Athens’s National Garden is getting a jump on spring with a replanting scheme and general cleanup of the park’s historic vegetation that is a valuable collection of Attica’s flora as well as a source of clean air and a quiet, verdant place to relax in the middle of the city. Since being taken over by the Athens Municipality just over a year ago after a drawn-out legal procedure, work has been proceeding apace to remedy years of neglect. «The philosophy behind the new approach to the garden is to retain and restore its traditional character,» the new mayor of Athens, Theodoros Behrakis, told Kathimerini English Edition on Wednesday, the eve of his election by the municipal council. Trees that have died or been damaged by wind and snow, particularly in the heavy falls of February 2004, are being replaced on the same site with new trees of the same species and variety. Historical sources, where they exist, have been consulted about the precise siting of older trees that had been destroyed in earlier years. Giorgos Ginis is one of the three agronomists working on the garden (along with Katerina Agorastou and Angeliki Paraskevopoulou) with a large team of technicians and workers. When Ginis took Kathimerini English Edition around the garden this week, work was under way to prepare the ground for the replanting of the garden’s old groves of bitter orange trees (that once supplied the Hotel Grand Bretagne). This is just one of a series of restorative plantings that form the core of the project. What used to be a border of Judas trees that formed a canopy over a walkway in the area behind Parliament House is also being replenished, as are the Washingtonia palms at the Amalias Avenue entrance. Other trees that have been removed or destroyed are to be replaced, such as a cedar in a triangular bed where two paths converge. All the rose bushes are to be replaced with species suitable for conditions in Attica, and the famous wisterias covering the pergolas below the «pond of Karamanlis» are also to be replenished. «We are spreading the replanting over the whole garden, not just focusing on parts of it, so that the change is visible everywhere. What is particularly important about the trees in this garden,» added Ginis, «is their age. The oldest ones are 160 years old. It is very rare to find trees as old as that elsewhere in Athens.» A total of 700 trees are to be added to the existing 7,000 including pines, casuarinas, carob, eucalypts, plane and mulberry trees (as well as a wide variety of shrubs). «First of all, we recorded nearly all the tree stumps and identified the original trees,» said Ginis. «We are also trying to restore parts of the garden that are of historical interest, for example clearings that were known by name such as the ‘cypress clearing,’ as close to their original state as possible.» There are no written archives. The agronomists looked at the laws governing the garden and in some archives such as old letters in museums. It has been reported that some of the letters that Queen Amalia, who created the garden in the mid-19th century, sent to her father in Germany relating details of the design, might be made available. In the garden, cleanup operations are visible everywhere, with piles of pruned branches waiting for collection. «To be able to plant, we first have to clear the area, that means pruning, weeding, restoration of the soil and irrigation,» Ginis said. «Empty spaces that become evident when plants are pruned and areas weeded are being replanted. Where species have gone wild, such as the acanthus, they are being transplanted where they are needed. The same applies to the ivy climbing up tree trunks. If we don’t get them under control they’ll eventually kill the tree.» As for pest control, Ginis said that when work began, it was observed that there were not as many diseases as expected – there seems to be a good balance between beneficial and harmful pests. Where natural predators have not been successful, only organic preparations are used, he said. The problem with the garden’s water supply has now been solved with the repair of the ancient underground aqueduct that brings water from Goudi to the northeast of the city center. Restricted use is made of bore holes that had been drilled to provide emergency supplies. Animal life The ponds are now brimming with clear water (recycled and changed every week, when the pools are cleaned) but the ducks have been moved into fenced-off areas and the soil cleaned in accordance with the state veterinary authority’s precautions against bird flu. These enclosures are soon to be roofed over. Behrakis said the garden’s small zoo, which now consists chiefly of Cretan goats, ostrich, peacocks, rabbits and poultry, is an issue that requires serious consideration. (In case anyone is wondering what happened to the poor old lion that used to inhabit the large cage in the middle of the zoo, it was apparently sent to a zoo in England.) «We have to decide how many and which animals we want, and the conditions in which they are to be kept,» Behrakis said. Animal welfare groups feed and spay the large feral cat population in areas designated by the park’s management. As for the other installations, the Botanical Museum is still closed pending repair of earthquake damage, but the Children’s Library is in full swing. According to Behrakis, any continuation of the planting program after the current phase ends in April this year will depend on funding. With local elections coming up toward the end of the year, one can only hope the next municipal council will continue to invest as much interest, political will and funding as the present one, not only in the National Garden, but in all the city’s remaining green spaces. Conference on Kozani crocus The many beneficial properties of the crocus plant are to be the subject of a one-day conference which the Region of Western Macedonia and the Kozani Crocus Producers’ Cooperative is holding in Athens on March 11 at the Hotel Grande Bretagne. Results of years of study by Greek and foreign university research programs into the healing properties of the crocus in food and medicinal preparations are to be presented. The Athens Agricultural University, Thessaloniki University, and the universities of Patras and Thessaly will be presenting their findings. For further information contact Stavros Alatas: tel 210.822.3055, e-mail [email protected], website http://www.kozani.gr/krokos.