Making a haven in the city center

A beautiful private garden in the middle of the city is an example of what can be achieved when the owner has a clear idea of the environment he or she wants to create and has the assistance of a well-trained landscape designer sensitive to the needs and preferences of the owner. The result in this case is the transformation of a small garden, surrounded by what was little more than a thicket of nettles and brambles into a series of connected terraces, each with its own character but creating a harmonious whole reflecting the lives of the residents, a busy couple and their young children. Work began in early 1997 on 900 square meters of steeply sloping ground after the family moved in. The land was cleared of weeds and scrub, terraces were marked off by low stone walls, topped with timber to be used as seats. Initially the owner, who had grown up in Britain, tried to create the atmosphere of the English gardens she had grown to love. «That was a mistake. I even tried a variety of rose from Iran, which was supposed to be appropriate for the climate here, but it didn’t do well,» she explained. An attempt to create a perfect lawn (on the terrace next to the drawing room) was too time-consuming and expensive. What was found most appropriate was a mixture of clover and Kikuyu grass. On another terrace, Festuca arundinacea has been used. «Another mistake I made in the beginning was trying to put in beds with little clumps of small plants. It just didn’t work here,» said the owner Over a year ago, she began consulting with Evangelia Christodoulaki, a forestry scientist specializing in landscape design, who has created gardens for sites as varied as private homes, hotels and public spaces. «I didn’t want the garden to be just Greek; I wanted to keep some of the features of a formal English garden, hence the ferns in pots either side of the doors leading out to the garden and the box shrubs, but nor did I want everything to be ‘perfect’,» explained the owner. During long meetings with Christodoulaki looking at designs, and looking at plants, decisions were made bearing in mind the difficulty of the terrain, the rocky soil and the need to save on water, particularly because of the steepness of the slope, which also posed a risk of subsidence. «What I wanted was to create a haven, somewhere to write, to go out and sit with a bottle of wine, for the children to play, and also for the neighbors to have a view,» said the owner. Outside the sitting room, the terrace is bordered on one side by a long raised bed of Laurus nobilis (bay, or daphni in Greek) alternating with bougainvilleas with yellow bracts. Above it is the perimeter fence, covered with Plumbago and Bignonia Tweediana (cat’s claw vine, bigonia onichoti). Cupressus sempervirens (cypress, kiparissi) underplanted with large white cyclamens provide a focal point at the end of the terrace. The next level down, reached by a stone steps, is another lawn (see photo) bordered on the lower side by a row of Buxus sempervirens (box) clipped into round cushion shapes, backed by magnolias and Strelitzia, with Leyland conifers at the rear, mixed with Forsythia, providing some privacy from the street. The upper side consists of tiers of yellow Euonymos shrubs with Alyssum, Tulbaghia with Rosemarinus officinalis (rosemary, dendrolivano), Westringia, a variety of Salvia, and bay trees. At the end of this level is a small vegetable garden, shaded by a tall bay and citrus trees, with yellow and red cherry tomatoes, and in winter, lettuce, cabbages and onions, all grown organically. Below is a row of pots of herbs: mint, spearmint, basil, coriander. There are many smaller arbors at turns of the staircase as one descends through the garden – one contains a magnificent urn, now planted with Veronica, Hedera helix microfylla (kissos panasse) and Skimmia. The steepest, lower part of the site has been turned into a succulent garden, with cacti, aloes, giant Agave Americana, spreading Carprobrotus (Hottentot fig) and Lampranthus, underneath olive and pine trees. The home’s front veranda has a spectacular row of urns containing box shrubs clipped into pyramid shapes, and cumquat trees. Behind the house is a formal setting for entertaining in the form of a paved courtyard with a Moroccan atmosphere. Palm trees, Pittosporum (angeliki) and box, bougainvilleas and climbing roses contrast with the delicate color of the tiles. «What we tried to do was to give the garden a character and create different corners, not to have a single theme,» said designer Christodoulaki. «There are areas for decorative purposes, for entertaining, a vegetable garden, and a more formal courtyard in keeping with the design of the building. «We must not forget where we live; in a Mediterranean country, although we can use plants from similar climates. The emphasis should always be on the owners; the garden should be created for them. When I design a garden I always try to bring the owners’ personality into it,» said Evangelia Christodoulaki. Landscape designer Evangelia Christodoulaki, 29 Ploutarchou, 106 75 Athens, tel-fax 210.725.2917 (e-mail: [email protected]). The garden is maintained by Antonis Iliopoulos of Anthotopos in Faliron. Plants are from various nurseries around Athens.

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