April came and went bringing with it a most drastic shift in the seasons. Now, at the end of May, we can safely say, after three months of drought and temperatures reaching 30 degrees that summer has befallen our part of Attica.
Here are some scenes of spring, now over.
The majority of the annuals have set seed and dried up and the aestivating shrubs and perennials have started to fall into their time of rest. What remains green over the summer has come into its own and can now be truly seen and valued, having been thrown into stark contrast with its backdrop of rustling and swaying gold.
Each dried seedhead glows, like a white-hot ember, a beacon of accomplishment; germination, maturation, fertilization and death while the seeds of future generations float or fall away, rattle or burst out or are carried or blown away from the most uniquely sculpted organs. And this is only the beginning; I have many more months to get excited about the beauty of seeds and their relative vessels and methods of distribution.
With natural seeding comes a frenzy of seed collecting. One of the most useful things I learned studying at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh was how to make origami envelopes out of any odd bit of paper. Here are the instructions and images of the finished product courtesy of a fellow blogger http://fmanos.wordpress.com/tag/origami-seed-packets/. Storing the seed in the envelopes is usually the last stage of the collecting process as I seldom have the foresight to make them in advance. On the other hand I always have; in my quaint gardening basket, or shoved in pockets, various paper or plastic bags that seed can be popped into. Bags of seed heads and spikes hang in my closet and on the walls drying and the surfaces in my room are littered with bags or bowls of seed waiting to be cleaned and put into tidy, labeled origami envelopes. Some of these will be sown at Sparoza in the autumn, some will be sent to the Mediterranean Garden Society seed-bank (and distributed to any interested member) and some will be shared with friends and places.
One event that hurried me into collecting seed was the strimming of the Phrygana and the hillside at Sparoza. These spaces are treated as any maintained wild flower meadow. Annuals and geophytes grow, look pretty and act as part of a diverse and self-sustaining community. Once they have set seed and died they are cut down to the ground and collected into tidy mounds like haystacks.
These positioned amongst trees where the ground tends to be barer look very pastoral and, I think, rather nicely sculptural. Meadows and phrygana alike perform at their best when the soil is poor, for which reason the strimmings are collected and not allowed to become mulch thus enriching the soil and keeping it slightly cooler and damper. The more rampant plants would only be encouraged by a more comfortable soil, beating the more delicate or diminutive plants in the fight for survival. I have been amazed by the conditions in which the most seemingly delicate plants will grow in profusion but in which the bullies of the plant kingdom fear to tread. Furthermore plants on poor soil tend to be smaller and more contained therefore allowing more space for diversity. Very few annuals remain and are all the more beautiful for their courage. Our hillside is covered in Bupleurum flavum; its tiny flowers glowing like golden stars against the earth, a sky inverted.
Another, which exists here in less profusion is Delphinium peregrinum, a diminutive but very sweet version of Delphinium staphisagria which is much more widespread in the garden.
Of course the foreigners and natives who live in our irrigated terraces are still going at it, though even the more robust are starting to suffer from the heat and drying winds. No, I must remind myself that suffer is not what these plants do, they are responding to their environment and almost all of them should survive the summer with minimal watering. To the un-initiated in the ways of mediterranean gardening our plants may look pained when they are, in fact, quietly biding their time in a state of summer lethargy. Some plants, for example, are summer deciduous or change their leaves to better cope with the strong light and water transpiration. Others disappear underground and those with tough or succulent foliage battle it out until the autumn rains. There are many methods plants from mediterranean or arid climate regions deal with intense heat and drought; grey, hairy, scented, rough, inrolled, narrow, succulent leaves (or lack thereof) are all characteristics that help the plant retain what water it can. The summer scene at Sparoza is, thus, not always that lush image of Arcadian profusion we have come to expect of a garden. Not unless you are standing in a ticket of Pistacia lentiscus and Quercus coccifera!
Another major job at this time of year is the deadheading, pruning back and tidying up of plants in preparation for the summer slump. Doing this keeps the garden looking trim but also assists the plants in conserving their energies as there are fewer costly extremities for them to deal with, such as seadheads and long leafy stems. This job is also of great benefit to our compost pits which have been turned twice this spring and are already full again.
I love our compost. I feel connected to it as one does to a friend, we share food and I give it bouquets. We care about its health and when it is not doing well we try to cure it. It thrives on our leftovers, offerings and attentions and turns out tens of buckets of the most delicious smelling compost each time. This relationship benefits not just the garden but anybody or thing that is even remotely connected to it, the seed I will share with you has been nourished by my nourishment and the plants in our nursery have been grown in it. This soliloquising may seem over the top but the production of ones own compost is integral to thrifty and soulful gardening.
At the moment the predominant flower colours come in shades of yellow and blue. I leave you with some images of these.
And as a final note I want to show you a couple of wonderful encounters I have had with local fauna. Walking to the bus one Friday I saw this man walking his sheep! Oscar and Little Tot (aka Baby, Special Baby, Elektra, Toto and Iphigenia) are tortoises newly introduced to Sparoza. Oscar must be over 100 years old, whereas Baby is no older than 10.