A person can live in a place, thinking that they know that place for a long time without truly knowing it. This may sound facile but today I acknowledged this shortcoming in myself. Yes, I knew that climatic condition affected plants and beasts. Yes, I knew that things happen, or don’t happen, depending on the weather. But living at Sparoza (and, indeed, other parts of Greece close to my heart) I have come to see how deep and momentous the effects of rain and sun are. Working at Sparoza is giving me more than practical experience, it is teaching me to consciously immerse myself into my surroundings.
I grew up in Greece. As children my sister Elektra and I made marigold wreaths on the first of May and our Daddy built us a house in an almond tree. We used to crack the almond shells with a stone and eat them on the spot. We would strip the fruit from the kumquat tree that stood nearby, making an instant mulch of skin and seeds – no though to share the bounty with our parents. In spring we would smack the abundant Muscari flowers with a stick, pretending to play golf with our friend Serafeim. One summer, beneath the heady smell of hillside thyme, oregano and salvia we made cardboard contraptions to watch a solar eclipse. Winter here had and has its own smell. Our father would terrorize us with scorpions he found in the wood-pile, the poor things only sheltering from the cold, and show us how to make an antidote to its sting out of its own body. When I went to school as a child, the Νερατζιές (bitter oranges trees) that lined the pavement inspired short stories that I was praised for by my philology teacher and when my sister and I moved to a different school, further away from our house, we would pick figs from the trees that grew in the back streets between the Metro station and the school gate. My first kiss brings back awkward memories of splattered mulberries and later on my friends harvested wild Datura seeds (an equally awkward hallucinogen). As I think back, plants were always there but never, until now, have I found myself monitoring, so closely, millimeters of rainwater, the winds and the breaking buds. I don’t think I ever really thought about my life in Greece as following the agenda of plants. Now I do. And I am delighted to find that some plants can be fearless (or hapless) renegades.
In some cases, such as with the Crocosmia crocosmiiflora, this is a silly behavior but with others it has extended their glorious flowering period. Attica has been exceptionally dry this past year and the summer heat extended far into the late autumn which turned out to be comparatively wet. The moisture and warmth have made some plants in our garden act rather erratically. They are celebrating the perfect, though unseasonal, conditions and giving us their best, some for a third time over their usual double flowering period.
Seasons seem now to be a set of rules antiquated in the age of climate change and I have come to think of them not as groups of months but as defined by sensory experiences.
Some flowers from our garden:
Teucrium fruticans ‘Azureum’
Lavandula multifida (the one Persephone the caterpillar stripped earlier this autumn)
Marrow on a hedge in central Athens.
The Punica gratanum (Pomegranate) and Crocosmia crocosmiiflora are starting to do their stuff a little early but never mind.. The pomegranate is one that felt the stress of summer more acutely than the others and so deserves to send off a single flower on celebration of the rains. The crocosmia leaves, long delicate swords of green, are over a meter tall and will turn to mush as soon as the frosts arrive. They will grow back again at the right time giving us a lovely eyeful twice! Above it you see the beautiful serpentine bows of a raised Pistachia lentiscus and in front is the succulent Bulbine frutescens.
Leaves that give the impression of delicacy but are actually hard-as-nails are sprouting out everywhere. Here you can see Anemore, Cyclamen, Asphodel and Drimia popping out of the tarmac and a wild orchid pushing its way out of the densely compacted dirt track leading up the hill.