I have never felt much affinity with Friedrich Nietzsche’s ego-centric wisdoms. Despite this, I find myself coming back to one dictum that unsentimentally rings through life “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.” This is an approach particularly relevant at Sparoza.
The rain has not graced Attica for almost five months and the plants in the phrygana, desert grove and naturalised hillside are all demonstrating the incredible intellect of their nature. The Olives (Olea europaea) have turned their drooping silver bellies to the sun and the heat has hollowed the Aloes (Aloe saponaria) of their gentle jelly and they are twisting into a tender embrace to protect their young hearts. The fast growing perennials have retracted their energies and remain alive only underground leaving above spindly crackling effigies in all manner of golden and amber hues like tiny fires.
Somehow, though, some things still manage to thrive. The Cyclamen (Cyclamen graecum) with heads blushed and bowed, humbled by their own might, unfurl their coiled stems and burst up through the baked earth, in droves, all over the hillside, desert, terraces and pathways to console their parched neighbors. The Sea Squill (Urginea maritime) are also putting on an astonishing show on the wilder stages of the garden. Their phantasmal flower spikes rise over a meter, swaying, serpentine, from giant bulbs like baskets. The leaves of both these plants will appear later in the season – a technique for preserving energy, thus allowing the inflorescences to shine.
In Sparozas’ nursery we try to keep that-which-could-kill at bay. It would make nothing any stronger if we failed our ranks of back-up plants. I suppose this is the pivotal difference between a free landscape and a garden. Though we respect the inconceivable strengths and tricks of our Mediterranean plants, we also know their limitations. We nurture the next generation so that they may overcome us and follow their nature.
Now, enough soliloquizing. Here is some of the work Sally and I did in my first week at Sparoza.
There were a number of potted plants – mostly spontaneous seedlings that were grubbed up and preserved, that needed to be potted on. Some remain unidentified but the others were a Quercus coccifera and Quercus macrolepsis,, some Plectranthus, Morus alba, Viburnum tinus, and a number of Cercis siliquastrum, Salvia microphylla and Salvia chamaedroides. I also potted up some bulbs that were revealed while digging a hole for a plant in the terraces. These are probably a few Ornithogalum, Tulipa and Narcissus species. I look forward to discovering which ones! I also took cuttings from a Salvia discolor and an incredible Pelargonium that I had not seen before coming to Sparoza.
Pelargonium crispum (Berg.) L’Herit. ex Ait. from South Africa has flaky woody stems that carry miniature, very tough and frilled leaves that are heavily lemon- scented. Its habit is very different from Pelargoniums I have come across before, instead of the typical languid growth of some commercial plants it has strong upright stems and reminds me very much of shrubby herbs like oregano or rosemary. I have not yet seen it in flower but I shall keep a vigilant eye out.
For all of September we were still in the throes of a very vicious summer. But now the days and nights are cooling and we are desperately awaiting the dancing rains of autumn, one of two births the Greek landscape undergoes; the spring of Dyonisus.