As I write this the heavens are splitting open with tremendous determination. The doors in my room rattle with the force of each crack of thunder and the lightning feels like a new awakening every time it fills whole sections of sky with fluorescence. Within minutes the paths and steps all over the garden have transformed into swift streams of rusty-red from the terra rossa or κοκκινόχωμα. (This is a rich and deeply saturated red clay which we often use as a component in our compost mix. It is typical of the Mediterranean region and is a byproduct of limestone.) For a while the sky was a sooty puce colour which gave a soggy lurid look to the plants in the garden. The Euphorbia characias and Euphorbia dendroides have formed their acid-green flowerheads and these are now shining out like electric lights against the oppressive drenched atmosphere.

Ephorbia characias     Euphorbia dendroides

At a point it started to hail and so I dashed out to cover the two precious Agave attenuata with upturned buckets. I spoke last time of the damage caused to these plants by the previous hailstorm. Here is a picture of one of our veterans.

Agave attenuata

I also spoke about the processionary caterpillar and all the nests we disposed of. Despite our totalitarian vigilance we must have missed a nest and so one morning I was greeted by the following image on the nursery steps. If you are not familiar with these creatures you cannot possibly understand the effect they have on a person psychologically. The mere sight of them sends a toxic shiver down my otherwise insect-friendly spine. As children we would tell stories about (imaginary) friends who, walking beneath a pine, had cascades of writhing caterpillars falls onto their heads and down the back of their shirts. This would send us into hysterics and we would rush about screeching κάμπιες, κάμπιες, ΚΑΜΠΙΕΣ (caterpillar or larvae). Once, Lupo, a dog that lived with us when I was a kid, found and ate a bagfull of the nests. His face tongue and throat swelled and he wheezed and panted with his comical balloon tongue lolling from his mouth until the poison subsided.

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Since writing the above, I confess, the weekend came and passed. The torrents of Friday caused floods, streams came bursting over main roads and all sorts of awful disruptions took place. This has been preceded, the day before, by showers that carried particles of the North African deserts in each drop which made for an atmosphere that was tangibly heavy. As often happens in extreme climates, the storms moved on as quickly as they had struck and since Friday we have had equally bizarre weather. It has been swelteringly hot with a brightness only the winter sun can produce. The sky has been the colour of dreams and all life at Sparoza is full of joie de vivre. It is true that plants like the feeling of thunder and lightning..

The phrygana and hillside have produced the most wonderful swathes of flowering annuals, bulbs and other geophytes. So vigorous are these tumults of vegetation and flowers that areas must be cut back to give a chance to other species to have a go at life. On Monday our trusty muscle-gardener Jason came with his strimmer and smashed the paths back into the phrygana and gave the threshing floor a buzz cut. I think Sally will ask him to strim specific off-path areas as well once some of the annuals get very boisterous. Below you can see the pre, during and post strimming shots of an area of path in the phrygana.

Strimming pre (2)      Strimming

Strimming after

The new order imposed by the definition of the paths has, for me, accentuated the wonders held on the other side of the stone border. When wandering down the lovely curvy path my predecessor Miyon Yoo laid i know I am in a garden and not a Greek field. This distinction highlights all the more that Sparoza is a conservation garden with an aim (among many others) of showing off the beauty of our native flora alongside imports from other mediterranean regions. One garden vignette that astounds me every time is the following. Light pointillist blankets made from thousands of little Muscari commutatum flow and pool through the wilder areas of the garden. Such a tiny bulb in such profusion makes a big visual impact. Here it dapples the grounds amongst the wonderful deathless Aloes, an Opuntia pruned into a sculpture, low mounds of Sarcopoterium spinosum and a young Brachychiton. In the background you can see the tops of a wonderful prehistoric-looking group of Yucca elephantipes.

Group Muscari (2)

The Aloe flowerspikes are spectacular. They rise from the crown of the plant like snakes and release the pendent flowers gradually.

Aloe flower


The wet and mild weather so far this year have cause many plants to perform prematurely both to our delight and dismay. It is so nice to get such a show of flowers all at once but at the same time the worry that everything will turn to brown sludge in a March coldsnap looms. The Greeks say “Μάρτης γδάρτης και κακός παλουκοκαύτης” which means, more or less, that March is liable to give you a beating and make you burn your stakes to keep warm. From within this hazy shining bubble this seems far-flung so, for the time being, we will enjoy working while soaking in the balmy sunshine and I can take more photographs to share with you.


One thought on “Rain or Shine

  1. Dear Isabel
    I have posted this caterpillar this morning on my FB page, as a thank you to your latest article in the MG issue, talking about wildlife in the garden… We’re all concerned about adopting an eco-friendly attitude.
    Have a great day in Sparoza!

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