CULTURE

Advice from local experts on garden and balcony plants

At last there is a garden book written in Greek with a focus on the many microclimates in this Mediterranean country where conditions are as varied as the landscapes. In «Kipos & Veranda» («Garden & Veranda,» Stamoulis Publications, 2005), horticulturalists Taxiarchis Andritsopoulos and Nikos Thymakis have just written what they subtitle «a calendar and practical gardening advice» book, beautifully illustrated by the authors and Dionysis Antonopoulos with color photographs of trees and shrubs in Greece’s both natural and built-up environment. The book should do much to help local gardeners exploit conditions in their specific area, whether the arid Aegean Islands, the almost alpine conditions in the Pindus Mountains, or the urban blight of Athens. The authors have put a great emphasis on the differences encountered in just a small area, for example, where mountains are in close proximity to the coast, such as in Halkidiki, where one leaves behind the oleanders of the coastline as one moves up through the olive groves further inland, then through cherry orchards and finally to the chestnut and fir trees of Holomonda, all over a total distance of just 20 kilometers. The guide is divided into sections covering two-month periods, with advice on the jobs to be done for different types of plants. Each section has chapters on trees, shrubs and climbing plants, perennials, annuals and bulbs, lawns, vegetables, fruit trees, succulents, palms, ericaceous plants (those requiring more acidic soils, such as gardenias and hydrangeas) and water features. What to do now In its section on July and August, for example, there are several pointers about conserving water supplies to cope with increased demands at this time, reviewing all the sensible ways to make that last drop go further – break the soil’s surface crust, mulch around the plant, water in the early morning or evening to reduce evaporation, only water pots when the soil has dried, and avoid watering in windy conditions. Remove weeds, opt for drip irrigation and adjust to ensure that plants receive adequate, but not too much, water; don’t wet leaves exposed to the sun and remember that damage to thirsty plants in very high temperatures is usually irreversible. Other jobs they recommend to keep plants looking good now are weeding and clearing the ground of dry matter, clipping shrubs to retain their shape, checking for pests, and removing wilted blooms to encourage new flowers. Meanwhile, the dried leaves of bulbs past their flowering season should be removed, and the seeds collected from annuals. Now is also the time for pruning wisterias and dead-heading rose bushes. And these hot dry months provide an opportunity to judge which plants can take it, and which should perhaps be replaced by others better adapted to local conditions. Suggestions for plants that flower at this time of year include lobelia, alyssum, petunia, verbena, marigold, vinca, zinnia, and bulbs such as dahlia, gladioli, madonna and canna lilies. While emphasizing Mediterranean species and gardening practices, the authors do recognize the ever-popular demand for tropical plants and lawns, which some purists might be averse to. However, the authors also draw attention to ways of maintaining lawns without wasting too much water, such as as watering only at night to avoid evaporation, checking that the spray covers only the lawn surface rather than draining away on bordering paths, frequent mowing and the proper aeration of soil to allow water to be better absorbed. For those for whom the Greek word for garden (kipos) has no meaning unless it includes fruit trees and a vegetable plot, all the chapters go into some detail on this truly Mediterranean aspect of gardening. (One tip for this time of year is how to avoid the problem of bitter pit in apples; that is, the sunken discolorations on the surface of the fruit.) There is also advice on organic practices, such as composting lawn clippings (apart from those treated with weedkiller); harvesting herbs, such as oregano, marjoram and other aromatic plants; weeding the lawn by hand or hand tool to avoid the use of weedkiller; and companion planting, such as marigolds with dahlias. And did you know that in the event that your garden is visited by hares or rabbits, a way to stop them from nibbling at the bark of trees is to encase the bark with plastic tubing slit down one side? For those who think they don’t need books such as this since they can pay a professional to look after their plants, the authors have this to say: «The garden is yours, not your gardener’s… This book is aimed at encouraging a passion for gardening so that it becomes more than a hobby and more of a lesson in living.» This is a welcome addition to the literature on gardening for our local conditions, rather than yet another translation into Greek of gardening books for other climates and conditions.