It has been seven years or so since I have lived in Greece. All that time ago I went off to study and make a life as far North as would take me. In Scotland, March still feels like hyper-winter; driving arctic winds, sleet and snow and monolithic skies in all manner of stony colours keep most plants dormant and most gardeners conscientiously ignorant. The occasional sunny day is shockingly clear, leading to the most gorgeous evening skies, at times angelic like a Roccoco painting or gory and saturated like Blake illustrating the apocalypse. We do not have skies of such breathtaking grandeur at Sparoza but we do have spring. A spring I had forgotten existed as I slid on icy pavements and weeded wearing thermals, woolens and rain-gear up in my Scotland; a spring filling me with exclamatory awe as much as any frozen raspberry sky.
The first time I ever saw Bellevalia dubia was at Sparoza. It’s colour is exactly my favourite one. The feeling of this colour is of soaring in the sky and floating in water; freedom, I guess. Each bulb has few leaves and the flowers come on long dense spikes that loosen and brown as they mature. According to my Bible (Sfikas and Lafranchis Flowers of Greece), on loan from the Sparoza library, B. dubia naturally grows in grassy areas in Western Greece including the Peloponnese and the Ionian Islands. On an excursion with Sally we found it, completely by accident trying to find a space to turn the car around, close to Σχινιάς (Skinias) which is most definitely in Eastern Attica growing by the stony wayside and in the vertical cliff-face. Clearly not everything is always true, not even in our books of faith. Our single plant at Sparoza is a much more beautiful colour than the ones we saw in the wild and has many more flower spikes, all maturing in succession, giving continual impact. Perhaps this is due to the shadier and richer position it is in. Nonetheless, it was wonderful to discover this plant at home and then to find it in the wild.
I had a similar experience with Fritillaria obliqua. I also first saw it at Sparoza, in fact it is planted next to the Bellevalia but I saw it in the wild on the same excursion in a rocky thicket above the coastal cliffs beyond Σχινιάς. We have two specimens which behave differently in their individual settings. In the shade the petals are narrower, longer and more spread than those which are in the sun-baked stony soil of the hill. This plant, endemic to Attica and Southern Evia, has flowers like tiny dark plums and dusty pale green stems and leaves (glaucus being the botanical term) which complement one another perfectly.
We have two more Fritillaries in the garden, Fritillaria graeca, which refuses to multiply and Fritillaria uva vulpis, which has spread most satisfactorily but does not produce as many flowers as the numerous clumps of leaves suggest. Perhaps the F. graeaca is dioecious and the F. uva vulpis is not in a happy place in its life. Nonetheless it is a joy to discover them amongst the burly self-seeding Delphiniums, Lamiums, Cerinthes and Tordiliums etc.
Other flowers that are out and about both in the garden and, well, the rest of Mediterranean Greece are:
This wild garlic is very invasive but so lovely that it is hard to weed it out. It is discouraged in the garden though there are some areas where it is left to flower and spread.. It does this both by seeding itself and by producing many tiny bulblets from the main one.
These pretty little fellows respond to sunshine by opening their silvery-white flowers and the shade by closing them. The backs of the petals are green and so once closed the plant becomes practically invisible amongst the surrounding vegetation.
Also many of the wild orchids have started to produce their flowers. On our hill and in areas Sally and I go to on botanical adventures Ophrys lutea, Ophrys mammosa and Ophrys ferum-equinum are those usually found. The Giant Orchid (Himantoglossum robertianum) is one of the most lovely I have seen so far. It produces tall spikes of glittery pink flowers that look uncannily like little human figures. It is quite common in grassy fields throughout Greece. On a little trip up to Acrocorinth we found a very special little Ophrys which I have identified as Ophrys tenthredinifera.
In spite of being surrounded by masses of benevolent growth I find myself drawn to a parasite, thief and murderer. The Orobanchaceae family is entirely one of parasitic plants that have no chlorophyll and thus no way of supporting themselves. They exist entirely by leaching water and nutrients from their host through a deathly embrace between the couple’s interlocked roots. Most Orobanches are not especially picky as two who provides them with sustenance, thus enabling them to procreate and spread their dust-like seeds in evil murderous wafts. Others are incredibly specific as to the plant they latch onto and the environment in which the relationship can be consummated and are therefore very rare.
In Greek the plant is called Λύκος (wolf) due to its cold-hearted behaviour. I think wolves are warm and loving and their pack ethics are an inspiration. Furthermore I find Orobanches and the selfless plants on which they depend sadly romantic. Spring is not just about mellow warm days, prancing lambs and fat bumblebees. It can be cruel and indiscriminate in its lack of balance. As everything stampedes for survival the weak or carefree will be lost. There is no silver lining to a cloudless sky. If only rainclouds would come to wash those perished into the ground and settle the soil.
On that note the Gladiolus tristis from South Africa is in flower all over the garden. In the second photo you can see it closing its flowers for the night with a backdrop of Origanum majorana and Pinus pinea.