months, is a more conventional swimming pool (the wildlife gets re-homed for this time). Grey water from the house is directed on to the land. There is an Aquatron system for dealing with the human waste produced at the house. This is a centrifuge system in which the solids and liquids are separated. The solids fall into one of four compartments in a big drum and composting worms are added. Every three months the drum is turned so that all four compartments are used over the space of a year. It takes 3 -4 months for the waste to be turned into beautiful compost ready for the garden.
In the main control room of the house, which is an impressive place full of pipes, wires and equipment, there are additional systems set up in the house for heating under floor pipes connected to heat pumps. For three years this has been an air source heat pump but David has recently installed a water source heat pump which is more energy efficient.
Despite all the amazing systems in place in this house David finished the visit by saying that the best systems that you can use to make your living space as eco-friendly as possible are passive systems. If you are lucky enough to be building from scratch then consider all aspects of these systems - the orientation of the house to make the best possible use of the sun, insulation, window positioning, water harvesting methods and so on. As for gadgets, he says, use as few as possible for the best effect. His Facebook page gives more details of the technology.
Visit to Evia
We all met up at the port of Rafina outside Athens and crossed by ferry to the southernmost part of the island of Evia - the second largest island in Greece. We were lucky that the weather was perfect for us as recently we have been having some cold and rainy days. From the port of Marmari we drove up to Lilian Lorenz’s property on the mountainside behind the seaside town of Karistos, and took in the spectacular view from her new house.
Lilian gave us an introductory talk about the planning and work that has gone into building and landscaping their new house and its surroundings.
The house is as eco-friendly as it could be within the restrictions of the law. The house has geothermal heating and large water-storage facilities. The driveway has been constructed to enable the collection of water and the watering of the beds in this area of the garden.
We were then given a talk by Jennifer Gay, who has designed the planting of the garden and was in the process, with her team, of planting.
She told us about the challenges of this particular garden, one of which is that it has to complete with not just one, but two spectacular views: one over the sea and another over the Kokkino Kastro - a large castle ruin to the southeast of the property.
The weather is challenging in the garden with a huge variety of temperature even over the course of a day and very strong winds.
After we had been told about the concepts and planting for the four distinct areas of the garden we walked round with Jennifer and she answered questions from our members.
All too soon we had to move on and were led by MGS member James Brown to his very different property and garden next to the sea outside Karystos. He told us about the design and construction of his house and the challenges of planting things in his garden which is subject to extremely strong winds for much of the year.
The garden was completely destroyed by fire two years ago and he is in the process of replanting and he is planting trees in the surrounding landscape and trying to encourage others to do the same. We walked around the property and onto the beach with James pointing out plants and things of note.
After all this fresh air we sat down to a welcome lunch of delicious Greek fish soup in a local taverna.
The MGS members on this visit would like to extend our thanks to Lilian, James Jennifer and Piers for their very interesting talks and for their generosity with their time, knowledge and enthusiasm.
Visit to Ktima Kokotos Winery
The morning was crisp and cold but the sun was warming when we met at Stamata just north of Athens for this visit to Ktima Kokotos Winery for a tour around the land and the permaculture vegetable garden. We were led by the designer of this garden: Alexandros Kostis.
He explained that at its essence permaculture is a design science, a systematic thinking and problem-solving process. It is also a strategy to deal with and find solutions to soil erosion and degradation, biodiversity, placement of infrastructure. Permaculture can be explained as an umbrella of techniques combining ancient, traditional and modern. It is important to observe the land; to notice the direction of the flow of water, the wind, sun and soil.
We learnt about the use of animals in the cycle of land use, the importance of taking the use and storage of water into consideration, the health of the soil, the vegetation and all the wildlife. He also told us something about the principles of design of eco-friendly houses. After meeting the ponies, we arrived at the vegetable garden started in August 2016 which has been set out in a circular design.
The family have a school here for children who spend a lot of their time learning about and interacting with nature and the design of the garden has taken all this into consideration.
Following this we were shown the vineyards by Anne Kokotas and she talked us through the wine-making process. The first wines were produced in 1980 and all the grapes on this estate are grown organically and they incorporate permaculture principles into the process, including the planting of green manures between the vines to fertilise them. Then we enjoyed a tasting of six wines that they produce, sitting at a beautiful wooden table with the sun warming us through the windows down one side of the building.
We left carrying wine and wonderful, freshly picked produce from the garden. Thank you to Alexandros and to Anne and all the family for such an interesting and enjoyable day.
Article and photos by Rosey Boehm
Visit to the Pelion
In early October MGS members met in Volos, gateway to the Pelion, to a welcome of tsipouro and mezes arranged by our hostess Sue Wake of Lagou Raxi. Our first stop was the garden of Annie and Ioannis.
This mature garden is laid to lawn and set in an old Pelion olive grove: the lush grass had benefitted from the wet summer. Though pruned for ornament and to provide shade for the garden, the olive trees still provide a rich harvest. Planting was mainly in island beds with focal points of Phormium tenax, an occasional rocky outcrop, or precise topiary work, but it included mediterranean stalwarts such as Lavendula dentata, Rosmarinus officinalis, salvias, Tulbaghia violacaea and agapanthus. Those of us who were not iris experts were astonished by a beautiful Iris germanica hybrid blooming in the afternoon sun. Some were also surprised to see Gardenia jasminoides used as underplanting for olive trees close to the house, their double white flowers offset against dark green foliage.
Rampant Plumbago auriculata and golden-yellow Lantana camara mask the boundary fence. A row of hybrid tea roses divides parking from a productive vegetable patch with raised beds protected from free-ranging chickens, all rare breed birds and an ornamental feature of the garden.
In the orchard we shared Ioannis’ despair over the condition of his Diospyros kaki but were full of admiration for his citrus trees which, though still young, were laden with fruit.
Continuing along the coastal plain we passed small garden centres bright with autumn chrysanthemums before heading up into the mountains and arriving at our hotel, Lagou Raxi, in time for sunset. A short orientation walk took us past banks of Cyclamen graecum before stopping to admire native grasses glittering in the last of the light on one of the many restored kalderimi of the South Pelion.
On a grey and windy first morning, we headed along the Trikeri coast road to the garden of designers Vida Chung and Vito. This visit was a delight and a source of inspiration for all. Steps down from the road took us past a small bed of cacti and succulents and across a small moss-covered courtyard at the back of the house before opening onto a series of east-facing terraces sheltered from the wind and ranged along the hillside above a small bay. The garden is accessed by small rough paths which zig-zag across the hillside. Shaded by old olive trees, succulents and cacti predominate, and repeat planting of Rosmarinus prostratus, Lavandula dentata and Teucrium fruticans cut into pleasing domes, along with simple ground covers such as Sedum spectabile, Aptenia cordifolia and tradescantia, combine to create a sense of unity and harmony.
The garden relies more on foliage and shades of green and grey than on flowers. The effect is enhanced by a series of natural “artworks” that sit organically in the land. A “basket” of woven cut branches cradles olive suckers which are trained and carefully pruned to fit.
Large spheres rolled from olive debris are wrapped in wire and rope. Balconies are cased in woven driftwood.
A “tree house” guest bedroom is astonishing, sitting above a sea of olives, as is a separate kitchen with a massive oven serving an outdoor seating area.
The black wood finish of these buildings works beautifully with the greens and greys of the garden. Outdoor furniture and lighting are up-cycled, hand crafted and made with humour as well as style.
This is a very satisfying garden to visit, but not because of any sophisticated composition or the variety of its planting. It is a garden on a human scale, and one which you feel could be attained and managed by any of us if we had the ideas and originality of Vida and Vito.
We travelled on to Theotokou on the wild and storm-hit east coast where the sea had recently run right up to the remains of a beautiful tessellated monastery floor. We quickly moved to the less windswept bay at Kati Georgios beach for lunch before travelling south to our next garden.
Looking towards Evia, the southwest facing coastal garden of Rudi Zelenka provided more food for thought. A long and vertiginous dirt road down through olive groves gave no indication of what to expect. In the parking area, our eyes were immediately caught by an Arbutus andrachne carefully pruned to make the most of the view. Down a steep path and under an arched gateway cut through the rock face, we entered a garden hugging the cliffs and arranged over a series of steep terraces down to the sea. Before the road was built, the house, most of which is hidden in the rock face, could be accessed only from the sea. Over a series of steep terraces Rudi has used topiary to carefully manage the vegetation and to create a strong and unifying structure. It includes good use of native coastal plants such as Arbutus unedo and andrachne, Rhamnus alaternus and Quercus coccifera and with banks of Rosmarinus officinalis and R. prostratus used to great effect along walkways and down staircases. Through this green canopy pop bushes of Tecoma capensis in the brightest orange, an exotic-looking large flowered pink mandevilla (probably), blue Plumbago auriculata alternating with Gaura lindheimeri ‘Siskyou Pink’ and a beautiful yellow Senna corymbosa.
The weather did not dampen our spirits on Saturday. The group divided and while some walked the local kalderimi, others enjoyed an informative and companionable session on botanical painting led by the very talented Maggie Naigassas, a winner of an RHS Silver Gilt medal in 2018. The rest of the day was a full one, starting above Argolastis with a tour of the Pastisis organic vineyard and winery followed by a tasting of their excellent range of Pelion wines with family member Christos. We then travelled on to Paou Monastery, now a conference and cultural centre of the University of Thessaly. Here the priest, having forgiven us for our late arrival, permitted the group to enter St. Nicholas’ Church with its stunning frescoes and wall decorations. Lagou Raxi then laid on a splendid picnic lunch before we travelled on to the garden of Gereon and Karin, who we had met the previous evening when Gereon gave us an informative talk on grasses. A series of steep terraces lie immediately behind the house and more gentle terraces full of exotic fruit trees sit in front of the house, where there is also a series of ponds. The garden was full of fine exotic specimens including Bauhinia blakeana, Sophora japonica and Grevillea robusta. Gereon and Karin make good use of a shredder to mulch their collection.
I had to return to the UK so missed Sunday’s programme but I heard that the members were impressed by Doris Schlepper’s Serpentin garden and had a splendid time at the mushroom festival in Tsangarada.
You’ll be hearing more from MGS members around the Pelion in the coming year as we hope to set up our own small regional branch and we are also planning the post-AGM tour for 2019.
Article: Janet Ibbotson
Photographs: Rosey Boehm
Trip to Pelion: A Short Introduction to Botanical Drawing and Painting
A change in the programme which turned out to be an unexpected and most enjoyable experience.
Upon meeting up in Volos, where the group gathered for mezedakia at a seafront tavern, we were introduced to Maggie Niagassas, botanical artist. The programmed “mushroom walk and foraging” had been cancelled and was to be replaced by an introduction to botanical drawing and painting.
Having not put paintbrush to paper since art classes at school (a long time ago, believe me) I was somewhat dubious about whether to join in or whether to go along with others who had decided to go for a walk instead. But since it was cold and rainy and we were promised coffee, I stayed for the art class.
Maggie led nine of us to the light and airy room she uses for her classes, where we sat around a large table already equipped with pencils, erasers and brushes. After a brief and very interesting introduction on the subject of botanical painting, and having had a look at some artwork and books, we were told to choose three leaves from a pile of foliage freshly picked.
With some general guidelines and advice from our instructor (who basically told us to relax and enjoy ourselves) we set about reproducing our leaves as best we could.
We were given some watercolour paints (two yellows and two blues) and left to mix up the greens we needed to match the colour of our subjects.
Finally, we had a look at each other’s work and were amazed to see so many different styles.
I thoroughly enjoyed this short session and would love to take more lessons. Hopefully Maggie will arrange a class in Athens one day soon.
N.B. I have only one complaint: I now cannot see an interesting looking leaf without wanting to draw it! I wonder if the other participants have the same problem?
Maggie gives week long courses in the spring and in the autumn at the Lagou Raxi Country Hotel. She explained that the courses were not all work but combined fun trips and visits along with some serious instruction. See her website at maggie-niagassas.com.
Article: Jeannette Arduino
Photo: Rosey Boehm
Visits to gardens in Peania
This was our best-attended visit of the spring. About 35 members met up at one of Lefteris Dariotis’ gardens in Peania where we were given coffee and biscuits. In this particular garden he grows many salvias, bulbs and other plants too numerous to mention by name. He has recently created a bed of alpine plants with a mulch of fine gravel which is looking fabulous.
We then moved on to his ‘Goat Garden’. Here he has over 360 plants that are now grown with no water except for what they get from the sky. He started the garden four years ago. For the first year he watered the plants once every 10-20 days during the hot summer months. The second year he cut this down to every 20-30 days and for the last two years he has not watered these plants at all. The majority of the plants are native to Greece and the garden looked fantastic with many of them being in flower. He said that he has not added any compost or soil improver to the garden, but he has added a thin layer of gravel mulch on top. This garden generated much interest from all the members.
Finally, we visited the Vorres Museum where Lefteris has been involved in replanting some of the beds and pots with the aim of using less water. It was all looking wonderful, as always, and we were very interested to see the changes that have been made.
Her Greek gardening experience began on falling in love with a humble stone cottage on a sun-baked, wind-swept headland on the island of Syros where she is working to create a low maintenance, sustainable water-wise garden.
For older reports and articles please check out the archived (non-responsive) Greek Branch page.
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