CULTURE

Gardening with minimum water

This year’s lack of rain and rising temperatures have made dry gardens not only a necessity but a reality, as many gardeners have found. But the problem can be solved by choosing the right plants, according to experts who will be visiting Athens next month for the annual meeting of the Mediterranean Garden Society (MGS), which this year takes the form of a symposium on the theme of «The Dry Garden – Practice and Philosophy.» Three lectures on the theme are scheduled for November 10-12 and will be open to the public. The first is by Heidi Gildemeister, the author of two authoritative books on water-wise gardening, followed the next day by Louisa Jones, a garden historian who will be discussing trends in garden design today in the Mediterranean area as they evolve from traditional patterns. The final speaker, whose subject will be »Dry Gardening – Opportunity, not Handicap,» is Olivier Filippi, who has done much to preserve and propagate plants for Mediterranean climates. «It comes as news to some people that you can have a garden that looks good without much water,» the society’s president, Cali Doxiadis, told Kathimerini English Edition. «That’s what our native plants are accustomed to; they get enough water during the winter months to see them through the summer. Of course, a typical Mediterranean garden is not lush and green, nor is it filled with brightly colored flowers like the gardens one sees in the north. On the other hand, it has a much greater variety of greens, generally more muted, as well as other materials and textures – hard soil, rocks, stone paving, tile, gravel. I think it’s important that people start thinking: Aha! It’s possible to have a beautiful garden without a lawn and roses.» «Not all plants need water during the dry season – think of all the native shrubs in the Mediterranean that are green and robust throughout summer: lentiscs, holly oaks… some of them are at their blossoming best in July and August… the chaste trees, the myrtles, the thyme – that’s when they’re at their best. «It’s all a matter of mind-set. Once it clicks, it makes absolute sense that our native plants look best and most natural in our native landscape.» Part of the role of the MGS, added Doxiadi, is to help people reach this «eureka moment,» then help them find the practical information they need. «People need inspiration more than education – once the impetus is there, acquiring the knowledge becomes part of the gardening process,» she said. Members of the MGS will be able to attend a series of workshops during the three-day meeting in gardens around Attica on themes such as designing for a dry garden, the care of olive trees, dry-stone walling, installing irrigation systems, pruning and propagation and permaculture in a Mediterranean garden. «I’ve heard it said that Greeks are not interested in gardens; they say it about Italians and Spaniards as well. That’s not true,» added the MGS president. «I’d say that gardens – the kind of gardens we grew up with – are taken for granted in our countries as part of life, not a hobby; the ornamental is mixed in with the practical, flowers and fruit trees and vegetables sharing a small plot… a paved square shaded by a grapevine pergola, whitewashed tins with gardenias and basil, a dry-stone wall accommodating a few olive trees on a slope; we are land-poor after all. We are told that these aren’t real gardens, and feel we need to emulate costly and unrealistic imported models that with all the effort and expense in the world will look second-rate at best… the grass not green enough, the shrubs not dense enough.» The MGS’s annual meeting brings together members from countries around the world where there are regions with a Mediterranean climate. Several branches have been set up in these countries to enable members to meet on a more regular, informal basis, visit gardens and exchange information at local level. «One branch I admire particularly is the Languedoc branch, in southwest France,» said Doxiadi. «It has many local members as well as members of several other nationalities. They collect practical information and write up their conclusions for the benefit of our other members. They have also published a list of roses that do well in their area. They volunteer at the local botanical garden. One member, with the help of others, runs the seed exchange on the MGS website.» The Greek branch organizes twice-yearly expeditions around Greece to look at wildflowers, as well as garden visits, plant exchanges and lectures. «A year ago, we had a successful joint botanizing excursion to Rhodes with the Cyclamen Society, an international society, and members came from different parts of the world, learning from experts both on the slopes and around the taverna table. We have many members who do not participate in events but who are happy just reading the journal, looking at the website. I would say the main reason for someone to join the MGS is for information, both theoretical and practical, and to become part of a network through which information, experiences, and news can be obtained and exchanged.» For more information: www. mediterraneangardensociety.org